What’s Normal?

Parableman roots out the philosophical basis of arguing the relativist view of “everything/nothing is “normal””. This is no ivory tower conversation, however. It hits home for many, and for Jeremy, in particular, when he says, “it’s not surprising that I’m going to find Fish’s comments on autism to be the most unhelpful ones I’ve ever seen”. Because the philosophy underneath impacts our real world decisions, it is never a waste of time to try to figure out the thinking behind some of the most prevalent buzz word phrases of our time- or at least read some of the discussions of those who go into the fray on these debates. I have a personally invested interest, as does Jeremy ( his is in views of autism), mine being in the area of deaf culture… as my husband and several children are hearing impaired ( some are moderately severe).

To catch up on the conversation, here are some high points (admittedly, through my own filter) :

Quotes from Fish’s essay, Norms and Deviations: Who’s to Say?

The X-Men example: “These abilities are seen by many “normal” human beings, and a few mutants, as disabilities, as an indication that the person who possesses one of them is a freak.
From this perspective, the best thing a mutant could hope for would be a cure,”” Storm …declares, “They can’t cure us. You know why? Because there’s nothing to cure!””

“the case of blacks and gays” segues to “why couldn’t the same thing happen to autism and mutancy or to any other mode of being”
[ the first thing I would want to look at here is the presumption that race (blacks) and sexual orientation (gays) is speaking of “apples to apples” ) and then, whether this, in turn, can truly be related to autism, etc. I think there is a bit of equivocation going on here.]

The Deaf Debate: “many in the deaf community — a phrase that makes an argument: we are not just persons similarly afflicted; we are a community — have resisted cochlear implants, reasoning that to accept them would be to deny their culture, their language and their identity. “An implant,” wrote the editors of Deaf Life, “is the ultimate invasion of the ear … the ultimate refusal to let deaf people be deaf.”

“The story of the “hearing world,” writes Douglas Baynton, associate professor of history and American sign language at the University of
Iowa, is that deafness is an incapacity; but, he explains, what we are dealing with are “physical differences” (exactly the point made in the letter to Time), and physical differences “do not carry inherent meanings.” That is, they do not come labeled “normal” and “inferior,” “abled” and “disabled”; these labels, Baynton contends, are fixed by “a culturally created web of meaning,” a web constructed by no one and everyone, a web that those who live within it find difficult to unravel, even when they know that the meanings it delivers are false.”

“Deafness appears, it is said, as a defect only against the background of a norm that has been put in place not by nature, but by history.”

The Minority Argument: “A minority (deaf activists view themselves as a linguistic minority) is regarded by the mainstream as defective, impaired, criminal (Italians and Irish in the 19th century), inferior (Asians and blacks), immoral (gays, polygamists and gypsies), lacking in mental or physical resources (women until only recently) and either less or more than human (X-men and Jews).”

The Cop-out: “All we can be sure of is that the struggle between the impulse to normalize — to specify a center and then police deviations from it —and the impulse to repel the normalizing gaze and live securely in a community of one’s own will never be resolved.”


An Argument about “Difference” and “Deviance”

The Practical Problem of Personal Investment: “Fish, however, goes from discussing diversity in terms of race, sexual
orientation, and disability, to considering “polygamy, drug use, pedophilia or murder” and makes too vast a generalization about the politics of difference and self-empowerment. By mentioning all of the following in one sentence as various types of “difference”—”autism, deafness, blackness, gayness, polygamy, drug use, pedophilia or murder”—Fish’s argument becomes no more than an observation about a kind of rhetorical strategy that says little about the real, lived experience of real people. I was frankly troubled to see “autism” in a sentence with “pedophilia,”” -Kristina Chew, Autism Vox

I have a number of things to say on these statements and proffered views.
Jeremy says:

I think there’s a very interesting argument to be had about whether autistic people are disabled to the point where they would be better off being healed or whether they’re fine the way they are and should be taken seriously when they insist that they wouldn’t accept a cure if it were found.

That seems a very good place to start talking.

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