Seventeen Theses on Disability
Disability in general is not an identity. No specific disability constitutes an identity. It is unhelpful to look for meaning and identification in the random and unfortunate reality of disability.
The urge to seek identity in disability does not stem from the actual disabling elements of any given disability but from broader dissatisfaction with one’s life and with the modern condition. People do not seek to be identified as disabled because they are hurt by their disorders but because they are otherwise lacking in fulfillment and confidence.
Disability is net-negative by definition. If a condition is not a net-negative, then it cannot be said to be dis-ability.
Almost no disabilities come with any kind of compensatory benefits, and none come with vague and flattering psychosocial benefits such as superior insight or being “deeper” than those around you. Assumptions otherwise are based on a desire to establish some sort of inherent justice in the universe, which does not exist.
Arguments that those who suffer from a given disability are in any way superior to others amount to an attempt to leverage society’s sympathy for disability to gain favor in the social hierarchy.
Standpoint theory arguments about disability, such as the claim that only those with disabilities may speak about them, are fundamentally misconceived and incompatible with living in democratic society.
Such arguments are also incoherent, as there is profound disagreement among those who have disabilities on any given topic, most certainly including on the nature of disability itself. There is no such thing as the “disabled community,” much less the “abled community.”
Those who suffer due to second-order effects of disability, such as family members who must help shoulder that burden, have perfectly valid and important perspectives and have exactly equal right to voice them.
The goal with all disabilities is to end them with treatment and prevention. Any condition that should not be ended through treatment and prevention is therefore not a disability.
The legal and social accommodations extended to those with disabilities exist precisely because disabilities are or create disadvantages, hindrances, problems. If a condition is not a disadvantage or hindrance or problem it therefore does not deserve accommodation.
The endless proliferation of disabilities through boutique diagnoses such as “ME-CFS” and “chronic Lyme” stem fundamentally from market need - there is a market desire for additional disabilities to create identity and meaning, and so the medical community is creating additional disabilities.
The inevitable long-run impact of these trends - treating disability as just another identity class used for social positioning, and sowing intentional confusion about whether disabilities are harmful - will be to reduce society’s material accommodations for the disabled.
Those who suffer the most from this development will be the most severely disabled, while those who are most responsible for this development are those who have the least severe impairments and thus will suffer the least.
“Stigma” is not among the top one hundred problems of the average severely disabled person.
The great majority of people react to the knowledge that someone has a disability generally or mental illness specifically not with stigma but with compassion and with a sincere desire to understand.
Stigma in disability discourse functions as a free-floating complaint about anything the individual doesn’t like about their life; any problems, disappointments, setbacks, or imperfections will be called the result of stigma and thus considered a matter of injustice rather than part of the basic unhappiness of human life.
The collapse of the meaning of disability, driven by social media communities and the social climbers among them, represents the general drift of all culture in the digital era - excuse-making for narcissism and selfishness, a relentless focus on the interests of the individual above and beyond the interests of all, endlessly splitting society into chunks of the righteous minority and the stupid and undeserving majority, the gentrification of communicative spaces towards the interests of the most savvy and nakedly self-centered, the mandated bright-siding that insists that any condition the individual cannot change is therefore good, the rejection of the notion of human tragedy and the unchangeable brokenness of human life, and the injunction against ever suggesting that there are others who suffer more than you do and should not be included in your trite definitions of the shared condition. This is the stuff of “marginalized” cultures, now. An affluent 17-year-old who has never been involuntarily committed, has never seriously physically harmed themselves or others, who has never had their shoelaces taken at the door of a mental hospital or been doubled over in stomach pain from meds, who knows nothing of the immense human destruction that can be found in any mental institution, taking to TikTok to make yet another list of the ways people with ADHD are better than those without and, in so doing, saying “this is it, look on me, mine is the face of mental illness, I am the face of disability.” That is our future.