Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Feed Your Head

In the past week or so, there's been an unusual density of jaw-droppingly awesome posts on other people's blogs.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Ettina has written a long, potentially triggering post on the patterns of behavior that emerge in people who've been institutionalized, and the way these survival strategies have been historically misinterpreted as innate personality characteristics within "feeble-minded" people. She quotes liberally from this engrossing dialogue between Amanda Baggs and Laura Tisoncik on the subject of institutionalization.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon has a thoughtful post up about evangelical Christianity and wife-beating, and the extent to which this religious sect (and those aspects of it that color mainstream American discourse and social norms --- particularly the valorization of marriage and the patriarchal nuclear family, and the idea that "salvaging" a broken relationship --- however awful or dangerous --- is somehow nobler than giving up and leaving) plays into the cyclical nature of abuse.

Joel's most recent post is also a must-read. He talks about the two complementary ways in which (NT) people dismiss autistic people's pain (and, I would argue, the pain of all sorts of other "invisibly disabled" people): either we can't be in pain because we aren't expressing it, or, when we do send unmistakable distress signals, we're "whining," "faking it" or "having a tantrum."

There's also this post from Michelle Dawson at The Autism Crisis, discussing an early paper on classical conditioning. She summarizes the "training" regime that was used --- apparently the author saw nothing wrong with starving the developmentally disabled man he was trying to teach, so that his chosen reinforcing stimulus (sugar water) might seem appropriately irresistible to his subject. Dawson compares the attitude evinced toward this poor man (who is described as a "vegetative idiot," "lower in the scale [of trainability] than the majority of infra-human organisms used in conditioning experiments," and occupying "the bottom of the human scale") with later comments by Lovaas and other behavior analysts describing the autistic children they studied.

With these two posts, Arthur Silber begins his series on "The Ravages of Tribalism."

Finally, at A Room of Our Own, Kitty Glendower and Margaret Jamison have wrapped up their series of posts on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. In her "Last Thoughts" on the book, Glendower criticizes Morrison for writing a story in which "once again women/girls come last" --- she read the novel as being overly sympathetic to the men who mistreat the women and children in their lives out of frustrated anger at white racism.

Go forth and read 'em!


shiva said...

You've put the Pandagon link a second time where you meant to link to Joel's post. I believe the correct link is here:

Haven't read any of these except Joel's and Ettina's, so off to read the rest now...

Lindsay said...


thinkingdifference said...

have u seen this article? just thought i'd send it ur way:

Lindsay said...

thinkingdifference - No, I hadn't seen that particular article.

I have read about her latest book elsewhere, though. It sounds like she's taking some of her arguments from Animals in Translation (which I have read --- I haven't read the new book yet, though I'd like to) a bit further. She talks some about sensory immediacy and animal emotion in the earlier book, and also mentions (very briefly) a theory about how dogs and humans might have coevolved to complement one another. It looks like the new book is primarily about these subjects.

I will point out, though, that Grandin's style of perceiving the world --- with the visual thought processes and sensory fixations --- isn't shared by all autistics. Donna Williams, in particular, has said she doesn't think like this, and doesn't appreciate having this one cognitive style popularized as The Way All Autistics, Everywhere, Think. (FWIW, I do think in this way, and have found Grandin's writing helpful in giving me ways to describe it).

Lindsay said...

The other beef I have with Grandin (whom I do like overall), besides her tendency to overuniversalize her own experience of autism, is that she totally buys into the high- vs. low-functioning thing, and only advocates accommodation and inclusion for "high-functioning" autistics, whom she believes have something to contribute to society. At the same time, she has said she'd support a cure for "low-functioning" autism.

This disappoints me, because Grandin's own story was one of the first major lightbulbs to go off over my head that the whole functional-levels thing might be bunk. When she was a child, she was about as "low-functioning" as they came, but look at her now --- she has a Ph.D., she's very well-respected in her field, and she's also a prolific author and lecturer. You'd think that would lead her to conclude that "functional levels" might not have all that much predictive value ...

Lindsay said...

From the article in question:

"Some philosophers think that if you don't have language, you don't have true thought. So I guess I don't have true thought."

I had this exact same thought when my Political Philosophy class in college got into the question of animal rights. We'd be reading these philosophical papers on what thought is (with the assumption that being able to think is the prerequisite for having rights, which is itself a tricky assumption) and I would realize, "Hey, I don't do any of this stuff. I guess I must not be human, either."

(Yes, I do have a post upcoming on this.)