Killer of Sacred Cows
To the Straight Guy at the Party Last Night.
Originally posted at http://lansing.craigslist.org/rnr/1797870768.html, and then inexplicably flagged for removal when it should have been flagged for Best of Craigslist. **chuckle** But if you go to http://lansing.craigslist.org/rnr/ right now, you will also see multiple copies of it being reposted - good on the readers!
Without further ado:To the Straight Guy at the Party Last Night.
A mutual friend of ours threw a big party for her 30th birthday, tons of people were there and it was a lot of fun. Somewhere along the line you and I ended up on the balcony for some fresh air at the same time. We started chatting; we talked about sports, books, tv – discovered we both are about to start our masters degrees and spent some time debating the pro’s and con’s of the educational system. We talked about hanging out sometime, and you wanted to meet my girlfriend.
I understand how upsetting it was for you when I blinked mildly in surprise and said I was here with my husband. I know it was a shock to your system, if your face had turned any paler I might have called 911. You made a good recovery though - that hurried mutter of “I’m not like that” was very polite and you only knocked over two drinks and one vase in your hurry to rush to anywhere other than near me. I can’t blame you – I forgot how delicate you straight boys are. So I wanted to give you a few helpful hints about where you went wrong last night.
1) As a general rule we don’t walk around with big signs around our neck proclaiming our sexuality. No scarlet letters, no scent of hellfire and brimstone… sorry about that.
2) We do not generally assume that everyone within 5 feet of us must also be homosexual – it was nice of you to immediately reassure me that you are hetero, but it was really unnecessary.
3) Homosexuality is not infectious. While I am sure you meant no disrespect with your hasty departure; in the future you can rest assured that taking a few extra seconds in your mad dash for safety will not result in you being turned gay. It will however keep you from destroying expensive vases and knocking over senior citizens.
4) This next one may come as a surprise; but you are not, in fact, irresistible. The fact that you have a dick does not instantly turn me into a bundle of uncontrolled lust. Contrary to popular opinion, being in the same room with a straight man does not cause a gay man to instantly lose all common sense and basic common courtesy. Though I am not so sure about the reverse.
5) Homosexuals in general get a little irked when people treat us like some sort of leper. Rushing to another mutual friend of ours and advising him of my sexuality, so he could be “forewarned” was really uncalled for.
6) Upon being told (by said mutual friend) to stop being an idiot and that you were not my type anyway… it generally confuses the issue when you then proceed to become upset that I DON’T find you attractive. Three seconds ago you were running through a crowd of people with your hands cupped protectively over your junk as if I might attack you at any moment with a blowjob. See hint number 4.
7) We homosexuals have an odd sense of humor – I can’t help that. Something about watching you freak out as if all the demons of hell were after you just struck me as vastly amusing.
8) While being pissed at me for dissolving into uncontrollable laughter might be understandable… gathering a couple guys together to “teach the fag a lesson” is not.
9) You might also want to drink a little less and be a little more careful about the guys you approach for your little proto-hate-mob.
10) Assuming the two tall muscle-bound bruisers must be uber-hetero and just as appalled by my presence as you was your first mistake. It was an understandable one though. How were you to know that pflag tshirt the first guy was wearing wasn’t a sports team? Also the rainbow ring the second guy was wearing could have meant anything I am sure.
11) In retrospect I suppose that upon hearing your not very subtle hate-talk and seeing who you were heading for; I could have said something instead of just laughing harder. I apologize for that. I should have just introduced you to my husband instead of letting you walk up to him and ask him if he wanted to help you teach “that fag over there” a lesson. I hope that broken nose heals up cleanly.
CA Marriage Equality: Prop 8 IS a violation of religious freedom
You know that claim from the fundamentalist crowd that if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, if Proposition 8 doesn't pass, it will violate their religious freedoms?
Well, if Proposition 8 passes and encodes discrimination into my state constitution, it will violate my
religious freedoms, and the religious freedoms of every Unitarian, liberal Christian, liberal Jew, liberal Muslim, and any other religious person whose faith supports the inherent worth and dignity of every person and their right to choose their partner. Why? Because we'll only be allowed to marry those couples who fit the state standard of "one man, one woman." Our freedom to choose who we can marry as a denomination will be taken away.
It's interesting how the fears the fundamentalists have about the passage or non-passage of an amendment banning marriage equality actually do apply to people and churches of a liberal faith tradition. Let's be honest: Proposition 8 is an outright attack on the liberal faiths and values of a number of religious groups.
For those who didn't already know, I am a Unitarian Universalist. I believe strongly in the principles of my faith tradition, including the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Like the United Church of Christ across the street, my church marries same-sex couples gladly and openly. It's part of our belief and value system that same-sex couples deserve marriage equality. We have a big banner on the side of our church annex building which says "Civil Marriage is a Civil Right." We've heard several sermons on the topic over the summer, since the Sunday following the May 17th decision, and the church community is united behind defeating Prop 8. Groups from our church handed out roses and wedding cake to couples getting married down at the courthouse on the first day it was legal, and one of those groups stood around myself and my husband as our pastor married us on the courthouse steps on June 17th. Last Sunday there was a phone-banking event organized in our church annex by Equality California. Yesterday, two of our friends and members of the church, John and Bill, celebrated their wedding.
So as Unitarians, we talk the talk and
we walk the walk.
Even so, our sermon this morning was on marriage equality. It was titled, "Why do we need yet another sermon on marriage equality?"
Our pastor, Matthew, talked earnestly about Proposition 8, and how important it is, as a faith community, for us to defeat it. He's afraid, he said. And he has good reason to be. Despite all the wonderful Field Polls that have come out saying that Californians are 55% against and only 38% for the amendment that would negate recognition of my husband's and my marriage, our pastor is afraid. In fact, the polls made him more afraid, not less.
First, he pointed out that right now, we're ahead - but at the time that poll and all the ones prior to it were taken, no advertising and no campaigning had happened for or against Proposition 8. Not one bumper sticker. Not one yard sign. Not one television or radio advertisement.
I can see his point. Once the media saturation of anti-gay and pro-Prop-8 messages starts, with claims from "Our churches will be FORCED to marry gay couples!" to "Homosexuals will force your children to be taught their lifestyle is normal!!!" we could easily face a huge backlash. We can't afford that. And it's coming. We won't know if we're really successful at getting the message out until the next poll comes out. And then, it may be too late.
Pastor Matthew also said he was afraid because those polls could easily lead to complacency. He talked about the Olympics this summer, and Michael Phelps' bare-split-second win in one of the races. He said, "Phelps' competitor thought
he was ahead. He coasted the last few inches. And because he did, he came in second place when he thought he was in for gold. Do we want to be that guy? Or do we want to be Michael Phelps, and push on as if we were ten seconds behind in the race all the way to the wall?"
