Monday, January 19, 2009

Philosopher crip on Peter Singer’s Tribute to Harriet McBryde Johnson

In a earlier post, FRIDA noted that many people in the disability community were outraged with the New York Times for its selection of philosopher Peter Singer to write a tribute to lawyer, writer, disability activist Harriet McBryde Johnson. One person who expressed outrage against his selection was history professor Paul Longmore. His response appeared recently at the Not Dead blogspot and you can read it here (see also this post over at What sorts of people). My attention was also drawn to this response by the blogger Philosopher Crip which is interesting for being, amongst other things, less black and white and more nuanced than the rigorously critical response by Longmore. Its entitled "Peter Singer and Harriet McBryde Johnson: Humanizing our opponents?" - here is an excerpt:

So, if Harriet is right and we cannot reject Singer as “categorically evil,” does this ean that we should uncritically accept him as a spokesman for telling the final chapter of her story in the New York Times? One objection that I think needs to be raised is the notion that she should be defined only in contrast to him. That is, Harriet’s life and work were important in their own right and should be remembered as such. It seems wrong to characterize this leader within our community as only an opponent of Singer’s positions who happened to once allow herself to be tokenized and invited to Princeton (note: Harriet herself describes this experience as a tokenization). It seems to me, her work to resist the telethon, at the very least, deserves equal air time when publicly summarizing her life. The offense is not THAT Peter Singer wrote the article, but that it did not do her justice as a force unto herself.

So, my objection to Singer’s obituary is not offense at him being some kind of monster. This would be counter-productive to our cause in that he and others clearly responded better to Harriet’s measured argument than Not Dead Yet style civil disobedience. This is true for philosophers as a general rule, I’d say. If we are to silence dangerous opinions, we must do it with arguments of our own that show the opinion holders and the public at large why we are right. Sometimes, when we are silenced we must use our collective action to get the attention of powers that be with tactics like civil disobedience. But, once we are taken seriously by our opponents in the public sphere, it is time to move past the chanting and the arrests and address our opponents how we wish to be addressed, as fellow human beings.

The full text of Philosopher Crip's post is here ... I'm sure he would appreciate your thoughts.