Will the Left Survive the Moderates?

Content Notice: Racism, White Liberalism, Ableism

Today an op-ed by Lionel Shriver popped on my Facebook newsfeed.  Some of you may know Lionel Shriver from her writing but I don’t read very much fiction so I know her because I read Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s critique of Shriver’s keynote at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.  That critique appears to have inspired this op-ed and the keynote that has faced a considerable amount of criticism seems to have stemmed from a negative review of “The Mandibles”, Shriver’s latest novel.  So essentially this whole thing is because someone didn’t give Shriver’s book a glowing review and she couldn’t deal with it.  The author of that review was Ken Kalfus and I will let him outline the problems with the book in an excerpt from an article he wrote following the keynote mess.

Shriver’s 12th novel is set in a near-future American dystopia where many of the concerns currently expressed by conservatives finally have been realized. After an immigration amnesty, the country is flooded with “Lats” who elect a Mexican-born president who presides over a devastating economic collapse, in part created by runaway entitlements. Shriver observes President Alvarado’s “baby-faced softness only emphasized by the palatalized consonants of a Mexican accent,” a stereotypical image of a pudgy, lisping Mexican that links his perfidy to his ethnicity as would an elliptically described hooked nose on a loathsome Jewish character.

The two black characters are similarly ill-treated. One, a social worker, is the novel’s only character who speaks sub-standard English. After Alvarado renounces the national debt, she says, “I don’t see why the gubment ever pay anything back. Pass a law say, ‘We don’t got to.’ ” It was once common in newspapers, fiction and nonfiction to report the speech of “ordinary” people in standard English, while voicing minorities in dialect or vernacular, as they might sound to white ears; this still happens from time to time, unfortunately. By recording only the speech of minority characters in sub-standard English, you stigmatize the entire ethnic group as something other than normal. No one speaks perfectly. Respect for your characters suggests that if you record one’s solecisms, dropped consonants, drawl or brogue, you will faithfully record everybody else’s, too.

The most problematic of Shriver’s minority characters is an African American woman who has married into the white family at the heart of the novel. She suffers from early-onset dementia and is a danger to herself and to others. As the economy collapses, the family loses its home and treks across Brooklyn with the woman at the end of a leash. A plot development that features an uncontrollable black person who has to be kept under restraint like a dog seems guaranteed to hurt and provoke outrage. I wrote, “If ‘The Mandibles’ is ever made into a film, my suggestion is that this image not be employed for the movie poster.” I was thinking of ads in bus shelters and, honestly, I imagined they’d be wrecked.

Shriver, it should be said, insists that the book is only facing accusations of racism because it “doesn’t toe a strict Democratic Party line”.  The thrust of Shriver’s op-ed essentially boils down to her not understanding the difference between censorship and holding people accountable for their words and actions.  This seems to be a very difficult difference for many privileged people of a certain age to grasp and Shriver throws around a lot of the usual strawmen but she also sinks to a few new lows, so I suppose that’s impressive.  Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The first bit of the op-ed is basically over-dramatic whinging about how writers of fiction need to be able to write characters from backgrounds that are not their own, which no one is preventing her from doing.  This entire bit is structured as a direct response to Abdel-Magied’s piece which, as far as I can recall, doesn’t make the argument that writers can never write about things outside of their own experiences.  The next couple of paragraphs are made up of Shriver disparaging the “identity politics movement”, which I’m not entirely sure is a thing that exists.

Viewing the world and the self through the prism of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, the identity-politics movement — in which behavior like huffing out of speeches and stirring up online mobs is par for the course — is an assertion of generational power. Among millennials and those coming of age behind them, the race is on to see who can be more righteous and aggrieved — who can replace the boring old civil rights generation with a spikier brand.

As I said, I’m not really sure what the “identity-politics movement” is.  I’m of the generation Shriver is disparaging and I’m thoroughly involved in the social justice world.  None of the activists I know have ever used such a term.  Perhaps the reason that Shriver had to come up with this new term is because criticizing a series of civil rights movements sounds considerably worse than criticizing the scary new thing known as an “identity-politics movement”.  Of course the idea that the world is divided into groups who are advantaged and disadvantaged is not the theory of some strange new movement, it’s an observable fact.  It’s how oppression works and it has formed the foundation of every civil or human rights struggle in history.  That brings us to Shriver’s strange views on oppression.

