"Philosophy and Disability" Why? Radio Episode with Guest Anita Silvers
3:33AM Oct 16, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, welcome to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host jack Russell Weinstein. Today we're talking about disability and philosophy, and how our culture and other philosophers misunderstand how to think about the issues involved. Our guest is Anita Silver's, I want to have a philosophical discussion about disability. But before we begin, it is worth asking how we can philosophize about a subject that is either invisible to most people, or deeply embarrassing, it is invisible because we think little of the ramps we walk up or the Braille on the ATM. When we use the most obvious reminder of living with a disability, the extra wide toilet stall in a public restroom, we're either anxious that we're going to be in someone's way who needs it, or relieved that we found a stall big enough to comfortably hang our big coats and heavy work bags. Where to hang your big coat is not a trivial issue in North Dakota. Disability is embarrassing to dress because we don't like to call attention to people's impairments or conditions. were uncomfortable highlighting someone's difference unless we perceive it as positive or worth celebrating. But of course, whether someone with a disability is to be considered different at all, is a philosophical question. And it is unclear whether pathologizing disability is even useful. I've already used the terms impairment and condition in my introduction, and I don't quite know what new information they bring to the table. Also, I've already implied that my audience is looking at disability from afar, not experiencing it. I've actually reaffirmed the invisibility of the disabled while attempting to call attention to them. All of this suggests first that we may have to do some psychiatry, before we do philosophy, we may have to look at our personal resistance to encountering disability as a normal fact of life. more deeply, though, it also tells us that we will have to work exceptionally hard to let the disabled speak for themselves. We're used to think of disability in terms of advocacy in terms of the children with autism who cannot articulate their needs well, or the PTSD stricken veteran who has been isolated from society. But the latter is an adult with his or her own voice and the former can communicate in a variety of effective ways. It is us not them who aren't paying attention. The tendency to speak for others it will turn out is a huge problem in academic philosophy. Even the most egalitarian philosophers have a tendency to assume that people with disabilities are outliers in the social contract, not equal participants will talk about this specifically later on in the show. Their mistake is the same as ours. The vast majority of conversations people have about disability concern our personal reactions to disability, rather than engaging with the disabled themselves. And when we finally do get around to doing that, when we asked for example, about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, we focus in on the economic cost. We asked whether having wheelchair accessible toilets is too much of a burden for small businesses, or whether retrofitting a school is spending too much money on one single interest group. We go from the psychological to the political instantaneously, paying virtually no attention to the meaning of our words, the assumptions we make about what the good life is, or even the diverse nature of personhood. To use a phrase that I learned from today's guest, our discussions about disability are almost always anti aspirational. That is, they're not about what we disabled or not can aspire to, but rather about mitigating the supposed tragedies of bodies, preventing people from what they would otherwise achieve. Most of the discussions I have with my students are about their curiosities and what they hope to accomplish with their studies. But to be frank, the majority of my conversations with students with learning disability focus on accommodations, about making special arrangements so they too can do the work. If every interaction one has with somebody is about equalizing the playing field, there is very little opportunity to discuss what life is like after they win. On today's episode, we're going to investigate the nature of disability. We're going to begin by asking what disability means and then proceed to questions of self worth public policy, even the ways in which philosophy itself has skewed our understanding of how to think about people with disabilities. But doing this will require unlearning a great deal. What we think we know about disability is deeply mistaken, profoundly unfair, and more than a little dangerous to highlight an irony. Yes, there are many people in the world with disabilities, but in this case, it is the ones without who are at a disadvantage.
And now our guest, Anita Silver's is Professor and Chair of the philosophy department at San Francisco State University. She's the author, co author and editor of many books and articles. She's a nationally recognized advocate for disability rights with a scholarly emphasis on medical ethics, bioethics, social and political philosophy and feminism. Anita, thanks for joining us on why.
Thank you, jack, so much for inviting me. I really honored to be on your program. And to make a connection with your listeners.
The show is pre recorded, so we can't accept your emails today. But we would still love to know your thoughts during the conversation with you in the chat room. So please come to why Radio shack.org tweet us at at y radio show or post on email@example.com slash wire radio show. So I guess Anita, the thing to do is just to start with a very, very basic question. What do we mean when we use the term disability? What is disability?
Well, jack, you've opened the door for me to disagree with something you say, I have a slot suffer. It's very hard for me Dachi? Well, I'm not criticizing, I've just got to make a suggestion. You talked about us and them. As if people with disabilities are rare. As a matter of fact, the last census revealed that one in every five Americans has a disability. So you're quite right, when you say that disability is visible. And when you point out that even for people like me, I have a quadriplegic have been since I had polio as a kid, I'm now in my 15th year of teaching. So I've got some experience here. And I can report that when I come into a room, or just come down the street, with my mobility scooter, that people look away. So they make me invisible to the situation is not about a very small number of people. It's about a rather large number of people, one fifth of our entire population.
