Care About The Important, Intensely

Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I live by these values because I believe they help me contribute to the world in an important way. Everyone is in this world together, and there’s something special about helping others without retreating to malice or hatred. Adding joy multiplies happiness but adding darkness only subtracts.

Of course, I ask myself (probably too often) for the point of living by these specific values. I haven’t been moved far beyond finding it helpful with creating a better world. Why spend my time creating instead of consuming? Why care about people other than myself?

Perhaps these values aren’t necessary but they are important, to me and I think extremely helpful for many others. So, I’ll keep them up and live my life accordingly. That’s the aim at the end of the day. To be a person of integrity.

Having this conversation reminded me of the book I recently finished. When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul Kalanithi, an upcoming neuroscientist-neurosurgeon who found he had terminal lung cancer, wrote a book. He spent his time in his life trying to understand what makes life meaningful. To do that, he wanted to wrestle with death and the mind. And he did so with grace and did so with quality. That alone is special. Just caring intensely about your craft because you think that it’s a moral duty. He didn’t view his work as a job but he viewed it as a calling. Even while he had cancer.

From all the pain he suffered, a question arose. Can you live with integrity while visiting the doorstep of death?

He answered that question with a resounding yes. Not with his words but with his actions. He never once said that he was going to fight cancer and beat it. For it’s somewhat of an unhelpful metaphor. To beat cancer. What if you lose? Does that mean you lost a battle? Apparently. But were you really participating in it in the first place? It does seem like something that just happens to you rather than something you engage with. The same seems to follow for many illnesses.

Despite the decision to not use such metaphors, the book showed me you can be a bit more generous here. Perhaps the focus of beating cancer or suffering in pain isn’t on whether you survive or the suffering ends. This way, your actions aren’t defined by something you may not control. Rather, it is on finding your values and making sure that you live in accordance with them as best you can. It means spending your time thinking about what is important to you and following these things intensely.

By living your life as such and always pursuing the good, by caring about people around you and never letting them out of your mind, by finding yourself and living as yourself the best you can, that is when you ‘beat’ whatever it is you’re facing.

It’s difficult to say that when you fail to live as yourself, as the values you care for, as a person who does good, you lose. Some things you simply cannot control and for those things, you should not be blamed for. In some cases, you can’t even control your efforts to do so.

But with the things you can control and hold dear to yourself, it is those things which define you. Don’t let illness or negative life events make you malicious or cynical. Don’t let it tear you away from the values you hold dear and most definitely don’t let it steal integrity from you and throw it into the night.

As the poem goes: “Do not go quietly into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I’ve found that ‘rage’ doesn’t have to mean anger. There are always going to be many moments of pain, suffering and death but this does not mean we must lose our will to care. I’ve found there can be so much more to the day if we try to care about it. Whether that’s talking to a friend and enjoying their smile, finding your favourite spot in the library, walking to work and hearing friends enjoy a joke or waking up and thanking yourself for trying to just get by for another day. These are small and my desire to care more isn’t accelerated by the fear of death. Kalanithi’s work is a helpful reminder that it is possible to live with integrity in good and poor health. And for that, I thank him.

We start with finding what is important to us and caring about it intensely.


I haven’t written in a while. I apologise – I’ll be back at it soon enough.

If you enjoyed the post, feel free to share :)

@improvingslowly

Should I be so angry? – Dissertation pt. 4

Another one? I did say it would a six part series. I’ve shown (hopefully) that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment (for being disabling) and now move onto asking whether you should be angry.

I enjoyed writing this section. Interesting stuff. In fact, I’d say all of it is interesting but I’m not reliable since I wrote it.

Maybe my next essay will be “Can I be too humble?”.  Anyway, although it’s the longest section, enjoy the rest of the argument :)

The previous posts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)


 

I have established an important premise in my argument. It can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment and its disabling nature. This emphasised with the knowledge that disabling factors cannot always or completely be attributed to the poor design of society. However, because of this, if we accept the social model of disability, it does not regard these emotions as legitimate because impairments cannot cause these problems. One move left to be made is for the social model proponent to argue that you should not be angry because it is counter-productive or useless.

If it is established that you should not be angry at your impairment, then it matters much less whether it is appropriate to be so. The social model theorist could claim to only be concerned with the times you should be angry rather than trying to accommodate for ‘appropriate’ ones. I will now explain the objections to being angry.