When I was growing up in the ’60s and early ’70s, conservatives were the enforcers of conformity. It was the right that was suspicious, sniffing out Communists and scrutinizing public figures for signs of sedition.

Now the role of oppressor has passed to the left. In Australia, where I spoke, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to do or say anything likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate,” providing alarming latitude in the restriction of free speech. It is Australia’s conservatives arguing for the amendment of this law.

One has to wonder why Shriver went to Australia, since it is obviously such a cesspit of left wing totalitarianism.  Of course the truth is that anti-hate speech laws are not a form of oppression and are in fact quite common.  The UK, where Shriver lives has them, Canada, where I live, has them, and Germany has rather strict ones concerning things related to certain events which occurred there in the 1930’s and 40’s.  Amazingly the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany have not devolved into totalitarian leftist states.  Neither are they free of bigotry and it’s telling that Shriver is more concerned with whether or not she can get away with hate speech than with the actual oppression that is occurring all around her.

As a lifelong Democratic voter, I’m dismayed by the radical left’s ever-growing list of dos and don’ts — by its impulse to control, to instill self-censorship as well as to promote real censorship, and to deploy sensitivity as an excuse to be brutally insensitive to any perceived enemy. There are many people who see these frenzies about cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, micro-aggressions and safe spaces as overtly crazy. The shrill tyranny of the left helps to push them toward Donald Trump.

I’m not sure why Shriver brings up her voting history here but I find it amusing that she is sad about having a list of dos and don’ts.  The idea that you will be looked down upon by people involved in civil rights activism if you spew bigotry is not new and should not be shocking, in fact it should be expected.  Of course we need to get a jab in at some basic social justice concepts that Shriver can’t be bothered to properly understand.  This is all rather typical of disgruntled baby boomer critiques of millennial civil rights activism but Shriver begins to sink lower when she essentially blames marginalized people for Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Ironically, only fellow liberals will be cowed by terror of being branded a racist (a pejorative lobbed at me in recent days — one that, however groundless, tends to stick). But there’s still such a thing as a real bigot, and a real misogynist. In obsessing over micro-aggressions like the sin of uttering the commonplace Americanism “you guys” to mean “you all,” activists persecute fellow travelers who already care about equal rights.

This marks the first time that Shriver conflates leftism and liberalism but we will come back to that.  Shriver apparently doesn’t like people calling other people racist, for reasons she doesn’t really explain.  Maybe it’s because she has been accused of racism, an accusation clearly rooted in fact going by the content of “The Mandibles”.  But perhaps she isn’t a “real racist”, whatever that is.  Here Shiver will demonstrate the fact that she doesn’t understand the concept of microaggressions.  Marginalized people do not obsess over casual bigotry, they are bombarded by it every hour of every day.  That’s where the idea of safe spaces comes in.  Oppressed people occasionally like to go to places where they aren’t constantly being shit on.  Naturally privileged people can’t comprehend this because the entire world is their safe space.

Moreover, people who would hamper free speech always assume that they’re designing a world in which only their enemies will have to shut up. But free speech is fragile. Left-wing activists are just as dependent on permission to speak their minds as their detractors.

These three sentences can be summed up with three more sentences.  Leftists know this and that’s why they don’t aim to hamper free speech.  No, Lionel, people criticizing you is not censorship.

Ms. Abdel-Magied got the question right: How is this happening? How did the left in the West come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism I grew up with? Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves “progressives,” forsaking a noun that had its roots in “liber,” meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.

Someone needs to tell Ms. Shriver that liberal and progressive are not synonyms.  The majority of people who support the things that Shriver holds in such contempt have never identified as liberals.  Part of that is probably because of the kind of crap that Shriver has spewed in this op-ed.  The majority of liberals like Shriver seem to care more about about protecting the bigot’s right to oppress then standing up with the oppressor’s victims.  Sure, they will oppose bigotry on the surface but they have no interest in dismantling the underlying systems that allow it to flourish.  Shriver ensures us that she is a fellow traveler who already cares about equal rights but in the proceeding paragraph she refers to the things that activists from marginalized groups say are important as “overtly crazy”.

Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.

This final paragraph is perhaps the most profoundly tone deaf part of this whole mess, as Shriver longs for the days when the left or liberals (she uses them interchangeably) stood up for the rights of Nazis.  I’m not sure how the Battle of Cable Street fits into her strange history of the left, since last I checked the leftists of London most certainly did not stand up for the BUF’s right to march.  It’s beyond me why Shriver thinks Nazis are the ones who need their rights defended when we have a bonafide white supremacist, fascist demagogue a hairs breath away from becoming the president of the United States.  Shriver might also want to do a little research because the concept of microaggressions was developed in the 1970’s, an era that Shriver longs to return to, because apparently back in the 60’s and 70’s civil rights activists fought for the rights of the oppressors and not just the oppressed.  Apparently I missed all those speeches from the 60’s where activists defended the Klan’s right to rally and burn crosses because of freedom of speech.

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Will the Left Survive the Moderates?

The Long Shadow of the Eugenics Movement

CN: Ableism, Eugenics, Ableist Language, Functioning Labels

I wasn’t going to write anything for Blogging Against Disableism Day because I typically find it difficult to blog if I don’t have something specific that I feel needs saying.  Last night, however, I friend sent me this truly rubbish diagram illustrating the Autism spectrum, so now I do have something to say.

AutismBS
A bullshit illustration of what some assholes think the Autism spectrum is. It’s a rainbow with “High functioning autism, Asperger’s or PDD” at one end and “Classic Autism” at the other. Along the bottom is some kind of ruler containing the following descriptions: extreme ability in some areas, above average IQ, average IQ, mild learning disability, moderate learning disability, and severe learning disability. The image is titled “Autistic Spectrum Conditions.”

It took me a little while to realise just why I found this image so disturbing.  There were the usual shitty elements: functioning labels, use of nonscientific rubbish like IQ, but there was something more and that was how familiar this image is.  Last month I wrote a post about institutionalisation for Un-Boxed Brain’s Neurodiversity A-Z and in my post I included a eugenics propaganda poster created by the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene.  The poster provides information on “four different types of mental deficiency” and includes images and “mental ages”.  I’m honestly somewhat surprised it doesn’t contain IQ measurements since they were so heavily used by those within the eugenics movement.

04 Eugenics Poster
A poster promoting eugenics created by the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene, who conducted “activities to secure better provision for the control of Feeblemindedness”.  The poster warns of “four types of mental deficiency” which are idiocy, Mongolian imbecility (Down Syndrome), imbecility and the moron (high grade feeble-minded).  The poster goes on to state: “The feeble-minded can be divided into three groups (1) Idiots with a mental age of less than three years; (2) Imbeciles with a mental age between three and seven years; (3) Morons with a mental age between seven and eleven years.  The moron group has been largely neglected in Canada and has contributed greatly to criminality, vice and pauperism.”

It seems blatantly obvious to me that a direct line can be drawn between this poster and the Autistic Spectrum Conditions illustration.  Indeed, a line can be clearly drawn between the general rhetoric of the eugenics movement and the way disabled people are talked about today.  In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s grades became functioning labels and defective became retarded.  Words changed, but the dehumanising way in which they were used did not. The common assumption is that after the Shoah eugenics fell out of favor with society at large.  I don’t believe that to be the case and I think many disabled people would agree with me.  Methods like forced sterilisation, mass incarceration, and outright murder began to fall out of favor but  the goal of a world without disabled people never did.

You can still see it in the way disabled people are portrayed as dangerous, as a burden on society, and a drain on the system.  Denial of proper medical care for disabled people is rampant and in Europe 92% of pregnancies with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome are terminated.  Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, argues that children with “severe disabilities” are not fully human and as such parents should be able to have them “put down”, a perspective that strongly mirrors that held by eugenicist Dr. Harry J. Haiselden and those who oversaw the Nazi’s Aktion T4 program.  So no, I do not think that eugenics ended in the aftermath of the Holocaust and I believe the ideology behind eugenics will continue to thrive so long as we live in a society which systematically devalues those with disabilities.