Can I ask real quickly, you are our listeners should know, a fairly prominent philosopher, you've been on the scene a long time, you've written a fair amount of tremendously influential pieces, you also have a fairly public role in the American Philosophical Association, our association, our professional association, do other philosophers look away too, even though people know that this is your field, and they know and some of them will know your history. Do they still react in that way by making you invisible? Or does the professional context help mitigate it at all?
I'm not sure it's the professional projects, that helps mitigate it. But philosophers traditionally, have been much less interested in bodies that advise and I've always felt enormously comfortable in the philosophy, philosophical profession, and I've never felt as if I've been excluded or adored. I remember, for example, when the APA board, I sat on the board for 25 years, doing various kinds of tasks with the APA board met in Pittsburgh. And we all had to get on a bus. And I was sitting there looking at those steps and say to myself, how could I disappear so that I won't bother anybody. And the last people getting onto the bus simply picked me up, and put me on the bus and put my mobility scooter on the bus. And nobody said work. It was just as if nobody thought it, anyone needed to say, we are going to accommodate you. It's just that I was one of the group that we include everybody who's part of the group. So philosophy was a place is has been a place for me to feel comfortable.
And and this normalization of disability. It's actually reasonable reasonably common in things like the Social Security Administration, like when we talk about disability in that context. We're talking about something very familiar to people are we not
certainly not normalization, if you understand the Social Security system, and normalization is a rather recent notion. We get it. We we, it has its origins in the 18th century. It's supposed to That we can identify the species typical kind of body of the species typical kind of bide. And that individuals who may be biologically human, but do not meet those standards of being typical, usually aren't effective. And even if they're not effective, they probably don't belong to the group because they're too good at something or other. So I would never use the word normalization, I spent an awful lot of time, as do some others, trying to point out that adorable that adorable individual is a fiction.
But let's get back to your question about what disability means. Because it certainly does not mean abnormal disability, oddly enough, is a term of art. And what I mean by that is, there are different definitions of disability, depending on the program or purpose for which what is talking about disability. As I think I've, as I know, I've written the most familiar one, I think, in this country, at this moment, is the definition of disability that is used by the Social Security Administration, for purposes of benefits, do the SSDI and SSI programs. Now what we need to understand about that is that it is work related. And that the entire process of determining whether somebody is disabled or not, is focused on show that the person is an exception is not typical, because they cannot work.
So let me interrupt for just a second because this connects back to my use of the word normalization. And I love I love making mistakes on the air, because it helps our listeners know that that it's normal to try to figure things out and to be wrong. And so I guess when I said normalization, what I mistakenly meant was that there is a process to deal with it. That's not the right word when it is encountered. But I guess what you're saying here is that the very existence of a process suggests this exceptional circumstance of it, that it still doesn't become normalized. And then the word itself is misleading, because of course, there's no such thing as normal, but it's still having to deal with something that that isn't the way the things ought to go.
But it's still normative, right? You might say, it, is it the way things typically go.
Right. And that's and that's what I'm trying to get at. That's what I'm trying to pull out the way that we the way that I am completely trapped in this this this misleading normative language, I'm trying to figure out all the mistakes that I'm making, so that we can see how the philosophical focus on individual words can help clarify the issues that we need to talk about. So typical and normal are different, and typical and ought to go are different. And the Social Security Administration's definition of disability is a way of dealing with a typical things. But in a way that I gather is still regarded as stigmatizing or negative, is that a fair assumption?
It's a definition that was developed for a specific purpose. And that is to provide income assistance for working age individuals, who because of matters that are beyond their control, specifically, suffering from illness or disease. They can work the SSDI program is for people who have been able to work and that have been injured or ill and can no longer do the kinds of work that they did or much other work. The SSI program which came in later is for people who have not been able to work ever. So the first question what has to ask is, is not being able to work stigmatizing. Well, one thing I believe and remember I'm pretty old, so I come from I come from a cultural background. That has its roots in the depression in World War Two. So I was brought up to believe that what really needs to have a work identity.
And I cherish my work identity. And I've worked all my life. Although because I have a quadriplegic the assumption is often that I can't work. So when I went out on the job market, with other people haven't finished my PhD, looking for a job. I was interviewed several times, by individuals who said, She's really too frail to work. That's stigmatizing.
Mostly because it's false. And they should have known it was false. They should have known it was false, because I already had a record or having taught doing all of the work of philosophy professor. And in fact, I have at this point, working full time managing a very large department. And I have been working here for 50 years, which makes me the professor whose last and longest at San Francisco State. Some people think I ought to be congratulated for that. But many of my colleagues Just look at me and say, she must be crazy.
