Sunday, 25 August 2013

The word "Moron": It's dark and bloody history.

I got involved in one of those pointless twitter debates yesterday. I was trying to point out to a fellow anti-fascist who uses twitter, that if he understood the history of the word 'moron', he wouldn't use it against the assorted fascist and thug organisations we both oppose.

It's difficult to call someone out on the language they use. They very rarely see any problem with their language. Their view is that the problem is obviously with the person who is pointing it out. They're being too sensitive, a bit prickly, pedantic and trying to police our language is exactly what fascists do, isn't it? And fascism is such dark, evil and dangerous force that any language or tactic used against it is justified, surely?

My point is that the same antifascists who use the word 'moron' so freely as an insult, would never use words relating to race or gender as insulting epithets, and that if they were to spend the time to investigate the history of this word, the concepts it supported and the consequences of these concepts for hundreds of thousands of people, they would understand why they should stop using this word in this way.

So where did the word 'moron' come from, and what does it mean?

Like many of these words, it was invented by a member of the medical profession: Henry H. Goddard, a psychologist and eugenicist. It was used freely in his seminal work 'The Kallikak Family'

A moron in Goddard's definition was precisely defined (If you can call anything related to IQ measurements precise or useful) as someone whose IQ fell between 51 and 70, higher up the IQ scale than an 'imbecile' or an 'idiot'. As can be seen from the illustration, this "scientific" theory also got mixed up with moralising and class and race prejudices. This brutal classification of human beings was used to justify compulsory sterilisation in the USA.

Between 1907 and 1963 64000 sterilisations were carried out in the United States, with eugenic sterilisation programs being enacted in 27 American states. As well as people with intellectual impairments, many of these sterilisations were carried out against poor people and ethnic minorities. The sterilisation program in California was particularly inspiring to the Nazi party in Germany, and funding for eugenics research flowed from the USA, from wealthy foundations like the Rockefeller institute to German eugenicists such as Joseph Mengele. Eugenics was also popular in Britain; as much an ideology of the left as of the right.

People are not aware in general, that the first victims of the Nazi holocaust were the disabled. Nor are they aware that it was not jackbooted Nazi stormtroopers that carried out the killings of disabled people in the Aktion T4 programme, but ordinary doctors, nurses and medical staff. Some of these people were card carrying Nazis, others were apolitical people, convinced by the prevailing medical opinion of the time (held all round the world) that eugenics was an ethical, moral, economic and even 'kind' way of dealing with disabled people. The concepts enshrined in the word 'moron' and the classification and segregation of human beings by IQ, popularised by eugenicists in the USA and Britain, helped convince these ordinary people that what they were doing, the sterilisation and 'euthanasia' was OK, even "in the person's best interests", because someone who was so disabled could obviously have no "quality of life".

Nor is eugenics something confined to the distant past. Sterilisations of people with intellectual disabilities continued in North Carolina up to 1974. The state just a couple of weeks ago set aside a $10m compensation fund to attempt to assuage it's guilt to the 7600 men women and children whose reproductive rights were stolen by this brutal policy.

In this facebook thread members of The Learning Community for Person Centred Practices recount some of their experiences of what happened in North Carolina: Bill Allen said "It still gives me shivers! At one time, Sonoma Developmental Center (not far from my home) was a "leader" in the sterilization of people with developmental disabilities. Years after there were restrictions placed on this practice, I found myself at a People First Conference in San Francisco. It must have been 1982. I didn't have a schedule, so I just decided on a session and walked in. As it turned out, it was a panel discussion on sterilization. What made this particular panel different from any others was that everyone on it (men and women) had been sterilized at Sonoma Developmental Center. Even more surreal was that there was a pro and con side of panel participants. I have never forgotten that day. If there is a video or audio record of it, I can't seem to locate it. Whether they agreed with it or not, it obviously impacted the lives of these individuals forever more. When the discussion was over, everyone on the panel chatted with each other and just moved on. It may have affected me more than any other event in my life working with people with developmental disabilities. California needs to follow North Carolina and soon!"
Val Carmine said "A former director of Caswell Center (NC) told me that he would get calls and letters from people who had once lived at the Center as children. They were wanting to start a family and were asking if anything had been done to them at the facility. Unfortunately 100 per cent of those people had indeed been sterilized."

The word "moron" is still heard in the mouths of bullies and those perpetrating vile hate crimes against people with learning disabilities. It's a word that among other insults and demeaning language forms the background noise of many peoples daily lives.

