After posting the article about the poor experience I had with USAirways on my trip home from Las Vegas, most of my readers responded very positively. Unfortunately, about 4 people, all blind themselves and mostly supporters of NFB, seem to believe that, because of entirely irrational libertarian politics regarding disability, that an American with a disability shouldn’t expect that civil rights legislation protecting our fundamental rights, endowed by the US constitution, are somehow optional when applied to an airport or airline. They also seem to have ignored the fact that the Las Vegas airport has a policy that PWD assisted by them are to be visited every 30 minutes until their flight leaves, a completely reasonable accommodation they have in place to enforce the Air Carrier Act. These people tell me that it’s my fault that these laws and policies were ignored while I was in the airport and that it is unreasonable to even expect that such laws are followed.
Let’s start with vocabulary: Some of these people have stated publicly on Twitter that expecting laws and policies to be enforced is somehow “self-entitlement.” If you know the meaning of the word “self,” a word most three year olds know quite well, it implies that I chose to decide on a personal level what is and is not the law. As, in this case, the law is specific in the Federal Air Carrier Act, ADA by court interpretation and in the laws and policies of the state of Nevada, I am legally entitled and, as I have never been a member of congress, the Nevada state legislature or sit on the US Supreme Court, there is no “self” from me asking for entitlements endowed by law. These entitlements come from laws accepted as constitutional in this country and, yes, I expect the laws to be enforced as written and interpreted and cannot understand why any person entitled to such rights would ever oppose their implementation. If you don’t like the law, call congress, not me.
The next phrase used to attack me has been the term “playing victim” to which I say, I’m not “playing” anything, I was the victim of neglect, neglect that, under Nevada law, is illegal. If my wife drives our car really fast, I expect law enforcement to pull us over and, well, enforce the laws of the city, county or state in which we are driving. I also expect that all civil rights legislation, ranging from the Voting Rights Act to the CVAA, to be enforced as strictly as any other laws on the books in the US. Like various other Supreme Court decisions, like Brown v. Board, I expect the legal interpretations to be as strictly enforced as well. The United States, I remind my lovely readers, is governed by a concept called “the rule of law.” We’re not anarchists who reject any laws or rules they may not like, we are governed by a constitution, specific legislation and court interpretations. I just expect our legal system to be applied evenly and that the rule of law, the philosophic fundamental that makes America fair, be applied to me and all other people with disability. Is it an unreasonable expectation to think that existing laws be enforced in a fair and equitable manner?
I have also been told by individuals who seem to ignore the law and the court decisions that what I experienced was not, in fact, “discrimination,” another word they seem to misunderstand. I haven’t the time or energy to go into the entire philosophic and linguistic definition of “discrimination” as that would require a few volumes of text which has already been written by people far more expert than me. To these people, I suggest you read up on critical theory as applied to people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, women and other traditionally disenfranchised groups. If you do not think that PWD are disenfranchised, it’s not me who says so but, rather, the United Nations Convention on Human Rights and Dignity for People with Disabilities, a convention to which the US is a member but not yet a signatory to its associated treaty. The UN states, “People with disabilities are the single largest and most disenfranchised population on Earth.” Don’t argue with me, call the UN as they are much smarter than I am.
Continuing on discrimination, I would also like to suggest those who don’t think that experiencing the lack of enforcement of the law is such look into the work of the outstanding American philosopher Rebecca Goldstein (one half of “America’s Smartest Couple”). Look into her philosophical work on “mattering maps” and micro-aggression and how they are applied to discrimination against women, the population about which she writes most often. Her work and the subsequent psychological research on “mattering” demonstrates quite well notions often discussed in social models of discrimination. By no means am I a philosopher but Goldstein, steeped deeply in the evidence driven analytical philosophy techniques defined by Bertram Russell and the psychological research supporting Goldstein’s theoretical work provide evidence of how simply being ignored is, in fact, an act of micro-aggression and how it enforces a model based upon a set of discriminatory practices. I didn’t make this stuff up, this work has been done by professional experts in the fields, has been peer reviewed, the math has been checked and, voila, I state that I agree with the data and I get attacked for it. I wish they had checked the science before rejecting it but, alas, that’s too much to ask.
Am I out of touch with reality? This was suggested by a some of my detractors as the case. I suppose that, if a lack of enforcement of the law is “reality” and I expect laws to be enforced, I must be. There’s no other explanation, right? That I expect, in the United States where we are endowed with civil rights by a secular constitution and the rule of law, to have these laws enforced must be a weird delusion. Maybe I’m just a dreamer to hold the expectation that the constitution applies to me under its equal protection clause. The way I read it, this is an entirely reasonable expectation but I’m probably wrong as, as everyone knows, I’m not at all an intellectual who has studied this stuff but, rather, some self-entitled, loudmouth making it up as he goes along.
