Monday, August 18, 2014

Eliminating the disabled.

This post could be considered a follow-up to my previous post, but in fact this one has been on my mind for years.

There are all kinds of disabled people in this world: blind, deaf, paraplegic, quadriplegic, down's syndrome, autism, anxiety disorders.... We generically tend to lump them under general terms, like disabled or handicapped.

Actually, those terms have fallen out of grace in recent years. In fact I heard a woman on the radio talking about the need to eliminate the term "handicapped" from parking slots at stores due to bad connotations, and instead "use something like... special, or reserved..."

The Germans had a different term around the time of Hitlers rise to power: "Nutlos Esser" or "Useless Eaters", though it wasn't actually their idea, the concept actually may have originated in the United States. John Harvey Kellogg (of Kellog's cornflakes fame) was a great champion of eugenics in the US. (Though it predates him as well, bits of it show up in the writings of Karl Marx. Ideas were also borrowed from Darwin, and even earlier, Plato and others.

The Philosophy which Kellogg championed, was that humans, as the top of the food chain, had no natural predators, and thus must be self-responsible for the "culling of the herd" to eliminate the genetically weak, or inferior. If not, they would continue to breed, diluting the evolutionary advantage of humans, and from an economic standpoint, the healthy and "normal" individuals of society wold be overburdened with the cost of caring for the sick, the diseased... the inferior. Mr. Kellogg's solution was mandatory sterilization of inferior people. Take away the ability to pass on inferior genes and they will simply... die out. Hitler liked the idea, and took the the next logical step. If these people are a burden on society, simply eliminate them from the outset, so that the world's resources won't be wasted on them, and will instead be used to accelerate the evolution of the genetically superior. The end result being stronger, smarter people, more wealth, less poverty, more health, less illness...

Now the one point they had right was the fact that, if the population of "disabled" grows too large, the burden to care for them will overwhelm the rest of the population which will inevitably lead to collapse. There are practical limits to how many people one person can provide food, clothing and shelter for.

But they had the entirely wrong idea as to how to eliminate the "disabled"

I think there is a much better approach. Here are the crucial steps:

1. Stop the "warm fuzzy talk" and use correct labels. Terms like "special" are useless. "Handicapped" is equally useless, slightly better if properly prefixed (physically, mentally). Blind would be better still, as it gets closer to an accurate description of a specific challenge a specific person faces. can you imagine expecting a doctor to correctly treat you after being told only that you had a case of "sick"?

You want a label for the parking stalls? how about "Mobility Impaired"? That's the point of  those spots isn't it? A place close to the front door, with few impediments, to facilitate those who find getting around a greater than normal challenge?

And don't let the ignorant take words away. retard is a valid word with a valid, useful meaning ("verb - delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment."), just because some moron misuses it, doesn't mean we should stop using it appropriately. Keep dropping misused words from the language, and in time there will be no words left.

2. Acknowledge the challenges/weaknesses - Everyone has strengths. Everyone has weaknesses. It is stupid to pretend otherwise, and even dumber to overstate a weakness. A person with no legs is not likely to excel in professional soccer. That doesn't mean he can't be a good swimmer, or motivational speaker (Google Nick Vujicic).

3.Identify Strengths - we spend too much time focusing on what a person with disability "x" can't do. Why not focus on what they are able to excel at instead? The blind often have sharpened hearing, With autism, there are a number of specialized skills which often emerge, musically, computationally... I have a nephew who has hydrocephalus. He has a sharp mind for faces, and an enormous positivity, and kindness. When I watch him interact with others, I often find myself thinking that what is holding him back from doing more in this life is our inability to communicate with him. I think he has a great deal of sage advice he could share with the world, if only we could understand what he is trying to tell us.

3. Change the environment - In some cases perhaps the only thing holding a person back is the way we have constructed the world. Justin Sewell is attributed with saying “TEAMWORK: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.” One of those human nature things- we people get together and build societies, and when we do we tend to shape them in our own image. It is a reasonable thing to do, but all to often, we overdo it. We expect everyone to be "just like us", to think "just like us". What we call normal, may only be normal in our mind. Example: Roughly half the human population is lactose intolerant, so which then is "normal", the ability to digest milk, or the inability? I think British people have an accent, they think I have an accent, so which one of us speaks "normally"? roughly one of every 5 youth is diagnosed as ADHD. One of five. Twenty percent. Is it really a disorder, or just a different "normal"?

