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Putting an end to limiting physical world-views.

holsn39's picture

Putting an end to limiting physical world-views.


What is the body? Are our bodies a part of who we are? Are they limiting, confining, or could they be a source of freedom? Are we confined to our bodies? or is that confinement a perception that we have the freedom to transcend?  Considering that as large part of human experience is from the perspective of a body, it is important to make this perspective one that will enable us.  Biology shows that human bodies can be infinity diverse, no body is identical to another.  Culture does not represent bodies in this way.  Our cultural body is a superficial one, based off of the concept that "normal" is a reality.

    "Culture, the great enabler, is disabling. Culture is generally taken to be a positive term.  If there is anything people do naturally, it is that they live culturally, in groups, with goals, rules, expectations, abstractions, and untold complexities... People use established culture forms to define what they should work on, work for, in what way, and with what consequences; being in a culture is a great occasion for developing abilities, or at least for having many people think they have abilities. People also use established cultural forms to define those who do not work on the "right" things, for the "right" reason, or in the "right" was. Being in a culture is a great occasion for developing disabilities." (331-332 Mc Dermott/Varenne)

This claims that culture creates concepts of ability and disability, therefore to escape those definitions we must escape culture. Can we escape culture? Culture seems to be a universal trait of humans, in any context, and even where people claim to transcended it, it still exists somewhere surrounding them.  Are we doomed to have definitions of ability and disability? If you read closely in this excerpt you can notice careful phrasing of "using" culture to define, which is very different from saying "culture defines."  Considering this perspective, it could be useful to try altering how we "use culture", or how we live it.  Does culture have to be defining? I find that when you're not looking for a definition you often find transformative ideas and questions, but if you're searching for a definition you can always find one.  Perhaps we need to find a less definitive culture.  Much of the superficiality that exists in our culture is related to the physicality of our thinking.  We put great emphasis on visual perceptions and often loose touch with our other sources of perception, touch, smell, sound, emotion, spirituality, etc.  Science historically is based in this physical world-view until recently when scientists have begun to see this perspective as limiting.  Now evens science is starting to consider more than just material and is beginning to explore things  like energy, quantum physics, string theory, metaphysics, all of which show that the universe is filled with a lot more than just atoms and physical phenomena's. Finally, science is not longer battling with spiritualists about "what is reality". They are blending together in their common interest of transcending the physical world-view that we've trapped ourselves in. 
    Trapped? How could we be trapped in a world-view? What do you mean by a physical one?
     When physical world view is discussed in this essay it refers to giving physical form to our perceptions of the world. For example, here is a diagram that gives a representation of world-view: it shows how we define things in physical ways, even things that aren't physical. World-view is a concept, not physical object, it doesn't have physical form until we give it one to make our understanding more clear.
    The physical world-view is very prominent in many aspects of our culture.  Our society has become dependent on western medicine which functions as physical diagnosis and treatment.  Even mental illness has a physical description, like brain chemistry, and is often treatment in a prescription form.  We also live in a capitalist society that consumes us with materialism, buying things, owning land, and even buying power.  People refer to anything not explainable by our "scientific" understanding of the world as "supernatural."  This word implies that there is some understanding of "natural" phenomenon and anything not fitting to that formula is excluded.  And lastly, our cultural identity is a physical identity.  Everything from body image, gender, race, disability, fashion, beauty, health, and socio-economic class has a physical representation, a recognizable image.  So what alternative source of  identity could we find? Well some possibilities that come to mind are personality, temperament, consciousness, energy, awareness, spirit, just a few.  Another example, lets think about the concept of power. What is power in our society? Power can obtained through ownership of land, ownership of labor (having control over other people's physical activity), being able to physically overpower someone. Physically overpowering someone could happen in many different ways. It could be literally being able to exert a relatively large amount of force on someone else's body,  or it could even be a doctor who has the ability to diagnose and treat someone, or refuse them treatment.

So what is disability? does someone else's power over us disable us? when someone else has overpowered you, you have lost at least some of your agency. isn't a lack of agency a lack of ability? if being overpowered can "disable" people then wouldn't every child, every woman, every labor worker, every cripple, every individual at risk of experiencing physical violence... this list can get pretty long. 

Our identity is embedded in pretty much every aspect of our lives (here in the USA), it effects how we are perceived, how we think of ourselves, opportunities, oppression, persecution, acceptance into social groups, social/cultural roles. So why should we attempt to transcend the physical? It may not be possible or necessary to eliminate all identity based on physical aspects (or perspectives) of ourselves but recognizing that our views of ourselves are unbalanced might bring a less superficial light to our lives. 
    When I think about how the subject of disability is manifested in my life I can't help thinking about my own family and how it has effected all of our lives. My brother is someone who has been diagnosed with different mental 'disabilities' over the course of our lives which has presented many challenges for him to face. My Aunt who lived in my house for many years has multiple sclerosis which also has brought about difficulties for everyone intimately involved in her life.  When I think about both of these individuals I ask myself  "do I think of them as being disabled, and how might this be different from how I see myself?" I've realized that their disabilities in my eyes are purely a label, a name for some of the challenges they face.  I too face challenges in my life, and my disabilities are as infinite as my abilities. So what distinguishes my disabilities from theirs? Why are their challenges recognized as being more significant and/or problematic?   The only distinction I can make is that their challenges are more serious relative to the definitions of abled people in our culture. Every culture defines success is very specific ways, as does every subculture, and so if an individual faces challenges in their ability to succeed in those cultural terms than we label those difficulties as disabilities.  I could redefine cultural success in a way that priviledges my aunt's ablities over mine, and in this context I would be the one suffering and/or benefiting from a labeled condition.
    Our cultural is very rooted in materialism and visual stimulation.  I think that the most effective way people can advocate for rights, acceptance and consideration for people with disabilites in our society is to have a big picture approach to activism.  I think that people need to take action to change the consciousness of our communities instead of just fighting specific issues.  If people became more aware of their human ethic than they would be more aware of how their culture created oppression and how their own thoughts, not just actions were enabling an oppressive culture.  How does a culture become oppressive? How do we allow peoples identities (chosen or not) to put them at a disadvantage relative to a portion of the population?  Our value system has become dehumanizing.  When people can't see how they are contributing to the disablement of others by identifying someone by their lack of ability we should concerned about what we're teaching them. 

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world." -Paulo Freire

    Education, both organized and informal, has a great influence on our culture and society.  The system of education that we have in place right now focuses greatly on this idea of "integration into the logic of the present system" instead of existing as a practice of freedom.  If our education is leading us towards conformity rather than embracing natural diversity than it is inevitable that we will stand out as disabled.  Anyone who has trouble conforming whether it be physically or in some other way is going to have less success in this kind of education system and therefore be put at a disadvantage, sometimes serious enough to be labeled disabled. If we changed this system of education to value freedom, diversity, and one's ability to partake in the transformation of the world than we wouldn't be facing the same issues of oppression that we face today.  I believe anyone is capable of being compassionate, thoughtful, and of transforming the world creatively... this is something universal to all humans.  This philosophy allows anyone to have the agency to play a significant role in their community and would facilitate respect and appreciation for the dynamic nature of individuals.