The Long Shadow of the Eugenics Movement

No, I do not play Steve Earle songs.

Content Warning for ableist rhetoric related to eye contact, stimming, ABA, Autism causes and so on.

People are often surprised that I don’t play Steve Earle songs. I guess that’s understandable given that I draw from a lot of the same musical styles and also share many of Mr. Earle’s political views. At one time I did perform a number of Steve Earle songs and owned most of his albums. The last Steve Earle record I bought was The Low Highway, released in 2013. It was around this time that I became aware of his son John Henry being Autistic. As I recall I bought the album already knowing this and giving Steve the benefit of the doubt, assuming that because of his commitment to good causes he would manage to avoid being a horrible ableist shitstain like so many “Autism parents”. I think it took a couple of weeks for me to come across this video and realized that I had given Steve too much credit.

“It’s an epidemic, it’s one in fifty kids, that’s the latest number. And that’s real, and it’s world wide, and it’s something environmental. It’s something we’re eating, drinking, walking through, it’s something we’re all exposed to and we have to solve it. It’s the greatest epidemic in history as far as I know. Nothing close to this exists.” Steve says, after going on about how John Henry “makes eye contact and he’s socially connected, so we don’t have that battle to fight, thank god” and “he has some self-stimulating behavior that you might have seen if you know anybody who has a child with autism”. Yes, thank God your kid can make eye contact because that’s so important and oh, the horror, he still stims.

So thanks for that, Steve, it feels great to know that a songwriter who can find the humanity in a murderer awaiting execution can’t manage to do the same for people like me, who’s only “crime” is being born different. It’s so awesome knowing that I can’t even feel safe among so called progressives because even if someone is against racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and so on, there’s a good chance they still think people like me don’t deserve to exist.  This problem of completely overlooking discrimination against disabled people is one that needs to be confronted by people who are active within progressive communities.

In the years since I became aware of Steve Earle’s views on Autism I have sold or traded all of my Steve Earle records and stopped playing his songs. Steve has gone on to perform at Autism Speaks benefits and has begun writing his memoirs so he can fund his son’s eight hour ABA sessions.

No, I do not play Steve Earle songs.

Ten Perks Kids with Autism Get from Bullying: The Honest Version

So Autism Daily Newscast continues their trend of fucking up spectacularly.  This time they published an article by an ABA practitioner (aka professional bully) about all the benefits of Autistic kids being bullied.  I guess it makes sense that an ABA practitioner would write something like this, they do need to defend their livelihood, right?

Anyway, here’s my more honest version of the article.

1. Promoting Autism Friendly Programs: Discrimination leads to social justice! Be thankful for Autistic peoples’ rights being violated because it gives them the experience of fighting for basic human respect and dignity. Similarly, black people should be thankful for slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and continuous violence from law enforcement. Without that good old discrimination they wouldn’t have a civil rights movement. GO BIGOTRY AND INTOLERANCE!
2. Team Work: Your child being abused will allow you, the parent, to build a better relationship with school staff. Because after all, you’re the important one in this story.
3. Autism Awareness Every Month: Thanks to the constant abuse they face people will now be *aware* that Autistic people exist.  Maybe this will lead to the elimination of the tragic Autism.  Because remember, when there are no more Autistic people there will be no more Autistic people being bullied.
4. Kids Learn Skills: If Autistic people are constantly being abused because of the way they communicate they will eventually start to communicate like normal, real people.
5. Builds Strength: Autistic kids will eventually learn to fight back against their tormentors. Then they will be punished while the bullies get off scot-free.
6. More Friendships: Constant harassment will somehow lead to Autistic people having more friends. Because everyone wants to be friends with the weird kid who keeps getting the ever loving shit beat out of them. That’s definitely how it works.
7. Overall Well-Being: Excessive bullying will force teachers to meet an Autistic child’s needs. Or take part in the bullying themselves. Yeah, probably the second one.
8. Healthy Relationships: Your child will have PTSD and massive trust issues.
9. Increased Life Skills: PTSD makes Autistic people more normal.
10. Self Esteem: Bullying will make your kid stronger. That’s how PTSD works, right?

