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Special “special” edition

While I was at LSU talking about disability and stuff, a graduate student asked me about Obama’s “Special Olympics” gaffe on The Tonight Show.  I said more or less what you’d expect: that it was a stunningly foolish and thoughtless remark, and something of a bitter irony that the United States’ first African-American president had become the first president to use “Special Olympics” as a laugh line.  Guess we didn’t see that coming! 

Now, of course I know the joke was supposed to be self-deprecating.  But there are much better ways to be self-deprecating!  Obama could have mocked his bowling skills by saying “I brought my Z game,” which would have been Very Funny because it would have been a play on the sports-cliché of bringing one’s A game, you see, and it would not have offended any Z-Americans, since they have notoriously generous senses of humor.

Then again, a joke about one’s Z-game would not have provided us with the “teaching moment” we’re apparently living through as I write.  The timing of Obama’s misstep is interesting: the Special Olympics has launched a new initiative to retire the R-word, and I hope they have more success with this than I did back in 2005, because my little post on cognitive-disability slurs seems to have had precisely zero effect on the frequency with which “that’s so retarded” is uttered in public and “WTF are you a Fing retard” appears in the blog comment sections in Left Blogistan. (Though not here!)

(Extended aside:  before anybody asks me about Tropic Thunder: strange as it may sound, I actually kind of appreciate how the movie was trying to skewer the Rain Man - I Am Sam - Radio representation of intellectual disability.  It did so in a ham-handed and aggressively unfunny way, but then, it was a ham-handed and aggressively unfunny movie, though not quite so aggressively unfunny as Burn After Reading.  My sense is that it was trying to do for Vietnam War flicks what Galaxy Quest did for SF: to wit, parade and lampoon the cheesy, well-worn tropes of the genre and then work those tropes back into the script for a clever and meta- closing sequence.  Except that Tropic Thunder forgot about the “clever” part and the “funny” part.)

The rest of my reply had to do with the fact that we really, really don’t know how or when or whether to laugh when the subject is cognitive/intellectual disability. The Ringer made a remarkably brave attempt at it, starting from a patently offensive premise (Johnny Knoxville feigns intellectual disability in order to win the Special Olympics) and offering some, but only some, genuinely surprising and warmly humorous moments as the plot unfolds.  (I think Stephanie Zacharek’s review of the film had this just about right.) And the reason humor is important here will become clear (I hope) at the end of the post.

First, though, here’s what the graduate student said in response: she said that she’d been hearing not merely that this should be a “teaching moment” with regard to cognitive disability but also that we should take the opportunity to revisit the term “Special” itself, in order to ask whether the word hasn’t become the kind of default euphemism that needs to be retired along with the R-word.  “Well,” I said, “I imagine that the Shriver and Kennedy families would have something to say about that, and I don’t imagine that they’d take it as a friendly amendment.” No doubt, said my interlocutor, but whoever made the suggestion to her had also suggested that Special Olympians themselves take the lead in determining the appropriate language for cognitive disability.  “Hmmmm,” I hmmmed, “now that’s an idea.” I promised I would throw it up onto the Internets for further discussion, and that’s exactly what I am doing right now.  Discuss!  Or don’t!  Or best of all, just listen when someone with an intellectual disability speaks to you about this!

I did say one more thing that morning, as well.  (Just so you know.) I drew on something I wrote recently that may or may not appear someplace or other, in response to a request that I write a (very) brief essay on the languages of disability.  Here’s the relevant snippet from the essay I submitted, which I more or less paraphrased at LSU:

The last time I taught Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (a text that has become as important for disability studies as for queer theory), I couldn’t help noticing that at certain moments in Goffman’s text, the most heterogeneous conditions are yoked by violence together, as when Goffman writes that “ex-mental patients and expectant unmarried fathers are similar in that their failing is not readily visible” (48) and that “a woman who has had a mastectomy or a Norwegian male sex offender who has been penalized by castration are forced to present themselves falsely in almost all situations” (75).  What’s going on in these weird passages?  I think Goffman is winking at us, as one of the “wise”: he knows that stigma has a temporal dimension, that social opprobrium, like everything else, can be historicized.  He just doesn’t get around to saying so explicitly until the closing pages of his book, when he suggests that “when, as in the case of divorce or Irish ethnicity, an attribute loses much of its force as a stigma, a period will have been witnessed when the previous definition of the situation is more and more attacked” (137).  Divorce and Irish ethnicity aren’t discrediting attributes any longer; likewise, mastectomy and unwed fatherhood have lost much (though not all) of the stigma once attached to them.  Mental patients and sex offenders, by contrast, continue to be stigmatized, and many people might add that sex offenders are properly stigmatized.  My point—and, I think, Goffman’s implicit point—is not only that stigma has a history but that different forms of stigma move at different speeds.  Why, it is even possible, in today’s modern society today, to find openly gay men and women in elective office—something that was unimaginable at the time Stigma was published.

