This article in The Atlantic takes on an issue that Paul Longmore addressed, showing that the able-bodied — perhaps most importantly, medical professionals — regularly underestimate the “quality of life” of disabled people. It has implications for questions of assisted suicide, of advance directives, and of medical education: maybe we need more disabled physicians!
Anne Finger reads “Walking to Abbasanta” and “Helen and Frida.” Her pronunciation of Italian names is scary, but otherwise she reads well.
I ran across a blog post by the usually cheerful Liz Henry that described how the nondisabled feel free to treat wheelchair users in public space. “This particular kind of bad behavior seems to me like it is unconscious but it reflects deep unwillingness to have people with disabilities in public at all or to consider us fully human. We are not considered citizens of the world. When we are in it we are always In the Way.” Read the whole thing: it’s sobering.
A few months ago, public radio did a report on disability benefits in America. The reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, argued that more and more poor and unemployed people who were not disabled and who should have been getting welfare from individual states were drawing Federal disability benefits. She gave the impression that anyone could get SSDI just by going before a judge and asking for it. Nobody from a disability advocacy group was interviewed, nor were any disability scholars or disability lawyers. The ADA and the fact that many disabled people are out of work because employers refuse accommodations, requiring for example that cashiers stand up all day, were not mentioned. The struggle of having repeatedly to prove to the Social Security Administration that, say, one still has MS in order to get benefits was ignored. The fact that a person has chronic back pain that makes them unable to do any of the jobs available in their region was framed as a case of unemployment but not disability. But the story gained enormous traction and is still circulating and being built upon, feeding into the myth that there’s an epidemic of fraud.
Here’s some rebuttals. Our friend s.e. smith collects a bunch of challenges to public radio’s claims in a link-rich post called “NPR Joins Liberal Attacks on Disabled People.” Media Matters, as ever, takes on conservative versions of the narrative in “Myths and Facts Behind the Campaign to Attack Disability Benefits.” The Columbia Journalism Review was not happy with the report’s use of selective and misleading data and linked to other critiques as well.
So although I think Tammy Duckworth did a great job with Castillo, I’m not sure about her “People like you are why disability benefits are in danger.” It seems to me that cheats and fraudsters, appalling as they are, aren’t chiefly to blame for the attacks on the idea of disability benefits. As we’ve seen in discussions on this blog, there’s plenty of people who just don’t want disabled people to exist; and there’s surely plenty more who aren’t necessarily hateful in that way but who don’t want disabled people to receive state support. And many who don’t care but like a sensational news story to spice up their lives. Sure, actual fakery is part of what makes people suspicious — but look at what one commenter on the s.e. smith post says about the atmosphere in the U.K.: propaganda and media campaigns may also be engines of unwarranted and harmful suspicion.
ETA: O SIXTY MINUTES NO (again, a nice collection of supporting links at the bottom)
As ever, don’t assume that the linked blog post tells us “What the disabled want” or describes “THE disabled experience”: it’s just one person’s account, and there’s more to any disabled person’s life than suffering discrimination. But the post is a really powerful message to nondisabled people who think they’re doing great at activism and support and tolerance but who need reminding of how big the problem is, and of some frequent experiences that disabled people have. “If you think that ableism ends at the top of a ramp, you have gotten lost somewhere . . . Ableism is structural, institutional, interpersonal, sneaky, blatant, violent, confrontational, slithery, outrageous, embarrassing . . . Ableism is something i and millions of other people deal with every single day.”
Martha Stoddard Holmes mentions John Ruskin’s 1880 “Fiction Fair and Foul,” in which he attributes the existence of disabled characters to diseased authors. Here is part of the Ruskin passage in question. It’s kind of entertaining.