Well, the desire to retire, I think, for all of us fluctuates depending on particular administrative needs, but but let me let me let me ask I'm so so we have this network of, of terms that that we tend to think of as related, used a illness, used frail, and then use disabled. And I gather that you would like to disconnect disabled from the other two. I mean, there are some disabled folks who are frail, I am sure, and there are some people who are disabled because they are ill. But this is they're not the same thing. They're there. They're multiple things at once. So so how do we have to if I'm understanding correctly, how do we start to talk about disability without pathologizing it or without giving it false? And stigmatizing descriptions?
I think it's pretty simple. We're used to, we've done this with other groups that used to be described as frail, emotional, unable to work. What am I favorite Supreme Court cases is very vague, Gosford 1948 The case was whether or not a state's bad on allowing women to tend to bar even if they own the bar was constitutional. Women after world war two women were banned from doing it during World War Two, because the guy still wanted to get a drink. And there weren't all that many male bartenders around women were allowed to serve them. So the Supreme Court said in that case, sure, it's constitutional. Because women are too frail to keep order in a bar. And so they cannot, even if they hold the bar, the bar unless they have a husband, or father with him, couldn't hire anybody. You see, now that the court said something very interesting. The court said, Yes, we know that science tells us that many women are perfectly able to keep ordering a bar.
But sides is irrelevant.
That's a very close paraphrase of what they say they explicitly say that we're not going to take a look at whether or not women could actually keep order in a bar. That's what's known as stigmatizing. In other words, what you do is a tribute to all members of a class to find it one way, properties that are not necessary to be a member of the class properties that many members of the class dude I have had properties there that are reasons or excuses to deny members of the class, all of them the same opportunities as individuals who are not members of the class. That is what happens with disability.
I was originally going to ask a question in this forum, but I'm going to revise it once I asked. The original Question I was gonna ask is, is there a disabled community the way that some people think there is a deaf community or a blind community? And then we're talking about civil rights, so an African American community, etc? Because there's such a wide range of disabilities that a person can have. Is there a community in that sense? But let me back up into that question. specifically to the way that you said, the language that you just used, what is it that makes people with disabilities a single identifiable class? What is it that that that the law can focus on to regardless as as a class issue, rather than an individual lawsuit or something like that?
Well, I have argued, and I think people are coming around to the BI view, that this is not a matter of an identity class. civil rights should not be a matter of an identity class. Civil Rights, and how we rectify civil wrongs should not depend on whether or not you can claim to be a member of a class. So you have seen what happens, we have seen what happens at what has happened in the courts with with discrimination on the basis of sex. This is one of my favorite stories. I will admit right now that I'm talking about it very fast. I'm omitting some things. But you will recall that initially, we thought that the Civil Rights Act where it applied to matters of sex was a matter of protecting women, against discrimination, right.
So you would have to show that you were a woman, in order to claim that you've been subject to sexual discrimination? Well, that didn't hold up very long. It didn't hold up. And there were some classic cases, I'll tell you about two of them. What are the most important was a case in which an individual who was locked up on an oil rig with other employees was subjected to harassment that was sexual in nature, I'll let your imagination figure that one out. But that individual happened to be a male. He claimed that he had been discriminated against in regard to sex. And the court said, Yes. My favorite, however, is a case that had to do with the with with hiring a person and historian to be the curator of military history, the National Archives, the individual who the board wanted to hire was an ex military, they had wonderful record. They were thrilled. He had all the qualifications. And he came for the final interview. At the chair of the board was all ready. But
Anita, I'm gonna I'm gonna leave this as a cliffhanger for just a second and because we have to take a break, and this ensures that everyone comes back.
It's a story worth coming back for.
Excellent. You're listening to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we're talking with Anita Silver's, we'll be back after this.
The Institute for philosophy and public life bridges the gap between academic philosophy and the general public. Its mission is to cultivate discussion between philosophy professionals, and others who have an interest in the subject regardless of experience or credentials. visit us on the web at philosophy and public life.org. The Institute for philosophy and public life, because there is no ivory tower.
You're back with wide philosophical discussions with everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. We're talking with Anita Silver's about disability and philosophy, and we'll get right back into it like they do on to part two television series, I'll say when last we met, there was a candidate for a position as lead historian and a historical in a military history museum, he had an outstanding record. And it was his final interview. And now he returned to the story.
