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Some Notes on Conversations About "Unspeakable Conversations"

jogengo's picture

Reflecting on class today, when covering the McBryde-Johnson article, some very interesting questions were posed – to which many may have no answer. Firstly, I was curious to why McBryde-Johnson would have shared her cordial and respectful interactions with Singer. She conveyed through much of the piece how those she worked with opposed her interacting with Singer with respect and a professional attitude, even just shaking his hand. Throughout the piece, I felt an aspect of shame from McBryde-Johnson about her actually not completely hating Singer, at times.I would like to think that maybe Singer also liked McBryde-Johnson which also made me wonder: How can you “like” someone who you believe doesn’t really have the right to live? It doesn’t make much sense to me. Part of me wonders if Singer’s belief in his own work and opinions have changed with experience and time. I understand that much of his recognition stems from his controversial ideologies and his shocking points of view such as literal infanticide. Does he just continue to spew this hot garbage because he knows it will make him bank or does he truly believe in all the nonsense? His relationship with McBryde-Johnson, specifically the part in the article where he assists her with reaching utensils and such at dinner is also quite confusing and striking to me – as he is assisting someone he believes shouldn’t be living with an ADL. If he really believed she shouldn’t live . . . why wouldn’t he let her starve? I  may not mean that literally, but I’m picking at his argument here. I also think that deep down, he really is glad that McBryde-Johnson is living. In that way, he must separate his “sound’ logic from his personal experience . . . which also makes me think if he would have formulated all this crap if he had actually been surrounded by disabled lives and disabled joy. His “logic” that he takes great pride in doesn’t seem so sound when he has to put it aside when dealing with one of (I’m guessing) very few disabled lives he’s been around (and maybe this is why McBryde-Johnson felt inclined to share these interactions).  If his argument doesn’t apply to some of the people it addresses, then it can’t be that sound, can it? Another interesting point that was covered in discussion today that I was also thinking about is how much credibility from his argument simply comes from the idea that he can completely remove himself from the people it addresses. With issues like “who has the right to live?” and “who gets the last hospital bed?” everything can seem logical when you remove yourself from each life it applies to, free of emotion or basic compassion. This conditional logic doesn’t seem very logical to me.


Anita Zhu's picture

I agree with your sentiment about feeling conflicted about McBryde-Johnson's interactions with Singer. It's a weird balance of needing to respect someone who's a highly decorated and famous philosopher in the field, while also needing to stand your ground on your own rights. I mentioned in class last week that I felt like it was a case of respectability politics in which McBryde-Johnson has to be respectful in order for her argument to be credible which you mentioned in your post. I think it's total BS. No one should have to bend over backwards to respect someone who doesn't believe they don't exist. That's probably why McBryde-Johnson's colleagues disagreed with her about shaking Singer's hand.