And then he talked about how angry this proposition makes him. Angry, as a person of faith. This proposition would encode discrimination into our state constitution. It would violate our rights as a religious faith that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, by restricting who we were allowed to marry in our churches. He talked about how angry it makes him, that we might just let this proposition pass out of complacency, and let our rights be violated as a religious tradition and faith community.
It would, in fact, severely impact our religious freedom.
Now, let's be honest here. The fundamentalists cannot say that. A defeat of Prop 8 would not
force them to suddenly start marrying same-sex couples in their churches - and as I said to a couple of our lesbian friends over lunch in the church hall after the service, if anyone tried to force that issue, I'd be out there with the fundamentalists fighting on their side, to protect their religious freedoms to choose whom they will marry. And everyone at the table agreed with me. But if Proposition 8 passes, it would force us to stop marrying same-sex couples, in clear violation of our
Finally, Pastor Matthew called for action. He called for us to do more than just vote against Proposition 8. He called for us to talk to that 20% - those people who were on the fence and undecided. He called for us to phonebank, to emailbank, to put a bumper sticker on our car and a sign in our front yards. To talk to our neighbors, our co-workers, and our extended families.
In short, he called us to follow our faith tradition, and get the word out that Proposition 8, in addition to violating personal liberties, violates religious freedom. And that if that chink into religious freedom happens here, it can happen to any religion's freedoms, anywhere, anytime.This must not happen.
I was pretty shaken after the service was over. So were a lot of other people in the church. I'm terrified of calling strangers on the phone. But as you all know, I can write fairly persuasively. So I'm going to start emailing my family and friends, and most especially my in-laws, who are having severe problems with the idea of marriage equality because of their own religious faiths, and see what I can do to spread the idea that this proposition is an attempt to interfere with religious freedom - not the religious freedom of conservatives, but that of liberals.
Actually, it would violate the religious freedoms of everyone. It would provide a precedent for other anti-religion amendments to pass. If the fundamentalist crowd isn't aware of that, and isn't afraid of that, they should be.
In fact, it could mean that someday, their right to practice their religion could be limited or halted by the imposition of a legal definition that belongs to some other religion - and if this amendment passes it will set that precedent. They are trying to impose a religious definition on a civil practice. How would they like it if someday a religious definition that came from a tradition they weren't part of was imposed on them?
And yes, I know that certain people will say "but then we should allow child abuse, or polygamy, or bestiality, or the use of drugs, or human sacrifice! There have to be some standards!" Yes, and we have standards. Those standards are:
- The integrity of the individual and his or her choices - The ability to consent to participation
The consent issue wipes away bestiality, child abuse, and human sacrifice without even a second thought. The other two issues - what's the problem? Look at it through the lens of integrity of the individual and their freedom of choice, and through the lens of consent, and as long as those standards are met, it is not an issue.
So maybe this frame - that religious beliefs and practices ARE being violated if Proposition 8 passes - will help get the point across. Any suggestions on how to word it are more than welcome.
And please - spread the word.
Labels: CA-Proposition 8, marriage equality, religious freedom
How to Handle Justified Anger
Three weeks ago, I wrote this piece on hate
, and on how hating back does nothing to ease the situation when we find ourselves on the receiving end of it. I talked about self-defense, without escalation, being the best way to bring hate under control.
Events in my life since that time have raised the question: is self-defense through humor an escalation? Does making fun of the foibles of a group that has harmed you count as hate? Is that something we should also stop doing? After all, humor has often been used as a way to further humiliate people - witness racist jokes about blacks, for example, or sexist jokes about women. Are we justified, then, in making a joke about hate? Or making hate into a joke? How should we handle it when someone makes a joke at our expense? How do we deal with that anger - is there a constructive way to go about it?
Let's talk about humor, and anger, and the transformative power of admitting someone has a right to be mad.
A Jewish friend told me once upon a time that many of the original "Jewish jokes" were told on Jews by other Jews. She recounted a particularly funny, if raunchy and disgusting, joke that she had been told by a grandparent who was a Holocaust survivor. The joke involved a Jew in hiding venturing out into the occupied German city he lived in, to try to find food for himself and his wife. In the course of his search, he runs right into Hitler, who's out for a noontime stroll. Hitler, seeing the Jew, points a pistol at him and humiliates him by ordering him to eat a pile of horse manure on the road. The terrified Jew does it, but then gets the chance to force Hitler to eat manure himself when Hitler laughs so hard that he drops the gun he was holding on the Jew. The Jew takes that opportunity, while Hitler is down on his knees eating horseshit, to run away, back to his hiding place. As he gets in the door, he calls out to his wife, "Helga! Helga! You'll never
guess who I had lunch with today!"
That kind of humor, turning the pain of oppression into a target for laughter, has been a mainstay of oppressed peoples the world over. I share this example from my Jewish friend because I think it epitomizes the point of humor. When the humor is at the expense of the oppressor, it transmutes the hate that the oppressed might otherwise feel into a positive emotion, something that can be dealt with constructively, rather than destructively. It's even better if, when you transmute hate into humor, you can develop the ability to laugh at yourself, and not take yourself so seriously. This is one of the backbones of Jewish humor as well - poking fun at their own foibles as much as the oppression they face.
Humor from the oppressor at the expense of the oppressed, however, is no different than hate. Those who are already beaten down by hate, such as gays, women, persons of color - making jokes at their expense is often a type of hatred, and should be avoided. It escalates, rather than de-escalates, the situation.
This is where we reach the dicey point. Is it fair for me, as a gay man, to make fun of Christians? Does this video
make fun of an oppressed group, by making fun of the religious right? Certainly the religious right sees itself as an oppressed group, and would say yes, it does.
So where do we draw the line between oppressed and oppressor? When is it okay to toss off a joke about people who have actively hurt us, and when is it time for us to consider whether our privilege blinds us to what the groups we identify with have done and, in some cases, still are doing in terms of spreading hate?
It's a hard path, but it's also the right one: when we're members of privileged groups, and we hear humor with our group as the butt of the joke, it's time to shut up and listen to what the humor is saying about our group's behavior. That humor is often rooted in pain and anger, and the message is important. This is an issue I've run into numerous times with members of privileged groups, especially those which have a history of oppressing those less fortunate. They feel that because they, personally, did not participate in the hate, they should be exempt from hearing about its effects, even through the relatively gentle vector of humor. And many times, they seem to lack the ability to laugh at themselves. They take themselves far too seriously.
Each of us here is a member of a privileged group in at least one way: we have access to a computer and to the Internet. So although this is a discussion of how we, as members of oppressed groups, can deal with being hated through using humor as a pressure valve, it's also a reminder that each of us is privileged in some way and that we need to examine our own behavior and affiliations when people who feel oppressed by us have been harmed by the groups we're part of.