And yet disability remains deeply and widely stigmatized; I often suspect that cognitive disability is the slowest-moving of the stigmas, and will remain a subject of horror and avoidance for decades to come.  We argue about terminology, in other words (and it is always about speaking in other words), because we don’t yet know which fights to pick and which battles we can actually win.  Perhaps someday, when physical and cognitive disabilities have finally lost much of their stigmatizing force, we’ll be able to look back and determine which arguments about language made a difference, and which were simply clever language games.  Until then, we work in the dark, we do what we can.

I should have added that Stigma practically develops an entire lexicon of disability unto itself; and I might also have added, had I more room to work with (as here, on the Internets), a citation to the passage where Goffman writes, “There is also ‘disclosure etiquette,’ a formula whereby the individual admits his own failing in a matter of fact way, supporting the assumption that those present are above such concerns while preventing them from trapping themselves into showing that they are not.  Thus, the ‘good’ Jew or mental patient waits for ‘an appropriate time’ in a conversation with strangers and calmly says: ‘Well, being Jewish has made me feel that . . .’ or ‘Having had first-hand experience as a mental patient, I can . . .’” (101).  Yes, indeed, here are your good Jews and your discreet ex-mental patients, disclosing their “failings” via the proper disclosure etiquette (and see how the lexicon just taught you the term “disclosure etiquette”?).  I tell you, Goffman knows exactly what he’s doing by juxtaposing these two examples, and it isn’t about likening the two, any more than women who’ve had mastectomies are like Norwegian male sex offenders.

“Another strategy of those who pass,” Goffman writes seven pages earlier, “is to present the signs of their stigmatized failing as signs of another attribute, one that is less significantly a stigma.  Mental defectives, for example, apparently sometimes try to pass as mental patients, the latter being the less of two social evils” (94).  It’s passages like this—and “teaching moments” like ours—that lead me to think that cognitive/intellectual disability is the stigmatized identity that trumps all others, the one everyone else wants to distinguish themselves from, the one that will be hardest to destigmatize.

Which leads me back to humor.  The passage about divorce and Irish ethnicity losing their stigmatizing force goes on to say how “the previous definition of the situation” might be attacked: “first, perhaps, on the comedy stage, and later during mixed contacts in public places, until it ceases to exert control over both what can be easefully attended, and what must be kept a secret or painfully disattended” (137).  I think The Ringer was sincerely trying to destigmatize cognitive/intellectual disability with humor, and at least trying to imagine mixed contacts in public places.  And maybe we can use this teaching moment to think more productively about destigmatizing cognitive disability.  But we don’t quite know how to laugh, just yet, and we don’t quite know what to say.

x-posted for still further discussion

Posted by on 04/02 at 02:12 PM
  1. I doubt I have anything profound to suggest in terms of replacements for “special,” but I think the word is indeed troublesome because it doesn’t sound like a neutral or even a positive description—it sounds like a euphemism. And euphemisms will always attract derision. 

    But my second thought is that almost any language will be co-opted as an insult by clever but malign teenage boys in, say, 10-15 minutes or less, just as “special,” “idiot” and “retarded” were. It’s always seemed to me that the left’s general tendency to make war on language was ultimately distracting from real, material problems. And that the political right is very happy to keep arguing with us about language policing and whether men should hold the door open for women, precisely because then we aren’t arguing about equal pay, paid maternity leave and the history of race relations in the US. Perhaps the case of cognitive disability doesn’t map onto those same struggles, but it feels similar to me.

    But my larger, or at least other, question was this: the standard academic approach to the notion of stigma is to historicize it (and this is good), but virtually always with an eye toward demonstrating that the stigma—which had first appeared as a kind of eternal truth—is historically contingent, a social construct, will one day pass, etc. Shouldn’t some things be stigmatized (you mentioned sex offenders, after all)? I’m currently in France, and I keep thinking about all the ways in which America could use more shame. Captch: precisely “more.”

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  04:20 PM
  2. I don’t think “special” should feel so loaded. Compare “gay"—used to mainly mean “happy,” now it mainly means “homosexual.” Or “person of color” in lieu of assorted other labels—it may be euphemistic, but it serves a specific purpose. In a society where the term “special education” has an abiding presence, it would seem that “Special Olympics” should work just fine. (I’m ignoring the use of phrases like “you’re so special” uttered in a sneering tone.)

    I always think a little less of folks who bandy about terms like “fucktard.” There are more eloquent and more profane ways of conveying one’s scorn without resorting to such terms.

    This week the Chicago Tribune had an article on Northwestern students’ campaign against the R-word. I heedlessly clicked on the link for reader comments. Oy! There was much decrying of PC-ness, of liberals and their assault on language, of hypersensitive people. A couple people argued that stripping the language of such useful words as “retard” and [insert other words that decent people long ago quit using] is robbing the English language of its expressiveness. Why, yes! Taking a lexicon of 300,000 words and jettisoning a few dozen pejorative and hurtful words will hamstring us all! We shall scarcely be able to put together a complete sentence anymore!

    Posted by Orange  on  04/02  at  04:55 PM
  3. What Goffman is doing is pointing out that human beings in social situations act and are perceived in regular, patterned, analyzable ways. Whether they are good or bad people, deserving of our sympathy or our contempt, has nothing to do with the way they function.  The moral dimension of a stigma ("sexual offenders should be stigmatized") has nothing to do with how the stigma works. 

