Tuesday, June 5, 2018

To Conceptualize a Habitable World: MLA 2018, part four

This is the fourth part of a series wherein I share my notes on the panels I attended at January's convention of the Modern Language Association. Here is part one. Here is part two. Here is part three.

146: Posthumanist Disability featured only two papers, because Dan Goodley could not make it thanks to a family trouble. About 25 people attended. The first paper was delivered by Michael Lundblad and Jan Grue, author of Disability and Discourse Analysis. They spoke of how Harriet McBryde Johnson in “Unspeakable Conversations” is unwilling to engage with Peter Singer’s thoughts on animals and animal ethics. Now, Lundblad is unhappy with Singer as a representative of animal ethics, but he and Grue are interested in animal justice and in the intersection/cooperation between movements. Jan has a background in Scandinavian disability politics, which presupposes a high mutual interest between disabled people and the state but has corporatist and conformist elements: its goal is that disabled people be Fully Intergrated. Whereas U.S. disability studies emphasizes disability identity as being at odds with the state, Scandinavian society embraces compulsory normativity. Think about the Norwegian Minister for Integration’s recent “Here in Norway, we eat pork, drink alcohol, and show our faces.”

The “classic impairment groups” are a fairly small subset of disabled people; the disability world needs more coalition-building. Finding a voice has been hard—we’ve seen a lot of “speaking for” and of silencing marginal voices. Singer, following Henry Sidgwick, thinks ethics should adopt a universal point of view (vide Practical Ethics) and ignores particular lives. A position such as that of HMJ, an actual disabled person speaking out, is still a rare thing in Scandinavia, where disabled people are supposed to disavow their particular bodies and experience. HMJ also raises problems with coalition-building, which would necessitate being able to speak for others.

There have been decades of critiques of Singer—Animal Liberation came out in 1975—and a wide range of animal studies, raising questions of voice and speaking. There are all kinds of beings whose voices don’t register as Normal or Human: consider how to respond to nonhuman voices, needs, wants

[here I left the room for twenty-five minutes in order to look for water and caffeine. Grue was still speaking when I returned but, having failed to remedy my headache, I didn’t get much down]

. . . . naming our enemy, which would include neoliberal arguments, Big Data, and the View from Nowhere, which is in fact the view from a putative center. If the goal is to seek acceptance of one’s vulnerability, one may want to go beyond one’s species . . .

See also
http://www.hf.uio.no/ilos/english/research/projects/biopolitics-of-disability-illness-and-animal/ for more info on Lundblad, Grue, and Goodley’s work in progress.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson wanted to give some historical context for how two opposing and intertwined forces, liberal eugenics and individual human rights, present us with a conflict. The Old Eugenics of 1883 – 1946 entailed a negative eugenics, founded on ideas of the Best and the Worst, and ultimately the destruction of those unworthy of life, culminating in the euthanasia projects of you-know-who. More recently the emphasis has been on a positive eugenics that sought to improve the reproduction of the Best. People, contra Arendt’s principle that “Political regimes ought not to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world,” sought to reward the reproduction of the worthy. Savulescu says we have a moral obligation to create children who have the best chance of the best life. Medical science and technology carry out the new eugenics in the name of the autonomy of the parent-as-patient. These principles increasingly standardize human communities and eliminate diversity.

Consider Singer’s frank “We think that some infants with severe disability should be killed.” Eugenic selection creates a culture of intolerance and violates the common good. Human rights covenants starkly contrast with the eugenic ideals of The Best and The Worst, for all that their implementation always falls short of aspiration. Human rights conventions assigned disabled people the status of human subjects—the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities affirms that every human being has the right to life and commits to the equal, not differential, worth of people with disabilities. Vide Habermas’s anti-eugenic argument in The Future of Human Nature and Michael Sandel’s Case Against Perfection. We seek a political rather than a pathological understanding of people with disabilityes. “To conceptualize not merely a habitable body but a habitable world,” as Nancy Mairs wrote. There’s a lineage from Arendt to Harriet McBryde Johnson, whose work makes a case for the right to life of people with disabilities, a claim in opposition to the ideals of “choice” promoted by the utilitarian philosophers of conflicting liberty-interests.

In the Q&A, Liz Bowen pointed out that nobody’d mentioned Sunaura Taylor. There’s no one way of speaking; we don’t have to be speaking for nonhuman animals. Taylor has a lot to say about coalition-building: what would it mean to get to a place where atypical or nonverbal bodies can thrive. Michael replied that the longer version (wow) of this talk addresses Taylor’s book and raises questions of how different voices address desire and pleasure. But he has difficulties in Taylor’s insistence on Liberation. She does a great takedown on Singer, but her We must conclude that everybody has to be vegan kind of tries to do Singer one better. Michael is partial to Donna Haraway. Jan said, look at the grounds for how we treat various beings—our criteria for rationality and communication. RGT suggested that we should, in making these narratives, try to leave Singer out of it as much as possible. He has to end up where he ends up—as do Parfit and McMahan—because they read disability as the emblem of suffering and unhappiness. [I would add that the bottom-line analysis, the emphasis on cost and money, in Singer and in some of McMahan also makes their conclusions inevitable]

Asked about her Old and New Eugenics classifications, RGT said she gets the categories from Daniel Kevles. Medical and legal practice privileges parental autonomy and doesn’t even recognize the autonomy of disabled people. RGT is alarmed about how “liberty interests” are leading us all to become normates. Elizabeth Donaldson asked why we need the idea of autonomy? And why don’t we consider people who do messy things with reproductive technology, things that are not in line with eugenic ideals of The Best? RGT said she was just being descriptive, and it was through human rights that we were able to get anywhere up to now: autonomy, especially patient autonomy, is extraordinarily important.

The following day, McRuer recommended that we read Crystal Parikh for a positive view of human rights discourse that answers posthuman objections.

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