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The Dehumanizing Effects of Conflicting Aims Between Society and Humanity

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For most of human history, homosexuality has been considered an unnatural act; a crime against nature, as it were. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders listed homosexuality as a mental disorder for 22 years until it was removed in 1974 (D'Emilio & Freedman, 1988; Duberman, Vicinus, & Chauncey, 1989). Despite the progress in our thinking, however, society still falls short of humanism. Throughout this paper I will discuss the dehumanizing effects of conflicting aims between that of society and that of the humanistic stance, as evidenced by the history of homosexuality.

To start, the basic principle upon which society rests is as follows: "Whomsoever desires to live under the sovereignty of a state must abide by its rules." Included in this clause are explicit and implicit demands; demands that shape the very manner of our conversations and ways of thinking (e.g. allowing only certain thoughts to reach one's consciousness and repressing taboo ones). Therefore, a person of the homosexual orientation in a predominately heterosexual environment, would find it compulsory to suppress her homosexual urges, but alas, therein lies the problem.

By way of education, parenting, laws, advertisement, etc., society conditions and manipulates the people it is comprised of to think and feel a certain way. Of course, it is not a perfect system so what society cannot accomplish is left to the individual to manage. The person (i.e. homosexual) who fails to be conditioned and, thus, cannot suppress her impulses, is torn between what society claims to be right and what she claims to be right. (As an aside, we must assume her conviction is one in which human interests and dignity prevail.) Not surprisingly, the former frequently surmounts the latter and because of this cases of psychological distress may emerge. The cause of this distress, however, stems from the established social pattern of thought-- essentially, the conviction that homosexuality is wrong. In effect, it will be best to keep her sexual orientation a secret, which was largely the case before the gay civil rights movement gained momentum.

Ultimately, the problem here has to do with the aims of society and by aim I mean some end that is sought after. The humanistic aim then is one that treats a person as an end in herself, whereby the personal worth of each individual predominates. As for societal aims, they are devised to solve or prevent social problems, which does not necessarily promote human interests and values. To put the problem into context, consider a woman who strongly desires to be with another woman. Yet, she must suppress her impulses because the society at large deems such a relationship unacceptable. Moreover, for fear of being ostracized she, against her own volition, obliges these societal demands not knowing she will only beget the same fate-- isolation. At one end we have isolation from society and at the other we have isolation from one's self. The only viable solution, then, is to transcend the aims of society. Fortunately, in recent years we have seen this unfold (e.g. legalization of same-sex marriage).

During the time it takes for society to catch up to humanistic aims there is an oppressed subgroup of the population, which many schools of thought surmise is unavoidable. Unavoidable as it may be, surely we can do all that is necessary to bring about a reduction in the delay. The difficulty in changing the minds of a large group of people, who I might add, have come to know a certain way of life, has lessened since the emergence of advanced technology. Modes of communication, for example, allow us to communicate globally. Although, being the habitual creatures that we are, change is bound to bring opposition. Still, until this total societal change occurs there will be an oppressed people.

To sum up, in the days when homosexuality was heavily regarded as a pathology, much of an individual's reluctance to acknowledge her impulses, let alone affirm her homosexuality, could be attributed to fear of isolation. Bearing this in mind, it is no far stretch to see how many homosexuals might have felt "different" or separate from society. By now we should be well aware that it is not an inherent disease. If anything is to be said about homosexuality in relation to mental illness it is that the problem did not arise out of an illness within the individual but to an illness external to the individual, namely the social pattern of thought. Furthermore, because of this process, we can see how thoughts and feelings deemed wrong by society can produce maladjusted people.

Up until now, my endeavor has been to show how the way society thinks can have rather dehumanizing effects on the individual. It must be noted, however, that the great distress society can cause does not always engulf the individual. The individual can transcend the aims of society. Humanity has witnessed such feats first-hand: Martin Luther King Jr. transcended the racial inequality during the African-American Civil Rights Movement; Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi transcended British-ruled India; Joan of Arc transcended a world ruled by men during the Hundred Years' War.

As far as I can see, the only way to counteract the dehumanization of our fellow man is to change the way we think. We must encourage the willingness to change. This is done by ridding ourselves of ill feelings toward change, differences, and other concepts not grounded in tradition. A common misconception of modern thinking is that equality has come to mean sameness. In other words, "if I am not the same as everybody else, then I am not equal," (The Mike Wallace Interview: Erich Fromm 1958-05-25). I am sure we would all disagree with this statement, however, our thoughts and behaviors indicate otherwise. By this standard the homosexual is shunned simply because her sexual orientation differs. When these sort of aims are allowed to take root in society there are bound to be people who suffer.

As I have aforementioned, society can engulf an individual whose aims do not correspond to those of society. Therefore, insofar as we believe that each human life has equal value, we cannot permit the social pattern of thought to stay frozen, so we must strive to be better, even if this means abandoning established societal aims.

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