Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Knights Templar Prepare for Race War in Europe

There's an ongoing debate about the extent to which medieval scholars need to be concerned about explicitly fighting racism as medieval scholars. I haven't quite figured out how to write about the issues coherently. But the stakes, to me, are clear. 

Meet the Knights Templar International. Their FAQ wants you to know that they aren't racists.

But there's a coming civil war, says the "Hidden Templar" in the black hoodie.

Description: A screenshot from the KTI page, showing a black hooded figure in the front, ranks of knights in back
Headline - Britain's Coming Civil War 
Other stories include Islamic attacks on Children, the need to defend Syria's Christians. Other details:
Western civilisation is entering a period of existential crisis. A convergence of external and internal catastrophes is leading inexorably to a time when the survival of Christendom will only be secured by dedicated militancy in the teeth of demonic evil.
Demonic evil.
Accordingly, while we are not a ‘secret’ organisation, our collective leadership is discrete and so safeguarded as far as is possible from the hostile attention of the atheist, globalist and Islamist enemies of our sacred Cause.
Globalists means "Jews."

Other pages talk about the threat to white families in Europe.

I learned about them because I was reading the Twitter of a Holocaust denier, and came across this tweet talking about efforts from Italian fascists and others to arm militias against refugees (he's working to make sure boats don't save refugees off Sicily).
At any rate, we have a lot of work to do as medievalists. We have to go into our classrooms knowing this discourse is out there, and at least some people signing up will be partaking of it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Humanities Majors GET JOBS!

So part of my new job at the University of Minnesota is to convince students - and their families - that they can major in History and still be gainfully employed.

The good news is that it's true, they can. Even the Harvard Business Review says so.
According to three new books, the answer is “Quite a lot.” From Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds.
We know this. But it's good to have more narratives.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Philosophy, Disability, and The Stone (New York Times)

I have a few requests

ONE: I would like The Stone, the New York Times philosophy column, to sometimes publish philosophers who are disabled and write about the intersections of philosophy and disability rights from that perspective. 

At current time, they have published two essays on disability and philosophy, one advocating that perhaps developmentally disabled people who cannot consent can also not be raped, so long as they enjoy it. 

The other, more recently, came from a grieving father arguing that he should have been able to have his infant disabled son put to death more quickly, with less suffering. More on this latter one below.

Given these two pieces, it's reasonable to suggest that a broader spectrum of philosophy and disability studies might be given some time in this highly public venue. 

TWO: I would like philosophers who want to write about disability to know more about disability. 

This will be long and not entirely organized. It's why it's on my blog and not submitted somewhere formal.

PART ONE: Comstock

Gary Comstock, a philosophy professor at North Carolina State, wrote a searingly painful second-person essay about the need to be able to euthanize suffering babies. It takes you, the reader, step by step through the process of discovering that your baby has trisomy-18 and coming to the decision to disconnect him from the ventilator. Here's a key paragraph.
Some parents choose to use all possible means of continuing their child’s life in the hope that their child will beat the odds and eventually overcome problems. Others choose to let the children die to spare the babies the pain of the ordeal.
Forget the statistics and what others do or don’t do. We would like to know what our Sam’s chances are for reaching the point where his life is valuable to him. But there is no answer to that question. No one can tell you whether your son’s life is worth living from his perspective, or yours. We cannot say whether your son will ever breathe on his own or look at you. We can say only that the literature suggests the odds are stacked heavily against him.
At the end, Sam - the baby -  suffers in his final 20 minutes in this narrative, and the author years later realizes that instead of letting the baby die, it would have been kinder to kill him quickly. He writes:
This thought occurs to you years later, thinking about the gruesome struggle of his last 20 minutes. You are not sure whether it makes sense to talk about his life, because he never seemed to have the things that make a life: thoughts, wants, desires, interests, memories, a future. But supposing that he had thoughts, his strongest thought during those last minutes certainly appeared to be: “This hurts. Can’t someone help it stop?” He didn’t know your name, but if he had, he would have said: “Daddy? Please. Now.”
It seems the medical community has few options to offer parents of newborns likely to die. We can leave our babies on respirators and hope for the best. Or remove the hose and watch the child die a tortured death. Shouldn’t we have another choice? Shouldn’t we be allowed the swift humane option afforded the owners of dogs, a lethal dose of a painkiller?
I find these quoted paragraphs very troubling. The decision that the parents made, faced by suffering and a potentially lethal condition, is not simple. We - the disability community - should not pretend that their decision to let their child die is simple or that we know what we would have done in their place. I, anyway, do know not what I would have done.

