In her book Make Them Go Away disability rights activist Mary Johnson talks about the backlash against persons with disabilities that came on the heels of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the pace of cultural change is fast and some of her book already feels like an analysis of the 90’s there is no doubt that her prescient and unblinking view of organized ableism in contemporary culture remains entirely and sadly up to date. One reads almost daily of children with disabilities who are subjected to unaccommodating educational experiences; of college students who need to file grievances or lawsuits against their schools because they’ve failed to meet basic minimum ADA requirements; of programs and opportunities for disabled citizens being cut from the diminished rolls of our nation’s remaining social services. It is hard in these times to find a bright spot even as the country looks to Barack Obama for hope and recourse.
But what does it mean to invest in a story? Over the past week I was with lots of talented writers all of whom had their own stories about what’s going on in the world. Many of them without knowing it are convinced the world is ending. This is not uncommon for artists–there’s a considerable history of apocalyptic stories that has come down to us over the millennia. (The Iron Age Finns thought the sun was about to be stolen by witches and carried away to be hidden forever inside a mountain.)
If a scarcity vision is passively incorporated into the governance of thought then by turns one necessarily becomes what I like to call “sub cartesian” for if “I think, therefore I am” is the incitement of the Enlightenment,then “I Don’t Think, and That’s Enough” is the provisional epistemic nomenclature of a commodity driven amateur gloom –I’m thinking here of Hitler’s description of Germans with disabilities as “useless eaters”. There’s only so much freedom, so many apple pies, so many clean walks to the beach, so many books on the shelves–civics can’t be for everybody don’t you know? Didn’t your mother tell you?
When I search the bare, lamp lit and unfurnished room of my private beliefs I find that I do not believe that the end is coming–nor do I think that a de facto Hitlerite reaction is underway where pwds are concerned in this country. But I do think that this is a moment when the tribes of all disabilities must come together to fight hard for a single cause rather than defending the sectarian coverts of provincial argument. This is a hopeful idea. I hold on to this. I think Mary Johnson’s book needs to be read however. Its good to know who your opponents are.