“Anger is harmful and offers no new knowledge”

Opposition to anger has a long history going back to ancient philosophers such as Seneca and the tradition has come in more modern forms. Seneca had this to say about anger:

The other emotions have in them some element of peace and calm, while this one is wholly violent and has its being in an onrush of resentment, raging with a most inhuman lust for weapons, blood, and punishment, giving no thought to itself if only it can hurt another, hurling itself upon the very point of dagger, and eager for revenge though it may drag down the avenger along with it (1928, Essay 1-107)

Although our modern conceptions of anger do not need to be encoded with the desire to have revenge, this is still an important idea. Anger is said to harm the person who is angry and “Anger embodies nothing useful” (ibid. Essay 1-129). This is quite damning because it makes anger seem like the most useless of emotions and we definitely should not experience. In the context of a disability, anger would be an emotion which makes the experience of disability worse by intensifying the limitations one experiences.

Glen Pettigrove and Koji Tanaka (2014) helpfully point out some more opposition to anger in the Buddhist tradition. Santideva argues a few interesting points.

  • Anger is pointless (Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life vi. 10)
  • Anger presupposes a confused, unduly partial perspective, which gives exaggerated weight to my perceived interests and insufficient weight to the interests of others (vi. 4-5).

Here, again, the discussion of anger is agent centred but the objection can still hold if we do not consider the insufficient weight to the interests of others. Rather it can be interpreted as not taking enough consideration of:

  • Our own interests (to not feel worse because of our disability).
  • How we think our bodies and lives ought to be.

With this, we should not be angry because we have a misguided perspective on what the actual significance of the effect disability has on our lives. This will be important for the future discussion but I will explain briefly a more modern form of opposition to anger.

Pettigrove and Tanaka (2014), in one of their many points, argue that anger is not particularly epistemically useful. They argue and present evidence for the fact that anger is regularly misleading with respect to its proper object and unrelated objects which may follow (p.281). They present the case that anger often leads people to participate in biased, heuristic-reasoning and become less likely to accept evidence which is contrary to their view (p.280)[1]. Moreover, they cite Randolph Nesse (2005) in saying that anger works on the smoke detector principle – meaning it generates more false alarms than true ones. In place of anger in political contexts, Pettigrove promotes meekness as a virtue (Pettigrove, 2012).

This counter-productivity critique is arguably more potent with respect to disability than related discussions about anger towards other agents or political systems. When discussing other people and public policy, we have a greater ability to control the object (people, public policy, etc.) and direct it to productive change. If I am angry that a building does not accommodate for people with mobility concerns, then I can demand that the building managers make appropriate changes where they can. As I mentioned earlier, the social model snuggly fits into the notion of agent-centred anger. In contrast to disability and impairment, it is more difficult to see how anger might lead to productive change. It may force to me to demand a cure but that involves making claims against others. What this says is that anger might be so counter-productive because it is futile. It is directed towards an almost inert object and that fact alone might exaggerate the anger even further.

There are more different forms of oppositions to anger but they usually take a politicised form which Srinivasan (2015) discusses in great detail. However, I wish to focus only on the idea that one should not be angry because it is counter-productive, does not contain useful information and it harms you.

I will tackle the first two arguments together. In response to these criticisms of anger, I argue that the experience of anger can be very epistemically productive. It gives us knowledge which might have been hidden to us before. In the context of agent-centred anger, one might become angry at an injustice which you did not realise was a problem.

In the context of disability, I will aim to demonstrate the epistemic productivity of anger by showing its productivity parallels well with realising injustice in political situations. In the 1950s and 60s,  Malcom X was seen as a very angry figure who was too radical not only in his aims but approaches to achieving them, especially when contrasted with his calmer contemporary, Martin Luther King Jr. His anger came from the historical and continued racial injustice committed by White Americans against Black Americans spanning hundreds of years. With this, we can see that the experience of an injustice or unfairness can cause anger. As a result, the experience of anger led to the knowledge they are experiencing injustice.

The knowledge granted by emotions in the previous example can be had with impairments. If someone suffers from chronic pain, they might come to realise that the reason why they are angry with their progression is because pain is very limiting. Then the anger is epistemically productive because it grants the knowledge that pain is disabling (rather than just not trying hard enough for example). Our bodies and knowledge of impairments are intimately tied to one another even though we can get things wrong about our own bodies. Being limited by your body, can be a very obvious experience for we are always experiencing what it feels like to use our bodies. We can have simple knowledge of it (i.e. ‘I cannot hear’ or ‘I am in continuous pain’) but that alone does not always signify a limitation because some do not view impairments as necessarily limiting[2]. When an impairment becomes disabling, then it might trigger anger and cause us to say “this impairment is harming me and places a significant limit on me”.