story was that the chair the board, called it in for final interview, and was going to offer him I think he was an expert read. It's gonna offer him the job, and they were thrilled. He showed up in stock eggs, lipstick, at high heels, and said, I'm undergoing a sex transition. And I just wanted you to know what I will be like when I bought the job. As I'm sure you could have guessed, they withdrew the job offer. He went to court. And the court said, I think was it a DC court? The court said, was this sex discrimination or not? Well, we know this had something to do with sex. So we're going to say it was sex discrimination. So notice that this is no longer a matter of who is in the class of women. And who isn't the class of women. It's about what's really at root in sex discrimination. That is adverse treatment. On the basis of sub bodies being perceived as being of the Rog sex, whatever the rock sex happens to be in the context. So now, when we go to disability, what I have argued is that, unlike Social Security benefits, which are an entitlement for some people, civil rights for people with disabilities do not depend on whether one can prove what is disabled or not. The issue is always is there an opportunity to participate in a good that is offered by society. And our is a person being denied that opportunity that is there a unlevel playing field on the basis of a physical or mental difference. That does not in fact, the ability to participate, but is because of some kind of fantasy, or stigma.
You know, this is a it's an incredibly interesting example, because I think it highlights very well how discrimination and stigmatization works, because I'll use the language of the Marines here, because if I recall, he was he was a Marine, from rain. Here is here is a person who believed it was honorable to be as honest as possible about how I'm not sure whether to say he or she at the stage and the transition process as to how he or she was going to be in the job. But the the person who was offered the job was showing incredibly virtuous character, I am not going to surprise you, I'm going to give you truth in advertising, I am fully informing you that you can make the decision. And they saw that as a negative, as opposed to the kind of thing that everyone would absolutely want as an employee, as an employer. So I guess this shift from the class based understanding to an individual is is a way of showing what it means for there to be relevant characteristics, honesty, integrity, honor, truth in advertising, so to speak, those are all relevant to a job employment, whether someone is wearing lipstick or a dress, presumably not.
Well, that is, that's part of it. But from my point of view, the bottom line here was that this person was their only candidate, as I recall, who not only was a qualified historian and archivist, but also had had the enormous military experience. They had nobody else like that, that person in their view for those reasons I just gave could do the job better than any other candidate. That we need to ask. So what did what he was wearing, have to do with his being able to the job, nothing? What did he whatever sex he happened to be at the moment or whatever sexual identity had have to do with just doing the job. Nothing. That is basically the issue for discrimination against people with disabilities. Many of us can do jobs. Many of us can document that we can do jobs, or have other opportunities, which I'll talk about minute. But that we may look different, or do the job different stigmatizes us and reduces our opportunities. And that is exactly what is not right. And what is what I call a civil Rog. So the ADA is often thought of incorrectly as providing special entitlements, privileges. For people with disabilities, there is no privilege involved. If we use public money, or if we are running an organization that depends on public money, fire protection, police protection, etc, then we should be making opportunities for participation, whether it's work or recreation available equally to all those who can participate. I don't see what kind of defense there would be against that kind of claim. But often, we just ignored as you pointed out, in your introduction, we just ignore the fact that not all people mobilize the like read alike, etc.
is the language of accommodation that university offices of Disability Services utilize, is that misleading in the sense that it it, it emphasizes I don't know what the word is. Sometimes it feels to some people as if it's some form of remediation. And so is is thinking about giving students with, say, learning disabilities or students who have other particular needs, accommodating their disability, is this also a wrong way to think about it. And part of what I'm what I'm getting at is, if someone like the late Justice Scalia really believed that you just look at the Constitution. And when you interpret the law, there is no moral component. There is simply a constitutional component, but the stuff that you're talking about, really shows that the law is both legal, right? jurisprudential and also moral in nature. And so I guess part of what I'm getting at is, does the language of accommodation slip in a moral claim under the bureaucratic procedure? Or is that language fine and neutral, and the only negative connotation is how people think about the word individually?
Well, accommodation simply means making alterations, so people could have equal access. I don't know whether that is a moral claim or a political claim. But it's certainly an equalizing claim. We make the same kinds of we get we assign the same kinds of responsibilities, including the payment of taxes, to people with disabilities, that we should not be turning around and saying you've met all of our all of our criteria for being a citizen. But you're not enough of a citizen to be able to enjoy those benefits of being a citizen that everybody else has. Now, for me, the key to all of this is is it possible that this is actually the way the ADA and the ad a are written? Is it possible to reorganize things so that there is equitable access? Is the absence of equitable access? Just because people with disabilities have been invisible? We don't want to think about them. They are not well represented politically, and so on. Capeci got Justice Scalia's view, I'm certainly not a legal theorist, although I do publish in that area sometimes. One of the things that I've written shows that exactly that view was used to die. desegregated schools all through the 19th century, but especially in the early part of the 19th century. So, yes, you could argue you could always rigor, that kind of argument as a justification for denying people access. So I always think about access and accommodation is simply a way of reorganizing so that people have equal access. The learning disability issue is one that if IV sounded elegant, has just been totally screwed up. I think it'd be his word college professor talking to another college professor, I'm
okay with that.
