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David Livingstone Smith talks incivility at MizzouDiversity Summit

Monday, October 29, 2012 | 10:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:46 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 29, 2012

COLUMBIA — After a quick warning, graphic images of the Nanjing Massacre and the Rwanda genocide appeared on the projector screens facing more than 100 audience members sitting quietly in Stotler Lounge.

"This has got to change," David Livingstone Smith said of the images of violence.

"It's time to take dehumanization seriously," he said.

The danger in conceiving people as less than human dominated Smith's keynote address to the 2012 MizzouDiversity Summit on Monday night.

The summit is a biannual event that brings the community together to discuss topics of diversity at MU, including campus cultural, racial and religious diversity, according to the summit's website.

Smith is an author, associate professor of philosophy at the University of New England and the director and co-founder of the New England Institute for Cognitive Science and Evolutionary Studies.

In his presentation, Smith spoke about the concept of dehumanization from his book, "Less than Human." He reasoned that a human who is capable of doing acts of kindness is also capable of committing great acts of violence.

"Dehumanization is not just name-calling," Smith said. "When people dehumanize others they conceive them as being less than human."

According to Smith, dehumanization is an extreme form of incivility in which a person deeply believes that another human being is different from them and subhuman. 

This kind of thinking is powerful and can be dangerous, he said.

"Dehumanization unleashes extreme violence resulting in war, genocide and atrocity," he said.

The MizzouDiversity Summit kicked off Monday at noon with a State of Diversity Address by MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. The event will continue Tuesday with various workshops, presentations and stories from the MU Human Library Project.

MU's Show-Me Respect civility campaign also officially launched Monday.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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