Allergy Intolerance: A Lesson in Being Wrong as a Humanist

Allergy Intolerance: A Lesson in Being Wrong as a Humanist November 17, 2019

Tom Hermans,, CC0 Licensing

Let’s begin with a story. When I was a child, Canadian culture was a touch different. There was a freezer in my public-elementary, for instance, where school-event freezies (what some of you call otter pops) were stored alongside sandwiches made up for any kids who were hungry. A child who’d forgotten their lunch. A child who’d had no lunch to forget.

The sandwiches were peanut butter–a cheap, efficient protein source. Tasty! Durable!

And most critically of all: Not yet a problem-food. The allergy epidemic hadn’t yet swept over our culture, invoking bans and whole industries of peanut-free lunch products for children. But when it swept the country, and when other major allergies quickly followed suit, I remember being struck by how quickly severe allergies were naturalized. No one seemed to be asking, why are all these children suddenly dealing with extreme life-or-death food sensitivities?

We just accepted that they were.

And, okay, fair enough. Triage, right? First we’ll protect children from, you know, dying… and then we’ll figure out what’s going on and try to nip the problem at its source.



Instead, today allergies play a critical role in the food economy. There are whole industries dedicated to diversifying food types available to people with severe allergies (a plus for those people, for sure!), but… very little public momentum around doing more than preventing reactions from happening at the last possible moment: the moment of contact between a person with allergies, and their allergen.

And so today I want to look at one of my biggest empathy gaps: my intolerance of allergies. This is an issue, in other words, where I am probably in the wrong. But as I did in my essay about James Tiptree, Jr. and my essay on the danger of giving too much credit to extreme positions, I hope to use a personal example–an ongoing example–to illustrate how there are still more decent ways to be wrong in our world.


Let me be clear, though: My intolerance is for the allergies themselves, not for the people suffering from them. And yet, in a culture where some people inexplicably try to “trick” (i.e. poison) allergy sufferers by exposing them to known allergens… that’s not always a comforting distinction. This is why my intolerance to allergies has often become an impediment to my humanism: because I can completely understand why an allergy sufferer would be nervous around someone who–for reasons I’ll outline below–is rather furious at how allergy accommodation has been naturalized in our culture. And so I’m routinely left wondering if my fury at a broader issue is worth the possibility that suffering individuals won’t feel safe around me.

I have, for instance, a lot of friends with food allergies. Toddlers who flush with hives at milk or eggs. Adults who can’t eat shellfish or who have celiac disease. One friend who cannot have cow’s milk at all–as an allergy, not an intolerance. Other allergies in my circles include: oranges, grass, specific nuts, all nuts, legumes. One person I knew in elementary school had idiopathic anaphylaxis; we never knew what triggered her attacks, but we all knew where her EpiPen was stored, and how to use it.

To make things even more bewildering, I have food intolerances myself! I had a bad reaction to shrimp as a child, and though I later thought I’d trounced that issue, in my twenties my throat seized from a plate of molluscs. I had a similarly awful reaction to my first lobster. And just half a year ago, I went to dinner with a friend with similar shrimp sensitivities, and only after both our throats seized up did we find out that shrimp had been used in the cooking process.

So, oh yes, I’m aware that the reactions are real!

But Then What’s Your Problem, Bub?

My problem is systemic.

My problem is that our answer to the question “Why is everyone suddenly so allergic now, and only so significantly in the one-third [Western] world?” is simplistic. We’ll readily argue that other parts of the world just don’t have the resources to identify allergies as well as we can… but we won’t consider that perhaps unidentified allergies elsewhere are also being resolved in ways that our avoidant approach doesn’t allow for–and that’s why we’re not seeing the same horrible epidemic far afield.

My problem, too, is that we’re now seeing secondary medical conditions, like ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), which are centrally caused by traumatic food experiences like massive allergic reactions… and yet even as allergies beget further medical crises, we’re still not treating allergies themselves as anything but status quo: something you get and then just… have. For life.

And when you compare our treatment of allergies to other extreme medical issues, does this approach not seem particularly strange? Diabetes, for instance, is an awful condition, which absolutely needs to be respected and accommodated for in the moment. But we also aggressively promote research for a cure. Likewise, cancer is a brutalizer of lives, with high mortality risks–which is why we undergo extreme treatments to put an end to its tyranny over our bodies.