What happens here is that accommodation to people with learning disabilities, is made to look as if it's a privilege for them. But what is it the such an accommodation? Usually, it's about having more time to take a test, etc. Because if you have dyslexia, you're going to probably read slower if you're really testing, test items, etc. So what happens is that it seems as if standards are being which is false, it seems as if standards are being lowered to accommodate people with learning disabilities who are asking, let's say, for double type four tests, because they just read slower, they read accurately. It's just that they have some wiring that shifts things around. For all we know that wiring is a benefit, it would make the better at some things that are not reading things. So there we ask, well, are they being given an unfair advantage, but that we professors really need to be able to justify the claim that having more time on a test improves people's grades? As it happens, there's a lot of evidence that it does not a professor who knows what he or she is doing? Is it going to give students the typical time that it would take for them to write the answers, assuming they know the material? I don't know if you have ever had any students, jack, who don't know the material.
You know, North Dakota students, they're, they're pretty perfect in every way. So I know effort is expended and pedagogy at all.
Maybe once in a while,
just to keep myself in
me ask you a question. If the person doesn't know the answers, does it know the material will giving them more time to not know the material and to demonstrate it? improve your grade?
You know that? I mean, it's such a tremendously obvious point. But it's it's a really important one that never occurred to me, right. I mean, it's it's one of those things, right? Like many philosophical truths, right? Once you learn you learn it, it never occurred to you before, it's so obvious that I'm never going to not think about it in that way before, you know, student is going to make an answer that they don't know, appear out of nowhere, whether they have an extra 15 minutes or 15 hours sitting at the desk, they're not going to do it. Right, john, john Locke, right in talks about this, he says it's impossible to say you know, something and have forgotten it at the same time, right? That's not that's not knowledge. So I really I love I love this idea of thinking about it in terms of reorganization rather than
war that goes on here.
So support, but some of the considerations that we have whether we give an exam or practical, right, we only have so much time in the classroom. So what do we do about that?
There are also students who find it hard to concentrate. They're hyper sensitive to noise, etc. But they would like it's a quiet room. Do you happen to have quiet rooms at your bed? No, I don't. So what is asked of the professor is, will you give me an accommodation, Id a quiet room, Id more time at the professor actually made up be able to provide those resources. Because you got to cover the material at your class takes the test. And then you got to get it out of there for the next class. Right.
Right. So it's, it's it's at the service of the institution or at the service of the professor, not at the service of the student.
Right, but more important than for me is that Most professors, I actually have a way of handling this. But most professors don't have the ability to make these arrangements. And therefore, they're very locked into the way they're doing it being the only way add to their thinking that having more time might even give it advantages too, which, of course, if you look at the empirical data show is you can show that does also, what other thing that in the area of learning disability, I got to be a delegate again, it drives me nuts about how universities respond, how everybody responds, is whether or not the person has been tested. Right. So some universities require testing at the time, the student comes to college, regardless of whether they've been tested before, it's very expensive. San Francisco State students don't have that money.
Just just for our listeners, we're talking about testing, to legitimize a claim of learning disability. So a student comes to Professor and says, I have dyslexia, I have attention deficit disorder, I am ultra sensitive to various different things. We are required by law to make these accommodations or reorganize so that students can have the same access to knowledge and testing as everyone else. And so what we're talking about is that some universities require testing for the students to prove or to legitimize their claims as if a student is going to walk up and lie and say they need this for personal advantage.
Well, actually, not quite, because, first of all, it's been tested to legitimize the claim. It's testing to identify,
so their diagnostic, right?
Okay. They are therefore beyond the student's ability. But these will be students typically who were tested when they were younger. But now the university wants them tested again, which they would have to pay for. Usually, on the other hand, the Bar Association, recently, and perhaps still insists that to get accommodations or the bar exam, you have to have to test it when you were young. See exactly the opposite. That's the theory that you can't have just developed a learning disability, even though you may just have been diagnosed with it.
You know, I have I have a student right now who's struggling with this in terms of of getting accommodations for the gra. But I want I want to push this aside, I want to ask you about a very graphic example, that I think talks very clearly about the sense of reorganization in the way that that the blindness of institutions can work. Well, you talk a little bit about the example you cite in an upcoming paper in the journal respublika, about a boarding school in Russia, that had a fire. It's a tremendously sad story, but it's an incredibly informative one.
Well, it's the kind of story that is used in ways that makes me extremely angry. So there are some philosophers who want to defy disability as necessarily disadvantages. Where do you define disability that way? You undercut claims, aspirational claims of disabled people to be able to have a status in society that does a disadvantage. So you undercut claims to remedy social disadvantage.
And of course, this is just a definition.
The I've just been actually looking at another article coming out of the same group, philosophers. I don't know where they're gonna publish it or die, which divides mild intellectual disability divides. Well, intellectual disability, as being unable to understand that if you eat 25 doughnuts every day, that that will be bad for you.