Therefore, anger contains useful information about impairments and the fact they can be disabling when we realise that it limits us from achieving significant life projects. A few points need to be emphasised. First, the notion of unfairness is important and must be remembered otherwise there is the risk of saying anything which prevents you from getting what you want can be appropriately responded to with anger. Secondly, the idea of significant life projects will be clarified. This notion is connected to the concept of Eudaimonia and personal flourishing. Meaning if personal flourishing is significantly limited by the impairment, this is usually regarded as disabling. Moreover, this might reflect things that nearly all humans desire for themselves (such as not being in pain or being able to recognise faces). Generally, this limitation will be long-term and have a near continuous presence in their everyday lives. Of course, people can dramatically change their goals and no longer view their impairment as a limit but as a reason for their flourishing. This is consistent with my argument.

I want to emphasise the focus on non-agent-centred anger versus agent-centred anger. Problems such as structural racism and sexism have a root cause in other people causing oppression by placing limits on others and causing harms. In this sense, society is disabling. However, with impairments being disabling, while society can be the cause of disability, it is not sufficient. An impairment can cause disability by placing limits on the person and causing harm without involving other people.

This is an important move for a few reasons. First, it means that disabilities which have no clear social remedies (this does not include curing the impairment) can be understood through the emotional experience of it. Perhaps another claim which follows is that emotions can contain valuable epistemic information. Disabilities such as chronic pain and fatigue often prevent people from achieving significant life projects, even if those projects are to not be in consistent pain or simply live a life without this general reduction in well-being.

A brief counter to whether one should or should not be angry might take the following form:

If one is learning how to walk, and they become angry because they find it very difficult, it might be responded that they should not be harsh on themselves.

However, while it may have good intentions, it can be misguided. They might respond by saying they are not angry at themselves because they are at no fault. They are angry that their impairment is preventing them from walking.

It might also be argued “do not be angry at things you cannot control.” If we cannot control the state of our disability, then we should not be angry at all. I ask that you recall the condition of significance and Eudaimonia in the discussion of emotions earlier. I could be angry because it is something I cannot control and feel I ought to be able to. For example, I myself cannot directly control whether systematic racism continues to exist or not and the fact it does exist, makes me angry. On the other hand, I cannot control whether the buses are on time (or show up at all) but the promptness of buses is much less significant to my life projects than experiencing racism is. Here it can be seen that the significance of the event can help us understand whether one should or should not be angry. If the event ends up being insignificant on a bigger picture, then there may be no need. On the other hand, if it remains significant to your life, then it is easier to deflect the criticism that you should not be angry.

Secondly, given the information that anger does contain, it prevents the social model theorist from attempting to explain away the emotional experience towards their body by explaining everything in terms of societal oppression. If a person is blind and is angry they cannot see anymore, it would be irresponsible to dismiss it by attempting to explain it solely in terms of what society has not done for them. It is true that society could do much more to help them navigate the world properly. It is not true that their projects are to simply being able to navigate the world nor should that be their only project or desire. They can be much more complex and personal. A blind person may want to see their child and their body prevents that from happening.

The third objection – anger is harmful – stands up better in face of criticism. It is plausible to believe that anger does make the experience of disability worse. Largely because it brings a negative section of your life to centre stage and makes you engage with it intensely. When one is angry, it is rarely a passive engagement between you and the object and thus can decrease well-being quite substantially. If something harms you, you wish not to be harmed then you ought not to be angry. Yet, I do not think this is enough to establish that one should not be angry. This is strengthened by the above points on the epistemic productivity of anger and leads to a different argument – does it matter if one should not be angry?

There is something to be said about whether someone ‘should’ be angry at an impairment or anything at all. Here, the separation between the ‘can’ and the ‘should’ becomes important. Anger (and other emotions) do not need to be justified solely in terms of their productivity or in terms of how they influence your well-being. If one is angry at a moral violation then that explains and justifies their anger. Remarking they should not be angry does not address the reason for their anger but says their reaction to it is mistaken. This is a problematic response because ignoring the reason for the anger is a perfect way to undermine personal testimony. This is undermined without reference to their reasons for being angry but the thought that one should not be angry for the reasons discussed above. It is enough that it is apt even if we have a case of apt counter-productive anger (Srinivasan, 2015, p.20).

So far I have argued that the criticisms of whether we should be angry fail. One last qualification needs to be made. I am not arguing that there is an obligation to be angry at an impairment even if it would be appropriate to be. Rather, if a person is angry, it not easily dismissed as counter-productive or being too harmful to be useful. With this, the social model of disability excludes anger as an appropriate emotional response to impairment which is an important mistake.