But that pathos doesn't mean ignoring the implications of this essay. I am struck by the ease with which agency is given to Sam and then removed within this piece. In the first quote, probabilities govern the decision. In the second quote, the author - again, a grieving father for whom I feel enormous empathy - provides Sam with enough agency to ask to die.

The piece was written in second person, following the rhetoric of the "thought exercise." That's how I reacted to it at first on twitter as I watched disabled friends reel in shock, pain, and horror at seeing their lives compared to that of animals needing to be put down. I've since been "checked" by an ethicist who told me that it's Comstock's real story. I am, it must be said, filled with pain at my mistake. I think back to my son's first minutes and hours after he was diagnosed, just a few minutes after delivery, and imagine that the words were Trisomy 18, not Trisomy 21. I understand why he needs to use his training as a theologian and philosopher to work through the difficult choice he and his wife made. I'm not even going to say that it was the wrong choice. We need, however, to consider for whom else we might want to have empathy.

I feel for Comstock. The question of how to ease death is important and needs good discussion and surely better policy. In America, we tend to die very badly.

I also feel empathy for the child. I feel empathy for disabled people who read this piece. Here's a storify from Alice Wong, featuring Ari Ne'eman's careful disassembly of the piece and its core assumptions. In the efforts to "check me," I haven't seen a response to this. Where is the empathy for the disabled reader who encounters this essay as "Comstock wants to make it easier for me to be killed?" 

What happens in this piece is that the author uses a single story - written as thought exercise, but actually true - in order to abstract generalized principles about making euthanasia more available in cases of trisomy-18 and other potentially lethal or severely disabling natal conditions. It is not, to my reading, based on research into palliative care techniques for suffering infants, but rather the philosophical method of thinking through the ethical and moral implications of the incident. It is rational, except for when it's emotional.

I see this willingness to dismiss the agency, indeed, the humanity, of disabled people as a too frequent consequence of certain strains of ethical and philosophical discourse. We can ... we must ... critique this tendency even as we feel empathy for the author struggling with his past.

PART TWO: Singer

The Comstock essay was published at "The Stone," the philosophy opinion column at the New York Times. It is, to my knowledge, only the second disability piece ever published in "The Stone," the philosophy section of the New York Times op-ed page. The other was, shockingly, by Peter Singer and a co-author, on the case of Anna StubblefieldAs I discussed last April, that essay suggested that if in fact the a person can't consent due to disability, they can't really be raped so long as they enjoy it (no, really, go read the essay). Again, agency is granted only in ways that serve the broader argument about the lack of agency for disabled people.

Shelley Lynn Tremain has written at Disability and Discrimination about her experience pitching "The Stone." She was told that the editor did not want to publish on disability and philosophy, "In part due to my belief that there is not an appropriate platform for writers with disabilities, and writing about disability, I am planning a separate series devoted to it." That separate series has been amazing and important, yet here we still have a "philosophy" site from which disability is excluded ... except when it isn't.

I've received pushback for tweeting that the Comstock essay is indicative of a problem with how philosophy, as a discipline, discusses disability. If I'm wrong, it's due to the intense veneration that Peter Singer still receives. Too many people are willing to regard eugenics and the core humanity of disabled people as a subject for abstract debate, often one isolated from the realities and complexities of real life.

For example, in a link provided me by Tremain (who comments in the post), is Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at South Carolina, writing about what an excellent public philosopher Peter Singer is:
“Philosophy always causes offense—perhaps it should cause offense,” says philosopher Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, in a recent interview, below.
Singer is one of the world’s most well-known living philosophers. Some philosophers are clearly bothered by Singer’s renown, in part because he holds philosophical views that many philosophers disagree with. But, of course, that is something he has in common with every other philosopher.
I think that Singer makes for an excellent famous public philosopher.
But it's not just about the "right to offend." Singer has long based his arguments about disability based on ignorance about disability. He assumes a lack of happiness in situations linked to disability, whether imagining it for himself or his child. Yet every time he encounters real people (see this amazing essay by Harriet McBryde Johnson), he admits maybe disabled people are happy and his assumptions are wrong ... before quickly reverting back to his earlier assumptions. Today, decades after disabled people first engaged him in the spirit of rich philosophical debate, his positions have not especially changed. The assumption that "offensive speech" must be doing something right is.

