Ableism in Atheism

Christina here…

Photo of a silhouetted man standing, holding a complicated walking orthosis up to a person in a wheelchair.

img from: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/Munkittrick20120127

Ableism is a form of discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities. It occurs when people/society gives preferential treatment to people who appear able-bodied.

Ableism takes many forms, from when people render environments inaccessible to people with disabilities (think of the people who said, “why would I need to build a ramp to my business, no people in wheelchairs have ever come here! when the ADA was enacted), to the use of terms such as “autistic”, “retarded” or “cripple” in language as an insult. Or, ableism can occur people treat anyone falling outside of the neurotypical-able bodied spectrum as someone who a priori needs fixing. It also happens when people harbor the attitude that people with disabilities can’t function as full members of society.

My friend The Nerd recently wrote about ableism on hir blog. Ze pointed out some ableist language said by atheists to other atheists:

“You are so literal as to be autistic. Are you really that stupid?”

Ze writes:

If we really want atheism without barriers, we have to cut out the ableist language, now. This includes ending the crazy-bashing of Christians, because if an atheist with a mental disorder walks into a room where people are casually tossing around the words “crazy”, “retarded”, “idiotic”, etc, ze’s going to feel under attack.

I’ll be honest: I am unsure if I share The Nerd’s sentiment about the use of the word “crazy”. JT and I have both referred to ourselves as crazy, loons, and mentally ill (We’re both diagnosed, yo), but JT has also referred to certain religious behaviors as “crazy”. Was he being ableist? I’m not entirely sure, so I’d like to hear some discussion about that.

I usually don’t call people crazy or insane because doing so marginalizes people with mental illnesses, is unpersuasive (really, the last time someone called an atheist crazy, did you go, “oh crap, you’re right!” or did you go, “wow, this person is a jerk.”? I don’t think anyone has ever persuaded someone due to calling their opposition crazy.)

We’ve seen ableism on this blog: for example, a few commenters have claimed that no one should listen to JT because of his mental illness:

Bertram Cabot: JT is an atheist with admitted mental problems. I sympathize, but why do we have to have such a self absorbed nutcase as a spokesman for atheists?  At least get rid of that horrible picture, JT. It brings out the insanity in your eyes too much.

.

 

 

Sean says: JT, your post is an excellent straw man.  And I found out you REALLY ARE mentally ill; incredible that atheists listen to you.

.

 

 

I’m an occupational therapist, so in my clinical practice, every one of my clients has at least one disabling condition. My biomechanics research also looks at the same population, and I have lots of friends with disabilities as well. About 1 in 5 people have a disability. The vast majority of those disabilities are the type found between the ears. Even if you don’t have a disability yourself – you might one day, and you surely know someone who does.

We’ve already advocated for taking up the cause of ending stigma against mental illness in the skeptic/atheist community, and I think we need to end ableism in the skeptic/atheist community in general. You can help:

Andy is looking to gather a little more information about ableism in atheism, so be a doll and go take this survey about ableism in atheism, will you? It’s not long, so will only take a few minutes of your time:

Ableism in Atheism Survey

Ableism exists in part due to the notion that people with disabilities need to be fixed or molded into the environment, rather than the idea that the environment should be fixed or molded to include people with a wide range of differences.

As far as physical disabilities go, I’ve noticed that most large atheist events/gatherings are accessible, though smaller events might not. Some of our local events in St. Louis have been in basements, down flights of stairs. I’ve never seen a sign language interpreter at a large atheist event (hey Reason Rally… will you have one? You should, if it’s going to be the Woodstock of atheism.). Do bloggers format blog posts and websites so they are readable by screen readers? How about your pictures? Do you include alt-text or caption such that people with visual disabilities using screen readers have a description of your picture?

While we tend to be pretty inclusive on matters of neurodiversity, I think we can do more.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

About christinastephens
  • http://reasonrally.org Blenster

    I’ve checked and the Reason Rally will have sign-language interpreters. :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Verification please?

      • http://reasonrally.org Blenster

        I’m the webmaster and I e-mailed David Silverman about it personally before confirming it. Not sure you’re gonna get any better verification until we get a page posted about it (I’ve suggested we do so but I’ll have to wait until I get more info). JT can vouch for me; he knows me… :-)

      • http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag Jen

        I can verify as well. I’m on the board for the RR.

        • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

          Yay!

  • Brownian

    What? I’m actually taken aback at those comments about JT.

    Everyone knows that those of us with mental illness have more accurate perceptions of reality than those without, or at least they would if everything wasn’t crap.

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    Oh, and Harvard Humanist had me write a bit more on the topic: http://harvardhumanist.org/2012/02/17/creating-a-more-inclusive-humanism-in-an-ableist-world/ I think it explains my position on the word “crazy” a bit better.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      Hey, it ate my “thank you” comment! So…
      Thanks for sharing this survey. :)

    • http://templeofthefuture.net James Croft

      Thanks for providing that link – I was wondering where it was in the article, because it’s a great piece!

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      Here’s the project results!
      Transcript: http://wp.me/p1JYR4-3C
      Vid: http://youtu.be/CJG5ACIjBrU

  • otrame

    Yeah, I am mentally ill (depression–under control due to medication), and yet, even I know better than to use ad hominem attacks like the ones in the OP. If they are so “able” why don’t they know better? (See, folks, those really are ad hominem attacks.)

  • otrame

    And while we are on the subject, can we agree to lose the “tard” suffix on insults?

    • Beth

      Similarly, end the less-common accusation that some who disagrees (usually a troll) must have brain damage–with the implication that the damage is why they’d think as they do and also why they should be ignored.

      The actual or supposed existence of any disability should never be used as a reason to dismiss a person’s arguments rather than engaging with it. Ad hominem on grounds of disability is unacceptable.

      Also, let us step off the euphemism treadmill. I want the idea of people with disabilities to become acceptable to the culture at large. Part of that is various disabilities not being used as insults. Compare shouts of “gay!” (once common?) on the playground. When it’s no longer common for disabilities to be renamed because the former name is an insult, that will be a victory. The atheist community can help by avoiding expressions of disability-as-insult and by calling it out as inappropriate and unacceptable when it occurs in their circles or on their ground.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

        As a cripple myself, I LOATHE the euphemistic language (that a bunch of ABLE-BODIED PEOPLE CAME UP WITH) to describe myself and others.

        “Special Needs”. Fuck that, EVERYONE has NEEDS, and EVERYONE thinks their specific needs are SPECIAL. It’s too vague, and all hippy-dippy “let’s coddle the cripples”. Offensive as fuck, man.

        Call me disabled. Call me handicapped. Call me crippled. Call me a gimp. I don’t care. I am not “physically challenged”, and my needs really aren’t any more “special” than anyone else’s.

        (And I really don’t appreciate able-bodied jackholes telling me what I “should” be called, or that I “should” be offended by this, that, or the other term. Or that I should “sit down[?!], shut up, and let the able-bodied people speak.”)

        • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          I like this comment, even though I don’t use many of those terms because they are slurs.

          IMHO the anti-ableism movement jumped the shark a few years ago when it started complaining about slurs on intelligence. Yes, both genetics and nurture affect people’s eventual adult intelligence. No, that doesn’t mean we can’t call a particularly obtuse commenter a “fucking moron” or a “stupid git.” Idiot, imbecile, and moron have passed out of the realm of medical usage, unlike, say, retard.

  • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

    I think that calling people “crazy” is fine. It’s asserting someone is “mentally ill,” “schizoid” or something similar that I find problematic – unless of course it isn’t being used to denigrate and is actually true. “Crazy” doesn’t have any sort of clinical meaning and doesn’t have a singular colloquial meaning. Any given individual might use it in reference to any number of things – some positive, some negative, most of them likely benign.

    Where I think ableist language gets complicated is when we run into people who likely really are mentally ill and their mental illness causes serious problems in how they interact with others. An obvious and extreme example would be the epic troll David Mabus. He has very serious problems and was a very real potential threat to atheists and skeptics. I haven’t seen very many examples quite so overt as Mabus, but occasionally run across people who say very ugly and/or very foolish things that are likely driven by mental illness. It’s hard for me to judge how best to deal with such people on occasion, because I don’t want to use their apparent neurological problems as a rhetorical weapon.

    It is also complicated by my own occasional inability to prevent my neurological issues from coloring what I have to say. As a rule I try to avoid arguing when I am not so well. The problem is that sometimes the very fact that I am especially out of sorts pushes me to get into arguments.

