Deconstructing the word ‘Human’

Content Warning: Contains references to violence, strong language and disturbing imagery. Reader discretion advised. 

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca


Pardon me, Mr Seneca, you may have had a lot of faith in humanity, considering you were talking about humanity when it was just discovering itself. But we’ve seen a couple of centuries pass by us, and us humans are quite a different lot now.

Or are we?

Weren’t we always like this? 

In – Human?

This Vietnam-war time Zippo lighter offers a more apt summarization of what humankind does to its own kind.

vietnam war zippo


I’ll finally begin this discussion with a question –

What does the word ‘human’ mean to you? 


The dictionary meaning is –

adjective: human
  1. relating to or characteristic of humankind.
  2. of or characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals or machines, especially in being susceptible to weaknesses.
  3. showing the better qualities of humankind, such as kindness.
(Source: Google)

Today and from now on, I will agree with only the second explanation, that too, only partially. What’s the reason behind my sudden bleak outlook on humanity? I’ll tell you why.

Last night I was watching History Channel’s Vikings on Netflix. (Yes, I know, I’m late to the party). I was watching the episode ‘Blood Eagle’, which started this brooding over what we, humans, are capable of when it comes to inflicting pain and destruction. Those who have watched the show will know just what I’m talking about –

The unnerving brutality in the act of cutting open a human from the back to expose the rib cage, break down the bones thereof almost artistically, to be splayed apart like wings and then, to rip out the lungs and adorn them over the exposed skin and bones, so that it looks like a ‘bloody eagle’ has outstretched its wings to take flight.

For those who haven’t watched it, here’s the link.

A spoiler though, the show doesn’t graphically depict how it’s done, or rather, it’s not graphic enough. The characters talk about it throughout the episode, so the viewer has an idea of how gruesome this form of punishment is. But the real shocker for me was – it was an actual, well-recorded form of torture that was employed by the Vikings of yore to execute people guilty of the greatest of crimes; ALL WHILE THOSE BEING PUNISHED WERE STILL ALIVE!!

Don’t believe me? I won’t grudge you that. I didn’t either, at first. I didn’t even understand how it could be done, let alone believing that it was an actual practice, till I looked it up on Google, at 1.30 at night, and read about it here and here. 

I won’t lie to you. My brain couldn’t at first comprehend the sheer inhumanity of it all. I have read about torture devices, watched movies with a lot of blood and gore. Of course, you may debate, that I’ve never seen it for myself, so I can’t know what it truly is like. But do we need to; witness such brutality to know how savage it is?

Unnerved by what I had read, I went to my trusted source of pictorial information – Pinterest. At first, it threw up images of the show itself, and there weren’t many pins on what Bloody Eagle was, but then I clicked on pictures that depicted other kinds of torture devices used in the Middle Ages. Some of them were bone-chillingly barbaric. You cannot even imagine the kinds of tortures we humans have inflicted upon our kind, and for what?

Land, information, sex, revenge, FUN?!

For example, and hold your stomach, the humble saw that we use now in households to cut down wood, or in carpentry, had a very, very bloody origin. It was used as a torture device to saw down human beings from the bottom up. They were hung upside down so the human being wouldn’t lose consciousness through the horror of it all. I bet you’re never going to use a saw the same way again!

My first thought after reading and looking at these things was – aren’t we lucky to put this bestiality behind us? Aren’t we lucky that we have evolved into better beings, that we’ve left this darkness behind and moved on to live like ‘civilised’ people?

Then, curse it, I came upon another pin based on torture in concentration camps in Auschwitz. Of course, we’ve read about concentration camps in our History textbooks, read about the Holocaust too, seen and experienced it vicariously through movies like Schindler’s List, The Reader. But nothing, I promise, will reveal the true brutality of ‘human inhumanity’ when it comes to torturing than the actual footage or photographs of those concentration camps, unless you’ve been unlucky enough to witness it firsthand.

There were so, so many more of such pictures, all from this very, ‘modern’ era. Japanese troops raping Korean women, forcing their fetuses out, just to rape them; children being left homeless, limbless, orphaned, in some instances killed for being born into the wrong religion or country; victims of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings; victims of a misdirected napalm attack in the Vietnam war; victims of the Gaza attack; the massacred Syrian children; the Mumbai 2008 attack, these are all examples of the brutality we have witnessed, inflicted by our kind on our own kind, within the span of the last 100 years.

At first, I was going to include those pictures in this post, but I didn’t want someone to stumble across these pictures and go through the same depression that I’m going through since last night. Today I feel like everything is grey – within and around me. I have been so disturbed since last night about these images and what they mean, that when my daughter smiles at me today, I can’t help but wonder, somewhere some child may be smiling for the last time, or that, somewhere a child may have lost hope of ever being anything more than being called a ‘terrorist’ by some misguided fanatic. If you must look at the pics through the links I’ve provided, do so at your own discretions. I dare you to look at each one of these pictures, read the text provided with them, and not tear up like I have been doing since last night.

I realised, today perhaps more than any other time I’ve thought about these things, that it’s never getting over. It’s happening every day, somewhere.

We say ‘man has evolved’? Oh, really? What have we been doing ever since humanity came into existence but device ways to rule others – beasts or other humans?