[1] Interestingly enough, they also argue (as Seneca does) that anger characteristically contains the desire to lash out at whatever has wronged you. This is a mistaken addition for a two main reasons. 1) Modern conceptions of anger do not need to contain that condition and you especially would not be justified in doing so simply because you are also justified in being angry. See Myles Burnyeat’s rejection of this (2002) and 2) given the earlier establishment that you can be angry at an impairment, there is no person to be angry at in this case.

[2] It is worthwhile to note the idea that impairment can also be socially determined. If this is true, then people might not find impairments limiting because society has not caused whatever biological factor in question to be a limitation. See Shakespeare (2006).


 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks. I hope you enjoyed the argument.

Do you think anger is useful? 

For long time readers of the blog (and people with the memories of the-opposite-of-a-goldfish) you might recall me writing this about anger. Do you think I’ve contradicted myself?

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Here’s What it Means to be Angry – Dissertation pt. 3

And we’ve reached the midway point, the longest section and the most interesting so far. A lot of milestones!

In the previous parts I discussed:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Part three is the beginning of my argument. Can you be angry at an impairment? I discuss and attempt to expand one of my favourite papers The Aptness of Anger by Amia Srinivasan.


Can I be angry?

Recall the definition of disability offered by the social model. Society disables people with impairments. In order to figure out where the social model goes wrong with regards to the justification of emotional responses to disability, I will assume it is true. From this, I will go on to analyse two things – can you have a rational emotional response to an impairment? If you can, does it mean you should? I will test two emotions – anger and sadness.

First, what does it mean for a model of disability to ‘allow’ an emotional response to something? It is definitely possible to be angry at a disability because you can express any emotion you want at any time. I can be angry at a pillow for simply being blue if I want to. However, establishing this is trivial. When discussing whether you can be angry at an impairment, it is really a discussion of whether it is appropriate to do so. Does it make sense, given the situation, to be angry? If not, the social model is simply disallowing an emotion that is inappropriate any way. If that were correct, I do not believe the social model of disability would be making a mistake.

I will now focus on anger and its expression towards other people in regular contexts which might make it easier to appreciate in the context of disability. When I say ‘I am angry that you ruined my shoes’ I am expressing a few things (Srinivasan, 2015, p.8). First, I have stated what I am angry about – you ruined my shoes. Second, this fact is also the reason for my anger and most importantly, I feel that is what also justifies my anger. Perhaps it is best understood in terms of unfairly setting back my interests (having good shoes). This can be contrasted with merely explaining my anger but not being justified in being angry or being irrationally angry. If an Olympic sprinter loses a race, they might be angry at the fact they lost but their anger, arguably, is not appropriate because their interests were not set back unfairly.

Let us unpack the justification of anger. Amia Srinivasan (2015) argues that genuine anger involves a normative violation against the way things ought to have been or more specifically, when a moral violation has occurred or will occur (p.10). This is different from what might be construed as disappointment – a violation against the way things you wish would have been. A much weaker violation. When we say ‘this should have been a different way’ and do so genuinely (by not conflating wishes with demands) we are making a powerful statement. There is a version of the world you are rightfully entitled to and because that version has not been realised, you have been harmed. And thus, your anger is genuine.

Before I continue, I am pausing briefly to highlight how well the social model of disability fits in here. Having the basic assumption that people deserve to be treated fairly and justly, the proper treatment of the disabled is a right they are entitled to. In order to participate in life as fully as non-impaired individuals, society needs to be arranged in a much better way to remove the oppression that is disability. The examples mentioned earlier show quite powerfully the discrimination disabled people have faced in the past up to the present day and here, their anger is justified. Proper participation in society is a right which is has been denied. Their anger is directed towards a clear object – the arrangement of society – and it has a great significance towards their own life projects.

Returning to the topic, while helpful, the current definition of anger presents a problem for my argument. This concept of anger generally tends to be agent focused. An injustice is generally thought of being committed by someone (or people) against another person (or persons). If this is true, then one could plausibly argue that it does not make any sense to be angry that one is impaired because that does not involve another person. If someone caused it, I would be angry at the person rather than the impairment itself. Not being impaired not how one ought to have been. Rather, it is how one wishes they would have been. I am simply conflating anger with disappointment.

I will admit that this objection has some valuable force but I maintain that Srinivasan’s definition of genuine anger is helpful because it gives us the chance to explore non-moral violations or non-agent centred moral violations.