    He links these “heterogeneous conditions” together because for the purposes of his analysis they are not heterogeneous.  Goffman believes that he is a scientist, and he is attempting to isolate certain relevant scientific properties of social interaction while disregarding non-relevant ones.

    To provide an analogy: suppose one to find, in a textbook for police investigators, this sentence: “An object falling from a height - whether a bowling ball or a human being - accelerates at a rate of 32 feet per second squared unless slowed by the effects of air resistance.” Linking a bowling ball and a person falling to an immanent death might appear to be a “violent” linkage, but in fact it is a helpful reminder that human beings behave like other objects for certain purposes.

    In the same way, Goffman links the cancer survivor and the sex offender to remind us that for purposes of his analysis it doesn’t matter that one is “worthy” of sympathy and the other is not.  The way stigma functions is the same for both.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  05:29 PM
  4. Many years ago (oh that again) I used to look through a book on .. mental illness I think it was. Not sure of the specifics at this point. It was part of my father’s collection though I’m not sure why. The book described the various levels of intelligence deficiency. Each of the terms which we might think of as equivalent - moron, imbecile, idiot - actually specifically related to a particular IQ range level. I left out “low grade moron” which was also one of the terms. If I remember correctly “moron” was the highest and “idiot” was the lowest. In every sense these were “scientific” or technical terms supposedly representing quantifiable differences rather than levels of insult.

    Considering that, I can’t help but think that at some point in time “retarded” was brought in as a “politically correct” attempt to diminish some of the stigma. But “human” nature, being what it is, soon made retarded into retard and it too joined the other technical terms of insult.

    “Special” itself now has that stigma. “Special Ed.” “Isn’t that special?” Sure, the church lady wasn’t referring to people of diminished .. er .. she wasn’t talking about kids who could be so easily hurt by words used as a chant or mantra by other kids.

    In the sixties there was a cartoon in Playboy magazine showing a white man and a black man talking at a cocktail party. The cut line was quoting the white man. “So what are you calling yourself this week?” I’ve probably got the quote wrong because it was an obvious reference to the political incorrectness of “colored” and “Negro.” “Black” was the new .. black? I don’t think “African American” existed then. There’s probably more politics in the language of racial monikers. I certainly saw that with former New York mayor David Dinkins. Dinkins liked to use the term “people of color” or “person of color.” I got the distinct sense that it was meant to carry the racist insult that “white” is perceived to have, in reverse. People who were not “of color” were somehow lacking. They were bland and .. colorless. At least that was how I saw it and frankly watching Dinkins blandly describe his complete lack of awareness of the mini pogrom that everyone else in the city was seeing for three straight days on the TV in Crown Heights didn’t do much to temper any sense I had that Dinkins was a sleaze who used race in the same disgusting way that the worst “white” bigots did and do.

    These are words and word games. Republicans had been masters of the genre, passing laws that more often than not did exactly the opposite of what their grand names implied they did. It didn’t really matter as long as everyone was somehow benefiting from the games. The bubbles. The trickle, however slight it may have been. Now those word games have been revealed for the cons that they always were. The bubbles, for the worthless emptiness they contained. I’m surprised the anger level isn’t much greater than it is, but then “Republicans” still control the public dialog. The public words. So suggesting that the captains of industry and finance that have sailed us into a whirlpool of their own making should have limits on their “compensation” is considered “socialist” but limiting the pay of union workers who have greatly helped build America - is an obvious and needed measure in these hard times. I think it was one “Frank Luntz” that examined the field for Republicans. Sort of deciding on what to name the shit that was to be tossed against the wall. A rose by any other name? WTF did Shakespeare know about politics and controlling the dialog?

    “Serious.” Does anyone believe that word as it’s used in the “public dialog” has any relationship to a standard, say OED, meaning? “Unserious” is probably more disdainful than “retard” since it hasn’t yet been exposed for the self serving, back of the hand insult it’s meant to be towards any dissenting views and opinions.

    P.S. Regarding that book I had read, there was a section that had something of an anecdote about a mental patient. The patient, on seeing a blank page in an open notebook then went through something of a language logic series. Paraphrasing from distant memory - “A blank page is an ink lined page which is a slope up which is a slow pup which is a lazy dog.”

    That’s what I remember, anyway.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  05:53 PM
  5. Yes it’s a teachable moment and I was in shock that Obama had said it. He said what? He’s the President!  He’s a politician! Was he on drugs or something. He was slap happy on 60 minutes.

    I have an American-Irish-Catholic friend who has 6 brothers, one of whom has been in the Special Olympics and my friend was pissed off and emotional when I asked him about Obama on Leno. But then again we had been drinking for much of the night.

    It’s important to keep a sense of humor. So many left-liberals become so unfunny. I liked the Zacharek review of the Ringer. With humor context is everything however.

    Check out this essay on Dave Chappelle which is also about humor about another touchy subject.

    But yes cognitive disability needs to be normalized and destigmatized, which is tough to do because human beings’ brains aren’t fully evolved, their adrenal glands are too big and their frontal lobes are too small so they need to be mean to “out” groups to deal with their insecurities.