    “You are so literal as to be autistic. Are you really that stupid?”

    I just can’t help but laugh at the ironic stupidity of that statement. One of my mental issues is rather extreme attention deficit, which among other things has caused me to have a strong affinity for people with autism and aspies. “Stupid” is the last label I would ever consider applying to anyone I have ever met who is on the spectrum and their tendency for literalism is something I value a great deal.

    …incredible that atheists listen to you.

    Brilliant! I’m really curious how people who believe this would react if they actually knew how many people they respect, admire and depend on for all sorts of important information are mentally ill.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      “occasionally run across people who say very ugly and/or very foolish things that are likely driven by mental illness.”

      The first thought I have is that “likely” is not the same as “actually”. It can cause problems to armchair diagnose someone, especially for the purposes of discrediting them (not saying you’re doing it, only that I see this happen).

      Second, what DM did would be wrong and dangerous if a completely sane person did it. And plenty of crazy people don’t do that.

      Third, I do agree if he does in fact have a mental illness the wrong thing to do would be to ignore that, because that knowledge can help us decide which tools to use. That’s why separating ad-hominem “crazy” from actual “crazy” matters. If for example DM knows he’s crazy and has some personal goals he’s trying to reach, then that knowledge can help him chose which actions would work better for him than what would work for me.

      • http://langcultcog.com/traumatized DuWayne

        The first thought I have is that “likely” is not the same as “actually”. It can cause problems to armchair diagnose someone, especially for the purposes of discrediting them (not saying you’re doing it, only that I see this happen).

        This is exactly what I have a problem with actually. In a couple of cases I have struggled with the conflict between genuinely wanting those individuals to seek professional help and not wanting it to be perceived as or used as a tool for discrediting them. I once suggested publicly that someone seek professional help and felt like shit about it after – not because I didn’t genuinely want them to, but because of the perception of why I had done so. Since then I have had occasion to bring that up with a couple of people, but was able to contact them privately – in both cases my suggestion was greeted with appreciation for it’s privacy.

        Second, what DM did would be wrong and dangerous if a completely sane person did it. And plenty of crazy people don’t do that.

        I am very aware of that and honestly doubt he posed a real threat for violence.

        Third, I do agree if he does in fact have a mental illness the wrong thing to do would be to ignore that, because that knowledge can help us decide which tools to use.

        And that is exactly what I struggle with. Because beyond using ableist language or attacking someone based on the assumption they are mentally ill, I think it is unhealthy to “feed the troll,” when the troll is probably mentally ill. Doing so is certainly not going to help that person and may hurt them to some degree. Being mentally ill and having struggled a great deal with certain sorts of discussions, I am acutely aware of the possible negative consequences. For example, I became physically ill when I became obsessed with the genocide in Darfur, back in April 2003. Mind, that didn’t involve anyone perpetuating my obsession – but it is something that has made me aware of the problems that can arise from encouraging others in their own obsessions.

        That’s why separating ad-hominem “crazy” from actual “crazy” matters.

        Believe me, I don’t disregard this. I am active in mental health advocacy and fighting the stigmas about mental illness in my local community. I have problems with bipolar II, severe attention deficit and the accompanying serious problems with substance abuse (quite manageable since I started on appropriate psych meds three years ago). My children both have mental health issues as well, exacerbated/fostered by their mother having left almost a year and a half ago. My partner has issues with mental illness as well. And ultimately, I get absolutely infuriated by the notion of people being ashamed of their own brains. I take ableism and stigma very seriously because it hurt me, it hurts my family and hurts a hell of a lot of wonderful people I care about.

        What I have issue with is the reality of trying to change the way people use language. In many cases it isn’t hard to convince moderately thoughtful people that using terms that have clinically relevant definitions to rethink using those terms. In the case of terms that are more ambiguous – such as “crazy,” I find it is easier to convince people to think about how they use those terms.

        The other side of that, is that I have actively engaged with my children about terms such as “crazy” and “nutty.” My ten year old has already been forced to deal with people attacking him, using that sort of language in a derogatory sense. He loves to understand terms like “crazy” as something that is not only not “bad” but as something positive. Because regardless of the intent of someone accusing him of being crazy or nutty, he now identifies those terms as describing something special about him that just happens to make his life somewhat difficult at times.