Let us begin from the perspective of harms where there is no agent that is morally responsible. It is important we do this because being angry at a harm and being angry at the person who caused it are different things. Is it possible to get angry in a genuine way? Yes. These will tend to be anger at facts of the world. For example, can you get angry at the fact a flash monsoon has destroyed your home? Plausibly, yes. However, this anger’s object would be at the fact that it has ruined your home and unfairness stems from the fact that it was undeserved. The object (or proposition)[1] is the fact that it has harmed you (quite significantly). Perhaps then, following from Amia’s idea of moral violations, we are entitled to say “this monsoon should not have happened because it was unfair”[2] and it has significantly reduced well-being and upended your personal projects (i.e. having shelter). Before I make much needed clarifications for my argument, take the following example:

Can you be angry at the fact you are in poverty? There are a few possible statements I would be making when I say ‘I am angry I am in poverty’.

  • I am angry that I am in poverty and starving because it is harming me
  • I am angry that I have been put into poverty by other people.[3]
  • I am angry that I am in poverty and the people who can change it are not.

It is reasonable to think that all three statements can be true independent of or in conjunction with one another. Statements 2) and 3) are agent centred. They are directed towards the way the world ought to have been and making a claim against other people to change it. Moreover, changing it does not then alleviate the anger towards the fact that it happened (Srinivasan, 2015, p.12). We can see parallels with this and disability. Disabled people are permitted to make claims 2) and 3) about their own disabilities and perhaps they even should do so. However, statement 1) seems more contentious if we view such harms through the lens of the social model of disability. We cannot be angry at impairment for harming us and being a disabling factor in itself because it cannot do so – only society can. Yet, we can see that it is possible to be angry at a non-agent-centred harm for causing life to go worse in some way.[4] Especially when it is as significant as being limited by your own body or mental capacities. It does not matter whether the harm can be alleviated in this case because the justification for the anger is not based in the fact it has not been alleviated by another person. It can be justified simply because the harm is existing.

This argument becomes particularly potent when we consider impairments – which are seen as disabling because they limit our life projects – that cannot eliminated by societal change. Under the social model of disability, anger towards these impairments, even though they can be very disabling, cannot be classed as such because it was not caused by society. This shows quite explicitly the problem with ignoring impairment because it must class appropriate emotional responses towards them as inappropriate.

However, is my argument only applicable to disabilities which do not seem to be alleviated by social change? As mentioned above, it is has a case to be more powerful but it is not limited to this context. People with disabilities may not have goals which are achievable by simply changing society’s arrangement. Often, the goals of the social model of disability are surrounded on making sure every individual can participate in society as other non-impaired individual does.

However, we can see why this may not be satisfactory. If an avid runner loses the use of their legs after an earthquake, one might think that being able to get around society in a wheelchair properly is enough. Yet, we definitely can still attempt to appreciate the anger expressed by her if she simply wants to run and cannot. From Nussbaum’s framework of emotions explained earlier, they are often linked to Eudaimonia or personal flourishing and if running was helping her live a flourishing life, then the unfairness in losing that ability factors into why she might be angry.  Of course, her life aims and relationship with the impairment might change over time meaning she is no longer angry at the impairment but directs her attention externally. Disability involves a very active relationship with the person and their body in part because we cannot separate the two. However we define disability, it must allow for these reactions to be appreciated as appropriate and the social model does not do so.

A point to be emphasised is this: the fact that our claim of unfairness cannot be claimed against another person does not diminish the existence of unfairness. Being unable to say that someone else must fix the unfairness does not prevent the appropriateness of the anger but makes it a practical problem of experiencing anger with something you cannot change. The objection that this anger does not make sense because it cannot be attributed to another person is better suited for whether you should be angry rather than whether it is appropriate to be.

This is open to an objection I wish to address briefly but will go into more detail in the next section. It means there can be genuine anger at many things. If a small gust of wind ruins your umbrella just as you walk out of the door, it looks like you can be angry at that fact even if it ends up being quite inconsequential. I am inclined to agree that it is possible genuine anger might exists in these situations. This is mainly a problem for whether we should be angry at a reasonably small thing versus something which can be disabling.


[1] It’s difficult to assess anger at a ‘proposition’. The anger expressed is towards the object in the world which leads to the proposition ‘a flash monsoon ruined my home’.

[2] This brute bad luck is also seen as unfairness in discussions of Luck Egalitarianism. See Dworkin (1981) for one of many examples.

[3] This is along the lines of Thomas Pogge’s (2008) argument that affluent countries are the cause of global poverty.

[4] Unless we want to admit genuine anger for life going better than expected.


A few questions:

Do you agree with Amia’s definition of anger? 

Do you think anger at an impairment makes sense? 

Let me know what you think. As always, thanks for reading!

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing – Dissertation pt. 2

This is the second part of my dissertation talking about the social model of disability and emotions.

In part 1, I said what I’m going to do with my argument and did some of it. I defined the social model and medical model of disability.

