Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

2/11 Fakery, Pleasure Ban & Moralizing

Madeline Svengsouk's picture

We've been talking a lot in class about how disability was (and continues to be) synonymized with an inability to be self-sufficient and by extension, an inability to be productive. With that in mind, I found it interesting that the whole productivity narrative was often used as a catch-all for people who were deemed to be morally lacking, even if they didn't have a physical or neurological disability that could be seen as a hindrance to manual or intellectual labor. For example, the Jewish man who was turned away at Ellis Island using the LPC clause even though his extended family explicitly stated they would employ him was particularly disheartening. I had a really interesting discussion with some classmates about this problem of moralizing other people in a modern context. Through reading the history of disability in the US, it's clear how people in positions of power assigned a negative moral quality to people they thought to be tainting the purity of America (haha). This is obviously a terrible thing to do for so many reasons, notably because it's also a way of dismissing the concerns and lived experience of the individual. I feel like this sort of moralizing occurs in a different but parallel way on campus and in other progressive settings when people come into contact with individuals who might say something less than socially/culturally appropriate. Often, the gut reaction is to assume the person is a terrible human being and dismiss any other statements they make because of it. Isn't this also a kind of moralizing in a way that might have negative consequences?

I've also been thinking a lot about the parallels between disability and homelessness. One common thread I've been exploring is the idea that it's unacceptable for certain people to pursue pleasure while others are given the green light to, for example, spend frivolously. When a homeless person asks for money there's so much distrust that they're going to use that money to purchase anything other than food. Why does this happen? Nobody criticizes me for spending 10$ on a mixed drink just because I'm middle class and have a job? In the context of the book we've been reading, it was considered incredibly inappropriate for women to exhibit sexual desire (labeled sexually deviant), especially if it was for a person of the same sex or a different race. For disabled people, it's often seen as inappropriate to exhibit sexual desire as well. Why do we infantilize certain people? Why is the public so concerned with the ways in which people are chosing to live their lives? 

Another thread I'm noticing is the idea of fakery; something we've discussed in class in regard to 'catching' people who "don't look disabled" parking in accessible parking spots. This is also relevant to homelessness in that there's an incredible amount of skepticism of homeless people. I can't count the number of times I've heard someone say that it's always better to give a homeless person a McDonald's meal instead of money because "they'll probably just spend it on drugs and alcohol". Why have we turned people into tools of surveillance to ensure that others are well-behaved? is there a practical way to deconstruct this behavior?