Where, conversely, are the ribbon campaigns for allergy-reduction research? Where is the public outcry to match the epidemic? And where is our cultural acceptance of the need for aggressive treatment when an allergy could trigger death in minutes?

Because, finally… my problem is that a lot of classism gets woven into our allergy epidemic when it’s culturally regarded as a static condition: a label that will forever require external accommodation.

Not everyone can afford testing, to begin with–which means there is a class component to who gets to find out they’ve got food sensitivities in a secure environment. And then not everyone can afford the lifestyle modifications associated with a given diagnosis. Finally, as we saw with the gluten-free craze, plenty of people also begin to covet those specialty products, even if a person who doesn’t have celiac disease, say, is probably not going to see a benefit from quitting gluten, too.

Wait, Are You Calling Allergy-Sufferers Classist?

Oof. I know. That sounds harsh, and dismissive.

But just as I know that my PhD grief was super, super classist in a world of war, starvation, and displacement pressures… yes. Yes, I think we who suffer food sensitivities have legitimate, life-threatening pain that nonetheless arises in a very classist context.

Now, I certainly don’t think we mean to manifest classism. Who gets out of bed thinking, “Hey! Today, I’m going to use my sickliness as a status symbol! I’m going to risk my life every time I go to a restaurant as a way of differentiating myself! I’m going to perform or aspire to a higher-class status by ending up in the ER after dining with a ‘friend’ who wanted to prove I was faking it all along!”

And good heavens, who especially gets out of bed thinking, “I’m going to do all of the above, but with my child at risk instead!”

Nevertheless, it’s part of our cultural background: Every generation has a body of ailments that only persons of a certain class can afford to maintain. Sometimes this implies that people in lower classes simply die of the same conditions. Sometimes this implies that people in lower classes don’t have the conditions at all.

Even more tellingly, the most promising research to date… all suggests an obvious solution that works for a significant chunk of test groups. It’s a solution, however, that I do not see folks quick to explore: a solution I haven’t even committed to myself, in relation to my shellfish sensitivity–though I’m pretty sure I should.

I’m talking, of course, about gradual exposure therapy–including Oral Immunotherapy (the most effective, which involves a gradual introduction of very small samples), Sublingual Immunotherapy (diluted forms of the allergen in drops under the tongue), Epicutaneous Immunotherapy (skin-based exposure), or acclimation via exposure to baked variants of the allergen.

(NB: Obviously celiac disease is different, and can’t be cured the same way. I suspect the meat allergy that the Lone Star Tick now triggers will also require a different cure.)

All these solutions, though… don’t involve much in the way of specialty products, or other external accommodations. Rather, they require that we think of “food-sensitive” as a temporary label, on par with “person with a broken leg” or “person with appendicitis.” And they require that we be willing to put ourselves through further discomfort with foods around which we’ve already had extremely bad experiences.

Like any other trauma in our lives, then, recovering from an allergy requires our willingness, first and foremost, to accept the possibility that it can be cured.

And as a culture, I don’t think we’re there yet. Even though our avoidant approach to allergies doesn’t actually address the epidemic; even though we all know people who could literally die from a casual encounter with a specific food item; even though parents live with incredible fear over their children’s life-threatening allergies; and even though we’re seeing serious secondary conditions arise from these allergies, too… we still aren’t collectively ready to start treating allergies the way we do diabetes or cancer: that is, with both disease-management and a cure as our goals.

Thinking Like A Humanist Through Human Frustration

Okay, but now that I’ve said my piece as to why I’m intolerant of allergies, let’s get back to the humanist part of things.

Because boy howdy does the above make me furious–and, apparently, in the minority. A dangerous minority, too: one populated by assholes who deny the existence of individual allergy sufferers, who insist that allergies are fake, and who are even willing to expose “friends” to known severe allergens to “prove” their point.

[NB: Food tampering, by the way, is a crime in most North American districts, so if respect for your fellow human being isn’t disincentive enough, remember that charges can be laid against you for trying to “trick” (i.e. poison) someone out of an allergy. Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.]

Suffice it to say, I hate the views of many bedfellows in this particular sceptical camp.

And I hate the idea that I make myself seem like a similarly unsafe person to be around, if I share these views about our cultural approach to allergies with other people who suffer from extreme food sensitivities.

But here, too, is where the humanist lesson arises:

Because on occasion members of this latter group, these people who also suffer from difficult-to-life-threatening food sensitivities, have expressly called me an allergy-denier. Some have even accused me of wanting to let people die through casual allergen-exposure, all for the sake of grand hypotheticals. Further, I’ve been told that my argument fosters a culture of denialism that the worst trashbags will exploit, which necessarily makes me an enabler for their horrific words and actions against sufferers.