Now I move onto explaining a framework to understand emotions…


 

It is important to have a framework to understand emotions if we are to understand the role of emotions in the experience of disability.  Martha Nussbaum offers this in The Upheavals of Thought. This account will generally be assumed true. I do not think the account is flawless but my argument does not fail completely if Nussbaum’s account is deemed unsuccessful.[1]

To Nussbaum, emotions are best conceived of as thoughts or cognitions. Her view is ‘neo-stoic’ as she draws greatly from the stoic accounts offered by Seneca and other ancient philosophers. Cognitions, Nussbaum argues, are necessary and sufficient for emotions (Nussbaum, 2001, pp.56- 58). Rather than simply being unthinking things which ‘push rather than pull’ us around, emotions always involve thought of an object combined with the thought of its importance (ibid. p.23). This is the first two conditions – they have objects and a thought about how important that object is. For an emotion to have an object, it means that it has some kind of target that is in the world and is about something (ibid. p.27). For example, someone might have an emotion because of an object o, in virtue of o, about o or that proposition p.

Secondly, they are intentional. Meaning they are full of value judgements about the object in relation to the person experiencing the emotions. Rather than being directed towards an object like an arrow is pointed towards its target and let go (ibid., p.27), it is almost like casting a fishing line out to the sea, latching onto something important and experiencing where that object stands in relation to yourself. Therefore, although emotions are argued to be thoughts, it is important to make clear that emotions are partial and ‘requires seeing the object […] through my own window’ (ibid. p.28). This has interesting implications for how to conceive of emotions. One to consider is whether an emotion can inappropriately respond to an object or event. There is definitely space to say yes as people can overreact to events but this then raises the question of when the interpretation of significance is misguided or correct. This will be discussed in relation to anger later in the next section.

The third condition is that they form beliefs about the object (ibid. 28). For example, if I fear snakes, I believe there is danger and that is because of the snakes. Moreover, the fear is present because I believe the possibility of danger is significant. With regards to belief then, emotions and their beliefs have some relationship to propositional content. If I am sad because I believe my dad died but he is actually alive then the content of my emotion is ‘false’. However, I will follow Nussbaum’s path in referring to such examples as ‘inappropriate’ because false implies something much harsher and discredits the emotion completely (ibid. p.46).

In close relation to this point is the notion of value perceived in objects. Under this account they are Eudaimonistic – they make direct reference to the person’s own flourishing (ibid. pp.30 – 33). Whatever the person considers of intrinsic value to their own life, whether it is because it affects her well-being or personal projects, emotions capture that significance. We must not mistake Eudaimonia with simple utilitarianism or ‘happiness’ but rather it takes for one to view their life as complete. (ibid. pp.32-33). This is consistent with the idea that emotions are very partial and they make judgements based on how they relate to our own life projects.

Assuming this framework is true, I will now discuss anger and its relationship to the social model of disability.

[1] See Cates (2009) or Griffiths (1997) for opposing views.


 

How do you think emotions are best understood? 

Thanks for reading!

The Two Definitions of Disability – Dissertation pt. 1

I got the bright idea to put my dissertation on my blog from LucyWritesWords (go read her dissertation, it’s good).

The question I attempt to answer is: Does the social model of disability allow for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment? In fewer words: Can I be angry at my disability? 

There are a few things I would change if I re-did it now but I won’t edit it much for the blog. This is part one of six. Enjoy!


“Anger is loaded with information and energy […] When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar”

Lorde, 1987

The social model of disability has often been seen as the inspiration for disabled rights activists and disabled people[1]. Due to its change of focus from the disabled person to society, there is now something to do about disability rather than angling for a cure that may never come in one’s lifetime.

It has also come under much criticism in recent years for not taking into account the problem of impairment and because of this, missing out on both a large number of disabilities and the personal experience one has with their disability. As a way to explore this problem, I will ask whether the social model allows for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment.

I will argue that it does not particularly in cases of anger and sadness and as a result we should move on from the social model. To do this I will

  1. First, explain the social model of disability and why it has been so heavily adopted.
  2. In the second section, I will present Martha Nussbaum’s framework for emotions as it will prove useful for the remainder of the essay. From this, the following sections will aim to establish that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment even though it is not an agent.
  3. The following section will answer the objection that you should not be angry because it is harmful and epistemically unproductive (it does not produce knowledge).
  4. Afterwards, I will briefly demonstrate a similar conclusion holds for sadness and ask whether the social model can survive despite my argument’s conclusion.

The Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability can be stated briefly:

In our view, it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments, by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.

(UPIAS, 1976. P.3)

The social model states that society causes disability by the way it is arranged and how it includes or excludes individuals with mental or physical impairments. This creates three important dichotomies (Shakespeare, 2013, p.216).