Because the entire American public?
Well, whoa, the part of the article is just say that if a person is mildly mildly in Actually disabled that person, the society is justified in preventing the person from eating 25 doughnuts. But if a person eats 25 doughnuts every day it is not intellectually disabled, that we can be sure they're judging competently and we should not be, we should not intervene.
I don't I don't, I don't want to go down this rabbit hole because I want there to be time for this. Okay.
But let me just go on to the,
I just want to I just want to touch upon for the those folks who are interested in the history of philosophy. This seems to me to call back to Plato's most central question. Does anyone make moral mistakes knowingly, right? Plato thought that if your Plato had Socrates in the dialogues say that if someone is doing something wrong, it's because they don't know any better. Whereas other people would suggest No, you can know better and still make moral mistakes. So assuming, perhaps falsely that eating 25 doughnuts every day is a moral mistake. This is this is that debate?
Well, but if I could just, yeah, surely the problem with this is that many people who are wildly intellectually disabled, know perfectly well, right, of course, that this is bad for them. And they probably do it exactly the same way as people adopted diagnosed as intellectually disabled, they've been told it. So for me, the problem is that when you define disability, as being at all sorts of deficits, that many people with disabilities are not that you've given the game away, you've said, such people can never make good use of access. So that's my first problem. At this, the group that I associate with arguments of this sort, not having made that particular argument, but but the arguments of this sort, have argued he had printed that in the case of a Russian School for the Deaf, that had a fire that the children died in the fire. Because they needed each to be waked, awakened individually, and then sidelined, which had to be used to tell them where to go, how to get out. And that that was all too slow. At that shows that they're being deaf was a disadvantage, that was responsible for their diet. I was horrified when I read this. Because as I say, in the article that you've read this forthcoming, not at all, no. First of all, that there is a soak, there was this there was it is a social organization in that particular country, that takes children with disabilities, away from their homes, and places them with these kinds of institutions, as we used to do in the early 2011, throughout the 19th century. Second of all, there is a fire alarm, very simple required by the ADA lights that turned on and off. In order to tell people that there isn't a lot of deaf people can see photos. But you've got to say what they need, and you've got to be able to switch the lights on and off, pretty easy to do, or important. There is something called a fire drill. Those of us who work at universities probably are familiar with them. Since Of course, any time that I plan to give a test. Suddenly, the middle of the class the fire drill starts and everybody has to leave the room. But fire drills are required in this country for anything like a school, certainly for sleep over school, and they've ever had any. So it was not in my view, their disability, their deafness, that was responsible for their for the children's being killed. What was responsible was a social organization that thought these children were so less worthy than others that they were taken away from home. And were placed in an institution that did not even take precautions of the simplest sort. And I'm really shocked that any philosophers would be so we missed the mark so much and be so intent on proving their disability is disadvantages. I understand why they doing it, which I mentioned in a minute.
That was gonna be my next question what what is the incentive to define disability in this way,
Many philosophers have made this argument.
The incentive is that if we don't think that disability is disadvantageous, we will cease to put as much money into medical beings up for vetting the kinds of things that create disability. Now, first of all, I think that's nonsense. It still won't be easy to be disabled. Right. But second of all, it is that thinking that has led to eugenics programs, of which we know a great deal. And as I constantly say, to my classes, when we talk about the eugenics programs in Nazi Germany, I say, Where did they get the idea? Which is well known. Remember, I've been teaching this in San Francisco? And eventually, what am I students realizes that the program of eugenics for which the Nazis got the idea was a California program. I didn't know that you should take But well, all my students know this
that the commute would be hard, but I'd be willing to do it.
But But the reason for that those programs and those days that you really could not distinguish between inherited disabilities, and adventitious disabilities. So they just got everybody had sterilized them. But the reason was supposed to be that such persons were burdens on themselves and on society. So as long as we are focused on pouring in buddy ci, for AED disabilities, that we are headed for eugenics programs, this is not to say that prevention is not appropriate. And I say again, that is because being disabled is not easy. I'm not one of these people who says, gee, I would, I'm so happy, I'm disabled. Because there's a lot of hard work I have to do. Just because of the By this time, I'm not sure whether I buy the work or not. I'm so used to it. So I believe that we can look neutrally at people who are disabled, and are presuppose or suppose by definition, that people who are disabled are inferior, and naturally and inescapably disadvantaged. So it's fine. But I also think that is compatible with say that we should use medical resources to prevent the kinds of illnesses and injuries that could lead to disability.