        I guess what I recognize above all, is that the language we use is complicated and often problematic. Ultimately I am more inclined to encourage people to think about how and why they use the language they do, than I am to simply try to convince them not to use certain words at all. Some people are going to be offended and balk at any such consideration, there is no getting around it. But I have found people tend to balk a lot less at being encouraged to think about it and consider the experiences of others, than they do at being told it is wrong to use certain words in certain contexts.
        (I apologize for rambling and possibly not making the best sense. I am taking care of parental responsibilities, non-parenting domestic responsibilities and work related obligations while trying to write this comment.)

        • A. B.

          DuWayne: thank you for your comments. I agree wholeheartedly.

          I have also worried sometimes about the heckling of the obsessively religious (the kind who come to my campus with giant signs and preach all day), because I suspect that they may actually be mentally ill/delusional, and if they are, then harassing them is really inappropriate.

  • Stella

    Blind.

    Stella

    • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      So “duck blind” will become an offensive phrase. So will “venetian blinds.”

      Also, I’ll have to watch out for cars on the highway if they’re in my visually compromised spot.

      …nah.

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        There is a difference between using words and using words as slurs. Here’s a flow-list for you:
        1. Is this word part of some marginalized person’s identity?
        2. Is this word being used as an insult?
        3. Select a word that does not fulfill both #1 and #2 simultaneously.

        • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          Having seen certain people go on diatribes against, for example, the astronomical term white dwarf because they deemed it “marginalizing of little people,” I am not altogether confident that certain social justice warriors will not lose their shit over the terms I used in my previous comment.

          As I said to WMDKitty, I don’t use terms like gimp or retard. I may use crazy, but I have psych issues myself. On the other hand, I am not going to abandon all bodily metaphors that could be deemed “problematic,” such as the blind leading the blind or stand up and be counted. IMO, much criticism of these usages betrays a misunderstanding of how people use language.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    I’m all for inclusiveness, but as with most of these identity issues, I think the attempts to police language use are often misguided. Languages evolve, and words aren’t static. “Crazy” may have once been used solely to refer to people with mental disabilities, but now most people who use that word are simply referring to someone who is wrong, with no judgment about mental disabilities. The way to police ableism is not to rely on an often wrong heuristic to identify people with ableist views through specific language use—plenty of people use colorful language but otherwise support progressive causes in their actions and beliefs—but to go after those people who use those words in specifically ableist contexts. The two comments posted about JT are good examples of ableist nonsense—they don’t have to even use words like “crazy” or “nutcase” to clearly be ableist—but it isn’t clear that someone who uses certain words like “crazy” is always ableist. At best, you can say they use ableist language, but why does that even matter, if they’re not using it for ableist purposes? The idea that words influence culture is true to a very weak extent (psychological studies can show slight biases turning up based on language use), but to a much greater degree culture influences words. Words like “crazy” and “retarded” are losing their connotations about mental disability specifically because the culture is becoming more open and accepting to mental disabilities (though we have a LONG way to go). The same is true of a word like “gay,” which is commonly used by young people in a way totally divorced from any reference to homosexuality, and yet this demographic is also the most openly pro-gay rights. It’s silly to police language without looking at the person’s intentions behind that language use for just the same reason it’s silly to get angry at someone who doesn’t know English being taught to say the N-word as a greeting—because his intentions are otherwise good, and that should trump any false sense of linguistic aboslutism.

    • Rory

      What I see as a problem with your argument is that whatever the intent of someone using ableist language, you can’t know that the person hearing it is okay with it. Sure, plenty of kids use the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’ without being homophobic, but how do you imagine the homosexual kid in that class feels about it? For myself, as a person who’s relatively physically and mentally capable, I certainly wouldn’t feel I had any right to tell someone with mental illness that they shouldn’t object to the use of ‘crazy’ as an insult.

      Now, of course, there are limits, right? If somebody is hell-bent on being offended, even the most innocuous statement might provoke them, and I can’t control that. What I can do is choose not to use language that’s likely to be alienating or hurtful, and I can choose to apologize and make amends if I do so unwittingly.

      • ayla

        The difference here is that “crazy” is not a generally accepted descriptive term, the way “gay” is. “Gay” has a discrete meaning– homosexual– that gets improperly used in a pejorative sense. “Crazy” is much more broad. Is it ableist to say “That construction work outside is driving me crazy”? What about the Gnarls Barkley song “Crazy”? The Patsy Cline song?