First, impairment is separated from disability. Impairment is the limited function of a physical or mental attribute and disability is the restriction of activity caused by the arrangement of society. (Oliver, 1996, p.22) Impairment is a personal attribute. Under ordinary modes of thinking, a ‘cure’ would mean eliminating the impairment rather than the disability. On the other hand, ‘disability’ is a public and structural problem. With this model, people are regularly excluded or disadvantaged by society because it is not correctly designed with impairments in mind. For example, should a wheelchair user need access to the first floor of a building but is only faced with stairs, the design of the building is disabling her. If, however, the building has a working lift, she can get around without any restrictions meaning she is no longer disabled by the arrangement of the building. This means ‘disability’ is something which can be greatly eliminated or reduced by changing the arrangement of society.  Perhaps, then, it is best to accept impairment and direct our attention towards social change. The divide between impairment and disability can also be seen as a parallel to the sex/gender divide started by feminists in the 1970s (Shakespeare, 2006, p.29).

Following from this is the second dichotomy. Disabled people are distinguished from non-disabled people because they are an oppressed group. There are three main barriers disabled people face: attitudinal, physical and institutional. In addition to this, non-disabled people are often the cause of such oppression because society is designed against the disabled. Perhaps not explicitly but that is the case nonetheless. This is backed up by history with a number of examples. It ranges from children being bullied because they are physically or mentally ‘different’ to disabled people being disproportionately unemployed[2] to simply not being able to navigate buildings or roads effectively or safely. Again, another parallel can be drawn with other oppressed groups such as ethnic minorities who are unable to function in society in an equal manner because they are excluded due to their race.

The third difference is with what is most commonly thought of as disability – the ‘medical’ or ‘individual’ model of disability. With this model, impairment and disability are much closer. Impairment stays the same but disability is defined as:

Any restriction or lack, resulting from an impairment, of ability to perform any activity or within the range considered normal for a human being. (Emphasis added)

(World Health Organisation, 1980)

The most common view among the non-disabled, which states that disability is the limitation which arises from impairments. For example, the wheelchair user’s disability mentioned earlier would be her lack of properly functioning legs. In difference with the social model, the medical model has a much greater focus on the individual’s body and its supposed faults. When we look for an intervention to include a disabled person into society, the focus is on a cure or compensation. This, it has been argued, is often a cause of social exclusion and with some directed thought, clear why many disabled people are opposed to the medical model. If impairment is permanent or long lasting, saying something is ‘wrong’ with them is seen as a comment on their person rather than the impairment. If they do not have a normal body, they must be abnormal and demand special attention to compensate for that.

There are many benefits to the social model. First, it allows people to point their attention towards injustices which disabled people do face in their everyday lives. For example, not having their testimony of their personal experiences taken seriously. Rather than society simply excluding people because they are disabled or treating them poorly, it is what causes disability. If this is true, the ‘cure’ for disability is not hoping for a cure which many never come, it is through demanding civil rights they are entitled to.

Second, it often has a great impression on how disabled people view themselves. Some people note that they feel liberated and no longer feel bad for having a disability. “Nothing is wrong with me. It’s society’s fault” is the attitude sometimes realised (Crow, 1992, p.2). They can also direct their attention towards things they can change by going into social activism or learning more about disability and the lives of disabled people. In a sense, it also helps that, if no cure can be found, we no longer need to look for it.

Thirdly, it sets a clear agenda for social change (Shakespeare, 2013, p.217). A key example of this is the disabled rights act of 1995 (2006, p.30). If people become more aware of the injustices they face, they often try finding ways to alter the world so no more injustice is experienced.

With the social model, an implicit discussion of impairment can be teased out. That is, there is no discussion of impairment involved in the social model because it is seen as unimportant. It seems that impairment is a neutral (or possibly positive) attribute of a person because impairment cannot in itself be disabling. It is society which disables people with impairments. Therefore, it has been criticised on the basis that it does not properly take into account the experience of impairment.

For this paper, we will find that it does not properly consider the range of justified emotional experiences people have with their impairments. However, this does not necessitate a return to the medical model. The remainder of the paper will aim to answer a few things. First, how we might want to view emotions. Second, whether the social model excludes certain emotions towards impairment and third if it does, what does that mean for the social model of disability? Does it need to be abandoned?


[1] Using the terms ‘people with disabilities’ and ‘disabled people’ inspires controversy regardless of its use. In the first instance, you have the claim you should ‘see the person and not the disability’ on the other, you have people who are being disabled by society. As a result, I will use them interchangeably with no normative force behind them.

