Human dignity revolves around the recognition that all human beings – their minds and their bodies – have intrinsic value. Slavery, which assigns a price tag to that which ought to be priceless and is predicated upon the belief that certain groups of people are inherently lesser, violates this to its core. The “Displaying Sara Baartman” document, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman?,” and the reading on Human Zoos all describe further instances wherein human dignity was trampled upon: the atrocities George Cuvier (amongst many others) committed against Sara Baartman and Khoisan women like her, Frances Gage’s erasure of Sojourner Truth’s identity and voice, and human zoos, which reads to me like something out of a dystopia despite the fact that, apparently, these things still exist today. In all of these examples people are reduced to their labor, or to a spectacle– their beings/bodies used for others’ gain. Dignity itself is irrevocably tied to respect, and there is a blistering lack of that in any of the above.
When I was reading about human zoos, the second episode of a Star Trek parody-type series called The Orville, titled “Command Performance,” came to mind. In this expansion of my original slack post on human dignity, I’d like to dig into that some more (as I now have room to do so).
Like Star Trek, episodes of The Orville frequently address social and moral issues. In “Command Performance,” two of the main characters find themselves imprisoned in a type of human zoo. The Calivon – the alien race that imprisoned them alongside thousands of other aliens – view all other life that isn’t as technologically advanced as them as inferior and simplistic, and thus have no moral issues with their zoos. The complete lack of consideration they give to the thoughts and feelings of those they’ve decided are inferior to them does not so much come from a place of malice as it does incomprehension. Here I’ll refer back to the sentence that kicked off this post. Those who trample on the dignity of others do so from a position of extreme self-conferred superiority. This sense of superiority renders them incapable of understanding the core principle of human dignity – that all humans (and aliens, in this case) have intrinsic, infinite, and incomparable value – and thus strips them of their own.