Like bread

Just a little more.

First of all, I mostly agree with Norm here.

One thing we are saying is that the human worth of those prisoners in the camps was being denied. Making them stand naked and vulnerable in the circumstances I have described was a way of announcing that anything – anything at all – could be done to them…To put the same thing differently, the respect or status we normally hold to be due to people simply in virtue of their humanity has here been removed.

But then that is putting it differently, and that’s what I’m saying. I don’t really literally think ‘dignity’ is meaningless – but I do think it means too many things and that some of them are suspect or tricky, and that’s one reason I don’t like it for these purposes, although there isn’t really any substitute word that I do like. I do agree that degradation of this kind is special; I don’t mean to minimize that; but I don’t think humans have only two states: dignity or degradation. I think something is removed from people when they are degraded, but I don’t think dignity is exactly what that something is. Respect is closer. It perhaps doesn’t matter much…I think one reason I keep worrying it is that I’m curious about exactly what it is that’s removed. I keep coming back to the thought that it’s a feeling of normality – not dignity, not really even respect or status or worth (although those are all relevant), but just normality, just feeling ordinary, like everyone else, all right. And the other thing I keep coming back to when I think that is that that’s enough, and that it sort of matters that it’s enough. We don’t have to aspire to anything elevated, we just want to be all right, we don’t want to be treated like garbage. I prefer the minimalism of that. Why…?

Because it seems more reasonable, more like something we all get to expect; it seems…humble, human, everyday, commonplace, like bread, or air, or sleep, or peace. Not something inflated and puffed up, not something grand, not on stilts. Maybe that’s all it is: I just don’t want the stilts. We all, all, all have every right to expect to be left in peace and allowed to walk around without being bullied or stripped naked or bought and sold, and to me dignity doesn’t feel like the right word to describe that ordinary state of being. We love our lives and our ordinary state of being even if they have no great truck with dignity.

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