I am deeply troubled by what I see happening in public philosophy when it comes to disability narratives. I am sure there is much more than what I see, in part because I listen to disabled philosophers. I hope The Stone, and other public spaces, do likewise.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hamilton Chicago and Assistive Technology

Tonight my family goes to Hamilton in Chicago. Hamilton is super important to my son, as I wrote for the Washington Post. We've been moved up to seats with easy access to exits. It's apparently very loud. Also it's late. We're nervous, but ready to walk out and go home at any point if needed and count it as a win no matter what.

We do, however, have a $12 investment in assistive technology.
More to come!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Casual and Embedded Disablism: NYMag and Climate Change

New York Magazine has a big story on how terrifying the climate change of the earth is. It's long and scary and I kind of skimmed it honestly because I have deadline and moving to do. But the brilliant writer Emily DePrang pointed out this paragraph to me in which the author, for no particular reason, uses autism stigma to take a little swipe at Hollywood. My emphasis.
Other stuff in the hotter air is even scarier, with small increases in pollution capable of shortening life spans by ten years. The warmer the planet gets, the more ozone forms, and by mid-century, Americans will likely suffer a 70 percent increase in unhealthy ozone smog, the National Center for Atmospheric Research has projected. By 2090, as many as 2 billion people globally will be breathing air above the WHO “safe” level; one paper last month showed that, among other effects, a pregnant mother’s exposure to ozone raises the child’s risk of autism (as much as tenfold, combined with other environmental factors). Which does make you think again about the autism epidemic in West Hollywood.
There are two related problems here - one deep, one trivial. First, the author's last sentence reveals, in its casual snide swipe, the depths of bias. I don't use "casual" to minimize the impact here, but rather as a category of thoughtless writing (or speaking/action) that exposes the author's underlying assumptions. The quip is 1) stigmatizing and 2) without evidentiary basis.

The deeper issue here, though, is the assumption that rise in autism, even assuming we accept that ozone = higher autism rate, belongs as part of the "even scarier" context about the earth turning uninhabitable. That's a more nuanced and important discussion, but we can't even have it when this author is operating from a place where joking about autism, ozone, and Hollywood as his go to quip.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

NPR: Game of Thrones and Disability

NPR did a segment on Game of Thrones and disabled characters. Neda Ulaby talked to Rebecca Cokley about Tyrion and asked me for some general overview. I grumbled about Shireen's death (still pissed, not about her death, but the writing of it), and made a quip about ramps into castles being more important than magical cures.

Listen below!

Monday, July 10, 2017

UC Boulder: Conservative Prof and Conservative Speakers

Boulder has an endowed visiting conservative prof. I'm not so keen on billionaire ideologues funding prof lines who have to adhere to their ideology (do they test them, like religious colleges test your faith?) Anyway, it's gone fine.
I am happy to report that the lectures were well attended and that we had none of the disturbances or protests that we’ve seen on other campuses throughout the United States over the past few years. Audience members asked probing questions, but they were clearly offered in a spirit of inquiry and truth seeking, even when it was obvious that the questioner strongly disagreed with the speaker. That’s the sort of critical dialogue that many of us -- regardless of our political views -- believe to be integral to university life.
My general thesis is that right-wing speech on campus mostly goes fine. The same with left-wing speech. And that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to the high profile incidents. The problem is that the Very Concerned Media parlays high profile issues into a broad problem of discrimination against conservative thought. There are, rather, specific moments of discrimination - and these should be addressed. I've always been forthright about the importance of defending abhorrent speech (right up to the line where Milo starts attacking specific students on campus. That, for me, is the difference between Milo and, say, Coulter). We have to push back at the generalized "left wing college campuses are destroying America" discourse though. This essay, in that context, is useful.

Author says he thinks things go well because he's framing things nicely:
What became my standard “stump speech” focused on the growing indifference to the attacks on freedom of speech, association and religion in the wider culture, but especially on our college campuses. As far as I could tell, my message was well received, even by many listeners who do not identify as conservative or libertarian.
I believe the main reason for this is that I framed this talk as a defense of what I like to call rock-ribbed liberalism, about which I have written elsewhere: “I miss liberalism. Real liberalism. Not this namby-pamby, afraid-of-your-own-shadow fainthearted liberalism. What I miss is the rock-ribbed, truth-seeking, justice-pursuing, rights-defending, I-don’t-agree-with-you-but-I’ll-defend-your-right-to-say-it liberalism. It was the liberalism that defeated Nazism and Communism. It was your daddy’s liberalism …”
This approach resonated with a lot of people.
But he's wrong, I suspect, about why things are fine. It's because mostly, things go fine. People on college campuses listen. There's a lot of great dialogue. There are a million or ten speeches a year across American campus.