    Also think about Timmy or Jimmy on South Park. They’re funny but it makes one uncomfortable to laugh at them. After a few episodes they become normalized and just part of the gang and yet it’s a fine line. I’ve definitely learned from this teachable moment and now think it’s kind of rude and Obama-like for Atrios over at Escaton to refer to Tim Geithner as “Timmeh” in Cartmanspeak, whereas before I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

    Posted by Peter K.  on  04/02  at  06:00 PM
  6. My reaction was mainly hurt feelings. As in, I thought this guy was on my side, but now it is obvious that he sees people with disabilities as Very Other Not Like Me. Which is a pretty common way for people to feel about it all, but you know.  I thought this one was different.

    And now my feelings are hurt.

    Do you watch/have you seen MTV’s How’s Your News?

    What do you think of it, as far as laughing with vs laughing at various (but mostly cognitive/intellectual) disabilities?

    Posted by Cecily  on  04/02  at  06:03 PM
  7. I happened to love Burn After Reading.  It took me 20 minutes of puzzlement, but then I laughed until the end of the credits.  Incidentally, that’s the same reaction I had to Russian Ark.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  07:05 PM
  8. Great post—will show it to students in my disability history class next week.

    Posted by Knitting Clio  on  04/02  at  07:16 PM
  9. Would it make any difference if Obama was referring not to his own (special) bowling skills but to Leno’s mocking applause of his (low) score?

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  08:41 PM
  10. “...I’ve definitely learned from this teachable moment and now think it’s kind of rude and Obama-like for Atrios over at Escaton to refer to Tim Geithner as “Timmeh” in Cartmanspeak, whereas before I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.”

    I’m sure I’ve offended you, although I haven’t ever referred to Geithner as “Timmeh”.  I tend to use the “eh” slang ending on certain words that have a “y” or “ie” ending...and I’ve never ever seen an episode of “South Park”.  On reflection, I realize my source has been the I Can Haz Cheezburger site, with all those lovely, funny, innocent kittehs.

    I won’t apologize, because that would just sound sarcastic, and I don’t feel sarcastic.  I’m thinking about taking a vow of silence, though.

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  09:27 PM
  11. My completely idiosyncratic hypothesis is that socially-recognized humor has two components:

    (1) double meaning of some sort
    (2) playing along the edge between appropriateness and inappropriateness

    Example: “The first half of Florida’s regular legislative session coincides with Colonoscopy Awareness Month. The second half is Tsunami Awareness Month.” If you worship the legislature, this is entirely unfunny. I’ve got a family history with colon cancer in it, and this is hilarious to me.

    Obama’s faux pas is a “not competently playing along the edge” mistake, which is more dangerous for the relatively powerful playing along the edge of the definition of the powerless. And Obama counts as powerful right now.

    If you’re poking fun at the more powerful, you have a much larger safety margin. Or at least you do in my book. (On average, Deaf culture jokes I’ve been exposed to are incredibly funny--often cruel about the ignorance of the rest of us, but hilarious.)

    And if you’re poking fun at yourself or a proxy for yourself, you’re completely safe, which is why the safest humor for a president is self-deprecation.

    Posted by Sherman Dorn  on  04/02  at  10:21 PM
  12. Well, no sooner did I post this than I went out to play nine holes of golf with my own Special Olympian (he opened and closed with double bogeys), after which I learned that some nasty entity has invaded my body and is producing a fever of 101.  Sorry to leave the discussion hanging.  A few quick things:

    Robert @ 1:

    It’s always seemed to me that the left’s general tendency to make war on language was ultimately distracting from real, material problems.

    In the longer version of that very brief paper, I very briefly discuss Nancy Fraser’s distinction between the politics of redistribution and the politics of recognition.  The academic left has been happy to argue that distinction with Fraser for the past 10-12 years, and yes, it can get tedious and petty.  But you know, sometimes the language matters.  You’re not really going to convince me that there’s no material distinction between “person with Down syndrome” and “Mongoloid idiot,” or that the more human phrasing of the former didn’t accompany more humane disability policies in this country.

    Orange @ 2:

    Taking a lexicon of 300,000 words and jettisoning a few dozen pejorative and hurtful words will hamstring us all!

    Exactly so.  And as I pointed out in 2005, English is particularly rich in insults.  Maybe people who rely on “retard” just aren’t very bright.  Let’s tell them so!

    Bloix @ 3:

    In the same way, Goffman links the cancer survivor and the sex offender to remind us that for purposes of his analysis it doesn’t matter that one is “worthy” of sympathy and the other is not.

    I actually do know what Goffman is on about.  Yes, both the cancer survivor and the sex offender are missing an intimate piece of their bodies, and that’s not readily visible.  But no one here said anything about “sympathy.” My point was that Stigma is chock full of examples of stigmatized identities that were in the process of getting themselves destigmatized as Goffman wrote, and that Goffman is very well aware of this.

    Amos Anan @ 4:

    Dinkins liked to use the term “people of color” or “person of color.” I got the distinct sense that it was meant to carry the racist insult that “white” is perceived to have, in reverse. People who were not “of color” were somehow lacking.