If a person belongs to a group, and part of that group has a long history of harming others, they're going to have to learn to deal with the fact that a lot of people see the entire group as toxic because of the loud, aggressive, obnoxious, hateful segment. Gays have to put up with this all the time - and we don't actively harm people. But we have our loudmouths, and we get judged by them. And we hear the jokes made about us and we know that when a lot of people say "those fags" or even just "those gays," they're talking about the near-naked go-go boys, the leather-clad dykes and daddies, and the spangled drag queens which is all the mainstream media ever shows us about the gay rights movement (or at least until very recently, like the last six to ten years or so). And you know what? We usually try to educate the people we care about who may have temporarily forgotten that not all of us are like that. We had to grow a thick skin if we're out, because we take a lot of abuse for being part of a group which has some very loud, obnoxious members. Hell, even if we're not out, we hear the abuse.
Now. If I have to put up with that, and I do, then people who are part of a group which has loud, obnoxious, and actively hateful members have to put up with stuff directed at their group too, even if they don't participate in the stuff that made the group look bad to others. And, like me and other gays, they also have to grow a thicker skin.
"But KoSC," you say. "I
didn't do those things! I'm one of the Nice
Members of the Oppressive Group, not one of the Bad Guys! Why should I
have to put up with that? It makes me feel like you're blaming me
for something other people did!"
That's a fallacy I also run into a lot. Unfortunately, it's just that: a fallacy. Just because you personally do not do those things does not automatically exempt you from hearing the anger about the behavior of the obnoxious members of your group. And the anger may not be about what they did, but about what you're not doing. Are you speaking up and saying that you are against what the loudmouth, hateful members of your group are doing? If not, then you're part of the problem, because by not speaking out against their behavior, you are enabling it.
For example, I hear about HIV and AIDS all the time, because I'm gay. I don't believe I'm one of the obnoxious loudmouth pride-parade queens, and I know I'm not one of the ones who has spread HIV and AIDS (I wasn't out in the 1980s - heck, I wasn't even an adult in the 1980s! - and I'm HIV-negative), but I still get the abuse, because I'm a member of the larger group.
When that happens, I have essentially three choices:
1) Suck it up and press it down. Eventually this will make me explode, but as a temporary thing, it's kept me from getting killed or hurt more than once. This then leads to coming back when I'm calm and taking option 3.
2) Cut the angry person out of my life. This, to me, is either immature (when done knee-jerkly), or only a last resort, if I've had to continually resort to option 1 and it becomes clear that option 3 is not viable either.
3) Calmly agree that the hateful and/or obnoxious element is really nasty, and say that I understand why you're angry at that element of my group. Then, AFTER I have acknowledged that your anger is real and justified (which it almost always will be), open dialogue and start talking about how much I don't like it that some people in my group do their best to make being a member of the group an embarrassment or a hardship for me. I will do my best, however, not to blame you for your anger.
In the case of my being gay, maybe your son or nephew or brother or friend died of HIV. I can't deny that the gay community was a largish vector for HIV, and still is. And at that point, I may well be a symbol for you of the entire gay community. If I try to make your anger about me personally, I've missed the entire point. You're angry at gays because we, as a community, played a large if inadvertent and mostly unintentional hand in bringing HIV to the world. Trying to say "But I'M not HIV-positive, and I wouldn't do that, and anyway, it's not MY fault, so stop being angry at gay people!" - trying to defend the larger group - will not do a damn thing to fix the problem. In fact, it will be counterproductive. You'll probably get an even worse picture of the gay community - not only did we bring AIDS to the world, but now we try to excuse our part in it, and somehow, our membership in the group shouldn't be held against us, so we're just making a bunch of excuses for what the larger group is responsible for.
The upshot of option 3 is: Don't defend your group to someone who has been harmed by it, no matter how much you want to.
Just don't. Instead, agree that members of your group have done bad things, and that you don't support what they do and have done, and that you will actively call them on it when you catch them in it or when your attention is drawn to it. That will both increase your credibility with those who have been hurt by the obnoxious, hateful members of your group, and acknowledge that they have a right to their feelings, even if you are uncomfortable that your group inflicted them. That's the de-escalating way to respond to righteous anger on the part of someone who has been hurt by a group you are part of - even if that anger is expressed through humor.
So, as part of a group which has members who hurt me, what can you do? Make it clear that you do not agree with the obnoxious, hateful members of your group. Make it clear often. Criticize them, not just when people who are being hurt bring your attention to it, but when you notice the bad behavior of these loudmouth members of your group. Do not, however, under any circumstances, tell people who have been hurt by them, and who may be blowing off a little steam about them, or a lot of steam, that they have no right to be hurt, or to be angry, or to blow off steam. That's escalation, rather than de-escalation. It's counterproductive at best, and actively damaging at worst.
Yes, it's hard to hear that some members of a group you're part of have hurt someone you care about, or someone you need to work with, or someone you have to spend time around every day and thus have to get along with. But it's amazing how acknowledging the pain goes so far towards healing it. Getting angry with someone because they're angry about legitimate injury doesn't do any good. Acknowledging the pain and doing what you can to mitigate it, on the other hand, does.
This is what Obama did, for example, when he made his "More Perfect Union" speech. He said "Hey, folks, acknowledge the anger of the groups that feel you have one up on them. In some ways, they're right - you do. And that means you have to be willing to hear their anger and acknowledge it, even if it bothers you to hear that members of a group you're a part of would do the things you're hearing about."
For example, Catholics have to acknowledge that their church has enabled a good many pedophile priests to continue abusing children over the years. Christians, more generally, have to acknowledge that many members (and leaders) of their religion, over the years and centuries, have done many horrible, abusive things and, in some cases, are still doing horrible, abusive things. Even those of us who feel like we are the oppressed still need to acknowledge when our group or community has contributed to someone else's pain, as in my example above about gays and HIV.
When that happens, it's amazing how quickly anger disappears and productive conversation about the issues can start happening. As long as we are speaking from anger, nothing gets solved. But when we start acknowledging other people's anger, the need for them to feel it often dies away. Think about the last time you were angry. Didn't it feel better if someone said that you were justified in feeling it? And didn't it help you feel less angry much more quickly than if you'd also had to convince the person you were angry with that your anger was justified? (And if you haven't had the experience of having your anger validated, try to imagine what it would feel like.)
So when you hear someone making a joke at your privileged group's expense, be aware that it may be an expression of anger, but at least it's not an expression of hatred. It may be completely justified. And as a method of dealing with anger, humor is certainly more constructive and far less damaging than, say, taking a baseball bat and laying about with it. The trick is to recognize that you are not your group, and that you may be affiliated with people who do things you would not approve of, and plan how to handle that when it comes up. This involves growing a thicker skin, and learning to laugh at yourself and at groups you're a part of, instead of automatically shifting into defense-through-attack, as so many of us so often do. And it involves learning to acknowledge the other person's anger without becoming angry with their anger, by agreeing that they have a right to be angry and hurt, instead of invalidating them through a counter-attack and escalating the situation.