And… oh, you bet: Those accusations have rankled. I’ve seethed and I’ve paced over what I regard as an oversimplification of my position, and the shutting down of a discourse that I firmly believe requires more nuance.

And yet… I still haven’t let these accusations swing me retributively to the other camp.

I still haven’t let someone calling me an allergy-denier make me act like an allergy-denier.

Instead, I’ve made sure that when faced with other people’s accusations of ill-intentioned discourse, I dig deeper–not into my position, but into theirs. I make sure I’m following people, say, who are fully immersed in allergy management, or who can share the day-to-day of being an extreme-allergy sufferer, or a parent to a child with the same. I listen to their podcasts, follow their posts, and pay attention to articles about them. I don’t launch into comment threads to disagree, even though my own convictions may (and do) remain unchanged–but rather, I make a concerted effort, whenever accused of dismissing a suffering minority, to keep that group’s concerns and our shared humanity firmly in mind.

Funny thing, that resistance to simply switching camps when my pride is wounded.

Funny, frustratingly rare thing, indeed.

The Take-Away

Whether the topic is allergies or trans rights, free speech or freedom of association, we are not always going to be aligned with the majority perspective. And when we’re not, there’s a striking human tendency to feel personally maligned when our criticism is met with heated, hostile response–especially from a marginalized population.

But whatever the specific topic; whatever nuance we feel to be frustratingly absent from the discourse on whole; whatever fury boils deep within us at being accused of ill-intent toward our fellow human beings…

We have a choice.

We can choose to get angry at people arguing with us in defense of the marginalized.

We can choose to latch onto their possibly nasty accusations against us.

We can choose, furthermore, to revel in the experience of being victimized by said accusations, and so cede the possibility of meaningful debate by placing the blame squarely on everyone else.

And we can choose to tell ourselves that “PC” culture is at fault for it all.


We can choose to disengage from a given locus of debate when it gets toxic.

We can choose to remember our shared humanity, and recognize that if a group feels threatened by our arguments–for whatever reason, however stupid we might find it–there’s an empathy gap we need to address before we can go forward.

We can choose, as well, to do the work that this empathy gap requires: By listening. By actively exposing ourselves to others’ points of view. By learning better what’s at stake for all parties involved.

And finally, we can choose to accept that it’s okay to lose the battle–because one voice was never going to win the war. It never has, much as we like to pretend otherwise.

However, when one voice is trusted enough to be amplified by the right tens of thousands? Well, sure. Heck, if you’re “Greta” at it, you could even mobilize the world.

That path to greater change, though, begins by recognizing the company that your sociopolitical positions keep, and who might be severely threatened by that company gaining discursive ground. Now, is this perfectly “logical”? Should the company we keep determine the validity of our statements? Of course not–but if all it takes to join that more hateful company is to receive angry comments from the “other side”… then yours wasn’t a position held purely out of logic, either.

So knock it, fellow humanists with unpopular views. When society claims you’re in the wrong, and you firmly disagree with its verdict, there is still a more decent way to be wrong than the ones we so often choose.

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  • Gussie FinkNottle

    I think much of what is driving the boat, at least in America, is the healthcare system. I developed a peanut allergy as an adult and have had a couple of scares, including one where my brother decided to pull a switcheroo and hide peanuts in something. But it is SOOOO much easier for me to simply avoid peanuts and carry an epipen than to take off work all the time to go through the slog of immunotherapy treatments. And I’m not sure they’re covered by insurance anyway.

    Until we get our healthcare system sorted, we should fund more research. But I think we would be better served by a PSA campaign advising about treatment options, encouraging a stiff upper lip, and discouraging fakers from attaching themselves to the malady du jour. I find allergy culture incredibly annoying. If you have one, shut up and get on with it. Don’t make it somebody else’s problem by insisting they accommodate you.

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    You’ve hit the nail on the head re: the need for system-wide incentives, along with institutional support for allergy sufferers seeking out longterm recovery plans. That’s why this can’t be solved by individuals. (You and I both, Gussie, are taking the lower-effort approach to our sensitivities, but for understandable socioeconomic reasons!) That said, I’m terrifically thankful that you survived your scares, and hope you smacked your brother upside the head for putting your life at risk. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • What bugs me is the people with allergies who insist that everybody else simply must change their diets and habits because one person might, potentially, have a reaction. Your allergies, and the management of same, are your responsibility. Not mine, and not society’s. (Obvious exceptions apply for people you’ve asked to provide a specific product or service, e.g. preparing food — you’re literally paying them to do the thing a certain way with or without certain ingredients or products.)