        And, as others have pointed out, unlike “retarded” and “autistic,” “crazy” is not a medical term, not is it diagnostically useful.

        Of course, it is hurtful when someone with a mental illness is called “crazy,” but that’s because “crazy” means something different. It’s like calling someone with dyslexia stupid: their difficulty reading is not an indication of stupidity, which is why it’s hurtful. But “stupid” is not itself an ableist term.

        This is also why it’s sometimes ok for us crazy people to co-opt the term to humorously describe ourselves. (I’m diagnosed too, baby! And in counselling and on SSRIs! Crazies represent!) It’s a way of owning the insults and the misuse.

      • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

        But you CAN know how someone else will feel about it. I myself use language that people could consider offensive, but I won’t use that sort of language around people who I know will be offended, or who tell me they are hurt by it. The fact that I think it is misguided for people to go after what they perceive as problematic language doesn’t change the fact that many people are nevertheless offended by language and that it is basic social decency to not use that language around such people if you value their friendship. However, someone who persists in using such language around people who are offended isn’t necessarily racist/sexist/ableist/etc.—in all likelihood he’s probably just an asshole or doesn’t care how he is perceived.

        The fact is, people have varying degrees of tolerance for what is perceived as offensive. The solution is not, on the one hand, to go about saying inflammatory things to people that you know find the word offensive, out of principle. Nor is the solution to tell people that they should never use a particular word or phrase and that it is wrong in all contexts (which is a crap argument on linguistic grounds). The obvious compromise is that people can say whatever they want in conversations, and if it’s a private conversation and the other person is offended, you should modify your word choice if you don’t want to be perceived as an asshole. If it’s a public conversation, you can modify your word choice, or the person who is offended can simply not listen and find some other source that doesn’t use that language. And if someone says something that is clearly ableist—and more than just word choice has to indicate this—then by all means, decry that nonsense. Someone who says, “You shouldn’t care about people with mental disabilities” is more problematic than someone who says, “You accidentally ate a piece of wood? That’s crazy!” I think we can all at least agree on that.

        For the most part, though, I find this sort of splintering and divisiveness created purely over language use to be totally nonproductive. I wouldn’t care one iota if people went around saying, “That’s so atheist!” to refer to things as negative if the word “atheist” had morphed into a new meaning. I don’t care what sort of linguistic sensibilities someone has—I only care how they vote and how they treat cultural minorities. I think we ignore people’s intentions at great peril. That’s why Juan Williams was fired for NPR for saying he’s afraid of people “in Muslim garb” in a context of DEFENDING Muslims from proponents of racial profiling. That’s why people have been reprimanded for using a word like “niggardly,” which shares no linguistic relationship to the N-word other than a similarity in spelling. This sort of approach misses the forest for the trees and often mistakes toothpicks for trees.

  • http://timetolisten.blogspot.com Kassiane

    I love you so much right now (in a non creepy way, I hope). This post is gorgeous.

    I wrote about this very issue on my (mostly autism) blog & the ableist asshats just dogpiled. It’s good to see the very real issue discussed-discussed well-somewhere with relevant readership.

    (I dunno, it’s like since sexism is being called out more it’s being replaced with more obvious ableism. Or maybe I’m a cynic).

    • http://timetolisten.blogspot.com Kassiane

      On rereading, though, I think you may be underestimating how hostile some atheists are to the neurodivergent.

      (autistic/epileptic/gave up on local atheists)

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        “I wrote about this very issue on my (mostly autism) blog & the ableist asshats just dogpiled.”
        Oh yeah, that was rather horrifying to watch.
        http://timetolisten.blogspot.com/2012/02/skepticisms-ableism-problem.html
        “gave up on local atheists”
        I’ve heard this from a lot of people, and it’s making me ask a lot of questions. Some of them I put in my survey, others I just mull over to myself because the’re so difficult to put into words, like what steps will it take for groups to show that they’re not just pretty talk but actually serious about making amends and reaching out to people they’ve previously cut off.

        • http://timetolisten.blogspot.com Kassiane

          Well, I live in the hipster ableism & unneccesary strobe capital of the world. Seriously. We have a holiday tree in the center of the city every winter that is COVERED IN STROBE LIGHTS. And, conveniently, no one wants to own it.