After all, it's hard to create a fight out of agreements. It can be done, but it's very, very difficult to do. So instead of fighting over who has the right to anger and who doesn't, let's acknowledge the anger, and acknowledge the pain, so that we can get past it and continue to build a better world.
Imagine what the world could be like, if we validated each other a little more, and hurt each other a little less, and learned to laugh at ourselves and not take the whole thing so seriously. That's a world I'd like to live in - how about you?
Labels: anger, anger management, compassion, hate, humor, oppression
Michael Moore's "Sicko," or, Jesus Was A Socialist
I've just finished watching Michael Moore's "Sicko." And I have some thoughts on the matter.
Here's the thing about medical care: We all need it. Most liberals that I know agree that we should, as a society, cover people's needs. This is addressed largely to the people out there who hate that idea - the ones who think the current American system is the best in the world. The ones who live in a society of "me" instead of a society of "we." The ones whose motto is: Everyone look out for number one and devil take the hindmost.
If you think that a doctor should profit from his or her work to the tune of a living wage - a single mid-sized car, a five-figure income, a two- or three-bedroom house - hey, I'm all for it. That goes for a medical researcher developing new drugs, a pharmacist dispensing them, or anyone else working in the medical field. Everyone deserves a living wage.
If you think that a doctor, or anyone else working in the medical field, should profit from his or her work to the tune of a Mercedes-Benz, a six- or seven-figure income, a six- or seven-bedroom house, or a closet full of Armani suits, you've got another think coming.
If you think that a bureaucratic paper-pushing CEO should profit off of health care for anything more than a living wage, I'm going to fight you with everything I've got.
See, the privatization of health care is immoral. Flat-out. It's immoral. It's sinful. It's wrong.
It is not moral to keep people from necessary health care just so you can save the money it would have cost and get yourself another Armani suit instead.
It is not moral to run medicine, or hospitals, or insurance companies as for-profit businesses.
It is not moral to deny people care that they have paid for.
It is not moral to deny people coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
In point of fact, It is FUCKING IMMORAL to profit on anyone's medical woes. FUCKING IMMORAL. No, it's more than that. It's FUCKING EVIL.
A doctor does not need a closet full of Armani, or three or four Mercedes, or a palatial estate. Neither does a CEO. Nobody *needs* to make more than a five-figure income. NOBODY. If you think you *need* that Mercedes, or that six-bedroom house, think again.
If you support the privatization of health care, you sicken me. More to the point: If you are pro-profit, you are anti-human.
A memo which responded to "Sicko," written by the CEO of Blue Cross, said snarkily: "As a viewer, you are made to feel ashamed to be an American, a capitalist, and part of a 'me' society instead of a 'we' society." Well, guess what, bucko? First of all, you SHOULD be ashamed. Secondly, we are NOT a 'me' society - we just think we are! We pretend to be, and the pretense is wearing thin. Regardless of vaunted American individualism, there is no such thing as a "me" society anywhere on this earth. Society is not a group of one. Society is inherently a "we."
As a member of a "we," you have obligations to the other members of the "we." That's the poor person who doesn't have insurance or a job. That's the person who just lost their job because of cutbacks and can't afford COBRA. That's the person who's working three jobs to make ends meet and can't get health coverage because he's not working full-time at any of them. We ALL owe each other whatever help we can give each other. Medical care is a moral issue, and it should be supported COMPLETELY by taxes.
It's time to repeal the laws that allow insurance company executives to get away with murder by neglect. If someone dies and you could have covered their treatment but you didn't, that's murder. You had intent, motive and opportunity, and you opted to keep the money rather than save the patient. That's MURDER.
It's time to repeal the laws that allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
It's time to enact laws that make for-profit medical care illegal and require all health care to be provided on a non-profit, taxpayer-covered basis.
If this makes you uncomfortable - if what I'm calling for makes you angry, or annoyed, or pissed off because how dare I challenge the capitalist system, just remember: It could be you next. All it takes is a cancer diagnosis or a car accident to make you one of the people whose entire life savings disappears due to the co-payments, the deductibles, and the non-covered conditions. You are not immune from these possibilities. 75% of able-bodied Americans become disabled at some point in their lives - and when you're disabled enough, you can't work. When you can't work, health care goes away. Then what are you going to do?
The root of the problem is unchecked capitalism. Unchecked, unregulated capitalism is the best way to create a class system with the extremely rich and the extremely poor and nobody in between. It's wrong. It's evil. Jesus did not preach capitalism. Buddha did not recommend it. Neither did Muhammed.
Guess what? Unchecked capitalism is also in direct contradiction to American values! What are American values? Freedom, liberty, justice, equality, right? Well, unchecked capitalism:
- Contradicts the value of freedom - those who have no choices are not free, and those who have no money have no choices
- Contradicts the value of liberty - because those who are shackled to debt and trapped in fear have no liberty
- Contradicts justice - because it is unjust to penalize people who do not have money just because they do not have money
- Contradicts equality - because only those who have money will profit from such a system, and that is inherently unequal.
It's also in direct contradiction to Christian values. Jesus said "Sell all you have, and give it to the poor." Paul required his followers to live in socialist communities, caring for those who cannot care for themselves - the widows, the orphans, the poor. Socialized medicine and socialized economy - communalist living - is the Christian way.
If you're a die-hard capitalist, or if you think this is a Christian nation - and especially if you're both - then great! Do what Jesus said, then: sell all you have, and give it to the poor... and then see how long you last when the "Christian" government doesn't provide you medical care. See how long you last when you're one of the poor.
If anyone can provide me with a good reason - a moral reason - for allowing capitalism to run rampant and unchecked, I'm all ears... but I doubt you'll be able to provide one. Justify denying health care to anyone. Justify it. Show me how it's moral.
And then, when you can't, sign up to help me get those laws changed.
The difference between sin and crime
Last night, I got the opportunity to show my partner Danny this video
, which I found through a friend on LiveJournal. There's also a great essay by Anna Quindlen about it here
. Additionally, in her own essay about it, my LiveJournal friend talks about how these people have a real problem understanding the difference between morality and legality: specifically, that never the twain shall meet, and trying to mix them usually results in failure.
When I showed this video to Danny, his response was interesting, and got me thinking. He said "The problem is, these people don't understand the purpose
of the law. What they want from the law is a validation of their religious belief, and that's not what law is for
." I think he's right.
When you watch this video, you can almost see the gears turning, freezing, and jamming up in these folks' heads. They haven't thought it through. In some cases, they not only haven't thought it through, but they have avoided
thinking about it at all. They literally have no answer as to what should happen to women who have abortions; they only think as far as legitimizing their views on abortion by making those views into law.