  • Chakat Firepaw

    The big one that impacts others is peanut allergies, which is because most people with a peanut allergy are allergic to fat-soluble proteins. This is why you get things like a kid going into anaphylactic shock because they ate their lunch¹ at a desk where another student had had some peanuts for a snack an hour earlier. You can’t simply wipe away the allergen, nor does a damp cloth do it, you have to use a detergent or soap.

    How do you expect someone to ‘manage’ their allergy when there is a place they are required to be and they have to deal with the possibility of surprise exposure from any surface anyone might have used to eat off of? Or do you simply expect kids with peanut allergies to go hungry at school?

    1: Or, in some more severe cases, simply rested their hand on the desk for too long.

  • vinny152

    re:Food Sensitivities–at least,this serious condition is now accepted as a “FACT”-which is a step in the right direction. By eradicating chronic inflammation,we may get a handle on chronic diseases-even the epidemic of obesity and suicide-;^))…….v152(

  • Astrin Ymris

    This is what I wonder about, too! When I was a kid, I’d never heard about anyone with a lethal peanut allergy. The first I heard of one was in 1989. Peanut butter was the natural food of childhood then, and the manifestations of peanut allergy are so dramatic no one can miss them. This is something new under the sun; how come no one is trying to figure out why this happened all of a sudden?

  • Is the hygiene hypothesis relevant here? It states that a too-clean upbringing means children’s immune systems can overreact later in life to things they (in previous centuries) they’d been exposed to as children.

  • There may be a way to prevent peanut allergies: Bamba. Obviously, it won’t help people who already have them but I’m surprised it’s not being taught to new parents anywhere.

  • Ellabulldog

    Yea, it bugs me too when old lady’s or blind people expect me to slow down when they are crossing a street. If they don’t want to get hit they should hurry up or not even try to walk anywhere. The nerve of them thinking that their life matters more than my going as fast as I want. /s.

  • Ellabulldog

    my kid was allergic at birth to milk and other things.

    might be C sections. Might be a lot of variables. More than likely something happened to the parents and it is showing up in the kids.

  • *sigh* You missed the point.

    If you can’t have peanut butter, or shrimp, or whatever, you’re free to avoid these things. You can even ban them from your own home if you want.

    You do NOT get to CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE’S DIETS. It’s literally the height of entitlement to demand others adhere to your diet.

  • It’s called personal responsibility. Your allergy doesn’t give you the right to control other people’s diets.

  • Chakat Firepaw

    So, do you expect 8 year-olds to carry cleaning supplies at school or do you expect them to go hungry? Seriously: Answer the “how” question. You don’t seem to understand that for some allergies it isn’t simply a matter of avoiding eating the item but avoiding any surface that has had significant contact with it.

    Your position sounds very similar to smokers who were all “don’t tell me where I can’t smoke,” in response to things like not being allowed to light up in restaurants.

    (Oh, the request isn’t “don’t eat peanuts” it’s “don’t eat them in particular places.” Pretending people want the former is a dishonest strawman.)

  • Chakat Firepaw

    Until the 1980s it wasn’t strange to encounter doctors who denied that severe food allergies even existed. It took me nearly getting killed _and_ my mother doing an end-run on our GP to get me tested¹ in the late 1970s. Throughout the 1980s it was common for me to encounter teachers who didn’t accept the existence of food allergies.

    Trying to compare rates runs into the problem of “how many cases weren’t detected and/or were actively ignored?”

    1: Potentially lethal: Peanuts, walnuts, cashews, (luckily I react to a non-fat soluble protein), really annoying: Milk, (I have the hyperactivity reaction).

  • Positivist

    I think there’s a gray zone between fields of responsibility. Does a restaurant have to guarantee they can prepare a meal for absolutely anyone and their unique needs? Do food manufacturers have to declare allergens that are present in trace amounts? Is it possible for a person with allergies to do their best and still get sick, and is this a function of the individual or of the human aspect of the source of the allergen?

    I wonder if there’s another way to look at it.