          I ended up marking the majority of the comments on that blog post as spam. If I’m getting a stomach ache just checking posts, that’s a Big Problem.

  • Pteryxx

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU Christina – not just for raising awareness, but for actually giving proper content-filled captions to your reference images! I mostly browse image-free, which in my case is from bandwidth more than disability, but it really makes evident how inaccessible image-based information, such as comment screenshots, are to anyone using a text-based browser or text-to-speech reader. Thank you thank you thank you!

  • eric

    JT and I have both referred to ourselves as crazy, loons, and mentally ill (We’re both diagnosed, yo), but JT has also referred to certain religious behaviors as “crazy”. Was he being ableist? I’m not entirely sure, so I’d like to hear some discussion about that.

    I don’t think so. I think its the case of us using one word (“crazy”) for two different phenomena: (1) your biological brain isn’t working the way we expect, and (2) your underlying beliefs on this subject are so alien that, given the exact same background knowledge I have, you still don’t reach the same conclusions I do.

    I think there are many, many cases where we recognize that 1 and 2 are different, and that 2 does not imply 1. Environmentalists calling oil execs crazy. Same with PETA vs. animal subject researchers. Or think Saudi attitudes towards women vs. typical American ones. All of these are situations where one person is likely to call another crazy, but there is absolutely no implication that there is something biologically abnormal about the person’s neurology.

    I think, ironically, that if we did equate the two meanings of the words, we’d be much more empathetic with our political or religious opponents. The fact that we can be so emotionally angry and upset at someone’s conservative/liberal/theist/atheist beliefs is, to my mind, an indication that we tacitly or subconsciously recognize they are not biologically crazy. Nobody gets that angry at a belief held by someone they think has a brain problem.

    • leftwingfox

      I think its the case of us using one word (“crazy”) for two different phenomena:

      I see two problems here.

      The first is that the term “Crazy” as a pejorative from those who are neurotypical but have severe anti-social behaviours through education or belief wouldn’t have the power it does if we didn’t look down on people with mental illness.

      The second problem is that I don’t think we even have the language to distinguish between mental illness and culturally induced behaviours which are anti-social or disconnected from reality.

      Theoretically, one way to separate this is by sing the old colloquial phrases to describe the cultural elements, while the modern psychological descriptions are used to typify biologically aneurotypical behaviour. It’s still not a good solution though, especially when you get to words like “delusional”, and the implications that has on the treatment of those with “delusional parasitosis”, where those sffering from it run from the phrase like a plague.

      You could try and change the language, but you run into the same problem with any other “politically correct” phrasing, where one generation’s descriptive phrasing becomes the next generation’s insult. Ultimately, a word like “retard” or “negro” would not have become a slur had the underlaying hatred of those groups of people not encouraged the use of those phrases as insults in the wider culture.

      • eric

        The first is that the term “Crazy” as a pejorative from those who are neurotypical but have severe anti-social behaviours through education or belief wouldn’t have the power it does if we didn’t look down on people with mental illness.

        In 1813 when the term crazy was coined, yes. But now I think there’s multiple (or a broader) use for it. Again, think about how we use this in modern language to denote trivial social differences. Those crazy yanks put peanut butter and jam on the same sandwich! People who ride roller coasters are crazy! You dissect mice for research? Crazy!

        This is not to say its not used pejoratively. Of course it is…sometimes. But its also used to denote a practice or belief we just find odd or baffling.

        The second problem is that I don’t think we even have the language to distinguish between mental illness and culturally induced behaviours which are anti-social or disconnected from reality.

        Well, first, I think you can lose the “which are…” part of that sentence. Part of my point is that we don’t use the term just to refer to anti-social or disconnected beliefs. Pretty much any cultural behavior or practice we disagree with can get the label, including things like aesthetic tastes which clearly have nothing whatsoever to do with mental capacity or function.

        Second, if the social difference doesn’t have its own term, you can hardly assume folks who use the combined term are prejudiced. That’s like saying the French are prejudiced against puppies because they don’t have a separate word for them, they say “small dog.”

        Christina’s primary question was, “Is X being ableist [in using the word crazy]?” I think both the broadness of the term’s use and the lack of any better term point to the answer “not necessarily.”

        • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

          In 1813 when the term crazy was coined, yes. But now I think there’s multiple (or a broader) use for it.

          It literally means “cracked.” The term crazing is still used to refer to ceramics with very fine networks of cracks in them; such pieces are said to be “crazed.”

    • Beth

      The fact that we can be so emotionally angry and upset at someone’s conservative/liberal/theist/atheist beliefs is, to my mind, an indication that we tacitly or subconsciously recognize they are not biologically crazy. Nobody gets that angry at a belief held by someone they think has a brain problem.

      You’d think so, wouldn’t you? I have significant “brain problems”. There have been many times when people who knew about those problems, even in great detail, would get very angry at me because I wasn’t as they somehow thought I should be. I can’t name someone I know so well that has never done that. They were wrong to do so, to expect of me what I couldn’t do, what I couldn’t understand… but they still did. It’s not terribly common, but it’s common enough not to be astounding.

      If people who knew me and my problems did this, people that don’t know me would even more. Especially online where my issues are more easily hidden if I wish. Do you presume whatever relative stranger doesn’t have “a brain problem” and treat them differently than you would if you presumed they (might) have one? If so, why go about it that way, particularly if the approach would be confrontational and insulting? There is, after all, a significant chance the person does have significant “brain problems”.

      BTW, as a rule, I call opinions, beliefs, and actions “stupid” or “crazy”, not people. I don’t know if it makes much of a difference; it might. I know there’s issues of language. I often use a wheelchair but I may still “take a walk” with a friend. I just want disability insults to end. Let’s get off this euphemism treadmill.

      • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

        “There have been many times when people who knew about those problems, even in great detail, would get very angry at me because I wasn’t as they somehow thought I should be.”
        In my case, I have ADHD, so I tend to interrupt people (mostly my partner) a lot for the simple reason that I literally can’t remember not to. I have a hard time knowing how to deal with it, because it’s not like I can expect someone to be okay with being interrupted but it’s not like they can expect me to just not do it, as if I haven’t tried.

      • Beth

        The Nerd, yeah. Among other things, I have trouble understanding and trouble making decisions. I understand this can be frustrating for others–it is for me, too. I don’t like it when people presume malicious intent, responding as if I really do understand and really can decide but choose to pretend otherwise for my own nefarious purposes. I find those presumptions about as troublesome as the difficulties inherent in being me.

  • Robert B.

    More than one person has pointed out that the word “crazy” has multiple meanings. And there are some of these meanings which I don’t find problematic at all. “It drives me crazy,” or “I’m not crazy about this idea” or “The weather is pretty crazy today” are, IMO, fine. When “crazy” means “annoyed” or “excited” or “extreme” I have no issue.

    I think, though, that “crazy” can be used in an ableist way in situations less obvious than the quotes in the OP. I’m uncomfortable with the word “crazy” whenever it’s used as a criticism of a person or an idea. That word does mean a lot of things, but one of the things it means is “mentally ill.” It just can’t be a good idea to use a slang term for a disadvantaged group as an insult. This is true even (or maybe especially) if the target deserves to be insulted.

    Also – and I actually think this is more important – it’s bad rationalism. To describe a mistake as “crazy” isn’t just to say that it’s wrong. It’s saying the mistake is wrong in a way that a “normal” brain wouldn’t duplicate. But the cognitive biases that lead to (for example) religion aren’t unique to religious people. Just because we (as atheists) have avoided those mistakes in one case doesn’t mean we always will, or that we haven’t already made those exact mistakes on other subjects. It’s a bad idea to “other” any error of reason, it makes one overconfident.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    I once had a friend who took to calling me “Legs” (I’m in a wheelchair).

    I was highly amused.

    Able-bodied bystanders? Notsomuch.

    • Cynthia

      Love that! That’s a friendship worth keeping.

  • Cynthia

    Did the survey; hope it helps. But it’s such a hard road ahead. People just don’t like different; it’s scary. And so they fall back on stupidity instead of conversation and understanding.

    About all I can do is keep talking, keep trying, keep moving ahead. I hope all of us in this movement make enough of a difference that our children grow into a better world.

    But it’s tough to feel optimistic about that in an election year!

  • Irreverend Bastard

    I can understand how “retarded” can be a problematic word, but “crazy” and “insane”? That’s … erm … silly.