    Quoi?  “Person of color” was a very common term in the 1980s.  Still is.  And I’ve never sensed anything implicitly pejorative about white people.

    You’re right about “idiot - moron - imbecile,” though.  They weren’t epithets. They were clinical diagnoses.

    Peter K. @ 5:  “Timmeh” is Cartmanspeak?  I wouldn’t know—I am not very literate in Cartmanspeak.  Cecily @ 6, no, sorry, I’ve never seen How’s Your News?  Tree @ 7, you are wrong to enjoy Burn After Reading.  Knitting Clio @ 8, thanks.  Johnny O’Ryan @ 9, I don’t think so.  And Larkspur @ 10, oooh, kittehs!

    Posted by Michael  on  04/02  at  10:22 PM
  13. michael, i have no experience w/the special olympics, tho i do have a special needs neice.  she was born w/most of the left side of her body terribly paralyzed, which included her tongue, so many people thought her to be “retarded” or whatever the proper word it.  it turns out she has a pretty normal iq, it was just really really really hard to understand her.  but she has a lot of special needs physically (she can’t take a bath, only showers, etc).

    so my question is, does “special olympics” automatically mean mentally challenged, or can the s.o. include simply the physicially challenged?  of course i know the answer is yes, there plenty of special olympians who have physical disabilities but not mental.

    i ask this because, as soon as obama made his rather thoughtless joke, the hardly-ever-right wing was accusing him of making a “retard” joke.

    now i don’t condone what he said.  he was pretty glib and pretty annoying.  but it seems to me that it was the right-wing who made the retard joke.  obama, while rude and thoughtless, wasn’t really making a retard joke.

    it just seemed to me to show exactly where the prejudice lay, w/the right, and not in obama.

    tho obama needs some lessons in decorum, imo.

    Posted by skippy  on  04/02  at  10:32 PM
  14. ok, you need to have an edit feature on your comments, i found a few typos, plus i meant to say

    “{i know the answer is no, there plenty of special olympians who have physical disabilities but not mental.”

    Posted by skippy  on  04/02  at  10:34 PM
  15. skippy, edit functions are for Wuss-Americans, dude.  But yes, Special Olympics are for people with intellectual disabilities.  It was a foolish remark, he apologized immediately, and now the right is onto more important things—namely, Obama’s plan to replace the US dollar with a global currency, and Obama’s repeated trashing of our close relations with the UK.  If only Bush were here to restore our global gift-giving reputation!

    Posted by Michael  on  04/02  at  11:00 PM
  16. A black woman touched the Queen!

    Posted by  on  04/02  at  11:16 PM
  17. As a person who had a colonoscopy yesterday (negative, thank goodness) and lives in a community susceptible to tsunamis, I take offense.
    But obviously I need education as to why “Tropic Thunder” and “Burn After Reading” were offensive and will re-educate myself.

    Posted by Hattie  on  04/02  at  11:31 PM
  18. "South Park” attempts to use humor as a way to speak about the unspeakable, including disability.

    More interesting to me is the disclosure etiquette. It’s not a subject about which I’ve read, but I have written about the way I say, “My son has Down syndrome and ...” I use the “and” to get past their reactions, especially the expectant pity or sympathy, and into whatever else it is that I want to talk about.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  12:06 AM
  19. Dangit I loved Burn After Reading!  I’m not ashamed to admit it either, Professor Bérubé… if that is your real name!

    And now I will bloviate some.  Behold:

    Killing crappy words is a rough and tumble business… though it’s a cakewalk compared with killing the shameful ideas they embody.  And with cognitive disability it’s doubly tough, because folks who have them often stand out from the crowd—their ‘otherness’ is apparent… like redheads, or Cubs fans.  People are often real jerks to other people they don’t recognize as kin.  Usually you’ve got two choices if you want to get them to stop being jerks—you can either a) shun (or pummel) them, or you can b) lift the veil between their beady little eyes and the light, and help them to see the beauty and wonderfulness of the folks they’re mocking. Shame them.  Guilt is powerful stuff.  It is the malt liquor of emotions. 

    Bullies are almost always secretly ashamed of themselves anyway.  So really, if you look at it that way, we’ve already got a head start.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  01:03 AM
  20. Skippy is thinking of the Paralympics, which are not the Special Olympics but are actually pretty special, e.g., http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/dLEd4XkU8WE/Paralympics+Day+7+Swimming/Ztsyv9obQSQ/Xu+Qing

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  09:38 AM
  21. "Unique” seems a bit more descriptive than “Special” to my ear. Recognizes the individual array of accommodations and allowances needed to bring about “Normal”. Normal being what most of us wake up to every day, effortlessly and without a second thought. Focusing on the challenge should provoke a bit of empathy, perhaps some respect too.

    ‘Course if Church Lady were to switch to “Isn’t that ... unique?” language usage might again trump language intent.