In conclusion, the word "moron" was deliberately invented by eugenicists to prop up their theory of eugenics. The word "moron" was used to justify categorisation, segregation, discrimination, sterilisation, euthanisation and  attempted eradication of a whole segment of humanity. It is a word that people who know the history of eugenics and the consequences of this theory to countless thousands of disabled people know is dripping in blood. To object to people who should know better using it is not being 'over sensitive'. It is simply to ask that people with intellectual impairments be treated with the same respect as other victims  and survivors of eugenics theories and the Nazi holocaust.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Thinking Bomb

I found this nice app called 'Tagxedo' and put the URL of this blog into it.
This is what it came up with:

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Right To Think Differently Includes The Right To Think Differently

The learning community for person centred practices just tweeted "The right to think differently includes the right to think differently" on their twitterstream.

What they mean that as well as having a right to think differently about different things we also have a right to think in different ways. We can have very different opinions about all kinds of things, yet still get on together as a community, and we also need to learn to be just as open to people whose very thought processes seem different from our own.

I was listening to a programme on the Radio, about Japan and the way that the use of the abacus helps children understand number in an entirely different way from the fairly abstract concept of number we have in the west. By using the physical abacus, children start using the parts of their brains dedicated to sight and touch to understand number as well as the small part that westerners use.

In the West we've long had an idea that mind and body are separate - psychologists are discovering however that much of our thinking is done with our bodies long before we even become aware of it. 95% of the time the idea of a step-by-step logical and rational thinking process is just not the case.

The self-proclaimed champion of rationalism is Richard Dawkins. I used to follow him on twitter, and the key thing I noticed about his posts was not some cold Vulcan rationality, but an intensely passionate man, whose writing dripped with anger and other emotions. There's nothing wrong with thinking emotionally. It's how human beings think most of the time. It's our emotions that drive us forward, it's the way most of us are built! Instead of denying this and seeing it as a problem, we'd do better to understand it, and understand why it works for us most of the time (and why sometimes it doesn't!)

But when it comes to people who think in even slightly different, non-standard ways, we immediately see this as a problem, and even a threat. We label these people, we create fearful myths around these people, we try to 'cure' these people. We try to impose a false standard of rational and logical thought onto these people that we do not even approach ourselves. Rather than accepting these people as a part of the rich diversity of our species, we focus all our darkest fears on them, make them something 'other'. We have to learn to resist this innate desire to 'normalise' ourselves by 'othering' difference.

Zombie film 'World War Z' included the rather powerful idea that if there are 10 people in a meeting who all think exactly the same about something, then 1 person should be tasked to think something different about it, because otherwise no real thinking can be happening. This is suggested because real thinking only happens where there is difference, diversity, discussion and dialogue. If everyone is in agreement, then it's likely that most of us are not thinking. The conflicts that difference creates are the 'gadfly of thought' - they drive us on to thinking and contriving.

One example of this from medicine is the Jehovah's Witnesses refusal to accept blood transfusions. People got really angry about this. How stupid! How irrational! But the refusal of Jehovah's Witnesses to accept blood transfusions forced medical science to invest in the investigation of alternatives. This has resulted in techniques and products that don't rely on human blood, and these have saved many many lives, including those of many people who are not Jehovah's Witnesses. We may not understand their intransigence, but ultimately it is the Jehovah's Witnesses' gift to everyone who gets better and safer treatment as a result.

We need to understand that people who think different things, and people who think in different ways are very valuable. They have something to teach us, they open up new ways of seeing, being in and understanding the world. Business manuals are full of techniques aimed at encouraging businessmen to think in different ways, because this is at the heart of businesses survival. Strange then that the culture of business so strongly encourages conformity behind the bland uniformity of the business suit. Forcing a single way of thinking on society is as unhealthy as trying to impose a single racial characteristic or a single sexuality on society. Diversity is the greatest source of adaptability and strength for the whole human community.