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Absolutely, Vinny. Chronic inflammation is such a huge predictor of other serious diseases that it horrifies me every time I’m reminded how little attention we pay to research therein. We’re constantly addressing the secondary impacts instead of getting right to the source. I do so hope the tide is turning, as you suggest!

  • Positivist

    I was at a concert last night and still thinking about this topic. There were no braille programmes, and no sign language interpreter. The aisles would be impossible to navigate with a wheelchair. The seats were small and hard (my ischial tuberosities started complaining by intermission). All of these things made me think about access: Is it more incumbent on the individual with unique needs, or on the service provider, to ensure everyone has the (unique) access they require?


  • The service provider must, by law, provide reasonable accommodations.

    Wheelchair access is mandated by law (ADA).

    ASL interpreters should be mandated by law.

    Seats should definitely be softer and easier to get out of, just on principle — you want your customers to be comfortable in your venue.

    But it is not reasonable, by any stretch, to demand everyone stop eating XYZ foods, or for another example, to stop wearing perfume/cologne/body spray.

    Your chronic condition is not my responsibility.

    I’m asthmatic, and perfume is a major trigger — it’s my responsibility to avoid when possible, and to always carry my inhaler.

    Likewise, someone with a food allergy is responsible for reading labels and doing their best to avoid their trigger(s), as well as carrying their epi-pen at all times.

    It’s life with a chronic condition — you gotta learn how to manage it. You just can’t expect everybody else to manage it for you.

  • Donella

    My understanding is that the rise in allergies was caused by recommendations for parents to delay introducing food to babies until 6 months and to delay introducing foods that were more likely to cause allergies until later. That recommendation has been understood to have led to more kids with allergies and has been reversed. The recommendation is now to introduce food at 4 months and to introduce foods that are often associated with allergies earlier. Hopefully this leads to the next cohort of kids having fewer allergies (to food anyway).

    My allergist seems fairly confident that it will be possible for me to eat shellfish again in my lifetime, with immunotherapy. While this is not something everyone will have access to, it does point to some progress. I’ve also heard of more kids trying immunotherapy for peanut allergies, so again, progress (although, yes, it’s slow).

  • Positivist

    Perfume is a great example. (So is smoke from backyard fire pits.) I never wear perfume any more because so many people (including my mother—so I know the struggle is real) have problems with it. I miss it. Like smoke from fire pits, perfume is a tough intolerance to manage though because anywhere outside of your home can be impacted (and sometimes it seeps in too). At least I can avoid food triggers by not eating any food originating from outside of my home.

    With a perfume intolerance, what do you do about going out in public? How do you feel about places that have “no perfume” signs? Not trying to be inflammatory here, but are you opposed to “perfume free” zones because it decreases the need for individual responsibility? Is there a difference between airborne triggers (in shared air) versus ingested triggers?

    I can’t stop thinking about this topic. Access is so interesting and often is lacking due to budgetary constraints.

    Thanks for making me think!

  • I’ve only seen “No perfume” signs at medical establishments. I have yet to encounter one “in the wild”, so to speak. I guess it’s just something I’ve learned to deal with best I can. I think it’s kind of a tough one because at this point you’re kind of intruding on people’s hygiene and self-expression, and that’s not okay in my book.

  • Positivist

    I’ve seen these signs everywhere. Even my workplace is scent free. It definitely cramps personal style. But I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have an asthma attack from scents. Must be like walking in a mine field. :-/

  • Positivist

    Ya so interesting. I definitely don’t let anyone make food for me. Thank dog my triggers aren’t generally airborne!


  • People seem to be more aware these days, but every now and then you get knocked over by some old lady’s perfume cloud.

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Oh, I’m really glad to hear that there’s a trend towards more immunotherapy at least in some circles. I think as people become exposed to its /existence/, we’ll see a matching rise in social advocacy for universal access–which should hopefully turn the tide.

    You’re part of a wave that I hope continues to grow, Donella! For the sake of parents and children everywhere.

  • Chris DeVries

    I agree that a bit more empathy can go a long way in reconciling groups with strongly-held contradictory opinions. But I would also say that this goes both ways. It’s all well and good to make the effort to humanize people in the majority (within your culture) with whom you disagree, but it’s pretty hard to do that when they’re ascribing malign motives to you just because you share an opinion with people who ARE hateful in some way. For example, there are a lot of atheists in the world, and some of them are asshat69 libertarians in their political outlook. Ayn Rand was an atheist…does that mean that all atheists deserve to be grouped in with her just because SHE disbelieved for irrational and often hateful reasons?