Time for another question.

Tell me what ‘Bestiality’ means to you?

This is the dictionary meaning –

  1. The condition or status of a lower animal
  2. Display or gratification of bestial traits or impulses
  3. Sexual relations between a human being and a lower animal

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Tell me how each and every one of those explanations is not applicable to us humans?

Tell me why do we insult beasts by calling our own savagery ‘bestiality’?

A beast or an animal never kills outside of these two reasons – self-preservation and nutrition. We, on the other hand, kill for reasons far less meaningful. A beast will never torture its prey. It chooses the swiftest way possible to kill so that it can eat as soon as the creature is dead. Also, when its hunger is sated, a beast will not kill just for the heck of it. But we, the so-called intelligent species fashioned in God’s own image, we kill, maim, pillage, pollute, contaminate, corrupt, destroy all for our perverse pleasure and self-aggrandizement.

Have you ever seen wolves being attacked by a herd of sheep as revenge for the dead sheep they have killed for centuries? No. Ever seen a vulture or any other scavenger attack a creature that is not already dead? No! Ever seen humans attacking other humans over a collapsed temple or mosque? YES!

These baser emotions – jealousy, revenge, back-stabbing, opportunism, pettiness, they too exist only in us humans.

Ask me now what a human is?

A human is a species far baser, viler than beasts.


We keep hoping that things will improve, that peace will prevail someday. We keep blaming it all on religion, country, terror. None of them is the real reason why we kill.

We are the terrorists. We are the terror. 


The worst thing about this epiphany is that there’s nothing you or I can do about those of us who think it is righteous to wage a war – sometimes in the name of God or country, sometimes in the name of Industrialism and Development. Really, when have we been able to avert war when someone in power has been intent on waging it? We humans are never going to let peace prevail on this planet for any species because it is not in our natures to stop at what we have. We always want more. 

Maybe if all the soldiers in the world decided to drop their weapons at the same time and refuse to kill other humans, governments and countries would not be able to wage wars on each other. Maybe if all the religious fanatics decided that to kill is not the aim of religion, we would not have terrorism in the name of faith. Maybe if all of us decided that the Earth belongs to every organism on this planet too, we would stop needing things like the Paris Accord or PETA.  Maybe if a meteor labelled ‘only for humans’ fell on this planet and wiped only us humans out, it would serve this planet better.

But these are all just ‘maybes’.

So, tell me again what the word ‘human’ means to you?

18555851_100676450514066_4494546682437471084_n.jpgCopyright ©2017 Pradita Kapahi.

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37 thoughts on “Deconstructing the word ‘Human’

  1. Surely, ​humans are the only animals which is most barbaric. The only reason for extinction of many other species. While some may argue that we live in far better times, fact is that human history is full of atrocities inflicted on its own brothers and sisters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have presented the write up so well and looking at all angles, offering in-depth views on barbarism committed by humans. It’s hard to fathom how we have become so vile as humans, massacring lives. It hurts so much to see so much hate in killing people over religious belonging.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this post. I happen to agree with you that humans throughout our lifetimes on earth have a tendency to be cruel, kill, Go to war. Is there a select few who actually desire peace? Or do most of us want peace? Or those in control are only those war-minded individuals? What happened to us to be like this?? Many questions that can’t easily be answered. What I try to do is look through the person to the soul. On the soul level, we are perfect and have learned our lessons. We are enlightened and no longer in the flesh. There is a soul in all of us- and that glimmer of hope can be reached.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Celeste and showing me that it still can be hoped to somehow salvage some of us, even if not all. But the problem is those ‘some of us’ are a rarity now
      And the ‘most of us’ are only busy making a place for themselves. How will this stop? Is there a practical solution to stop, once and for all, the war mongering, the destruction of the earth and terrorism? I hope someone comes up with a solution. I hope, just like you do


  4. You have written so well ,
    I can feel the pain of innocent animals and persons who are used as a experiment .
    Ok now let me explain humanity again
    Humanity is the term which is used on social sites , in religious lectures and in school text books .
    Rarely we find any implementation of this word , one side people love to watch porn masala , they search “virgin sex” , “rape” , “child sex ” type of terms .
    Another side they want alive humanity.
    One side they love to eat mutter chicken , beef (omg I have used most controversial word may be people will label me as secular 😀😀 ) .
    We love to watch fake show khatron ka khiladi , we do watch WWE (which is totally based on brutalness) and we love action sceens when a 2.5 packs holder hero kills 6 overweight villains.
    At last I would like to say ,I am being criticiser day by day .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: #WATWB Month 5: Everyday Heroes | The Pradita Chronicles

  6. I read this one when you posted it. Can’t quite remember why I didn’t comment on it. And yes, one only needs to take a peek at times of war and despotism and even the colonial conquests to see how far we humans can go in dehumanizing ourselves.
    The Belgian colonialists were so violent in their African conquests that it even scared the other colonial powers, or so my school history book said. They used to chop off hands and heads and put them up on spikes as souvenirs. This, in the last quarter of the 19th century, when we had supposedly moved from medieval to modern world.
    So, well, we can plumb to depths even we don’t know about.
    Deep and thoughtful post. Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

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