[2] See ‘The Poverty Site’ Work and Disability: United Kingdom (2011) for statistics detailing disability limits people who lack but want work much more than gender, age and parent status.


Do you think the social or medical model of disability are useful? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

Who Would I Be?

‘Suppose you could take away the tics,’ he said. ‘What would be left? I consist of tics – there’d be nothing left.’

Witty Ticcy Ray

Who would I be without my disability?

Perhaps an odd question to ask. The answer should be ‘a better and happier person’.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple. I found myself resonating with Witty Ticcy Ray – I might be nothing without it.

For most of my teens, I’ve had to deal with pain, walking problems, and more recently, the resultant emotional fallout. In the most developmental stages of my life, I’ve grown up with it and lived my life around it.

To some, it’s the same as growing up with a favourite sports team or book series. A lot of the conversations you have with friends and family are around this favourite thing. For me, my habits and motivations have been moulded around my disability.

It’s difficult enough to answer the question of who I am right now let alone who I would be without a life-changing event.

A simpler question to ask is: Would I be a better person?

At first, I thought the answer should be a resounding ‘YES!’ I’d be pain-free. I’d read more. I’d have more fun with friends. I’d live without needless discomfort. I’d still be able to play sports. I wouldn’t have had operations 2 operation in a year. I wouldn’t even have to grapple with this question.

Yet, there was some resistance to my answer. I don’t know if I would be a better person.

I tend to view my disability as a negative thing and wish it gone every day. I have never thanked fate for my problem. Still, my answer to the question was not confident.

My hesitation came from the good things that have happened as a result of my disability.

I probably wouldn’t have become interested in personal development as early as I did. One of my motivations for starting a blog was to see how I could improve life despite my problems. In fact, none of my readers knew I had a disability until I wrote Living with Chronic Pain.

It’s unlikely I’d be as concerned about the welfare of other disabled students. In turn, that’s probably affected how I treat people more generally.

Would I be interested in meditation and mindfulness? These are two things I am forever grateful I started.

My disability has shaped me in some good ways. Would I still have those good qualities without it?

If I say I wouldn’t be a better person, does that mean my disability is a good thing? How can I reconcile that with my efforts to get rid of it?

If my disability is a good thing, why name it a disability?[1] Surely everyone faces some discomfort and this is just my personal one.

If I can’t call it a disability, what has been the source of all my discomfort and frustration?

Currently, I’ve asked many questions and given few answers. When I started thinking about these questions, I thought about what I’d be admitting with my answers.

Despite my attempts to steer clear of this, perhaps my disability is integral to my identity rather than just an addition onto the core ‘me’.

Maybe I can’t complain about my discomfort if I cannot imagine a better future.

Now I know that I have a lot more to consider. I have more questions and uncertainty to live with. I have a difficult dance with self-honesty and awareness.

To take a further step towards honesty, I’ll say it’s really scary. It’s like existential angst all over again. Unfortunately, I don’t think Albert Camus wrote a disabled version of The Stranger or The Myth of Sisyphus.

However, I’m glad Witty Ticcy Ray inspired the question. Given the length of the problem and the uncertainty surrounding the end, it was going to pop up eventually.

As always, thanks for reading.

***

1. The quote at the beginning is from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. Put it on your reading list if it isn’t there already. Witty Ticcy Ray was a man who had Tourette’s and was given Haldol to stop them. He became angry because he it took away his wit and quick reflexes. However, he still faced the problem of not being able to live a normal life with them.

2. When I wrote and shared Living with Chronic Pain, I was surprised at how well it was received. To everyone who read it, thanks for giving me the confidence to write more about disability. Hopefully, it’ll not only help me but other people who have disabilities, and those who are simply interested in it.

3. Here’s some more stuff to read:

The last two are positive articles about disability. I’m not sure if I share their enthusiasm but it’s also important to consider that mine is much less severe than theirs. It’s always good to have differing opinions about this subject rather than an echo chamber.

4. There have been a lot of end notes. Here’s another one.

***

[1] Julian Savulescu and Guy Kahane offer a definition of disability in The Moral Obligation to Create Children with The Best Chance of the Best Life. I think I satisfy it but it doesn’t take away from the question.

A stable physical or psychological property of subject S that,

(1) leads to a significant reduction in S’s level of well-being in circumstances C, when contrasted with realistic alternatives,

(2) where that is achieved by making it impossible or hard for S to exercise some ability or capacity, and

(3) where the effect on well-being in question excludes the effect due to prejudice against S by members of S’s society.

Or more simply, had x condition not existed then the person’s well-being would be higher. But it excludes things like not being able to fly as a disability… so far.