The primary reaction by my handful of blind antagonists toward me was to say that I did one or more things wrong in the situation I found myself in. Instead of, perhaps, doing the intellectually proper thing, to read the law, the legal and social philosophy and the theory of discrimination and, perhaps, to recognize that we’re governed by the rule of law rather than blaming an individual who experienced a profound lack of law enforcement protecting his legal rights is intellectually bankrupt. These are the same sorts of statements that would imply a rape victim is responsible for her attack because she wore something that some men would claim is too sexy. Blaming the victim of discrimination is a popular American and, given the reaction of one antagonist in Australia, maybe international pastime. If the law isn’t enforced, blame the person who asks for law enforcement instead of those responsible for implementing and enforcing said laws. I suppose they would also blame Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall for bringing their case against the Birmingham Transit Authority as, “how bad is sitting in the back of the bus anyway?”
Now, onto the concept of people with vision impairment who accept libertarianism. I wrote about the free market failure in all areas regarding accessibility in my rebuttal to Mike Calvo’s appearance on Wall Street Journal Live. To date, I have not received a single response that challenges a single one of the factual statements I make in that article. Yes, Calvo wrote a rebuttal to my rebuttal (you can find it on hofstader.com) but it was filled with logical fallacies and contained not a single factual statement challenging a single thing I wrote that day. I don’t want to rehash that conversation but, come on libertarians, just provide me with a single event in which a substantial amount of progress in civil and human rights for people with disabilities has happened without government action and I may then consider that there may be any reality, fact, data, history or anything else to support your position. As far as I can tell, regarding civil rights, environmental legislation and other issues for which there is no evidence of a market solution, there has never been progress in any way without government action. I refer only to the famous (and, yes, peer reviewed) Harvard University study on environmental policy that, with a huge pile of evidence, demonstrated that market forces will and cannot protect the population from environmental health hazards – I contend that this is also true for civil rights, especially as applied to a tiny population of people with vision impairment.
Libertarians hear about legislation and regulation and think that, based entirely on a a zero evidence based, religious devotion to the free market, that such is definitely wrong. None even seem to try to find and describe, using evidence, exactly how the population can be protected from potential health effects from pollution and, yes, how we minorities can be protected from discrimination and segregation. Most libertarians, hypocritically, state that the primary purpose of government is to protect the population but they then reject regulations that, well, protect the population.
These same libertarians say that individuals are basically good (a position I share) and that they will “do the right thing” (a position I don’t share as, in a work environment, some people will be reprimanded for having too much empathy or compassion by corporate bureaucrats who believe that profit for their investors trumps all civilly responsible actions like not dumping toxics into rivers or the air). I ask that just one of the libertarians provide some evidence to contradict the Harvard study and show me how free market solutions can protect the environment or maintain the civil and human rights of a population too small to actually effect the bottom line of a corporation.
In accessibility to technology, my personal expertise, I can look at the world before and after ADA and, now, before and after CVAA. Apple, the super leader in out-of-the-box accessibility, didn’t even consider starting the project until the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed its own, more far reaching laws similar to ADA and IDEA (Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple, fired the entire speech synthesizer team for being superfluous). Massachusetts required a really high level of accessibility to sell product to the state or any local school district. As Massachusetts spends far more than any other locale on education, Apple was forced by regulation and legislation, not a single free market motive, to protect these sales. I’ve said all of this in the rebuttal to Calvo so go read that for a more expansive description of this phenomena.
As no one has demonstrated in using the scientific method or analytical philosophy how libertarianism can even possibly work for our population, I can only consider it to be a religious like belief system based on opinion without evidence. It also seems, like Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and most other religions on Earth to say, “you were born with or acquired a disability and, therefore, that’s part of some reality so you shouldn’t expect the government to protect your civil rights. Deal with it and learn to live as a third class citizen.” Otherwise, why would these believers in free market fundamentalism ever say that it is somehow my fault that established law is not obeyed or enforced?