The reader who cares to seek it may easily find medical evidence of the physical effects of certain states of brain disease in producing especially images of truncated and Hermes-like deformity, complicated with grossness. Horace, in the Epodes, scoffs at it, but not without horror. Luca Signorelli and Raphael in their arabesques are deeply struck by it: Durer, defying and playing with it alternately, is almost beaten down again and again in the distorted faces, hewing halberts, and suspended satyrs of his arabesques round the polyglot Lord’s Prayer; it takes entire possession of Balzac in the Contes Drolatiques; it struck Scott in the earliest days of his childish ‘visions’ intensified by the axe-stroke murder of his grand aunt; L. i. 142, and see close of this note. It chose for him the subject of the Heart of Midlothian, and produced afterwards all the recurrent ideas of executions, tainting Nigel, almost spoiling Quentin Durward–utterly the Fair Maid of Perth: and culminating in Bizarro, L. x. 149. It suggested all the deaths by falling, or sinking, as in delirious sleep–Kennedy, Eveline Neville (nearly repeated in Clara Mowbray), Amy Robsart, the Master of Ravenswood in the quicksand, Morris, and Corporal Grace-be-here–compare the dream of Gride, in Nicholas Nickleby, and Dickens’s own last words, on the ground, (so also, in my own inflammation of the brain, two years ago, I dreamed that I fell through the earth and came out on the other side). In its grotesque and distorting power, it produced all the figures of the Lay Goblin, Pacolet, Flibbertigibbet, Cockledemoy, Geoffrey Hudson, Fenella, and Nectabanus; in Dickens it in like manner gives Quilp, Krook, Smike, Smallweed, Miss Mowcher, and the dwarfs and wax-work of Nell’s caravan; and runs entirely wild in Barnaby Rudge, where, with a corps de drame composed of one idiot, two madmen, a gentleman fool who is also a villain, a shop-boy fool who is also a blackguard, a hangman, a shrivelled virago, and a doll in ribands–carrying this company through riot and fire, till he hangs the hangman, one of the madmen, his mother, and the idiot, runs the gentleman-fool through in a bloody duel, and burns and crushes the shop-boy fool into shapelessness, he cannot yet be content without shooting the spare lover’s leg off, and marrying him to the doll in a wooden one; the shapeless shop-boy being finally also married in two wooden ones. It is this mutilation, observe, which is the very sign manual of the plague; joined, in the artistic forms of it, with a love of thorniness–(in their mystic root, the truncation of the limbless serpent and the spines of the dragon’s wing. Compare Modern Painters, vol. iv., ‘Chapter on the Mountain Gloom,’ s. 19); and in all forms of it, with petrifaction or loss of power by cold in the blood, whence the last Darwinian process of the witches’ charm–‘cool it with a baboon’s blood, then the charm is firm and good.’ The two frescoes in the colossal handbills which have lately decorated the streets of London (the baboon with the mirror, and the Maskelyne and Cooke decapitation) are the final English forms of Raphael’s arabesque under this influence; and it is well worth while to get the number for the week ending April 3, 1880, of Young Folks–‘A magazine of instructive and entertaining literature for boys and girls of all ages,’ containing ‘A Sequel to Desdichado’ (the modern development of Ivanhoe), in which a quite monumental example of the kind of art in question will be found as a leading illustration of this characteristic sentence, “See, good Cerberus,” said Sir Rupert, “my hand has been struck off. You must make me a hand of iron, one with springs in it, so that I can make it grasp a dagger.” The text is also, as it professes to be, instructive; being the ultimate degeneration of what I have above called the ‘folly’ of Ivanhoe; for folly begets folly down, and down; and whatever Scott and Turner did wrong has thousands of imitators–their wisdom none will so much as hear, how much less follow!
I want to introduce you to the German critic and playwright Gotthold Lessing, an important voice of the Enlightenment and a pretty forward-looking guy: in 1779, he wrote a play arguing that Jews, Christians, and Muslims could all get along, a thesis that is still pretty radical in many places. But his great critical work, and a landmark piece of aesthetic theory, was his 1766 book Laocoön, Or, the Limits of Painting and Poetry. And in it he takes on Adam Smith (whom he misidentifies as English) directly. Remember Smith’s contempt for Greek heroes who cry out in pain? Here’s Lessing:
[Philoctetes] whimpers, he cries aloud, he goes through the most frightful convulsions. To this behaviour it is that the reproach of offended propriety is particularly addressed. It is an Englishman who utters this reproach; a man, therefore, whom we should not easily suspect of a false delicacy. . . . All feelings and passions, he says, with which others can only slightly sympathize, are offensive when they are expressed too violently. “For this reason there is nothing more becoming and more unworthy of a man than when he cannot bear pain, even the most violent, with patience; but weeps and cries aloud. Of course we may feel sympathy with bodily pain. When we see that any one is about to get a blow on the arm or the shin-bone, and when the blow actually falls, in a certain measure we feel it as truly as he whom it strikes. At the same time, however, it it certain that the trouble we experience amounts to very little; if the person struck, therefore, sets up a violent outcry, we do not fail to despise him, because we are not at all in the mind to cry out with so much violence.” . . . Nothing is more fallacious than general laws for human feelings. The web of them is so fine-spun and so intricate that it is hardly possible for the most careful speculation to take up a single thread by itself and follow it through all the threads that cross it. And supposing it possible, what is the use of it? There does not exist in Nature a single unmixed feeling; along with every one of there there arise a thousand others simultaneously, the very smallest of which completely alters the first, so that exceptions on exceptions spring up which reduce at last the supposed general law itself to the mere experience of a few individual cases. We despise him, says the Englishman, whom we hear shriek aloud under bodily pain. No; not always; nor at first; not when we see that the sufferer makes every effort to suppress it; not when we know him otherwise as a man of fortitude; still less when we see him even in his suffering give proof of his fortitude, when we see that the pain can indeed force cries from him, but can compel him to nothing further — that he will rather submit to the longer endurance of this pain than change his opinions or his resolve in the slightest, even if he might hope by such a change to end his agony. And all this we find in Philoctetes. With the ancient Greeks moral greatness consisted in just as unchanging a love to friends as an unalterable hatred to enemies. This greatness Philoctetes maintains in all his torments. His pain has not so dried his eyes that they can spare no tears for the fate of his old friends. His pain has not made him so pliable that, to be rid of it, he will forgive his enemies and allow himself willingly to be used for their selfish purposes. And this rock of a man ought the Athenians to have despised because the surges that could not shake him made him give forth a cry?