    Are there any good words that adequately insults the irrational delusions of religious people without needlessly offending other groups of people?

    When political correctness interferes with my ability to insult religion and the silly beliefs of religious people, then it has gone too far.

    • Robert B.

      Wait, what? It’s wrong to insult people by comparing them to some mentally disabled people, but it’s just fine to insult people by comparing them to other mentally disabled people? How is that remotely coherent?

      And apparently, you need to be able to deliver a really good insult more than I need to be free from public discrimination. Apparently you get to decide whether my offense is needful based on nothing more than your lack of creativity with the language. Your position is callous, arrogant, and thoughtless. Keep in mind that to present a good argument, you need to at least attempt logic.

      And if you’re feeling insulted right now, then you are refuted. Have a nice day.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/frankie_felony Frankie F

    I think part of what makes dealing with ableism and making the world a better place for those of us who aren’t able-bodied or -minded definitely has to do with long-standing perceptions of what ‘normal’ is and what it means. And that the separation of ‘normal’ and ‘not normal’ has a tendency to turn those of us who are, for instance, mentally ill, into the ‘other’.

    I don’t know the best way to even get into those particulars, but I definitely think that’s something worth looking into and gathering more information. I can’t even offer up any suggestions at the moment; I had a rough day and I’m doing pretty well to even be able to string this comment together. I’ll have to look into this more when I’m in a better mind-set for it, though.

    As for the word ‘crazy’, in particular, I vacillate. I feel like I care less when it’s a fellow crazy person using it, and more when it’s a non-crazy (*to my knowledge) person using it. If that makes sense. (It’s the same way that I’m okay with my fellow queer people using the word queer but I’m not okay with straight/cis people using it.) But I am hesitant to just… give a pass to a fellow crazy person. I think it mostly boils down to the user’s intent, for me.

    I’m not sure how much sense I’ve made at all, but hopefully I’ve gotten the gist of my thoughts across.
    Also, interpreters at more events would be amazing. It would help me become active outside of the internets.

    (obsessive-compulsive disorder + maladaptive perfectionism, moderately severe hearing loss; took the survey, hope we can make things better)

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    “I don’t know the best way to even get into those particulars, but I definitely think that’s something worth looking into and gathering more information.”

    Agreed. It’s almost overwhelming. But a blog post here, a personal testimonial there, a study for good measure… step by step we chip away at what ought to be discarded and build upon what is better for all of us.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      @ Frankie F

  • SJ

    Screen reader user here.

    Missing alt tags is a major hassle on a lot of websites. Most of the FTB bloggers aren’t too bad, but there are certainly less-than-perfect moments. If I may, I’d like to nudge you over to your latest twitter conversation post. If you can add some alt text there, that’s definitely a post that needs it.

    Thanks for being someone who cares about this sort of things. Reading this post has given me the confidence that I can raise such thigns with you and not be ignored or receive an indifferent response. For this I thank you.

    Other users who care about these sort of thing, even if you’re not the blog author, you can help people like myself by requesting image descriptions and/or alt tags for images. More voices will help shift this in the right direction.

    Thanks again.

  • Eris

    The sound card on my computer has gone all wonky. This has lead me to a much greater understanding of the trouble deaf people face on the internet. Before this, I hadn’t really thought about it; after all, isn’t the internet mostly made up of text?

    But with my sound card out, I became aware of how often people link to videos, offering up little more than, “Watch this great video on X subject!”

    I remember the first time I encountered a video I really wanted to watch with my sound card out. It was on Youtube. I thought to myself, “Ah ha! I’ll just turn on the captions. Accessibility is the bomb! Woot woot!” After a few minutes of watching, it became clear that whatever program was trying to convert the speech to text was incredibly bad. Nothing that the captions said made any sense at all. When I later went to a computer that had sound, I sat down, turned the closed captions on, watched, and was amazed how much the words I was reading sounded nothing like the words I was hearing.

    Well played, sound card, well played.

    • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

      I haven’t had sound on my computer at work for 3 years. It’s been a real, um, “eye-opener”.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

        I actually prefer text to video, not because I’m hearing impaired (I’m not), but because it makes it easier to assimilate the information. It bugs me when there’s a news video without an accompanying story.

        Youtube’s “captions” are a joke.

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