Person Centred Thinking also challenges us to think differently. It asks us to stop just seeing things from our own perspective, from a 'professional' perspective, from the perspective of what suits the service, and instead to attempt to see things as the person sees them. It challenges us to drop habits of thinking about people's deficits, of thinking of ourselves as 'fixers' and to instead attempt to see people's gifts and assets, and to see ourselves as connectors, renewing people's place and relationships in the community, and thus strengthening all of us.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Vic Finkelstein's Story: "Revolution"

One person who made a major impression in my life was my friend Stuart, who I met at university in 1984.
Stuart was a committed socialist, so I spent lots of time with him organising the University Labour Club and the Miners' Support Group (Usually instead of studying).
Stuart had muscular dystrophy, used a wheelchair and drove his antiquated mini like a scalextric racing car, scaring the bejasus out of me.
It was Stuart who first introduced me to disability politics, by telling me Vic Finkelstein's story 'Revolution', which you can read in full here.
It's a remarkable story, in that it describes how well-meaning action can lead to exclusion and segregation, how in a society run by people with a particular impairment, it would be the people who did not share this impairment who would become 'disabled' by society itself: For example, in a society where everyone uses wheelchairs, why would they waste building materials on rooms with high ceilings? Then when someone comes along who belongs to the 2% that doesn't use a chair to get around, they find themselves having to stoop constantly, and wear a leather helmet to protect them from banging their head, they'd find it impossible to get work as workplaces would not be designed for their 'special needs', so would be forced into claiming benefits and seeking charity, even the clothes they bought in shops wouldn't fit properly, the ramifications are endless.
It's one of those stories that goes to the heart of issues of power and discrimination in society, when the environment and culture is structured in a way that ignores one section of society altogether.
Finkelstein's tale ends on a hopeful note, pointing toward the possibility of a society where people's different needs are met so they can each contribute their different gifts and get on together just fine.
What made me think about this story? The news today that Angela Bachiller has just been elected city councillor for the Spanish city of Valladolid. (The link I've shared is in Spanish, the English press don't yet seem to have picked up this story).
Angela will bring her experience of exclusion and discrimination as somebody with Down Syndrome to the City Council. She's already pointed out that many people with intellectual disabilities never even get the chance to vote.
How great that Valladolid will benefit from Angela's energy and commitment! There are plenty of people in our own communities who'd love a chance to share their energy, experience and commitment too, in their own way, if we had the imagination and will to create the kind of community where this can happen.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

What is The Learning Community for Person Centred Practices?

Readers of this blog will know that I travelled to Portland recently to participate in a gathering of the Learning Community for Person Centred Practices. I met a wonderful warm group of people who were welcoming and friendly, and who were facing the same challenges that we face in Britain.

After this, I had the great honour of participating in the community's board meeting that took place on the evening after the gathering and on the following day. It was great to sit among people whose work I've studied, and experience the personalities behind the words.

If I was to sum up in one sentence what the Learning Community was about, I'd say it was a place that people who are committed to person centred change, who want to see positive choice and control returned to the lives of people who have had it taken away by impersonal institutions and health and social care systems, can come together to share learning, gain mutual support and promote the very best practices.

The community is based in years of experience of implementing what became 'Essential Lifestyle Planning', and its deconstruction into 'Person Centred Thinking' and 'Person Centred Practices' whose directness, simplicity and practicality opened up person centred approaches to many more people. A key part of its work is gathering together what's being learned about what works and doesn't work in implementing such work, finding out what's most effective at creating positive change in people's lives and inclusion and contribution to their communities.

The learning community is International, being organised in a number of countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, Britain and now India, and with many connections developing in other countries (I may have missed several out through sheer ignorance).

One of the key dangers person centred practices face is the misuse and perversion of it's language and techniques. All it takes for an organisation to claim it is 'person centred' is to stick this on their website. However organisations and individuals that take the challenge of increasing choice and control in people's lives seriously go far further, working hard with accredited trainers for deep cultural change in their organisations. Person Centredness is a journey on which many have embarked but where nobody has yet 'arrived', it's something we're striving for. TLCPCP therefore has an important role as the guardian of key values and practices that might otherwise be diluted or used as window dressing for what remain institutional and service-centred practices, particularly in a time of austerity where cheap shortcuts look so attractive to those that hold the purse-strings! (In the long, and not-so long run, such short cuts of course usually prove to be very expensive to all involved!)

The TLCPCP helps with this work by ensuring that trainers are accredited, and by renewing commitment and fidelity to the values that motivate person centred change. This is coupled with sharing very practical person centred thinking tools and skills that enable such change at scale. The crucial balance between fidelity to values and work at scale is at the heart of almost every discussion and debate held within the TLCPCP.

Given that TLCPCP is a non-profit organisation with no staff and very limited resources, it has achieved a great deal thanks to the commitment of its members and the warm support of partner organisations. It has aims to expand into new countries and further develop the evidence base for person centred practices, spreading them further and deeper so that choice and control can no longer be usurped from human beings by the systems intended to support them.

The TLCPCP has a lively facebook page and can be followed on twitter: @TLCPCP