Monday, January 19, 2009

You Can Always Tell the Artists from the Scientists 2

FTA: “Imagine a world of ‘human perfection’ where disabled people are a distant memory, edited out by medical enhancement and economic cost-benefit analysis: a world where thanks to generic selection and economic crises disabled people find themselves expendable.
Is such a world desirable?
Not necessarily so, says artist and computer animator Simon McKeown from the University of Teesside’s School of Computing, who is challenging many of the notions of so-called human ‘imperfection’ in a high-tech film-based exhibition called Motion Disabled.”

I’m a staunch supporter of diversity, particularly genetic diversity, but I find this particular idea ridiculous. Call me an absurd redunctionist if you must but the purpose of an organism is to survive and procreate. Maximizing everyone’s potential to do both of these things is one of the surest ways to maximize human happiness. No one wants to go hungry. No one wants to sit home on prom night.

I understand the idea- it’s nice. Variety is the spice of life. Rah-rah-rah. We are what we are, let’s embrace it. But it’s the things we can’t change that need to be embraced. The things we can change, the things which are malleable, they needn’t be embraced. That the list of that which is malleable is ever growing frightens some people and I don’t blame them, but its absurd to suggest that someone should be content with their lot in life when they’ve been the victim of a non-beneficial genetic copying error or a shit storm of recessive genes.

Should we suggest that people be content with their predisposition for heart disease? ‘Hey man, we all have different life-spans and that’s beautiful.’ Or IBS? ‘Listen, you’re a beautiful girl, you just digest food differently, that’s all. Quit whining and buy your Depends.’ Or elephantiasis? ‘Mr. Merrick, I have nothing pithy to say, you poor, poor bastard.’ No. Not when the goal’s within reach.

I don’t doubt that many handicapped people view their disabilities as a ‘uniqueness,’ or a ‘blessing as well as a curse,’ or as something that just makes them ‘special.’ And bully for them. They won’t be forced to change, but art like this, or more specifically, the stated intention of the artist, undermines the quest to give them that option by fretting over how many of them will take it. I’m going to close with a poem by Isaac Watts that Joseph Merrick, aka the Elephant man, used to end his letters with:
"Tis true my form is something odd, But blaming me is blaming God. Could I create myself anew, I would not fail in pleasing you. If I could reach from pole to pole, Or grasp the ocean with a span, I would be measured by the soul, The mind's the standard of the man."
Everyday we draw closer, Joseph.

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