April 2013, an old post of mine receives a comment that awaits moderation. The first time I read it my heart pounds, because it is threatening and abusive. It encourages me to kill my child because of his disability, and laments his existence because of the monetary cost to society. The final sentence of “Joe’s” attack is this: “If having another kid was a good idea to you, then you’re just about as dumb as that drooling, loud, obnoxious, tantrum throwing disaster of a child you have.” My son doesn’t fit any of those descriptors, not a single one of them (but even if he did, not a sentiment of the commenter would have been justified). He signs off with the fictitious email : firstname.lastname@example.org.
I re-read the comment, and my general feeling of upset turns to annoyance and anger. I share the comment in a private group of friends, we all agree it’s best to leave hate speech where it belongs; unpublished and in the bin.
A month goes by. May 2013, I find out about a man called Colin Brewer. This man is an elected Councillor, who I am pleased to say does not reside in my country. Here again, an argument that society would be better off without disabled children, and that they should be killed as babies because of their cost to society. He compares the cost of caring for these humans as equivalent – and better spent – on running 10 public toilets. He says people are transient, that he is thinking of the bigger picture: planning, environmental issues and landscapes.
He talks about the many private supporters he has of his view, and I am reminded of my visitor from April. Hate speech and hate speakers don’t stay in the bin. They don’t go away. They vote for people like Mr Brewer. So I want to say something, and I want this to be very clear.
Colin and my commenter “Joe,” are interesting in this remarkable regard: They think society would be better off without disabled people who had no choice in their challenges, but they think people like themselves – who encourage violence and hatred against the disabled – are the sort of people we should want to keep around. That people who choose to promote violence and hate, are more valued than their intended victims, who have not made any such choice. What an interesting society they promote, not a place I would want to be, but apparently it’s their ideal. The oddity doesn’t stop there.
Colin and Joe think money is more important than caring for humans, yet I find it hard to imagine what money would be better spent on. Toilets, apparently. Because toilets and landscaping are the public sector’s key roles. I was under the mistaken view that matters like health and life were higher up the agenda; someone better take back my Philosophy and my Law degrees, I appear to have been erroneously educated on both ethics and government.
But the concern, we hear Colin and Joe say, is that it’s other people’s money you see. But I am then led to wonder, why they wouldn’t advocate changing government spending priorities or taxation or support services on offer; how is it they short-cut to killing the disabled? That step is hard to fathom; why is killing people an easier and more sensible solution than confronting and changing public policy?
Luckily neither Joe nor Colin will ever be in an accident that affects their bodies or minds, nor will they ever grow old, or have any relatives who also enter the world of disability (what a lovely predetermined world they live in). They are perfect human beings, unflawed, perfectly able-bodied and able-minded (though the able-minded thing is starting to look questionable, wouldn’t you say?)
You may be familiar with my disdain for the argument that the value of the disabled’s existence should or could rest of what they can do for the rest of society. I call this objectifying them, which is just my way of saying people are not a means to an end, they are an end in them-self. They are individuals, with a right to life, that is not up-held or negated by virtue of what they can or can’t do for anyone else. We do not have to justify our existence in reference to others.
This ignoring of individualism and individual rights, is behind the Colins and Joes of this world; they live in societies that have flourished on individualism and a system of rights, but they have a modified version of precisely which individuals should be entitled to even the most basic of rights. (How convenient too, that they fit into their category of those who get to have the right to life.) Their arguments to sustain those views are deeply flawed and contradictory.
Luckily for them, I and many others do value and understand the meaning and importance of choice and individual rights. And I do think that society has to “accommodate” even those who incite violence. I would prefer that they were accommodated in prison – inciting violence and inciting suicide are crimes after all – but I would not encourage that we physically attack or kill poor Colin and Joe. No, because I value life. I think that life matters, and I acknowledge that frailty of humans and how close we all are to disability anyway. I acknowledge the fine and shifting lines between who is disabled and who is not. And some part of me even pities these men, that they don’t realize how absurd and ill-informed they are.
The world would not be better off without my son, dear Joe and Colin. The fact that he’s turned out to be an amazing human being with a rather bright future if he continues of his trajectory – in fact, that he looks to be smarter than the average child his age and may yet turn out to have savant skills – is by-the-by. He could be that fictional drooling violent child Joe describes, and he’d still be worth more to me and society that those who spew forth and encourage such utter rubbish as these grown men do.
Just who would society, and I, and my son, be better off without?