Difference and impairment
I can still remember my PE teacher at school yelling at me: “What’s the matter with you? Are you disabled?”
He was angry because I was clumsy and awkward. The tiny experience perhaps helps me understand why autistic and other neurodivergent people resent being called “disabled” or even “impaired”.
These days I’m impaired by arthritis, and because ageing has slowed down my brain processes: I am much slower, and fumble much more, with mathematical working today, at 70, than I did when I was 17. Luckily for me, these are impairments which carry little stigma, and I live in a society with many workarounds for them.
But there is no point pretending that those are not impairments, or blaming capitalism for the significance that the impairments have, or denying that they will be bigger impairments when I slow down further.
I don’t know whether Janine Booth (Letters, Solidarity 511) took me to be saying that the “Student B” who sat in a maths class I taught but only knitted and occasionally shouted about unconnected issues was impaired in mathematics. I was saying that he was impaired (not just different) in participation in collective working and discussion. And more significantly impaired, for example, than the “Student C” (from another class), who for some mental-health reason I don’t know, never spoke (but listened, nodded or shook his head, wrote notes, etc.)
We can’t blame capitalism for the impairment being a significant factor. Quite likely it will be even more significant in a socialist society. We should and can think of adjustments and workarounds to help people with such impairments.
It will hinder, not help, to wave aside the problem as not an impairment at all, or to deny that there are degrees of impairment.
Martin Thomas, Islington
Encoding, decoding, and Israel
This is the third of a series of letters sparked by the “Willsman affair”.
Trough “Steganography”, secret codes or images can be hidden within other images, not revealing themselves immediately, or until certain conditions are met, or they are decoded. These can then be shared by unknowing individuals, unaware that this beautiful picture is harbouring a sinister side.
“Encoded” ideas can be similar. Concepts are promoted, with their full implications only widely revealed when faced with specific political situations, to people in the know, or to people trying and succeeding in decoding them.
Absolute anti-Zionists generally consciously seek the destruction of Israel, a Palestine stretching “from the river to the sea”. They advocate the “right of return”, perhaps gleefully congratulating themselves on packaging their full goals into a demand which gains a much wider hearing. They “encode” the destruction of Israel into the “right of return”. Similar, at points, with the demand for a “single secular democratic state”. At least in the medium term, neither will be achieved, and neither could without violently conquering Israel, and enforcing a political settlement on the majority of Israel’s population, Israeli-Jews. The chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” less subtly encodes the same message.
Those absolute anti-Zionists influence can sometimes remain blissfully ignorant of the conclusions or history of what they advocate. I’ve even heard of people, influenced by such politics, chanting “from the river to the sea, Syria will be free”.
That the latter chant makes no sense shows that the former, for many chanters, is very superficial. They are spreading “encoded” anti-semitic politics, but which they did not encode, and cannot immediately decode.
When the idea confronts the world as it is, the conclusion, “destroy Israel”, can reveal itself. It is our job to decode such ideas for these individuals, to show them for what they are, and to persuade them of better ideas.
But those that unknowingly transmit previously-encoded versions of “destroy Israel” should be treated qualitatively different from those who knowingly and consciously advocate it.
While the idea that we need not take responsibility for the fine details of how the Really Existing Labour Party manages individual cases, absent of any broader changes, seems like a fudge, seems like advocating political responsibility, it is more than just that, and it helps me to reconcile my contradictory feelings on the question. Advocating the way forward from the concrete here and now is an important part of taking political responsibility, aiming to transform the world, and prepare the working-class for democratic self-rule.
But recognising when wider circumstances are not of our choosing, when we can’t take responsibility for mending a puncture if we can’t change our tyres, is vital for being “third camp” socialists, and responding to the world in an honest, transformative way.
Mike Zubrowski, Bristol