I think that's a pretty important observation. Simply put, it's about definitions. There's a disconnect there because they don't get that the law - at least, criminal law - isn't about validation of belief
but about assignment of penalties
. Laws do not, or at least should not, exist to simply promote the majority's values. They should exist to prevent or punish harm caused to other people through any number of vectors (personal assault, financial harm, etc.). Laws that have no penalty attached are generally unenforceable... and if there's no penalty or point, then the law doesn't mean anything, doesn't accomplish anything. It's just words in a book. The law is supposed to say "IF you do [x], THEN [y] will happen to you." You have to have both parts to make workable law. Otherwise, it's just a statement - a validation of some belief or other.
The problem is, in the world that these people live in (inside their heads and their shared collective consciousness), the point is that Good People Don't Break Laws. Law isn't about avoiding penalties. It's about not doing bad things. That's a problem, because for most people, the law isn't like that. Most of us trust our own judgement to decide whether a law is functional or not, and weigh the risks involved in breaking it. We all do that - speeding on the freeway being a prime example. I don't feel enormous guilt about going a few miles per hour over 65, especially when everyone else around me is doing it too and to slow down to the speed limit would create a traffic hazard. There are a lot of laws like that. But it seems to me that the viewpoint of the criminalize-abortion (and criminalize-homosexuality, and criminalize-polyamory, and criminalize-obscenity, and criminalize-immorality-in-general) movements seems to boil down to: if it's against the law, people won't do it.
Quindlen's article also points out that this is the Daddy State treating women like they're children, as if they aren't able to think for themselves. Women, in this view, are considered nearly innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong clinic with their feet up in the stirrups at the wrong time; it's the doctors
who do the deed who are the criminals. Even the idea of a woman giving herself an abortion with a bent coat hanger does not change this viewpoint - because what virtuous, good woman would do that? None, right?
This explains a lot of the motivation behind laws which criminalize consensual or personal decisions, such as polyamorous relationships, homosexuality, obscenity, gay marriage, and abortion. In all cases, the people who are trying to pass the law apparently think that simply having a law in place will stop people from engaging in these actions that they find so repulsive. If there's a law against homosexual behavior, people won't do it, right? If there's a law that says you can't have more than one partner, people won't have one, right? If there's a law that says you, a woman, can't make a simple decision about your reproductive health and welfare, then you won't do it, will you?
If only things were that simple! If they were, I could lobby for all kinds of laws, such as laws criminalizing non-critical thinking, abuse in the name of religion, and neoconservatism. I'm sure the world would be a much calmer place. But then again, I'm not willing to take people's choices away from them, no matter how much those choices annoy, frustrate, or irritate me - and no matter how much I rant and rave about the effects those choices have on me. If nothing else, it makes those who choose them quite obvious, so I can avoid or mock them as I please.
My partner also observed that these people don't think in terms of crime
. They think in terms of sin
. The disconnect may be too big to fix, because they may think of crime in terms of sin - confusing law with The Law.
Frankly, I think that's both sad and scary. It explains so much of the dominionist, fundamentalist, and uber-religious movements in this country and elsewhere... and at the same time, I haven't a clue how we can pierce the veil of ignorance and educate these folks as to the differences between law and The Law. I really don't. Apart from large billboards saying "SIN AND CRIME ARE TWO DIFFERENT AND UNRELATED THINGS," which probably won't penetrate but will simply give them that confused, someone's-speaking-Greek-again look. It's a problem of cultural context. In their context, anything bad is automatically both sin and
crime. The two terms are pretty much synonymous. In the reality-based community, sin and crime are two totally separate things.
In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, culturally defined terms actually have a huge impact on this entire problem of dominionism and fundamentalism. Words like "marriage," "relationship," "partnership," "husband," "wife," "family" - all of these have culturally-defined meanings which vary from subculture to subculture. "Family" means one thing to a Dominionist, something else to a gay person, and something else again to an average suburbanite. Similarly, certain subcultures (such as dominionism) assume that two different words that mean the same thing in their culture will mean the same thing in the greater culture as well, even though they don't. This way lies much confusion and misunderstanding, for all sides.
I wonder if it might be as simple as sitting someone down who thinks that "sin" and "crime" mean the same thing and explaining, slowly and gently, that although those two words mean substantially the same thing in their religion, they don't mean the same thing in the larger culture, and explaining what each word does mean. I wonder if that would have any effect at all.
Probably not, but then again, it's worth a shot, isn't it?
Labels: abortion, crime, ethics, fundamentalists, law, morals
House Democrats take on the student loan industry and the Bush DoE
Before the 2006 midterm elections, there was a lot of talk about how kicking the Republicans out of a Congressional majority wouldn't do anything to improve the situation in America - that there was really no difference between Democrats and Republicans. They're all one party anyway, right?
I'm pleased to report that House Democrats have taken the bit in their teeth and massed a bipartisan response to six years of student-loan lender exploitation of a loophole in federal loan subsidy laws
. The Bush Administration, after six years of looking the other way (perhaps towards Iraq?) and allowing this blatant lender fraud to continue, has finally been brought up sharp by the passage of new law which stops the payment of subsidies which, in many cases, equal more than twice the subsidized interest rate on student loans - a practice which has cost taxpayers several hundred million dollars.
Salon.com's article on the topic will do you good. Go and read it - and don't ever tell me again that there's no difference between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats do the right thing by their constituents, and it doesn't take a Congressional change of hands to force them to do it. Let's hope they can begin to bail this country out of the financial shipwreck that six years of one-party rule have steered us into.
The Lessons of Virginia Tech
I wanted to wait a few days to write about this, partly because I've been swamped with my own work and partly because I needed to give it all time to sink in, so I could work out my thoughts about it. As I see it, the lessons we can learn from Virginia Tech fall into two broad categories: One, due largely to media patterns of sensationalization and hype, we have unrealistic expectations about how the world works, and thus we have disproportionate reactions to events like this; and, two, instead of trying what hasn't worked again and hoping it will work next time, we need to find better ways - but it's doubtful that will happen unless something fundamentally changes in our society.
The first reason why we have unrealistic expectations is that don't have a sense of proportion. Our perceptions of everyday dangers are totally out of whack. We're told that Bad Things - specifically, violent crimes - happen far more often than they actually do, and so we expect that bad things will happen a lot. We hear about them more often than they actually happen - mostly due to news media focusing on them every half-hour - and so our perceptions are that crime is rising even though it's been steadily falling for over twenty years now (1). But the Bad Things are generally on the order of a single person killing one or two others, or a bank robbery, or some other relatively minor event. Additionally, since they're on near-constant repeat on the television and news radio (and lately, the internet media as well) we get desensitized about these kinds of violent crimes - and have for some time now. People don't get afraid of being shot just because they walked into the liquor store at the wrong time, usually. About the "regular" crimes, we're more or less desensitized. We have fear fatigue.