Instead of expecting everyone to accommodate us all the time, perhaps we need to learn to be more accommodating of them. One example of success in this area is specialisterne, a company that specializes in contracting and placing autistic employees. They have taken the time to understand their employees, and they have adapted the workplace and job selection to the specific talents and challenges their employees face. An entire class of "useless eaters" are now productive participants, as a result.

And that ultimately is the way to eliminate the disabled. Understand them, accommodate them where possible, and give them the means to be self-reliant and successful. Don't limit them.

We humans are uniquely able to engineer the means to enable our success, to alter our very environment if need be. We use that ability daily to enable us to live in environments whose conditions exceed the significant limitations of our rather frail bodies. We can do the same thing for these, so-called disabled, and in doing so, we can remove the disability. No longer charity cases, no longer "useless eaters", no longer dependent on the good will of others, or the strength of the economy, because they are themselves contributors to, drivers of economic success.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mental Health: Is it really a disorder/illness?

I was just listening to a radio program, talking about mental health, and the need to have a "real conversation" about mental illness.

They of course talked about the usual suspects. Dealing with the stigma of mental illness, recognizing that mental illnesses are as real as other illnesses, handicaps, etc...

I had a thought though, which I have never heard addressed: What if some of these disorders, aren't actually disorders? What if some/many of these disorders are only disorders because we as a society have overly-restricted the definition of  "normal"?

Take ADD/ADHD as an example: This country, I would argue, only exists because of ADD/ADHD. It would take a person with ADD characteristics to overlook the enormous risks and potential consequences, abandon all they had, and cross thousands of miles of ocean to come to  an unknown, wild land and try to build a new life from nothing! And it would take an ADD brain to survive some of the events the early settlers experienced.

What if many of these people are in fact perfectly healthy, normal people, who are struggling, suffering because society has allowed a few nut-jobs to incorrectly define "normal"?

What if there is a simple way to "fix" them, not by medicating them, but by accommodating them?

Autism is one case where this is starting to happen. What about other "disorders"?

What if many of these shooting tragedies suicides, etc... could be prevented by changing the conversation from disorder/illness and treatment to understanding the different characteristics/qualities of people, and adjusting our society to accommodate them?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Modern Disease and Mobility

Random thought of the day:

I have hear a fair amount of speculation regarding the causes of modern diseases (including cancers and various autoimmune disorders), Some of the more popular theories I have read tie it to diet, or to the increased use of chemicals, pesticides, etc.. (one more recent theory I mentioned in a previous post suggest a link between 1st world poverty and modern disease).

Of course, some of these seem unlikely, because the timelines don't really fit. For instance the assertion that the introduction of Grains, or the agricultural diet is the cause. The modern disease timeline goes back hundred of years, agricultural diet goes back thousands. The processed foods, or pesticides argument is closer, though there are still some holes in the correlation.

But I just had a random thought this afternoon. What about modern mobility? We have, and take advantage of an increasing ability to traverse in large numbers over vast distances. A simplistic but supporting example:

It has been reported that small, isolated groups tend to have less disease. a family, living in complete isolaion, for instance. However, if they come in contact with other groups, they tend to have low resistance the bacteria and virii those visitors are carrying with them. This was considered to be a major contributor to the decimation of native american populations when Europeans arrived in the new land. Native Americans lived primarily in smaller tribal groups, with relative isolation, and limited travel. Their immune systems weren't prepared for the disease the white man brought from Europe.

But if that were the case, why then were the pilgrims not equally decimate by Native american diseases? Much of it may be explained by the points in this article- in short the introduction of rats (specifically the black rat) and fleas as carriers/transmitters, and comparatively poor hygiene of native american populations (respecting soil, water and food).

But what if there is something else that plays in as well? What if there is a (complicated) equation which can be derived, relating...

Population Size
Population Mobility
Range of Mobility
Viral and/or bacterial interactions relating to population, distance, and time

vs. rate of adaptability of the human immune system?

(Yeah, probably some multi-variable calculus involved in that).

What if, with our increasing ability to traverse increasingly large distances, in increasingly shorter times, we have created an environment in which our immune systems simply can't evolve fast enough to keep up with the intermingling and evolution of bacterial and viral strains?

That was my random thought for the day.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dog Stew

I made a dozen red currant and blueberry oatmeal muffins last night, thinking they would make a great breakfast. I tried one. It was delicious! Then my kids called from California. The phone was wigging out, so I ran downstairs to use my office phone. When the call was over, I went upstairs to resume looking for something to store the muffins in.

Only there were no muffins to store. Just a grinning dog, lying on her back attempting to look cute.

I told my boss about it at work, the next day and suggested that I might be considering dog stew for dinner tonight. He didn't seem to think that would taste as good as the muffins.