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Counterpart of Social Darwinism
A Human Society Needs the Disabled
[Society needs the disabled because they keep open the perspective of human readiness to help. On the other hand a social-darwinian society produces the disabled despite all conceivable use of medicine since this production is in its logic.]
By Walter Grode
[This article is translated abridged from the German in: zeitzeichen 2001. Walter Grode is a political scientist in Hannover.]
…The President of the Germany Johannes Rau said in his Berlin address on May 18, 2001 that sickness and disability will always belong to human life. Therefore the goal of realizing false standards of the “perfect person” with the help of genetic engineering should be rejected.
However what are involved are not only false standards of the perfect person. What are at stake are true for false standards for our society, worldly ethics and human dignity.
In Germany, the considerable approval of the population for pre-implantation diagnosis (PID) is only supported out of fear of disability. This fear is individually very legitimate and should not be belittled. Still this fear and the readiness to transgress ethical limits is ambivalent if not foolish.
What does it say about a society that writes strength, beauty and wealth on its banners while new tablets of law celebrate the idea of aggressive competition? Everywhere the impression is that survival is at stake. “You must be the best, the strongest and the winner. If you are not, others will be” is the message. In this perspective, every possibility for manipulating one’s life and foreign life must be thankfully accepted.
A society based on the social-darwinian cult of the stronger systematically produces disabled persons by setting the threshold of disability lower and lower. Such a society requires handicapped persons for its self-assurance. In sports and politics, entertainment and everyday life, they are presented as specially motivated defenders of the “survival of the fittest” – in the expectation that this will be re-interpreted in the right sense by the young, strong and healthy…
Helpers to Others
Thus the disabled have an entirely positive effect on a community marked by humanitarian and Christian values. Through their pure existence, mentally handicapped persons awaken the unconscious need for community, humanity and solidarity in the world planted in each of us. “I am happy wen I am understood, when I can count on others.” “A person should be a helper to others” could be a humane maxim for life.
The handicapped form a crystalization core, a potential (conscious or unconscious) counterpart to social darwinism. This counterpart diminishes when they are socially supported and tolerated and when they bear their own inadequacy, the standardization- and self-adjustment pressure weighing down on the whole society. Both in the direct-graphic sense and in the abstract normative sense, every modern rational competitive society – because it needs normality as a general standard – also automatically produces the abnormal, the non-conformist and the disabled. If they were removed – for example through the envisioned progress of human genetics -, new completely “normal” persons would take their place who then in the future would be regarded as “abnormal”.
Handicapped persons are the personified expressions of all those problems and risks that modern medicine and the food industry, mobility-thinking and the military pretend to solve. Therefore they contribute through their social presence to identifying and not biologizing social problems and conflicts.
The life of and with the disabled contains a potential which in a special way avoids the laws of the market- and competitive society.
Like every conscious relation with existential situations (sickness, birth and death), association with the disabled can bring to light a very different standard for contacts with the social and natural environment. Since it is forced to rely on its own (naturally limited) resources, the life of and with handicapped persons can preserve its own promises of happiness and hopes in the simple knowledge that wanting to (immediately) have or do everything possible is counter-productive.
Handicapped Persons contribute that the cold stream running through our society (Oskar Negt) does not become even more icy.