So so just if I'm understanding to summarize, you had told us earlier that that I don't, I don't know the proper grammar, you became quadriplegic as a result of polio, you are not suggesting that we shouldn't have cured polio, you're just suggesting that just because you got polio, and there were these consequences, doesn't mean that you weren't fully capable of doing all of the things that you're capable of your life wasn't ruined. It's not a miserable experience. It's just something that happened. polio should should be cured if it can be cured. But if people get polio and have these consequences, they're not inferior, and they shouldn't be stigmatized because of it.
Right? Well, actually, we prevent it. We can't cure but Sure, absolutely. It's much better to prevent these things. But subtribes or let me put it this way. If we cannot, for every individual, do the budget better thing. That doesn't mean we should abandon them, ignore them, make them invisible, and prevent them from parts full participation. And of course, full contribution in the ways that they can because the roof for me, or the ground for me, I'm not good at talking about philosophical grounds. Sometimes I don't even understand we're talking about. But what does seem to be to be the bottom line here is that we all interact with one another. And that a society the strongest kind of society, the most stable kind of society is a society that has As respectful places, for very, very different kinds of people.
So let me pull the political philosophy thread here that, that comes from this discussion of pluralism and respect and, and equality. And let me ask you a question, which has a little bit of a technical explanation for folks who haven't had a lot of philosophy, which is, you're involved in a discussion about the social contract and the basic idea of a social contract. And there are different versions of it from john Locke to Thomas Hobbes and john Jacques Rousseau to more modern notions, that that society is an agreement between equals, and that the structure of the government and the structure of the society is the result of this agreement that is hashed out as a contract. And it can be taken literally by some philosophers, and it can be taken metaphorically by others, historically, what people have said, including the most famous modern social contract theorists, john Rawls, what historically what people have said, is that folks who are disabled have to be advocated for their outliers. And that also, Rawls said something similar, he said that not everyone in the family participates in the social contract, just the head of the household participate in social. Could you talk a little bit about how this relates to disability and advocacy? And the stuff that we're talking about? Why does the model of the social How does the model of the social contract that almost everyone alludes to in passing, and that philosophers deal with in quite detail? how is that related to the the questions of philosophy and disability?
Let's see, there is a traditional notion of the social contract going back, I suppose to Locke, although this may be the tradition may miss Reed Locke, maybe probably even further back. And that is that this is a contract or agreement. Above individuals in a society, each of whom is bargaining with the others, add their bargaining with the others, in order to delineate what each will contribute, and what each will get back for contributing. So this is a model that, at least in my view, makes much too much of adversarial bar bargaining. I happen to be in a university that has collective bargaining. I know what adversarial bargaining is, in which we see our interests as possibly incompatible with one another, and we're looking for a social organization that will serve all our interests. And so presumably, we're looking for interests that we all have in common.
So following john Locke, the social contract is designed to take people who have all their own individual interests, and get them together to bargains that they can make the best deal for themselves, while also recognizing that other people are trying to do the same, except that
as Martha Nussbaum points out, explaining roles and being uncomfortable with what he says, people with disabilities traditionally have not ever thought not to be able to participate. Either because we have nothing to contribute, or the cause for many people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, they just don't have the capacity to bark to reason to come to see what we have in common because that takes that takes advanced reasoning abilities. Now, what I have argued is that this model of society is not a very good one. It certainly does not align with what we're looking for in a society. What Rawls says we're looking for, and that's stability. For Rawls, you get stability from fairness in the society fear organization of the society, which is fair. And of course, if you only are fair to some people, you're probably going to be much less stable. That's B. That's not Rawls. What I have argued, and I argue this more than a decade ago, is that the bargaining model, the adversarial bargaining model, with each individual, against every other individual, trying to get the best deal for him or herself, until we finally get down to what we'll set, what was the bottom line, whatever we can put together that satisfies all most people who are bargaining. What I've said is no, what's really crucial to a stable society is trusting each other. And when we are looking for a society, when we're trying to have a society built on trust, and I take trust, to be absolutely crucial, to be very important. Trust for a person with a disability is so important. Because so often I have to rely on trusting others. If I go to a restaurant with my friends, and I say to them, can I get it in my mobility? scooter? I have to trust that the people who tell me I cat, don't say when I get there, oh, well, they're just these few little steps. It's so hard. So trust is enormously important. And people with disabilities contribute to a climate of trust.
And isn't there a reciprocal trust that is lacking to that, that traditionally, people look at folks with disabilities as untrustworthy in the sense they can't do the job, they're frail to us? earlier example, that, that it's not just that, that, that you have to trust your friends, but that people have to trust that you are a whole person with your own capabilities, and that if there is a job that you're qualified to do, you are qualified to do it and you can do it.