    Captcha: choice

    Posted by black dog buzzkill  on  04/03  at  10:08 AM
  22. @10:
    I’m sure I’ve offended you, although I haven’t ever referred to Geithner as “Timmeh”.  I tend to use the “eh” slang ending on certain words that have a “y” or “ie” ending...and I’ve never ever seen an episode of “South Park”.  On reflection, I realize my source has been the I Can Haz Cheezburger site, with all those lovely, funny, innocent kittehs.

    I don’t think the “eh” is the problem. It caught on after “Timmeh” was already a regular character on South Park, and think it’s unrelated to the Timmeh phenomenon. The context is different. Atrios was certainly referencing Timmy from South Park

    http://southpark.wikia.com/wiki/Timmy

    “Due to the popularity of South Park, Timmy’s exclamation “TIMMEH!” soon entered into pop culture as an outburst used to describe, chide, or respond to moments of extreme un-coordination, lack of concentration or other losses of logic, sense or reason. There are many other ways in which the exclamation is referenced, such as:”

    Atrios referring to Tim Geithner as “Timmeh” was the same as Obama’s Special Olympics crack and I wonder if anyone called him on it.

    The two South Park creators are a lot like the Farrelly Brothers of The Ringer, they try to do over-the-top humor while still having some humanity at the heart of it.

    Posted by Peter K.  on  04/03  at  11:21 AM
  23. Thanks for referencing the Goffman, book, Michael. I’ll get a copy and read it. Got my own stigma to deal with, and it’s helpful to be reminded that there’s nothing personal about it, really; we’re just one seriously screwed up society. Captcha “become”

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  11:39 AM
  24. Um, Peter, the South Park wiki goes on to say that the other ways in which the exclamation is referenced include

    * The popular MMORPG World of Warcraft features the character Timmy the Cruel in the Stratholme instance (who yells “TIMMY!” when he appears).
    * On ESPN’s Sports Center, anchors yell “TIMMY” whenever a Tim Duncan highlight is shown.
    * During the intro to ‘Sailor’ by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, members of the band can be heard doing ‘Timmy’ impressions.
    * Buffalo Sabres fans often refer to center Tim Connolly, known for his prolonged absences due to injury, as “Timmah,” a reference to the character.

    --whereas “Special Olympics” refers quite unambiguously to athletes with intellectual disabilities.  So no, I’m not quite convinced that Atrios’ line is evidence of disabilityphobia.  But I think you’re right about the Farrelly brothers, and David Edelstein agrees with you too.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/03  at  11:58 AM
  25. After 30 years in show business, I feel confident in saying that, in fairness to President Obama, being president is a lot easier than being a comedian.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  12:04 PM
  26. I’m not sure I’ve got this fully worked out here, so bear with me. My special child is multiply gifted, which sounds like I haven’t got anything to complain about, but the gifts have come with marked social and physical delay. We had to hold him back a year just so he could operate in a school where the curriculum was already too easy for him. Now, at 14, almost 15, he’s one of the oldest in his 8th grade class, but he’s slight and juvenile-looking, towered over by hulking mustachioed boys who look like stevedores by comparison.

    Back when he began kindergarten the first new words he learned at school were “retard” and “homo” directed at him by his classmates. He knew he was being insulted without even knowing what the insult consisted of. It’s a challenge explaining to a 6 year old what “derogatory” means, what a derogatory term is, why some kinds of people think the thing referred referred to by the derogatory is a bad thing when in fact the thing referred to (developmental delay, homosexuality) is not necessarily a bad thing, nor even a present thing, just because some people think it is. And so on and so forth. It’s also a challenge explaining, not long afterward, to the same 5-year-old, why being smart ("Shut up, Einstein!") is just as bad as being not smart ("Shut up, retard!")

    This in a suburban school mind you, chock full of “Teach Tolerance” banners and anti-bullying measures, where teachers and principles helpfully point out that when one’s son acts like the other children one’s son’s harassers will move on (presumably to other prey!).

    So what am I trying to get at? My sense is that this is something bigger than simply insensitivity of the cognitively-abled toward the cognitibely-disabled, but a wide-ranging socially protected culture of hostility to all difference from a very narrowly conceived norm which seeks to pit all difference communities or different individuals against each other for what crumbs of social dignity are out there.

    Obama blundered for sure and apologized swiftly. But does anybody remember when his poor bowling average came up during the primaries? I seem to remember some subtle insinuations among the media and across the webiverse that that was the sort of score you would expect from a Black guy. In other words: “your coloreds can’t bowl like normal (white) people can. yuk, yuk, yuk.” By bringing up his bowling scored at all Leno was raising the sign of Obama’s abnormality. Sadly, when put in that position, even the best of us may be pressed to assert our normality at the expense of some other. It’s how the powerful make themselves normal and maintaing their power, by fragmenting the rest of us.

    Damn, I’ve not managed to say it at all. It needs a Gramsci or a Zinn to do it for me I think.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  12:58 PM
  27. ”...suggested that Special Olympians themselves take the lead in determining the appropriate language...”

    I like this. The people with intellectual disabilities I know tend to be activists, and they don’t like any of the labels for their group. At all. Like none, including PWID. They feel that people exist on a continuum of abilities, and drawing a line between normal and them is arbitrary: labels reinforce a false dichotomy. If you try this lack of labeling (say in a meeting about closing institutions), it’s both incredibly impractical and gloriously destabilizing. The mind reels in trying to comprehend this vision. For which I thank them.