Ten Perks Kids with Autism Get from Bullying: The Honest Version

Autcom 25: Human Rights for All?

At roughly 7:00 AM yesterday, I was standing in an upper floor hallway of the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire with Autcom President Emily Titon and my new friend Ivan.  We were at the Autism National Committee’s 25th Anniversary Conference, and Emily and Ivan were trying to get in touch with the other board members while I tagged along.  The previous day, one of the attendees had used a flash camera in the presence of well-known Autistic activist Kassiane Sibley (who writes the blog Radical Neurodivergence Speaking – you should read it).  Like 30% of the Autistic population, Kassiane is also epileptic, and for this reason, flash photography was to be strictly prohibited at the event. This was the first point on the rule sheet, and was also brought up during the opening remarks.  Apparently the person who used a flash had not been able to attend the opening announcements, and had not received his information package.  Emily and Ivan both supported the removal of this person from the event, which was the repercussion decided upon for the breaking of this rule.  The other (mostly Allistic) members of the board demanded a meeting.  After I left Emily and Ivan to get breakfast, they met and apparently things got ugly (more on that later).

This was not Kassiane’s first time attending Autcom. She had presented at the event in 2008, and at that time a board member had harassed her with a flash, and the caretaker of a co-presenter had refused to alter a slide show that featured strobing imagery.  This caretaker had instead suggested that she decide not to have a seizure.  (That’s not how epilepsy works, in case you didn’t know.)  Many promises had been made about the fact that things would be different this time.  Because of these past events, Kassiane made it very clear that any incidents would be treated as attacks and not mistakes.  When I exited the ballroom after finishing breakfast, I found Kassiane and a number of other people engaged in heated conversation with several Autcom board members and volunteers.  From across the room I could hear Linda Rammler, a volunteer and keynote speaker, loudly proclaiming that she comes to Autcom for peace and this was not peaceful (Oh, no!  People attending the human rights conference are demanding to have their human rights respected!).

She stormed off shortly thereafter, and Autcom board member and former president Sandi McClellan stepped in to take up the slack.  Sandi said a lot of god awful things and it’s really all a blur.  Some of the highlights included telling Kassiane that she wasn’t being rational, repeatedly using a shortened version of her name that she does not like, telling her that she didn’t belong at Autcom and tone policing her (the word fuck was too “uncomfortable”).  She also implied that if Kassiane left at that point they would not cover her plane fare home, because they had brought her there to present.  Other board members and volunteers chimed in to suggest that Kassiane essentially beg the photographer to not do it again.  I asked them why they couldn’t enforce their own (uncomfortable language) rules.

Among the most disturbing things said by these board members was the implication that the mostly nonspeaking photographer was incapable of understanding what he had done, because he was mostly nonspeaking and had been in institutions for part of his life.  This is disturbing for a number of reasons. It is infantilizing as fuck, and it is particularly awful because AutCom is known for doing a great deal of work with nonspeaking Autistics and is supposed to be committed to the idea of presuming competence.  A number of the board members we were arguing with were actually wearing “presume competence” shirts, and yet they presumed incompetence in the case of the photographer, and tried to use this as an excuse to not take responsibility for their fuckups.  Incidentally, when the photographer came downstairs he immediately apologized and agreed to leave his camera (which means a great deal to him) upstairs for the remainder of the event.

Emily Titon was not present for most of this incident.  She came down when called on, but was promptly pulled away by another board member because someone wanted to meet her.  As mentioned above, when the board members met earlier, things got ugly.  Linda Rammler actually threw a full cup of coffee at someone, and several other members apparently threatened to quit if the rules were enforced.  Later that day, at a panel about racism and the Autistic Rights Movement, featuring Lydia Brown, Kassiane, Finn Gardiner, and Morenike Onaiwu, Sandi asked a bizarrely racist question that had already been answered by the presentation itself.  Perhaps she was trying to illustrate the way the Autistic Rights Movement is geared primarily toward white people, but I somehow doubt it.  Linda Rammler has also continued to harass Kassiane through Facebook. Kassiane has almost died because of seizures in the past.  Her access needs are not fucking negotiable, and when standing at the bottom of a deep hole, it’s best to stop digging.

Autcom 25: Human Rights for All?