As a result, what can we be made afraid of? Big, unusual catastrophes, not violent crimes. We're afraid of mad cow disease, and bird flu, and road rage, and strangers abducting our children, and killer kids in our public schools. (2) We're more afraid of the things that are so unlikely to happen that the chance of them hitting us is even less likely than a random roll of a million-sided die coming up with our number on it than we are of the things that are statistically much more likely: car accidents, domestic violence, and so forth. One reason is that the media need to have sensational topics to attract a vanishingly small amount of available attention from people. One murder is pretty much like another, unless it's Nicole Simpson, and one suicide is pretty much just another suicide, unless it's Anna Nicole Smith. If it isn't a famous name as the victim or suspected perpetrator, these stories about regular people who have been killed, or have killed, or have killed themselves, drop off the radar within a day or two at most. The stories that the media want are the ones that we'll pay attention to for a long, long time. They want the stories that they can do a one-month, three-month, six-month retrospective on... which further serves to convince us that Bad Things happen more often than they do.
When an event like Columbine, or 9/11, or Virginia Tech takes place, the media know they have a winner. People want to know who, what, where, when, why - and perhaps most importantly HOW - it happened. And this gives the media something they can chew on for days, giving us information in dribs and drabs. What's more important, though, is that the media have us trained when there's some big event: they have a pre-set story line to stick facts into and frame the event for us. As robin_d_laws said quite succinctly in this post,
these events "have become so commonplace that they feel familiar." It's another school shooting? Okay, we want to tell them place, time, and number of casualties. Then we can cut right to the chase: gun control! video games! interviews with survivors of other shootings! Do we even know the gunman's name? Nope. That's not important anyway. We all know that he (and it's always he
) is going to be an angry, isolated loner, probably mentally ill. He either dresses weird - like a goth or a gangsta - or he's black, or both. He probably listens to death metal music, and he may have Asperger's, or a drug problem. He writes frightening stuff in his creative writing assignments. We already know the story. We've heard it before. We'll probably hear it again. And at the end, even if we still don't know why he did it, we know how, and we can pat ourselves on the back because "we're not like that."
Why do we know this stuff? Because the media tells us so. We've seen this movie before. It's a morality play, with consequences attached. The people at Virginia Tech made the shooter feel like he was on the outside, so he attacked them. Cause, meet effect. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold felt like their entire school hated them, so they attacked them. And Harris and Klebold's parents were never home, and didn't supervise their kids - and one recent news story about Virginia Tech said that Cho's parents were nowhere to be found when the news media went looking for them at their home (so they must not have supervised their son either). Fault, meet blame. Someone did Something which Caused The Bad Thing To Happen. We need the media to tell us this, because otherwise we can't make any sense of it. And more than that, we need to know that Something Can Be Done to address these situations, because we need to make sure they don't happen here - wherever "here" is, whether it's Yale, Tulane, UIUC, or UCLA.
This leads into my second point about our sense of proportion being out of whack: we expect that we'll be safe on a place like a college campus, a high school campus, or in an airport. More to the point, we expect perfect security. What this means is that we've raised the bar to a place it can't be reached... and as a result, when security inevitably fails, we react disproportionately to the failure. The Event itself is one huge shock; the failure of security is far more shocking than it should be, and in its own way is its own separate Event. I have the feeling that part of the reason for this is that in America, at least, we have extended childhood beyond a reasonable place. It used to be, when I was a teenager, that teens were treated like children by their parents and by society, but that we were at least given minimal acknowledgment when we got our driver's license. Most teens my age, when I was sixteen, were working a part-time job at McDonald's or Burger King. Nowadays, childhood extends into the college years. One girl I work with is 21, and it's her first job.
She sits at her cube space text-messaging on her cell phone while she should be working, and worse, taking calls on her cell phone while she should be working. Our manager's caught her at it twice, and her response was to move to a cube where he doesn't really check on people (she used to sit next to me, and we were right outside his office) and continue to text-message and take phone calls during work time. This kind of immaturity also shows up in classes I take with these kids, especially in terms of expectations about extra credit, grade leeway, and homework, and frankly, it shocks me. This is an attitude I would expect in fourteen-year-olds, not twenty-one-year-olds.
So now, childhood extends into the twenties, and adolescence into the thirties. Middle age now doesn't happen when you're forty, it's when you're 55. And as a result, we tend to have this unrealistic belief in our own immortality. It used to be that most people started getting an initial sense of their own mortality around the age of twenty-five or so. Now, it's more like thirty-five or forty. Additionally, we are squeamish as hell about death in this society. Doctors try every possible method to prolong life as long as possible (witness the Terri Schiavo fiasco). They don't ever
say "this is as far as medical science can take us; get your affairs in order and we'll arrange palliative care." They're not allowed to - our society won't let them. It's not a legal restriction; it's a societal one. People die only in hospitals, never at home. We don't accept that the human body wears out as it gets into the years above fifty, and we avoid the elderly and are often afraid of them, because they serve as a reminder that we are going to die someday, and we have a limited time to live.
You see, in America, We Just Don't Die. That's it. We're not supposed to die. Death is unnatural. These are real expectations - and they are totally out of whack with reality.
So when something like Virginia Tech happens, we have to check our expectations. And we don't like having to do that. So the shooter becomes demonized (usually mercilessly, because people "should" be "normal," and it's a moral failing to not be), as well as the people who failed to give us perfect security (because we "should" have perfect security, because it's our right as Americans, because We Never Die). We begin screaming for better security and stronger measures against these aberrant people, even at the expense of our own civil liberties. If possible, we demand attacks on those we perceive as having violated our security - and if we're frightened enough, it results in debacles like the Iraq War. In other words, like the insane man, we try again what hasn't worked in the past, hoping it will work in the future.
The only way that I see us, as a nation, resolving this is to face up to some hard truths: one, we can't have perfect security; two, we are all going to die someday; and three, we have a lot less control over life than we think we have. Unfortunately, as long as we avoid these hard truths, we're going to continue to try to do the same things that haven't worked before, and these incidents are going to continue to happen.
What would it have done for Virginia Tech if Cho had gotten the help he needed, without being stigmatized for needing it? What would it have done for Columbine if the standard of living in Littleton had been sane, so that at least one of Eric Harris' parents could have stayed home with him and kept an eye on his development? What would it have done for this nation on 9/11 if we all had a better grasp of our own mortality, instead of a truly frightening ignorance about it?
These are questions I don't have answers to. Do you?
(1) Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear
(2) Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear
This, kiddies, is how NOT to do research.
(Originally written in October, 2006. Reposted here in response to a post in the LiveJournal Asperger community.)
You may have seen an article flying around the blog- and media-space online lately, about some
researchers at Cornell University who claim to have found a link between early childhood TV-watching and rates of autism. The media's assertion, based on the Cornell report, is that early TV watching - get this - causes autism.
Lest you think that I'm blowing it out of proportion, here's a link to the article
. I'm posting and commenting on some relevant quotes here:
Quote 1: "Watching too much television in childhood could cause autism, experts have warned."