    It reminds me of young dykes who don’t like to be called lesbians. Not cause they’re passing, not cause they’re bi, but cause the rigid categories (that were useful for my generation in articulating and organizing around difference) don’t actually describe their experience.

    Posted by judy  on  04/03  at  01:52 PM
  28. "Principals” I meant, of course. Though they’re no pals of mine.

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  02:07 PM
  29. It reminds me of young dykes who don’t like to be called lesbians. Not cause they’re passing, not cause they’re bi, but cause the rigid categories (that were useful for my generation in articulating and organizing around difference) don’t actually describe their experience.

    This reminds me of music groups who don’t like being categorized as this or that kind of music and will resist it during interviews.

    Gore Vidal has never considered himself “gay,” he just engages in gay sex he’ll say.

    ProfB, you may be right, both Atrios and Obama have a good track record and both mean well either way.

    I think the one group okay to mock and stigmatize is the Republicans, because of their bizarre behavior like their current jihad against an imaginary international reserve currency.

    Did you hear Newt Gingrich converted to Roman Catholicism? What caused this? Why now? Was it the election of Obama? The American turn to Socialism?

    Posted by Peter K.  on  04/03  at  02:16 PM
  30. Ohio teach: I think what you say about “norms” is a large part of the problem. “Crumbs of social dignity.” Yes. We are an easily humiliated people. Most of us do not resemble any kind of human ideal, and that we perceive as a great fault. So we scapegoat those whom we can categorize as more “different” that we are.

    Posted by Hattie  on  04/03  at  02:19 PM
  31. OT but sport’s related: Congrats to Michael’s Nittany Lions for laying claim to the title of 66th Best Division I College Basketball Team!

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  02:33 PM
  32. @ninja3000: Here’s how a brilliant comedian (Richard Pryor) conceived President-hood:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQOTXR9CEM

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  03:48 PM
  33. I was wondering when you might write about this…

    Like Johnny O’Ryan @ 9, I still think Obama’s joke was to equate Leno’s effusively supportive praise for his best-but-still-not-great efforts to the effusively supportive praise for which the Special Olympics is known.  The joke was about the Special Olympics as a venue where, by repute, “everyone gets a trophy.” Yes, that is a mischaracterization and dismissive.  Making the Special Olympics into a punchline is certainly bad form, but I don’t think the joke was tantamount to “I bowl like a retard.”

    What Obama should have said was something like, with a little smile, “OK, don’t patronize me.”

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  07:40 PM
  34. (I think the transcripts of the appearance say something like “It was like Special Olympics,” but what I heard in real time was “What’s this, like, Special Olympics?” Referring to Leno’s mugging praise, rather than to Obama’s bowling talent.)

    Posted by  on  04/03  at  07:44 PM
  35. Much food for thought in the last two paragraphs—have you done any posts in this blog’s history on the disability studies lit, which I need to read more of?

    Perhaps part of the problem is that our language for physical ability is more precise and nuanced and utterable than our language for mental ability, and one reason for that is that the category of mental ability bears the burden of indexing people’s ontic worth in a way physical ability doesn’t—this is the history of IQ, and the way performance in academic subjects like math is often perceived as revealing innate capacity.  In turn this makes insults around mental capacity much worse than insults about physical capacity.

    Posted by  on  04/04  at  01:42 AM
  36. It seems to me that there’s no end to this - as long as we use words to identify people that society may be inclined to discriminate against, those words are going to begin to take on perjorative overtones, in spite of our best intentions. Changing the words isn’t helping - the discrimination just attaches itself to the new words. And although I’m not personally affected by the issue, and therefore perhaps have less to say about it than those who are, I think we waste a lot of time and energy on what appear to be trivial matters of terminology - “Down syndrome” vs. “Down’s syndrome”, anyone?

    Isn’t there a more effective way of dealing with discrimination than (repeatedly, over time) changing the terminology we use? Because that isn’t working.

    Posted by  on  04/04  at  09:26 AM
  37. Michael:

    My reply on your CT thread is more on point, but there’s a tangential issue I wanted to raise.

    What the episode revealed about Obama’s character wasn’t really some hidden tendency to stigmatize the disabled, at least, not notably so relative to the general population. In that sense, he simply exhibited the “normal” response of a “normal” person confronted with the “abnormal.” He wasn’t trying to be cruel or demeaning, he was simply and LITERALLY thoughtless. That is, it’s not something that he ever had to think about much. So he didn’t think about it.

    What’s so fascinating and intriguing is the fact that Mr. Cool and Calm lost his cool. Faced with a massive financial crisis and two wars, he has been Mr. Steady.

    But faced with a talk-show host mocking his athletic ability, of an instant the President snarled thoughtlessly. Now THAT is a character flaw and vulnerability that he better get a handle on. Because things like can be and will be exploited by his adversaries.

