Better Off Without You

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 :

Bu Gib3102, via Flickr

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 I share the comment in a private group of friends, we all agree it’s best to leave hate speech where it belongs; unpublished and in the bin.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?

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36 Responses to Better Off Without You

  1. Hilary says:

    I’m just reading an interesting book on disability hate speech by Katharine Quarmby called ‘Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people?’, Unfortunately, disability hate speech (and crime) is very prevalent. But able-ism is like sexism and racism and homophobia, and look what damage they cause. We need to out it and name it, just as you have here.

  2. Hilary says:

    Oops. That title of the book on disability hate speech and crime does not have a ? at the end. We are failing disabled people.

  3. Society will be better off once we’ve found the criminal who offended you Linda.
    Have you got the IP address too?

    • I do, but I don’t want to track him down and make him miserable, I just want to change minds and get people to confront the errors and idiocy in these sorts of arguments. I really do appreciate your sentiment though, a person like this does need to know that what he says has consequences. If he ever comes back spewing more hatred, I’ll let you know though. Thanks 🙂

      • I can’t understand why Joe chooses to be an anonymous coward? If he’s ‘right’ (and one assumes at least he thinks he is right, if no-one else does), then why does he not put his name and face to his righteous offerings, so we may return to him for extra helpings of his wisdom, as he is so wise he feels he has to share, anonymously, like a coward.

        Colin Brewer is now under investigation by UK Police. Perhaps that’s the right course to take with Joe? It’s certainly a hate crime.

      • Excellent observation about Joe’s cowardess and apparent shame of his own views, considering the anonymity.

        I didn’t know the UK police were investigating Colin, that’s great news! Last I’d heard no official action had been taken on that front, so I’m pleased to hear things are moving in the right direction. I agree that what Joe has said is in the same category, from what I can tell though he’s not from NZ so bringing any action against him across continents would be hard to say the least. If he was a local man and I could reliably trace his identity, it is something I would consider.

  4. Alex says:

    Colin and Joe are dicks. Sad especially if Colin is an influential dick.
    I like the interesting theme of how people rationalise disability, or try to uncover some over-arching meaning of it.

  5. Valerie says:

    It’s Hitler’s views all over again….it’s hard to believe that any human being could be so callous, cruel, stupid and shortsighted. I’m glad you chose to share his comment. You’re right, they and their views aren’t going to go away just because you are a big enough person to ignore their bigotry. We have to call attention and awareness to them so that right-thinking people see what they really are. Thank you.

  6. grahamta says:

    I am very sorry this happened to you. Very nice response to this troll.

  7. And strength comes from unification of diversity, not conformity, where all have equal talents and equal vulnerabilities.
    The whole point of autistic people is we are not around everyone else when a dragon comes along and eats the whole town – the autistic people wandered off to find something else to eat, and the few surviving townswomen then ask where’s that guy who knows about strange foods, because a dragon just ate all the men and all the crops in the town, which the dragon smelt from miles away, because smells are stronger when animals clump together. Some of us are very sensitive to smells of people 🙂

  8. nikki says:

    the Councillor,r, who does this in public and must be feeling quite acknowledge in his thoughts by being re-elected, is at it again.. i am quite shocked by this, had read about him before. i am hoping that UK organisations will pick it up and fight against this abuse of a public position.
    i of all people rarely pull the nazi card, but in this case, it comes pretty close to what was policy in the 3rd reich – disgusting. aren’t there laws against hate speech in the UK ??
    as for your comment. i am sorry this distressed you so. yes there are probably ways to find out where it came from but I agree with what you say yourself, do not give this isolated person more airtime and attention than he already has. some loser commenting anonymously on a blog.. there are far too many like that, but you can’t get them all. it’s the public hate speech that needs to be targeted and exposed first. all the best..x

    • Yes, it is highly reminiscent of Nazi cleansing politics, there is no doubt about that. Some things deserve to be compared to horrendous atrocities, because they would lead to the same if the public accepted and politicians acted upon them. Thanks for your comment nikki.

  9. Niksmom says:

    Just another reason why I adore you. You have been able to take that awful experience and turn it around into a vital message. One I will share widely.