Others have told me that I’m just asking for too much. I suppose these people haven’t even the imagination to envision a world in which their rights are actually protected. I find this very sad as, like Martin Luther King, we need to have a dream to which we work, not just legislation that’s on the books but opposed as vigorously as possible by corporate America. The struggle didn’t end when we got ADA passed, it doesn’t end with the Air Carrier Act, it didn’t end with CVAA it will continue until we have full enforcement of these and a whole lot more laws on the books that are also enforced. This is how social movements work and have worked for other minorities in the United States.
To those blind people out there who do not consider themselves to be minorities and do not identify with the movements for racial and social justice, take a look at the numbers. There are approximately 1.75 million blind people in North America. This means that there are fewer of us than there are eskimos on this continent and, like the inuit people, no one can make much of a market argument for selling us anything. Thus, we fall outside of market forces and must, like environmental issues, be protected by the state. If you disagree, once again, provide some evidence that I’m wrong and I’ll review it and post an article here stating that I am, in full or in part, incorrect in these assertions. Come on boys, unload your data in the comment area below or are you too intellectually impaired to base your beliefs on evidence?
I was also, for the second time in a few weeks, told that empathy has no role in rational matters. Anyone who has read any recent texts on evolutionary biology, primatology and the psychology of all mammals will immediately recognize the supreme fallacy in these statements. Empathy is felt when our mirror neurons fire. Mirror neurons are activated when we observe another and we share the feelings of another person or animal. It is empathy that keeps all primates and many other mammals from just doing whatever we want. Our mirror neurons probably evolved more than a million years ago as it seems to have happened before or very soon after mammals split off into their own genus from other critters. Empathy is human nature and fundamental to the function of a civilized society, even in those cultures, like those developed in chimpanzee and bonobo tribes as well as among elephants are largely governed by empathy. So, I’m sorry to report to those of you who think that ignoring empathy is somehow “rational” that, indeed, it is our nature and, as Stephen Pinker (the other half of America’s smartest couple) writes in “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” natural empathy is the driving force in the human evolution to a period in which we live that is far less violent than any period in history. Pinker demonstrates this with detailed evidence, all properly sourced and from literature subjected to scientific scrutiny. If you have evidence to contradict Pinker, please write a book expressing the fallacious nature of his work, don’t yell at me for citing it.
Blind libertarians who claim they support civil rights for our population but oppose the regulations in place to ensure such, are fighting against their own cause. All of the rights they now enjoy have come from government, in the US and internationally and opposing such is simply an oxymoron. You can’t favor an ambiguous set of civil rights if they are not codified in law. I accept that you can desire some sort of utopian, Ayn Rand world but, allow me to remind you, Gault and all of Rand’s characters are fictions ideals and her work, as well as that of all libertarian philosophers, does not stand the test of analytical philosophy, the set of tools used to formalize philosophy with processes instead of opinions.
I know the three Americans who slammed me on Twitter pretty well from various interactions over the years. They are not morons, smart guys all. I think they are misguided and misinformed and argue against their own civil rights. I think, on this matter, they lack imagination or a full appreciation of the rule of law and constitutional equal protection. They are entitled to their opinions but not their own facts or lack thereof.
I will also point out that, in a tiny sample of only 3 men, all of my US antagonists are members or supporters of NFB. I find the NFB model of how blind people should live, a philosophy that takes a radical view of independence far too far. NFB argues that guide dogs are a bad thing as they have some sort of belief that “cultural norms” do not invite dogs into public places and we shouldn’t have an exception. NFB takes their anti-dog policy so far as to allow skilled guide dog handlers to skip training with their silly long canes, an educational requirement based in dogma and without an iota of peer reviewed publications demonstrating its efficacy compared to other modalities of travel. NFB opposes traffic lights that play sounds as they think that such implies that blind people might need special technology, a reality for virtually all blind people employed in any sort of professional position. NFB opposes described video service (DVS) because it implies, once again, that an visual medium might not be accessible to people who have no neurons working to gather and interpret visual information, the reality of the situation. At the same time, NFB will sue web developers for not being accessible, asking for “special” treatment for our population which, given their opposition to DVS legislation, is a profound contradiction in their philosophy and strategy. NFB is so inconsistent in its advocacy that, more than a decade ago, they were the primary lobbyists supporting legislation to make US currency accessible; a decade later, they tried to vigorously oppose it giving no reason other than ACB supports it.