The PC-run-amok panic is a tool used to whip up certain kinds of responses, rather than an accurate assessment of campus life across the diverse schools of America.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Moving to Minnesota

For people with disabilities, state government matters. Illinois finally has a budget, but it's not a state on which I can gamble my son's adulthood. We're moving.
"More house?" My son emphasizes the aspirated "H" as he climbs into our blue minivan. I pause and turn to look at him.
"More ... house." This time he says it even more slowly, with a long drawn out "'hah" before getting to "ouse." He's eager to get the car moving and continue touring properties for sale in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
"Good job saying 'house,' Nico," my daughter chimes in from the neighboring seat. I'm relieved. We're not going to buy a house today, but I'm glad to see everyone is having a good time as our realtor leads us on a tour through some of our Minneapolis options. We are moving from Chicago to the Twin Cities in just eight weeks. Moreover, we're doing it, at least in part, in hopes of ensuring a better future for our son.
When it comes to life with disabilities, state administrations matter. Sure, federal laws ensure basic civil rights, federal programs mandate (sometimes, but not always, with funds attached) all kinds of services, but states and their third-party partners (think non-profits) tend to administer everything. When a state collapses, it takes the disability services down with it. As Politico recently wrote: Illinois is a failed state.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How to Cover "Lost Trump" and the Limo

There's a video of President Trump heading off his plane to his limo, and just wandering off down the runway, until someone turns him around to head back to the car ... which was right in front of him.
How do we report on such incidents ethically? A few thoughts, as an opening salvo. It's tricky.

  1. We can, I think, reasonably ask what happened when the president didn't see his limo. We can describe what we see. We can report on assurances from spokespeople with skepticism, as we should report on all statements from all spokespeople in all contexts. 
  2. We can distinguish this observable behavior from the pathologizing of his disgusting behavior. He's been disgusting, in fairly consistent ways, since the 1970s. His use of twitter is consistent with his whole life. My biggest objection to the pathologizing Trump stuff is when people see him behave in a foul way (i.e. constantly) and then characterize it as a mental disability. 
  3. We can remember that Twitter RTs will not lead to the 25th Amendment being invoked. 
  4. But your friends who have psychological disabilities do hear you link Trump's behavior to your presumption of psychological disabilities. So be thoughtful, please.
Lesley Stahl has talked about her anguish about whether to report on Reagan's "tuning out" and a moment in which he forgot he wasn't still a Hollywood actor. These incidents with Trump, should, likewise, be reported.

#4 is where my concerns lie. How do we report reportable things without hurting the vulnerable? I don't pretend it's easy.

[From last August: My response to the question, "What if Trump really is crazy?"]

Monday, July 3, 2017

Defending Lisa Durden from the Right

Conservative prof Jonathan Marks has written a great piece defending Lisa Durden. I wrote about Durden last week. A few excerpts from Marks:
This month, Durden appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight. At issue was a Memorial Day event, co-sponsored by Black Lives Matter NYC, and promoted as "a space for black people." One commenter, listed as an event co-host, went a little further and said that people who "do not identify as black" should "respect the space" and "not come." In the Facebook universe, to this very day, all of nine people have "loved" that comment, and seven have "liked it." Nonetheless, Carlson was on the case.
Carlson sets traps. He's very good at it. I'm glad Marks is writing about it.
This year we conservatives dutifully stood up when Charles Murray was shut down at Middlebury College because he co-wrote The Bell Curve. We even stood up for a man of the left, Bret Weinstein, also undone by an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, when his colleagues at Evergreen State College called for him to be disciplined. We like to say that we stood up for Weinstein in the name of free speech, but a reasonable person might suspect that we really stood up for him because he was bashing his more radical colleagues.

Perhaps we conservatives are prepared to overlook our principles and reputations because it is a pleasure to see the language of safe spaces come back to bite the left.
If we do not stand up for Lisa Durden, who has not merely been denied a forum or threatened with discipline but actually fired for airing her views publicly, then that reasonable person’s suspicions will be confirmed.