Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Blind lead the blind

This is a disturbing and unpleasant article.

Part of the disturbance is caused by not wishing to consider the disabled to be less than the able.

But aren't human beings meant to see?

It's a difficult question. It could lead to aren't human beings meant to have children/be straight, even to aren't human beings meant to be white? It's a dark alley you walk into when you start suggesting there is something humans should be.

Still, I find it tough to think that being blind is like being black.

And I found the article profoundly unpleasant because the woman has a disease, and asking whether she wants to be cured is a lot like saying if I had cancer, would I want that fixed? Well, of course I would. Having cancer does not make me differently abled, it makes me sick. Having retinitis of the kind this woman has makes her sick too. She should take the cure and be glad for it. Yeah, her "disabled brethren" might snub her, but them's the breaks. She'll just have to get by without the thing that makes her interesting.

I just hit it, didn't I? That's the point here. The blind from birth guy doesn't want to see because his identity is wrapped up in being blind. It sets him apart. And it sets Atkinson apart too. She now has a "blind life". People treat her differently (better maybe?). Fully sighted, she'll just have to be one of us.

Anyway, I've always taken a rather pragmatic view of differences. Take gayness. I don't have a problem with it, but I'm obviously aware that many, many people do. I don't really think it's anything to celebrate. It's not a plus. Gays are not more interesting than straights, not more fascinating for being different. They just are what they are. Of course, sometimes people play what if your kid was gay? I have no problem with any of my kids' being gay, but I don't wish it for them.

Part of the reason I don't wish it for them is because it tends to be defining of a person (and arguably -- more than arguably in my view -- should not be). A gay person becomes gay before they are anything else. People talk about them as "my gay friend", "my gay sister-in-law", and so on. Let's not bicker over whether they ought to; they simply do.

So now I ask myself: is there a clear line? If I think gayness is a minus (I do not mean in and of itself; I mean in a social sense, because the baggage of it is not so positive) and blindness is a minus, does that mean I want all minuses cleared away, and for gayness to be "cured" (were it possible), just as I would urge Atkinson to have her blindness cured?

I think this is a tougher question than most liberals allow themselves to think.

Is there though a sliding scale of "minuses", which one should take care to calibrate correctly? Is gayness more like having bad taste in music than blindness? Is it closer to being ugly? (I think being ugly is much more clearly part of who you are than having bad taste in music, and probably even more than becoming blind because of a condition -- I am finding it a much more convoluted path than I had first thought! Because if Atkinson's condition is genetic -- I do not know whether it is -- then it is as much part of who she is as gayness or ugliness.)

How do we decide what should be fixed? It's clearly an outcome of how we decide what is broken, but how do we decide that?


I watched Gattaca the other night. If you've seen it, you'll realise why I think that it has a bearing on this issue. (A spoiler follows if you plan to watch it.)

In Gattaca, Vincent is broken. Clearly, his brokenness is a function of the society he lives in as well as his genetic fate. Perhaps the film would have been stronger if he did not have a serious condition, and was just imperfect in the way most of us are. But he overcomes his brokenness in a most astonishing way. It's a moving and brilliant film in a small way.

Vincent overcomes his brokenness with willpower. It is revelatory when he explains to his brother how he has done it: "I never saved anything for the swim back".

But the message that his brokenness is something to overcome is a bit difficult to accept, particularly when the other broken character, Jerome, does not overcome it. It's as though the director is saying just buck the fuck up, loser. I find the lack of sympathy for Jerome disturbing, because it is a counterpoint to the sympathy we are clearly meant to feel for Vincent. Neither is a particularly appealing man; Vincent appeals almost entirely because of his audacity and success.

Gattaca is clearly a film from the right. No leftist would consider that "get over your victimhood and aim for the stars, boy" would be an acceptable message, because we are so convinced that victimhood is not something to disparage; rather, it is something to assuage, to fix, to put right. As with most things, the right path is probably somewhere in between: we should help ourselves while being helped. But I suppose Vincent is stuck in a world that simply does not give a shit. I wonder whether we don't all degenerate into rightists in a world like that, or drown.

Maybe drowning is better though, if that allows you to feel good about yourself. The problem with becoming a rat when all around you are rats is that being a rat is a hard life ethically, so those with heart and conscience might find it unliveable. After all, I consider being gay something of a minus because of the way the world is, not because I think it is inherently bad, and I do not feel I should join the world in its hating just because I could get further if I did. But Gattaca poses interesting questions, because Vincent gives his life meaning that it would not otherwise have if he simply accepted his fate.

I've never been able to resolve that question. If you know how the game is played, and playing it brings rewards that you desire, should you play it even if you know it's a bad game? I've always answered "no" for myself but how do I advise my kids? And was I right in any case to answer "no"?

Is allowing your belief in what's right to hamstring you the same as allowing your having become blind to stand? How can you judge? You would need to be able to stand outside yourself, apart from yourself, to be able to judge.

It's easy for me to say Atkinson is wrong. But how much harder to say that I am wrong myself!


At 2:30 am, Blogger Miz UV said...

Interesting. This comes up also in discussions of deafness and Down syndrome. Some deaf people get angry at others when they try cures because they feel they belong to a culture, in a way, and eliminating deafness would destroy that. Same with some parents of Down's kids. I can understand that. If there are no new Down's children born, then there may be less interest (and less money) going toward helping the existing ones.

At 1:41 pm, Anonymous theminotaur said...

"Gattaca" was a god-awful piece of shit of a movie, and if you want answers to life's profound questions on morality you really should look for inspiration elsewhere besides a Hollywood staple action flick .

At 1:53 pm, Anonymous efflux said...

Give him time, Minotaur. Next he'll be looking to the Matrix and AI.

At 3:18 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I don't agree that it was a bad movie. Far from it. A more careful reader would have noted that I did not suggest it had answers, only that it posed questions.

I liked AI too, but in a "that's demented" sort of way.

At 4:33 pm, Anonymous theminotaur said...

A more careful reader would have also noticed that I used the word "inspiration", not "answer".

I'm not sure that you've ever lived in America long enough to appreciate the copious quantities in which these "question-asking" sci-fi/action movies are churned out. Their goal is first and foremost to make money, and the combination of kitschy Hallmark pseudo-philosophizing and a blonde in a vinyl bodysuit usually means a big opening weekend. These films are meant to be viewed after a few beers and/or a joint, with a bucket of popcorn, preferably with a couple of equally inebriated buddies. But hey, maybe you were stoned while you watched it! I, unfortunately, wasn't, and that was my mistake, I guess.

At 3:58 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Most movies are made to make money. You make that sound dirty ;-)

I think this was a bit different and you're being harsh.

And dude, you do not need highbrow, high-concept stuff to be inspired. Anything can get you thinking, if you're the thinking kind.

I wasn't stoned when I started watching it, but the mong meds had kicked in by the third reel.

At 2:54 am, Blogger Arleen said...

Anything can get you thinking, if you're the thinking kind.

Yep. And even if you're not.


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