Quote 2: "The latest study, in the U.S., looked at whether there was a link between rising rates of autism and the increasing availability of children's TV, videos and DVDs. The research team concluded that the results were "awfully suggestive" of a link between watching TV and autism."
Follow the bouncing media error: the headline says "could cause," but then we get "a link between" in the second quote. We're talking about causation in the first case, and correlation in the second, which the media have now conveniently conflated for your continued incomprehension. *growl*
It gets worse from there. The researchers themselves
recommend keeping kids away from the TV as a preventive measure: "[Dr Waldman] recommended those under two did not watch any TV at all, while older youngsters limited their viewing to an hour or two a day."
To me that suggests that they, the researchers, believe television-watching is causative. How can they possibly claim that?
And as a researcher, I'm looking at their methodology as reported in the article and it's so shoddy that it's beyond belief. I can't believe that Cornell would have let anyone stamp their university's good name on this junk science:
"As they were unable to obtain any statistics on toddlers' TV habits, they used rainfall levels in different parts of the country to help estimate how much time children spent playing outdoors. (Emphasis mine.) They found that the wettest areas, where, presumably, children spent more time indoors watching TV, had the highest rates of autism. [...] Researcher (sic) also found that areas with the most cable TV customers had the highest rates of autistic children.
So, then, if we follow the bouncing logic ball, the real claim is that children with autism just aren't socialized enough and don't spend enough time playing outdoors, and that if we socialize them better, they won't be autistic. (Sounds very Skinnerian to me. Behaviorism again. Hasn't this been discredited yet?)
Granted, this media report is certainly not telling the entire story. I would need to read the reseach in order to critique it any better than this. But from the media report, it appears that these researchers are claiming, or the media are attempting to use it to claim, that we wouldn't have autistics if we didn't have television, which is frigging ridiculous. There are plenty of historical incidents of autistic traits reported in almost every genius you can name. Did television cause Edison to demonstrate autistic traits? Or Einstein? Come ON, people.
Here's the comment I left on the Daily Mail's website:
This is the problem with the media's reporting of scientific research results. First, all the article states is that there is a correlation between autism in children and television viewing. A correlation simply means that two variables are statistically associated with each other. It does not automatically indicate causation!
Secondly, while it may be true that autistic children watch more television than non-autistic children, it is far more likely that autistic children like to watch TV because it's safe, predictable and familiar to them, and doesn't involve doing things with their bodies which bring up all their balance and coordination deficits, or trying to communicate with non-autistics, which is tiring and uncomfortable. If the media report of the researchers' assertions is indeed correct, then the researchers don't know how to do research, plain and simple. Their methodology as outlined in the article is highly suspect, and their conclusions are laughable.
My partner also points out that for autistic children, who are usually quite highly visually-oriented, TV-watching is quite possibly a visual stim. Even if it's not visible to the naked eye as such, a television is a light that is flashing 25 to 30 times per second. Many autistic children love blinky lights and will stare at them for hours (that's usually what's behind the fan-watching thing, too - the blades of the fan create interesting light patterns).
In any case, these researchers ought to be ashamed of themselves for a number of reasons, and the media, as usual, has taken something that sounded juicy and plastered it all over the net without bothering to do any fact-checking first, upsetting more parents and adult autistics in the process, and giving the anti-autism groups more ammunition that has all the strength of wet tissue paper when examined with a critical eye. That won't stop CAN and other such groups from bandying it about like a prize fish, though, any more than the anti-gay groups have ever had problems using Paul Cameron's idiotic studies to back up their claims.
This is becoming more and more of a hobbyhorse for me, and when I present my CSA paper next month, it's going to be part of the paper. This kind of junk research needs to frigging STOP. So does behaviorism, but that's for another article and another day.
Oh, this just gets better and better. According to articles about this in WebMD
and Science Daily
, the people doing this research were - get this - business professors and economists.
WTF are business professors and economists doing research on autism for?!? Isn't this, you know, a bit OUT OF THEIR FIELD?]
I found a link to the article. Here it is (opens as a .PDF, just be aware).
Going to look at it right now, but in their abstract (the summary at the beginning) they do say this:
"Our precipitation tests indicate that just under forty percent of autism diagnoses in the three states studied is the result of television watching due to precipitation, while our cable tests indicate that approximately seventeen percent of the growth in autism in California and Pennsylvania during the 1970s and 1980s is due to the growth of cable television."
Bolded emphases mine. "Due to"? "Is the result of"? Them's causative words, folks, not correlative. Point: These guys don't know how to do research.
And in just skimming the research, I find all kinds of admission that indicate they're not as sure about their results as they claim to be:
"Our empirical methodology assumes that autistic children spent their first three years of life in the same county where they reside when they are recorded in our data set."
That's one hell of a big assumption, isn't it?
"the California data continues to show no evidence of a positive correlation between precipitation and autism."
Yeah. And that's their main data set.
"So, although as indicated we do not believe our tests provide definitive evidence for our hypothesis, we believe the most likely explanation for our findings is that early childhood television watching is indeed a trigger for autism."
So, even though they don't have definitive evidence, they still like their hypothesis? What?
It should be obvious that this study has to do a significant amount of reaching and stretching to attempt to justify what it claims to find. It's far too much of a stretch for me.]
The Fundamental Disconnect
Last week, on one of my autism mailing lists, someone posted a link to this article written by a mother of three small children with autism.
(Warning, the toilet practices of two autistic children are described in lovingly graphic detail in this post, so if you're eating you might want to stop.) The author of the article slams the neurodiversity community several times, complaining that we (adult autistics) want to keep her from assistance that will help her daughters learn to stop playing in the toilet and how to flush.
I have run across sarcastic posts about the neurodiversity movement like this from time to time, and it always bothered me, but I could never put my finger on why until I read this overtly bitter article. And then it dawned on me: These parents apparently think we want their kids to have NO assistance at all. That we want their six-year-olds to continue playing in a used-but-not-flushed toilet, that we want their ten-year-olds to not learn to flush when they use the toilet, that we want their three-year-olds to live only on Cheerios and cheese. That our objections to the available "treatments" for autism are absolute. That we don't want their kids to learn basic life skills like flushing the toilet and washing their hands and eating a balanced diet.
That could not be further from the truth!
I can sympathize with Ms. Stagliano's problem. It's no fun to clean up the messes that your children make - especially when they involve bodily wastes. As a parent who has had to do that more often than he cares to remember, I know how frustrating and annoying and exhausting that is. And as an adult autistic, I do not want to see young autistics doing things that are dangerous or unhygenic or unhealthy any more than their parents do. I recognize that what Ms. Stagliano is describing is unacceptable behavior for a number of reasons, including sanitation, health, and safety. And while I can see that the neurodiversity community's resistance to the solutions touted by the medical community today may look to Ms. Stagliano and other members of the cure-autism community like a resistance to any services for autistic children at all, I know that that is not the case - but in order to explain what that resistance is and where it comes from, I'm going to have to discuss issues that Ms. Stagliano did not touch upon in her article. The root of those issues is called ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, and it's Skinnerian behaviorism at its most egregious.
