The excellent Ania Bula offered this challenge “for all of (her) blogger friends” – which I take to mean she isn’t expecting randos to participate. So calm thyselves if riled, randos. This isn’t for you. The challenge in short: Do not use any ableist language in your writing for one month. This is not a challenge I am personally accepting because I’m trying to do it forever rather than a short time, and because she doesn’t know me. I’m a rando.
I mention and link it because it lays out the good case against ableism in writing – which in the atheist and skeptic communities is mostly synonyms for “unintelligent” and “mentally ill” being used as insults. A response article by the righteous and mighty Luxander Pickel is also well worth a read. Below are some choice chunks from both articles:
“The concerns of the disabled community are often pushed to the side or seen as less important… As one person famously put it: disability activism is not a real thing… For most people it was just not enough of a big deal… Every few months someone writes a post asking people to not use “crazy” as a pejorative, that gets summarily ignored…
And these things do matter. In the same way that racialized words perpetuate systemic racism, and the same way that racialized words can find themselves in the most seemingly benign words, ableism too is so prevalent as to be invisible.
The sad fact is that most ableist slurs are considered the soft swears, the use-instead-ofs. Want to insult someone in relatively polite company? Chances are you may reach for one of these as a stand-by. But words matter. Language shapes our perception and when we make disability an insult, when we make ability an insult, we are implying that there is something wrong with being that way. It adds to a system that treats people with disabilities as being less than human. In some cases people go so far as to imply that people with disabilities don’t have feelings or don’t feel pain. Moreover it creates a perceptions, a link between being disabled and being otherwise incompetent…
Cognitive ability is often an imprecise target of their criticism. Often what people mean when they insult cognitive ability is rather ignorance or a purposeful decision to ignore reality in favour of their own biases, an act undertaken as easily by highly intelligent individuals as by those who may suffer from cognitive impairments… Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Ted Nugent, Stephen Harper, may all be reprehensible human beings with bigoted ideas and some serious cognitive biases, but cognitively impaired or lacking in intelligence, they are not.
The people hurt when you use ableist slurs are often not the targets of your insults, …it is the people surrounding you who are influenced by the perception that you think cognitive ability is an indicator of worth. It doesn’t matter what your thoughts, or what you think your thoughts on the matter are, what matters is what others perceive your thoughts to be on the matter. If I can’t distinguish you from an ableist by your words, then you are being ableist. Even if you don’t mean to be.
This is a life and death matter. The cultural perception of my abilities directly impacts my ability to access care. The more people perpetuate this idea that disability equals incompetence, the harder it is to have doctors take me seriously when I say that something is wrong. The easier it is to excuse the horrible treatment of disabled children who are made to endure torturous treatments and have their bodily autonomy violated on a regular basis. The easier it is to ignore that 80% of people with disabilities will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. The easier it is to ignore that disabled children and even adults are murdered and abused by their caretakers.”
“As atheists, we (myself included) sometimes hinge our worth as people on our intelligence. ‘How can religious people be so blind?’ is a common thought I’ve seen and had myself. ‘Christians are delusional,’ is another one I’ve seen far too often, and in fact have made more than one YouTube video attempting to debunk.
Basically, as rationalists, we pride ourselves on our superior intelligence and sometimes make fun of people who fall prey to seemingly obvious fallacious thinking. We use terminology like ‘stupid, delusional, crazy,’ to describe our incredulous feelings as to how people could possibly think those things.
I’m here to say that there’s absolutely no reason to throw disabled people and people with mental illness under the bus when we’re expressing our incredulity at the ridiculous ideas which others put forth…
I think it’s important to introspect on why terms like ‘crazy’ and ‘delusional’ create such a visceral response in ourselves. It’s because there is a long-standing stigma against neurodivergence, and an all-too-common dehumanization of people who live with those afflictions. These terms create the same effect in our brain as cursing, at least in my experience.
‘This guy is a fucking lunatic,’ makes the fun brain chemicals involved with cursing, and separates us from them in such a way as we can view them as less than full human beings. How could anyone who is a rational human being possibly hold these views? Well, they may be irrational, but that’s no reason to create a categorical difference in our minds which essentially renders them subhuman.
In short, there are deep-seated reasons why it feels so satisfying to call someone crazy when they hold views which are radically different from our own. It’s easy, and vindicates us as being Right, while they are Wrong. But there are unintended side-effects, and an implication that people who actually are ‘crazy’ are so different that they might as well not be people.”
I have nothing to add. These are my thoughts exactly (expressed more eloquently), and I’m familiar with the circumstances that informed their conclusions. It’s the underpinning of my comment policy. If you catch me messing up, let me know. I know we aren’t going to get this overnight, but we can do it. Stop using ableist language, please. It matters.