In my opinion, NFB works against the interests of people with vision impairment in all of the above. (Note, this is a statement of my opinion and, if you provide me some actual facts or peer reviewed philosophy on why I am holding an incorrect opinion, I’ll review what you have to say and alter my view publicly). To me, the NFB philosophy (again, opinion) seems to say, “life is hard for blind people, suck it up and deal with it,” and I think, given that they were founded in the 1940s and haven’t changed their overall positions since that period in history (they’ve only ever had two presidents in more than fifty years so diversity of opinion is relatively impossible in such an anti-democratic organization). I may remind my readers that, in the forties and for decades after, parts of the United States still had legal discrimination but, rather than taking the insist on absolutely no discrimination against our population the way Martin, Thurgood, Rosa, Malcolm and so many other great people did for racial minorities, NFB says “suck it up, you don’t deserve the same equity deserved by other disenfranchised populations. In the forties, Thurgood Marshall was planning his legal assault on racism but NFB didn’t seem to have that level of imagination. At that time, the military hadn’t yet been integrated, Jackie Robinson hadn’t yet hit the bigs so, maybe, the concept of full rights for our population was unimaginable to the then NFB leadership. Sadly, as they’ve only had two presidents in more than a half century, diversity of opinion doesn’t seem possible inside their organization.” Again, if I’m wrong here, post a correction and I’ll take it under advisement.
I’ll close with a quote from my British friend Alastair Somerville, “Justice is blind but she isn’t stupid.”
I would like to apologize to my Twitter buddy Christopher Toth (@mongoose_q) for disingenuously quoting him out of context. In the original version of this story, I said that someone had even told me that I should turn in my skeptics badge. While he did say this, he did so to address a very specific thing I had said on Twitter and was not referring to my broader skepticism. Christopher is an interesting young man. He was the individual who led the charge in the lawsuit to force Florida State University to become accessible to its students. This case is the only in which NFB included an actual requirement to become accessible in the consent decree. So, in my mind, this was the only successful NFB lawsuit in their years of shaking down web developers for cash and usually, not accessibility. Toth (I wonder if he’s related to Laslow) is one of the rare NFB supporters willing to challenge the organization on some of its peculiar strategies and is a supporter of greater diversity of opinion within NFB. Christopher is one of the good guys in the struggle for accessibility and I’m sorry I used his words inaccurately.
When I wrote this article, I was not doing so to attack any individuals. I did what many authors do, a technique taught in non-fiction writing classes at Harvard and elsewhere, I turned a number of individuals into archetypes, even rolling three people into one in a paragraph, and used the discussion on Saturday as a platform to launch an article into far broader ideas in philosophy, science and law. I’m sorry that these guys did not understand what I was trying to do but no author is pedantic enough to write that he had done such in an actual article as that is boring crap to read. It is the practice accepted for non-fiction at the New Yorker and other top publications.
These guys may have noticed that I mentioned no one by name, included no Twitter handles or any other information that could have identified them as the people, now archetypes, in the article. I wasn’t trying to argue with them but, rather, talk about a broad view of US law, disability theory, discrimination and an overall broader set of ideas. I’m sorry this wasn’t obvious but I understand that when an individual thinks he is the target of something, he will only see the details about himself and will probably ignore the rest. This is true for me and pretty much everyone else as well. Humans aren’t rational beasts, that’s why we need tools like the scientific method to help us engage in the unnatural act of being rational.
Because my first article describing the events I encountered in Vegas contained few if any sources and because I did not describe the ways in which I did try to get help for myself and because my detractors say that, because I didn’t include the details in the original post but only mentioned such post hoc, I will plead nolo contender, the legal term for saying “no contest.” I’ll concede that I didn’t do enough to get help for myself and that I could have done much more. I did have my phone with me but, because I was frustrated, frazzled, cranky and tired, the obvious act of calling someone never even occurred to me. It was a shitty situation that I could have handled better. Nonetheless, this in no way excuses the lack of application and enforcement of Nevada law.
I made a few other minor mistakes. I stated that NFB was founded in the fifties when, in fact, it was the forties and have corrected it in the main article already. I referred to one person as being from the UK when, in actuality, he is in Australia but my point holds, he is from outside the US and knows absolutely nothing about our constitution or laws.
I seem also to have misdescribed the NFB policy on guide dogs and have tried to correct my misstatement in the main body of the article. I’ve also posted to replies to an NFB person’s comments further clarifying the statements. What is true is that at NFB training centers, clients are not permitted to use a dog in the mobility training, a supremely stupid idea based on some ancient model of training based entirely in dogma, with no published research on its efficacy compared to other travel modalities or any other evidence that, in fact, it is actually useful. I tried for a few hours by googling everything I could think of to find a clear statement of policy, philosophy or any other official statement by NFB on the matter and found nothing but NFB isn’t big on documentation, research or science I guess.