Saturday, May 17, 2008

Actual Disasters, A Conference Announcement, Shady Autism "Gurus"

Okay, there's a lot going on right now -- here are some links and notes on matters that have managed to grab my attention recently.

(1) An online friend recently pointed out a way to help the people affected by Myanmar cyclone, and I figured I'd pass along the link.

The International Burmese Monks Organization is partnering with to, per their web site, "provide direct support to the people of Burma". Apparently (and this is something I didn't even know until yesterday personally), the country's junta military is restricting direct distribution of international aid.

I can't even fathom how any person or group could possibly be thinking of whatever weird power agendas they have going at a time like this over and above people's lives, but anyway. Right now the monks and nuns in Burma represent a channel through which concerned members of the international community can maximize the chance of their donation actually helping the citizens in direst need. You can read more about the monks on, and donate via I know there's no way to reclaim the lives lost so far, but there's at least some opportunity to help prevent further deaths in the aftermath of the disaster.

(2) Regarding the Sichuan earthquake: my employers are doing a matching-donation thing, so I'm most likely going to go that route personally -- however, I only found out about that opportunity by spotting an inconspicuous sign on a bulletin board outside the cafeteria. If you're currently employed, you might want to ask around/investigate to see if your company is doing anything similar.

Additionally, anyone can donate to the American Red Cross, who are also working on coordinating relief efforts with the Chinese Red Cross and routing supplies to the earthquake victims in China.

(3) H/T to Robin Zebrowski for noting this on her blog: apparently, a conference entitled Cognitive Disability: A Challenge to Moral Philosophy is being held from September 18 - 20, 2008 in Stony Brook Manhattan, New York, USA.

From the conference web site:

The realities of cognitive disability pose a significant challenge to certain key conceptions philosophers have held. Philosophers have conceived of the mark of humanity as the possession of rational cognitive capacities. They have traditionally extended the mantles of equality, dignity, justice, responsibility, and moral fellowship to those with these abilities, whom they speak of as "persons." What then should we say about those with severe cognitive disabilities? How should we treat these individuals and what sorts of entitlements can they claim? Should we grant the arguments of some philosophers who want to parse our moral universe in ways that depend on degrees of cognitive capacity, not on being human? How do claims for the moral consideration of animals bear on the question? Is it morally acceptable to consign some human beings to the status of "non-persons"? Philosophers have rarely faced these questions squarely and systematically.

Speakers include public intellectuals such as Michael Bérubé, Ian Hacking, Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. The conference will explore philosophical questions about three specific populations—people with autism, Alzheimer’s disease and those labeled “mentally retarded” —and will raise ethical and foundational questions on regarding both theoretical and practical matters.

I'm nowhere near New York, but seeing as the conference specifies that they "...also welcome those with cognitive disabilities who would benefit from and could contribute to the discussion.", it would be super cool if some autistic or other self-advocates could attend. There are so many cans-of-worms (fractal cans of worms, even!) in the description of the conference alone that it would not behoove me to get heavily into them here, but suffice to say that I have problems with assuming that in order to be considered a "person", one must be either genetically human or possessed of some specific (usually status-quo mediated) ability set.

Hence, I was very pleased to see Anita Silvers on the list of speakers, as she is awesome when it comes to human-difference stuff (I saw her present once and her paper was called "The Right Not To Be Normal As The Essence of Freedom" -- how cool is that?). I mean, I know Peter Singer is pretty gung-ho for animal rights and helping the poor and all, but frankly he scares the heck out of me with his utterly matter-of-fact disregard for the value of the lives of disabled humans.

The entire discourse in this area needs a lot of work -- right now, it's still sadly far too dominated by what amounts to the trumpeting of neo-eugenics on one side, and simplistic creepy religio-moralizing about "human exceptionalism" on the other.

As Robin Z. eloquently commented: "I think it’s past due time that people started having to contend with their views of morality (and ontology, and metaphysics) that presume cognitive (and physical) outliers are exceptions to the rule instead of equally valid members of the group that demonstrate and define the rules." Hear, hear!

(4) Joel Smith has written a good post on the problem with "autism gurus":

Autism seems to attract a disproportionally large number of “gurus”.

For instance, we have doctors peddling their “detoxification” treatments - which require exact adherence to the wisdom of the guru, uh, doctor’s orders (you’re not supposed to notice that few of the doctors peddling detoxification agree on how to do detoxification, nor do most mainstream doctors think there is a shred of support for detoxification of autistics as a treatment - the GURU’s wisdom is what is important, and it must be done exactly his way!)...

...The problem with all of this is that often the gurus, although they may truly believe they have a gift, are full of the very same feces they seek to eliminate. Good intention is not the same as truth. So while I believe that many of the gurus truly are sincere, I also believe them to be wrong. And I have a message for parents, teachers, staff, and others who want to know the deep secrets of understanding autistic people:

THERE IS NO SECRET KNOWLEDGE TO BE LEARNED. You don’t need to know the dark secrets of the depths to interact successfully with autistic people.

Good stuff, Joel -- "gurus" in general make me VERY nervous, regardless of what they're pushing, so I'm always glad to see attention being drawn to the problem of folks who see themselves as the Savior[s] of Mankind (for a fee, of course).

(Also, a request: please read carefully and spend some time thinking about this stuff before commenting if you're going to comment -- I've had it up to here with the Jerking Knee this week...)


Kakalina said...

Thanks for the info on the Burmese Monks Organization. It's interesting, I was recently at an MUN conference representing Uruguay at the Human Rights Council, and we were tapped to approve a resolution on the crises in Myanmar (they're expecting a second cyclone, too) in tandem with the Securities Council. The death toll is reaching up and around 150,000 and apparently some towns that have lost more than 3/4 of their housing are getting maybe 1 sack of rice or something.
This makes the Chinese look like little angelic cherubs.
BTW, do you know if there's a way to donate directly to the Chinese Red Cross? That way one would have a higher chance of directly assisting victims of that earthquake.

AnneC said...

kakalina: The Chinese Red Cross page is here, but I can't get it to load -- don't know if they're having server issues or what. There's a Reuters page here that links to the Chinese Red Cross page and also gives their physical address and other info. Not sure if that helps but it's all I could find.

Kay Olson said...

Ooh. Thanks for the heads-up on the conference. I'll be sure to pass the info along.

As Robin notes at your h/t link, there are several names involved with the conference that suggest the event may be a very pointed challenge to the "traditional" viewpoint of moral philosophers regarding cognitive disability.

Catana said...

I would love to see Jerking Knee Syndrome declared a cognitive disability.