Monthly Archives: August 2008

Ruminations on the “R” Word

Quite a while since the last post.  Not much to write about, which is nice.  Still coming to terms with the Lake Placid effort.  I’ve settled on moderately pleased but somewhat disappointed.  As the great contemporary philospher Bill Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.”  Coming back slowly but surely.  Been hitting the cross bike getting reason for yet another season.  Ran 14 miles on Sunday, which was not all that pleasant. Legs still haven’t fully recovered to do any long efforts.  But, they are recovered enough to do 12 x 400m on the track last Tuesday!  Looking forward to the last tri of the season on Sunday, and then onto full time cross mode.

I’m looking forward to seeing my friend and partner in crime for Team TRIsomy Michael Hennessey come up for the Plymouth Iron Distance race in his quest to break the world record.  Michael has been doing an unbelievable job trying to raise awareness of chromosomal conditions, and demonstrate the value of the lives of those children born with them.  Michael and I come from different ends of the spectrum on issues: I am Pro-Choice and I would gather from Michael (although we avoid this topic) is anti-abortion.  But, in reality is stance on this is pro-choice in that parents should have the information necessary to allow them to make the best decision possible when their pregnancy has been diagnosed with a chromosomal condition.  The more stories I hear the more I realize that parents are often encouraged to just terminate (if before birth) or have a do not resuscitate order after birth.  This is such a tough issue, but ultimate the parents’ decision.  However, parents are often encouraged to comply with the ‘statistics’ that show children with many chromosomal conditions (especially trisomy 13 or 18) will not survive long, and therefore not do everything they can to prolong their lives.  I guess the thought is since these kids can’t be “fixed” in the big picture, while “fix” the ‘little things’ (which cost time and resources). I am in Michael’s camp in these kids should be provided with the same standard of care as anyone else, and that parents need to be given all the information available before making any decisions.

Which leads me to the “R” word.  There has been a lot of fuss over the movie Tropical Thunder and its use of the word “retard”.  This is one of those words, like ‘fag’, that is tossed around quite a bit, possibly to the point that its meaning has changed.  I am in line with George Carlin in terms of where the meaning of words come from.   I am not one for “banning” words or censurship.  The issue becomes one of intent (does the use of a word mean to cause harm to a group of people) and impact (does the use of a word demean, devalue, or belittle a group of people).  The two are of course closely related.  When using words like ‘fag’, ‘retard’ or ‘nigger’ (etc), the problem arises that the use of the word demeans and devalues, which in the end can have an impact on quality of life.   If ‘retard’ is used to devalue a person, does that not mean people who are in fact ‘retarded’ are of less value?  If so, then should all manner of resources be expended on those who are of less value?

Having a daughter that could at some point be categorized as ‘retarded’, I’m a very interested observer in all of this.  All parents worry about their kids falling prey to bullying or hurt feelings.  However, individual assaults (you’re ugly, stinky, etc.) are different from group-based assaults (you retard) in the significance of the social repercussions of the labelling.  Once you are in a debased category, it is hard to integrate into the social order on even terms.  The use of the word retard, fag, nigger, etc. contributes to the devaluing in this way.

People have been bemoaning the fact that the inability to use the word ‘retard’ is another political correctness attack.  I beg to differ.  It’s not about being PC; it is about human decency.  It is also about contuing to contribute to the devaluing of a group of people.  So, while I do not expect such word usage to go away, I will not hesitate to point out the problems of its use to those around me.