  10. Jean Mishra says:

    In my eyes, the truly disabled are those with no awareness of their heart and soul. Everything in this world exists as it was meant to. Imperfection, and therefore perfection, are utterly subjective concepts and in the individuals you addressed there is no awareness of this either. There is so much love in this world. Keep a hold of that as you have, always. There is nothing in this world that doesn’t deserve to be loved, even those who remain twisted and hateful. To love doesn’t mean to submit or agree. It’s a pure act that requires no pay off or outcome. The only emotion these two gentlemen evoke in me is sadness. Their’s is a long journey. Stay loving. 🙂

  11. Stimey says:

    All people have intrinsic value. It is horrifying that some people still don’t see this after all the civil rights battles this world has gone through.

  12. well said
    so depressing those awful comments and speeches

  13. Michael Almgren says:

    This blood sucker that offended you has no idea what life is really like If that man knew the hardships of love or even had a heart he or anyone like him would be a better humanbeing but for his or anyone elses coment on disability is mute until they themselves face the fact that it is people like that that should be aware that they themselves are a detrement too society and the love of God be with the disabled and that if he has a problem with God and I believe he does since money and perfection are his agenda than he should look at his extreme flaw of no mercy and compation, this is a prime example of the arian philosopy! My hat is of to the people of mercy which this man should have none from God or man! Please forgive that retch Lord above and anyone like him for what he is and bless the disabled people and let us who have a disabilty have mercy on people like Joe because we are compationate and humbled by you Lord God! This man will be paid in full by the judgement of God almighty, so try too forgive his Ignorance and Heartless attitude because he has his reward already. But for the heartfull and compassionate they will be blessed “For the Meak Shall Inherit the Earth”!

  14. nostromo says:

    According to his own logic when one of those strokes disables Mr Brewer, then he should be dispatched??

    • I do wonder whether he only thinks disabled babies should be put down, but older people (by some magical thinking) get to live? I could imagine he might have some argument about them having contributed to society by taxes or labour or whatever, but that argument falls apart very quickly with any in-depth analysis (particularly once the cost of looking after them starts to exceed 10 public toilets too). Someone close to him who cares about him needs to get him away from the media, each time he tries to clarify or explain himself, he only makes himself look worse.

  15. mattyangel says:

    Sometimes I wonder how many problems I give to society… and I wonder what I take away from others for being here.

    • It may be an interesting thing to ponder, but it doesn’t define your human value or your right to be here. If you do want the answer, I for one can tell you that you give plenty and you take not nearly as much as you deserve. That’s how I see it anyway Matty 🙂

  16. Dawn says:

    Hi, I really enjoy your writing and thinking. This post has prompted me to add something that bothers me – but it is a thought in process! That is, I am most concerned that my musings do not offend.
    I live in a society (the UK) that spends a lot of money, time and effort in keeping people alive. Premature babies, babies born with disabilities, older people who have had strokes (hi Colin!), etc etc. That effort inevitably means that our society contains more people who have some form of additional need, support needs or disability than it would otherwise.
    Yet we make no space in our society (as the parent of a child with additional needs, this is how it often feels) for these people.
    We prioritise existence over acceptance.
    I have had to battle every step of the way to get the educational support my child needs, I struggle financially because his needs limit my working hours, I have sought out and nurtured friendships with those rare people who seem to really get that inclusion is not something that someone else needs to do, it’s something that everyone needs to do. I have watched as my child is baffled, ignored, hurt and misunderstood by otherwise perfectly nice people who don’t get why maybe they should make an effort to reach out to someone who is different from some accepted norm.
    So I do find myself asking – if we are going to go to so much trouble keeping everyone alive for as long as possible, why are we not reshaping our society in fundamental and meaningful ways so that people who are in some way different or in need of some kind of extra support, don’t have to cling on at the margins and feel grateful just for being alive.
    That got more passionate at the end than I intended! But it does bother me – there seems to be no thought beyond saving a life. This is not to say that a life is not worth saving, but that act should not be an end in itself. We need to start thinking much more broadly about what comes next. No one queried whether my child needed to be in a special care baby unit, but they made me jump through hoops when it came to getting extra support at school – that doesn’t seem right to me.

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