Well, they don't have to trust a whole person. They just have to trust that I have a person who could do whatever it is that I have agreed to do. But you're absolutely right. People with disabilities have been stigmatized in literature as devious and angry. Think about I think they're just watching an old television show. Set in the 19th century, and there is a person with dwarfism who is the demon or evil person. If you go through literature, it's from the 19th century odd, it's very common to find people like me, characterized as so angry for some reason or other, that we are harmful to others. That's all part, I think you're right. Part of it is fear. Part of it is the inability of individuals who don't have a particular physical deficit, or cognitive deficit, fear that the person who has a deficit won't be able to do the job or the task, that's only because they can't imagine how it would be done if they couldn't do it their way. And that's where we get back to normalization. Or typical, functioning, which was which he started off because it's so hard for people who don't have a disability. So we'll talk about the the forecasts of the population, who don't have a disability, they just can't imagine how one could get certain things done. If what does it do that the way that they do them?
So we're running out of time, but but this is a really good place to circle around and, and, and go back because we start talking about typical behaviors and lack of understanding and the conversation focused very much on the definition of disability and how the definition of disability is going to preordained so to speak. The difficulties that come and and and and it's it's you call it a term of art. But we've gotten to the point where, if I understand you correctly, what you're suggesting is that it's not just the definition of disability, that's that's relevant here. But it's actually the very definition of society. It's how we judge what a good society is. It's how we imagined society is put together and that if that that there's Something so flawed about the bargaining model of society that moves away from, say, the trust model of society, that we that the issue is so deep that we don't have to we can't stop at the very definition of disability, we have to go through our very understanding of what society itself is and what we expected.
I think that's absolutely right. And this is why I say that there is no such thing as special disability, right. There may be entitled, it's other programs. But the rights that people with disabilities seek or civil rights, that our rights for everybody, they are rights of fair participation. What I take to be at the root of this of what we really must, at this moment in our history, cover rounds route to reconciling is how we respond to people who are different from ourselves. And whether or not society is set up just for sub Badgett typical person, or whether we build into our social mechanisms, that kind of resilience and flexibility that can make the most of everybody's potential. So that's the heart of what I do and what I've worked on for 50 years.
Well, I have to tell you, Anita, this has been one of those episodes, where it's not just that I learned a tremendous amount, it's that I can look at any individual minute of our conversation and, and be overwhelmed by by the new information that I am going to have to come to terms with and that I think our listeners are going to enjoy really exploring. So thank you so much for joining us on why
well, thank you so much, jack, this has been wonderful. I've enjoyed it immensely.
And I don't know I as I said, I've only been up in Fargo a little bit. But is it okay, if I wish you good weather?
You can you can wish all your wife? Sure. But um, but we had you know, and I will say that that we had 14 inches of snow in the last couple days, we had a couple terrible blizzards that shut down the school in the town, which almost never happens. And as I was walking here to the show, thinking about, you know how you have to be the most agile athlete of which I am not to not fall and crack a bone. I was thinking about how much harder it would be if I had some sort of disability that there wasn't a social commitment to making a path and to helping one another and recognizing that it is part of our social responsibility to make sure that everyone can walk down or roll down or what have you a path together to go to the same place that if if this weather meant that you couldn't teach or that you couldn't be a guest on the show or that someone else in the circumstance couldn't go to their job or or go to class that that would be and this is absolutely the right term. I think that would be a profound injustice.
That's right. I'll go along with that.
Well, again, thank you so much for joining us on why you have been listening to Jack Russel Weinstein on wide philosophical discussion with everyday life. Our guest is Silver's is a professor at San Francisco State University. And we'll be right back after this.
Visit IPP Elle's blog pq Ed, philosophical questions every day. For more philosophical discussions of everyday life. Comment on the entries and share your points of view with an ever growing community of professional and amateur philosophers. You can access the blog and view more information on our schedule our broadcasts and the y radio store at www dot philosophy and public life.org.
You're back with why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein. We've been talking about disability and philosophy and the way to think about it. And you know, when you first started listening to me, I was trying to be very, very careful. I wanted the right words, I wanted the right sense of how to speak about the right thing. And it became very clear that I didn't know what those were that attention to language and attention to to politeness was getting in the way of just having a great conversation. In the end, I feel like Anita and I parted not only as friends, but as joint interlocutors that we could laugh that we could joke, and that whatever mistakes I made, were fine, because we were looking at the same thing. And that's where the trust comes in the trust that she talks about the trust that matters so much. That's what it looks like when two people engage one another, not about their disability or not, but about their ideas and about their equality. We have spent too much time focusing on disability in and of itself, and not about the way that society needs to be organized so that we can all contribute as best as we can. You've been listening to jack Russel Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life, Prairie Public Broadcasting in the University of North Dakota is College of Arts and Sciences and division of Research and Economic Development. skipwith is our studio engineer. The music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis soul. For more of his music, visit jazz flute weinstein.com or myspace.com slash Mark Weinstein. Philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the Institute, there is no ivory tower.