Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thoughts on class discussion

I want to start by clarifying a point I raised in our last class. In our discussion of Peter Singer, and utilitarian philosophy more broadly, someone raised the point that she felt troubled that in some ways, that line of reasoning made a lot of sense to her. I understand that sentiment when it comes to, for instance, thinking about spending the same amount of money to save one life versus ten. That’s why I raised the argument that utilitarian arguments that marginalize people with disabilities, who as Clara pointed out can be costly to support, only hold weight within our present economic system and the underlying ideologies that perpetuate it. I don’t think that can be taken for granted. In line with this argument, Johnson makes the poignant statement that she has “trouble with basing life-and-death decisions on market considerations when the market is structured by prejudice” (p. 207). I didn’t raise this point to suggest dogmatically that socialism or some other economic system will eradicate ableism, which I certainly don’t think is true. While a non-capitalist system would go far in addressing the material conditions that disproportionately disadvantage and disenfranchise people with disabilities, ableism is an ideology with deep social and cultural roots that will not disappear under an alternative economic system alone. However, I wanted to acknowledge the fruitlessness of utilitarian philosophy that’s rooted in economic arguments that take for granted the present economic system and which, in so doing, inherently circumscribe the policy prescriptions plausible. Capitalism is antithetical to a socially just society and I think, in imagining alternative, non-ableist visions of society that we want to work towards, as we were toward the end of class, we have to be thinking post-capitalism. 

That being said, I also realize that thinking more toward revolution than reform is probably a testament to my able-bodied privilege (although I think there’s also white, class, and other forms of privilege at play in focusing on legal reforms that sometimes require privilege to even be able to access/appeal to). However, feminists have a long history of imagining alternative visions of society and I think this is a worthwhile endeavor in struggling against all forms of oppression, and doing so certainly doesn’t preclude working toward reform in the interim.

I also want to discuss some of the really interesting points raised about education. I agree with Dani that “education-for-all,” or the idea that education is the ultimate aim/panacea for social problems, is hugely problematic. We see this all the time in the “college-for-all” discourse that inherently devalues the lives of many people with disabilities and also perpetuates the hierarchical valuation of different forms of labor. That being said, I think this debate comes down to how we’re defining education, which for me is way more than schooling/learning and is instead something that takes place in all realms of life. So in the example Talina raised of a person who’s “severely disabled” and the way in which “education-for-all” devalues and marginalizes that life, I think the meaningful connections that form in relation with folks with severe disabilities absolutely qualify as education. Conceptualizing education in that broad sense, then, I think education can be viewed as a worthwhile aim for everyone.

I also want to push back against the idea that human nature is to be selfish and that we have to learn to be altruistic. I think that idea is too often and too easily taken for granted and to suggest that we can know human nature seems really presumptuous to me. I don’t think there is any essential human nature that exists outside of the social, cultural, historical, and economic conditions that shape us. A hegemonic conception of human nature that pervades much thinking in the U.S. today has absolutely not persisted across time and space and, rather, is deeply culturally rooted. I just wanted to raise this to suggest that we don’t have to teach people out of selfishness in order to foster a more just, non-ableist society, but, instead, we have to change the social, cultural, and economic systems that teach people to be individualistic/selfish/self-centered in the first place.

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