“What you’re seeing in that moment,” he said in an interview last week, “is not a human being.”Sean O'Callaghan

This is the thing I’ve thought much about for several years.  But not quite in above quote’s context.

Sean O’Callaghan’s observation was made watching scenes of this month’s terrorist attack in a Nairobi mall.  Gunmen in the mall.  Shooting people.  But what they see, if Mr. O’Callaghan is correct, are not humans.  He shares this insight from his own experience as an Irish Republican Army gunman in the 1970s.  As a killer.

“A culture of authority and obedience that supplants individual moral responsibility with loyalty to a larger mission helps loosen the moral inhibition against murder, social psychologists say. So does a routinization of violence, as well as injustice or economic hardship that allows the killer to see himself as the true victim.”

Let me take a short leap here.

When I see drivers on crowded city roads during rush hour, I am not so certain that they are seeing humans so much as objects, and obstructions.

There.  I believe you are now seeing what I mean.

The idea I’ve been playing with is that technology creates distance, and that the result is a diminishing of others’ human identity.  Sure, technology can create closeness.   Social media.  Sure.

“But perhaps the most important ingredient is the dehumanization of the victims, said David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England and author of ‘Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.'”


Technology has brought much benefit, and it isn’t going so far to say well-being, to humans and humanity.  But put a human in a tank on a WWII battlefield, peering through a slit or a periscope at figures scuttling across the land.  A young person seated at a control desk directing from a great distance a drone over a dark land far away.  A driver seated in an automobile surrounded by hundreds of other autos in which other drivers are obscured by the tinted glass.

It may be that the great challenge for humans in an increasingly urbanized world is distance.  The paradox is that as we more densely populate the places of this world, the great cities, that we find ourselves distanced via technology.  And in the case of the Kenyan terrorists, IRA of the 1970s, Germany of the 1930s?  Increasing degrees of efficient hatred have been brought about by technological advance.

This is a type of distance made possible by technology.  Perhaps even as reaction to increasing density.  My question:  how do we then serve in this world which God so loves?

One of the big theological concepts is that of reconciliation.  Things made right between others and persons brought together.  This theological impulse runs counter to hatred.

On the crowded city street during rush hour.  I need to change lanes.  Traffic is bumper to bumper and very slow.  I turn my head.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  A friendly wave.  I become human.  I merge.  Another wave of the hand.  Of gratitude.  I have become human.  And so has the other.

So then, how do we work reconciliation in this Urban Millennium?