Last week I wrote the following on this blog about journalist Chris Hedges’ post on Truthdig concerning the decision by paralyzed veteran Tomas Young to end his life–a decision that Hedges doesn’t question and which is being spread across news outlets without interrogation. That a depressed, disillusioned, and paralyzed veteran would chose to end his life seems “right” to liberal commentators because in point of fact they haven’t examined their assumptions about disability and the actual living of disability lives:
“The facts are otherwise as disability activists convincingly demonstrate. Has anyone given Tomas Young some useful books on living as a quad? One wonders if he’s read Nancy Mairs’ incomparable memoir “Waist High in the World” or if he’s encountered the amazing artistic work of Neil Marcus. One also imagines the answer is no. What is clear is that Chris Hedges is using the language of religious sacrifice as an altogether easy analect–that is, he critiques the moral condition of the American people using Young’s condition as metaphor, a thing that is detestable though not unsurprising for many liberals are no more adept with disability culture than they are with nano-flowers. Let’s just say that Hedges’ use of Christian metaphors of sacrifice depends upon hideous sentimentality and the unexamined dialectic of valued bodies vs. devalued bodies, a position that’s essentially neo-Victorian and largely uncivilized.”
I read this morning a new piece by Nick Wing over at the Huffington Post which repackages Hedges’ narrative frame, again without any critical irony. What seems to be emerging is a liberal cheering section for a veteran’s suicide, tricked out in the language of outrage against America’s war in Iraq. Fair enough: I belong to Poets Against War and have been opposed to American military interventions since Viet Nam–but I don’t have to kill myself in a glass box to make my point. Tomas Young is being rooted for–cheered to turn himself into a sacrificial martyr in a Kafka-esque display. Why is this okay? Why are people not lining up to tell Young that a paralyzed but imaginative life is fully worth living?
It can’t be that the spirit of eugenics has reared its head can it? It wouldn’t be the case that the recent state sanctioned euthanizing of blind-deaf twins in Belgium (whose deaths were wholly unnecessary) represents a failure of the western cultural imagination to conceive of disabled lives as noble lives? I phrase the matter in rhetorical terms not because I think I know the answer but because I’m afraid I might know. The giveaway is the fealty of pathos in the posts by Hedges and Wing, who both essentially frame Young’s imminent death as inevitable, which is to say they imagine his terminus as a dark mercy. In turn, they see the flames of his funeral pyre lighting the faces of Cheney and Bush. Instead what’s being illuminated is a crowd of bleacher bums cheering for a man to end it all–a man who would be better off alive, as, in fact he has lots to live for if only he and his posse could imagine it. In the meantime I’m chilled by the ample evidence that people think Young has made the right choice. Shame on Truthdig. Shame on Huffpost.