    Or how about a more charged example, like for example, being accused of Islamophobia69 by a large chunk of the political Left because you vocally disapprove of conservative Islamist69 beliefs (even though you disapprove and speak out against the beliefs of the fundamentalist variants of other religions too, and are thus not singling out one religion that happens to have minority status in America or Canada or whatever), while simultaneously respecting and defending the human rights of Muslims69, including their right to believe those beliefs. It is in the interests of the racists69 of the world to blur these lines so that every critic of Islamism69 is read as someone sympathetic to the xenophobic69 worldview that hates and oppresses regular Muslims69 and other brown people. It makes their group seem larger and more powerful. Why would anyone else want to refuse to draw a distinction here except as a form of elitist purity test, enabling people to feel more and more special for holding a more pure position, even though they are left with fewer and fewer allies? The example of (actual Muslim69) Maajid Nawaz here is illuminating – when a noted social justice organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a Muslim69 an “anti-Muslim69 extremist” because they speak out against fundamentalism in their religion, they lose basically all credibility as a reliable source of information about real bigots69. They were successfully sued by the way, but I really wish that wasn’t necessary…the loss in credibility is worse than the loss in money, but both were unnecessary. To draw the assumption that just because someone disagrees with your position, they must also be filled with hatred for YOU (or the people you’re defending) is one of the reasons we ended up with Donald Trump (in case it’s not clear, I’m talking about the evangelicals who, feeling attacked by recent secularist victories, rallied around a serial womanizer and pussy69-grabber to make America Hate again, answering perceived hatred with the real deal).

  • Margaret Leanne Clark

    Lots of good chewy examples here, Chris!

    The folks I spoke about humanizing here were the marginalized groups that we sometimes turn against when they accuse us of holding more hostile views than we do. (For example, having a question/doubt about a trans activism talking point and immediately being labelled a transphobe by *some* online… then responding by allying yourself /with/ those transphobes out of hurt.)

    We don’t “deserve” to be grouped in with the worst, but neither should we let accusations of being “the worst” make us retaliate in ways that reinforce those accusations. Disengaging from toxic arguments is a good start–there’s no point to an argument outside of good faith. Then the next step involves doing the work not of humanizing majorities but rather, our fellow marginalized. In the case of Nawaz, for instance, condemning Islamic fundamentalism could also have been done in conjunction with highlighting Muslim groups who are already doing far more peace-oriented and community-building work from within their faith tradition / ethnic culture. How could he have been accused of anti-Muslim extremism if his anti-fundamentalist work explicitly showcased, say, Ahmadiyyah Muslims, or the Gulen movement? Or other Muslim offshoots that focus on improving social welfare?

    (Indeed, working in the US, such a tactic would also definitely go a long way to help the audience learn to separate brown skin / Middle Eastern origins from intrinsically signalling the practice of fundamentalist/jihadist Islam. That would go a long way to reducing the attendant xenophobia!)

    Suffice it to say, then–no, we don’t have to humanize the majorities that bully us and accuse us of the worst. But neither do we have to become the worst just because someone’s made these accusations; and paying close attention to the plight of other marginalized peoples within this paradigm can help to inure us from those accusations in the long run.


  • Astrin Ymris

    Behavioral allergic reactions to foods, sure. Doctors and teachers can easily dismiss them in favor of thinking the parents just aren’t disciplining their kids right, ignoring the fact that the kids are disciplined just fine until after they’ve eaten a trigger food. But a kid going into anaphylactic shock is a bit harder to rationalize away.

  • Astrin Ymris

    When you’re talking about adults, sure. But when we’re talking about children who are mandated by law to be in a place for 6 hours every day for 180 days of the year, you can’t say, “This kindergartener should take responsibility for making sure he avoids all contact to an allergen that he doesn’t even have to ingest to have a life-threatening reaction.”

  • Chris DeVries

    All interesting points. And I neglected to mention in my initial post that people in marginalized groups have good reason to be suspicious of the motives of people who ARE asking questions in good faith (since it is so often the case that the same questions are coming from people who turn out to be xenophobic haters).

