Sunday, September 07, 2008

choice, restraint, empathy

Have just read a George Lakoff article from Tikkun that someone posted on Facebook.  Lakoff argues, as my cousin's husband did earlier today, that the "reality of the voter's mind" depend on the "cognitive worldview" of the voter, in addition to the "perspective of a world view."  He then goes on to outline how Palin is dangerous based on the ways she appeals to certain types of voters.  Lakoff also stresses that attacking Palin as a hypocrite does not undermine the ways in which she lives out her conservative values with which many voters agree.  He notes the strengths of the Obama campaign in enacting "the seamless marriage of reality and symbolic thought."  

Lakoff closes with: "Our job is to bring external realities together with the reality of the political mind. Don't ignore the cognitive dimension. It is through cultural narratives, metaphors, and frames that we understand and express our ideals."

This is where I feel increasingly distanced from this type of analysis and increasingly isolated.  We are not living the American Dream, as classically defined.  We, in my family, are dependent on social services for our survival, for my ability, in particular, to hold a job.  While Lakoff speaks of Obama's emphasis on a "nurturant family" and "caring fathers," the circumstances of profound disability in one of our children skew all of this.  I am constantly stressed by my inability and, by extension, my family's inability to live up to American values of independence and self-reliance.  My husband and I are spread thin, feeling constantly on the failing edge of nurturing and caring for the family.  There's always a gap between any reasonable goals we could set and the fact that we are overextended due to Robert's disabilities.

I go through days at a time wishing that there could be fewer people traipsing through our house, that we could have more privacy, that we were capable of getting the homework done on time, meeting the school parental obligations more fully, going on those types of family trips we did in my family, which required a level of independence of all children that Robert does not have.  Lakoff notes an emphasis by Obama on "empathy, responsibility and aspiration" as central family values.  Empathy, in terms of how we understand a child without speech, acknowledge his needs, and go beyond to meet him where he is when we don't even know where that is--well, difficult to impossible.  We are often reduced to sympathy and pity.  And this is in the context of expending mental energy that leaves little room sometimes for accommodating empathy with our daughter: when she's a picky eater and the son used to eat but lost the ability, some empathy goes right out the window--and that's just one example.  Responsibility--awfully difficult to frame for a second child, able-bodied, when we must acknowledge every step of the way they we do short-shrift her, that we need her to adopt as much responsibility at an early age as possible so that we can show her empathy and give her the emotional things that she needs.  Aspiration--difficult--all of our lives are constrained, and while we want to break free of some of them, we need to acknowledge that constraints are real--how to be honest about aspirations is a problem.

As for Palin and her values--well, even less applicable.  Ridiculous.  Impossible to even think about.  See Lakoff for those details.

At times, I feel completely outside this political conversation.  Our family is an anomaly--the Republicans might hand us pity or sympathy, but expect us to gut it out.  The Democrats consider us a charity case, fodder for social programs that may or may not be helpful.  In terms of universal health insurance, my guess is, we'd be thrown out like the baby with the bathwater as a problem that couldn't be solved or would alter the ability of the political process to best help the majority.  We'd still need to rely on some mish-mash of social programs to get us through.  

The abortion debate and what it means and symbolizes to other people means nothing to me at all anymore.  On one side, pro-choicers speak of preserving autonomy and independence by allowing women to make choices.  I had no choice, no ability to choose.  I also stand back in horror at times listening to otherwise moral people speak almost blithely and without thought about how the matter of terminating a fetus with disabilities is a no-brainer because it would limit their personal freedom--this is after having such a child and recognizing his utter and complete humanity.  On the other side, I listen to pro-lifers determined to impose their own choices on everyone else and force a sort of suffering while doing nothing to acknowledge and balance inequities and personal freedom.  

I do not fit into this debate.  There is nowhere for me to stand.  I am also more keenly aware of what constraints mean and how constraints can possibly be ameliorated or balanced, even after the fact, than are others.  I have to think more creatively just in order to survive--if survival is simply the ability to keep moving forward.  Those ameliorations and balances are things I've described in earlier posts.  I am also more aware of the variety of aspects through which humanity can be represented--of how humanity manifests itself in the most surprising ways in the least thinkable of circumstances.  Of what loving sacrifice is and what it means to fully feel its tug.  

All I can see is a need to break free of these ossified camps and stereotypes.  "Choice" is not personal when it is discussed publicly--it then takes on the aura of judgement.  "Life" fails the compassion test when its compassion is relegated to the private relationship of parent and child, and it shed its compassion when promoted to the public sphere.  

Raised in northern New England and taught self-reliance from an early age, I have no framework within which to conceptualize how to be meaningfully independent and self-reliant given the severity of my constraints.  And I cannot rely on the definitions of others who do not understand them.

1 comment:

Special Needs Mama said...

"Raised in northern New England and taught self-reliance from an early age, I have no framework within which to conceptualize how to be meaningfully independent and self-reliant given the severity of my constraints. And I cannot rely on the definitions of others who do not understand them."

To me this expresses just how profoundly disenfranchised many of us are, how little the issues touch on the real issues of our lives (empathy versus pity) and how there is no such thing as "typical" anything any more, although the politicians still live and breathe as if there were. The social contract is dead, long live the media version of reality.

I'm calling this election "The Truman Show Come Alive." Nothing about it feels relevant or even real to me.

Thanks for a great post.