I think that the fundamental disconnect between parents of young autistics and the neurodiversity community is about ABA, because really, it's the thing that is most often touted as a "service" for autistics by the medical establishment, and thus, also the most often demanded by parents. There have been court cases where parents have sued health insurance companies for not covering ABA, and neurodiversity advocates have fought against the parents in court, because ABA has been shown repeatedly to damage autistics psychologically. But the parents don't hear "We are against ABA," because they've been told that ABA is the only
solution for them. They hear "We are against your children learning how to cope with the world." And that is not the case. What we are against is the method
that is being put forth as "the only solution."
My objection to ABA and other such behaviorally-based practices is threefold. First, while they're technically based on a good idea, which is that learning to take care of oneself is necessary, they are very often taken too far. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard of autistic kids being shocked with electrodes, denied food, beaten, or locked in rooms in institutions and in homes in the name of "therapy." It happens. It's real. And it's scary as hell. It's abusive. Is all ABA abusive? No. But the potential
for abuse is certainly there, and becomes a reality far more often than it should, which is never. (On a related note, standard ABA is supposed to be forty hours of work per week with the child. Does anyone really believe that that's either fair or realistic when you're talking about a three-year-old? Or, for that matter, a ten-year-old?)
Second, ABA and other behavioralist setups assume that the child being trained is already able
to sense things like when he needs to use the toilet, when he's hungry, when he's thirsty, and that it's willfulness on the child's part that is preventing success. I know from personal experience that a lot of that is information I do not have good or reliable access to, and I'm 35 years old! Expecting a three-year-old autistic to be potty trained is unrealistic and cruel. Expecting a six-year-old autistic, who may not be able to tell that it's potty time, to be potty trained is just as cruel. We have all these stupid schedules for when you're supposed to learn life skills - when did that happen? So what if he's still in diapers at six? It is probably not his choice to be that unaware of what his body needs. Some of the adult autistics that Ms. Stagliano complains about, the ones who are able to "speak eloquently, write blogs, move out on their own, marry, have children and manage their autistic traits" still can't control their bowels, even as adults. I know of three just in my immediate acquaintance. One of them wears a colostomy bag. Punishing an autistic child for not being able to figure out when he needs to go to the bathroom may very well be like punishing a blind kid for not looking at things hard enough.
Third - and this is a biggie, they all are, but this is where I really get my dander up over ABA - if you want to use behaviorist methods to teach a child what are called "life skills," that's great. That's necessary. We do that with neurotypical children too. Yes, teach him how to flush the toilet after he uses it. Teach her not to play in the toilet at all. These are necessary things to know and remember. But using any behaviorist approach to try to teach social
skills - um, no. Not okay. More to the point, not realistic. Social skills require cognition, not a rote response or habit, nine times out of ten. In order to teach a child social skills, you have to step away from the behaviorist setup, which says that the mind doesn't matter. If you want appropriate social responses from an autistic child, you first have to find a way to communicate with him, so that he can understand why he has to look people in the eye, take turns, and so forth. Simply training him to mimic
social skills doesn't do a damn thing, and can often make things worse.
Now, I did not personally get ABA treatment as a child. It didn't exist in the 1970s for people who were on the lighter side of the autism spectrum, like me. I'm not Rain Man, so I wasn't "obvious" to the doctors. The proper diagnosis for my type of autism didn't come into being until sometime in the 1980s. That did not change the fact that I was pressured and forced into eliminating my "weird" behaviors in much the same way as autistic children are pressured through ABA treatment today, however. And as someone who was coerced into mimicking social responses, I have to tell you that it didn't do a damn thing for me and made my life a living hell in a lot of ways. Behaviorist approaches don't appear to differentiate between "what is necessary for the child's physical well-being" and "what the parents want so that their kid doesn't act strangely in public." If you want your child to successfully develop social skills, he will have to do it the same way any kid does - by trial and error and thoughtful application of reasoning skills - and because he or she is autistic, it will take longer, because she or he doesn't have access to all the nonverbal signals that neurotypicals use to adroitly manuver through social situations. Trying to get her to mimic normality is only going to set her further back, because neurotypicals are not stupid, and they can almost always tell that there's something off about the presentation.
I will admit that Ms. Stagliano may not be thinking of ABA when she says she wants services for her children. But there are certain phrases in what she wrote which at least imply a desire for some extreme treatment to eradicate her children's autism. Phrases like "recover from their autism" and "don't tell me to give up on my girls" indicate that she sees autism as a fixable condition rather than a state of being, and that allowing them to be anything other than completely stereotypical neurotypicals is "giving up." That's the crux of the problem. ABA is touted as a "cure" by the more extreme pseudo-physicians who play on parents' hopes, dreams, and fears, and that's not okay either - and if they're desperate enough and refusing to see autism as part of their child rather than a disease, parents are more likely to accept this extreme and damaging "treatment." That's my worry, and the worry of most of the members of the neurodiversity community - that when Ms. Stagliano and other parents of autistic children say these things, what they want is ABA to magically make their autistic children into neurotypicals - in other words, they see it as a cure, which also implies that they do not see autism as a part of their child but as something separate, outside, and malignant.
Ms. Stagliano, if you want ABA so that your child knows how to flush the toilet, brush her teeth, dress and feed herself, that's great. I have no problem with that. If you want ABA so that your child stops acting weird in public, that's not great, and I have a big problem with it - and in my experience, that's where most adult autistics also have a problem with it. Is it worth it to make your child "normal" if you take away all the things that make her a unique person? So what if she spins? So what if she rocks? So what if she loves to talk about elephants, nutcrackers, or the imports and exports of Peru? Are those things really that bad? Get some perspective, please. Training your child to stop running out into the street is good. Training your child to stop rocking, flapping, or spinning is bad - and too often, that's what ABA focuses on most, instead of the important things like life skills and safety.
I guess my plea to Ms. Stagliano, and the rest of the "cure autism" community, is really this: take a hard look at your priorities, because being weird or different is not a crime. All we're asking is that you stop treating non-dangerous differences as if they are dangerous - to stop blowing your child's differences out of proportion. Do that, and I think you'll find support from the neurodiveristy community on the truly important things: health and safety.
Let's face it: we all want autistic children to be safe and happy - both those of us who are their parents, and those of us who used to be autistic children ourselves. Let's get together on what those words mean, and find realistic and non-damaging ways to achieve them.
Although I would like to spend some time addressing how ABA is ineffective in the "teaching social skills" department and damaging in other ways, I do not have the energy or time to assemble a list of references and write a more in-depth critique and explanation at this time. I may do that in a forthcoming post, but no promises as to when - it's been a long school year and I'm not done yet. I just really needed to address this while it was fresh in my mind.