    You said that humanizing the marginalized is more important than humanizing majorities, but I think that’s too broad a statement. Treating people as either marginalized or majority is part of the problem (for various reasons)…we need to humanize INDIVIDUALS, regardless of what kind of privilege they do or do not enjoy. We need to have empathy for PEOPLE…not cultures. Nobody chooses their lot in life, where they were born and to whom. Everybody has a history that makes them who they are. Whether we have freedom of choice or not (I am highly skeptical of the concept of free will), we are who we are for reasons beyond our control. So our relative right-ness…or even righteousness…is beyond our control.

    I struggle with this reality all the time because let’s face it, it feels GOOD to demonize those whose beliefs we find abhorrent. You feel part of something, a movement that is working to stop the ignorant and hateful, to bring about positive change in the world. But ultimately, the main cause of all of this is fear. I am terrified of the world we’re leaving to future generations. Terrified of the people whose suffering we could maybe have prevented had we behaved differently. I don’t live in America (like you, I am Canadian), so it’s not my country that has been taken over by a powerful minority intent on holding onto power by whatever means necessary (yet)…but the consequences of decisions Trump makes don’t stop at international borders, nor will they end when his term ends – even if there is a movement to undo some of the worst transgressions, the repercussions thereof will reverberate far into the future, causing untold pain. And it goes without saying that fear was a massive factor in Trump’s election.

    So this is hard for me, and I really don’t know for sure what the answer is. Maybe demonization IS the best thing to do in some cases. If right-wing authoritarian followers are unlikely to ever change (as research suggests), even though their beliefs are not their fault, the impact they have on the world needs to be minimized and public remonstration may be one of the ways to do this. But I think the best strategies are multi-faceted. We need to minimize the number of kids who turn INTO authoritarians (a long-term goal that can be achieved by excellent public schooling that prioritizes critical thinking skills…teaching kids how to question the assumptions implicit in their worldview is very important) while making REACTIONARY authoritarians (those who only behave as RWAs under certain conditions) feel safe enough that this personality trait is not activated, all-the-while NORMALIZING behaviors and identities that have long been attacked and suppressed by social conservatives. This will not be an easy task, if for no other reason than sometimes normalizing a behavior or group of people is a great way to make a reactionary authoritarian feel UNsafe. But I think even that will gradually change…after all, people fear what they don’t understand, what is beyond their experience. As the world becomes more interconnected, people’s experiences everywhere will become far more broad and varied.

    Finally, I think part of the answer lies in reducing the impact of hyper-individualism in our cultures. How can you have empathy for someone less fortunate than yourself if you believe that they “deserve” to be so, that everyone gets what they earn, and what you earn is YOURS (these people tend to loathe paying their taxes)? Understanding that all success/failure (however these are defined) is contingent on how our place in the world shaped us is the key to inculcating a social responsibility to all of our fellow human beings. How much human potential is being wasted because we aren’t giving some people the tools they need to succeed based on their country of birth, race, gender, religion, social class, age, etc.? Raising the bar so that nobody goes hungry, everyone gets medical care regardless of their income, everyone gets a great education, everyone has a loving and stable upbringing…these are all possible to achieve within the confines of our current economic system. Additionally, we are all humans, dependent on the world that we are progressively destroying. Considering this grave situation, joining together and sharing the burdens that must be borne to keep Earth habitable for 7+ billion people is a better place to put our energies than in overthrowing the bourgeoisie and creating a communist utopia. That’s certainly something that we might want to do in the future…but we have to ensure that there WILL BE a future first. A little bit of individualism is fine, but we need to take collective responsibility of the mess we find ourselves in, and work TOGETHER to make things better.

    Whoa…that was an essay and a half. Sorry for the length, I started writing and I just…kept going.

  • Chakat Firepaw

    Tell that to the teachers who, even after having been told by me and other students that I can’t eat nuts and why, tried to insist I eat something with peanuts or walnuts.

  • Chris DeVries

    I responded to this and my comment got swallowed up. Can it be released from purgatory please? Thanks!

  • Hi Chris! I do a mass clearing of Disqus purgatory twice weekly (the latest culprit is now the simple three-letter word for employment, for some reason), but I didn’t realize your comment had gotten hidden in SPECIAL purgatory, the Spam filter that usually only contains member-enhancement and online scam ads. So… congrats for the extra-purgatorial feat? I’ll give that special filter a more careful going-through in the future, too. Cheers!

  • “Whoa…that was an essay and a half. Sorry for the length, I started writing and I just…kept going.”

    And then for some weird reason it got stuck between male-member-enlargement and spam work-from-home-and-make-millions ads. Eesh. The internet is as callous as it is cruel sometimes. Sorry about that, Chris!