    Posted by jfxgillis  on  04/04  at  10:08 AM
  38. Hattie @11: I live less than 50 ft above sea level. There is a Disaster Movie scenario (the Cumbar Vieja collapse) that hits huge swaths of Atlantic coastline, including an 80-foot high wall of water hitting the Florida peninsula. And I had my colonoscopy a few weeks ago (small polyp, benign). But almost nothing can outdo Dave Barry.

    Posted by Sherman Dorn  on  04/04  at  10:32 AM
  39. Ohioteach @ 26:

    My sense is that this is something bigger than simply insensitivity of the cognitively-abled toward the cognitibely-disabled, but a wide-ranging socially protected culture of hostility to all difference from a very narrowly conceived norm which seeks to pit all difference communities or different individuals against each other for what crumbs of social dignity are out there.

    Ohioteach, definitely check out Stigma.  You’ll find it, I hope, to be a pretty compelling study of that wide-ranging socially protected culture.

    FlipYrWhig @ 33-34:

    Making the Special Olympics into a punchline is certainly bad form, but I don’t think the joke was tantamount to “I bowl like a retard.”

    True.  But as I said over at CT, I don’t think it makes much difference, because the underlying assumption is that the Special Olympics involves that kind of condescending, patronizing applause. That’s precisely the stereotype that The Ringer sought to undermine by having its cognitively disabled characters talk back to it (in various ways).  Now, I see that jfxgillis has taken me to task for this, so he’s next up @ 37.

    He wasn’t trying to be cruel or demeaning, he was simply and LITERALLY thoughtless.

    Yep, that’s what I meant.  As for your claim @ CT that applause for Special Olympians is condescending and patronizing, I’ll argue with you over there.  Now for

    Sean Peters @ 36:

    as long as we use words to identify people that society may be inclined to discriminate against, those words are going to begin to take on perjorative overtones, in spite of our best intentions. Changing the words isn’t helping - the discrimination just attaches itself to the new words. And although I’m not personally affected by the issue, and therefore perhaps have less to say about it than those who are, I think we waste a lot of time and energy on what appear to be trivial matters of terminology - “Down syndrome” vs. “Down’s syndrome”, anyone?

    Short answer:  yes and no.  Longer answer:  as I argued in Life As We Know It, when Jamie was little I cared much more about whether he could say and understand possessive S than whether he was marked by one.  Likewise, in the longer version of the very brief essay I cite in this post, I suggest that arguments over “person with Down syndrome” vs. “Down syndrome person” are too clever for their own good.  But the idea that discrimination just attaches itself to new words involves a theory of language and culture to which I don’t subscribe.  Here’s what Wittgenstein has to say about this:  “Suppose I had agreed on a code with someone; ‘tower’ means bank.  I tell him ‘Now go to the tower’ – he understands me and acts accordingly, but he feels the word ‘tower’ to be strange in this use, it has not yet ‘taken on’ the meaning.” (PI, 214). When we change the terminology significantly (and again, I don’t regard Down v. Down’s as significant)—say, from “Mongoloid idiot” to “person with Down syndrome”—we collectively hesitate for a moment; the new term isn’t stigmatized just yet, it has not yet “taken on” the stigma.

    Now, how do we know when a change of terms is significant enough to get people to stop and think?  We don’t.  And that’s why we work in the dang dark.

    Posted by Michael  on  04/04  at  11:37 AM
  40. I need to print your post and really read it carefully since it has a lot of interesting ideas! That being said - I love to call my daughter ‘special’, I like to make her feel like she is the most special person in the whole world, and she has DS. I always hope that in doing so I give her some defenses and buffer from the hurtful things that many people may end up directing at her. Words should be thoughtfully used- that is the lesson- and people should be respectful of each other. Those are difficult lessons to learn and thus one stigmatized group often ends up using hurtful words against another. Being a parent of someone with an extra chromosome has certainly raised my awareness but that does not mean that I am immune to saying the wrong thing at times!!! I wrote a post re: Obama’s remark titled “Cognitive Superiorityism”,
    http://starrlife.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/cognitive-superiorityism/, and in it I referred to the Olympics as the “Not so Special Olympics” since one is pitted against the other in a way. Anyway- a topic that I could think about forever- thanks for the inspiration!

    Posted by starrlife  on  04/04  at  12:56 PM
  41. I don’t think it makes much difference, because the underlying assumption is that the Special Olympics involves that kind of condescending, patronizing applause.

    Yes, I completely agree with that assessment, but doesn’t that make it a joke about the Special Olympics per se, rather than a joke about disability?  Or is the implicit joke more like “the results I get from my best effort are objectively bad and yet you praise them as though they are good, which reminds me of how the Special Olympics works, in that the competitors are not very good”?  I’m trying to isolate the degree to which Special Olympics = bad athleticism is crucial to the joke.

    Posted by  on  04/04  at  09:04 PM
  42. "I actually do know what Goffman is on about.”

    Oh dear.  I have noticed, from time to time, that people who make their living by lecturing at others tend to become prickly when they think they are being lectured at.

    I don’t doubt that you understand Goffman better than I do.  But I think you are reading him instrumentally, which I submit, is not how he intended to be read.  I think you are inferring a wink when there is no wink to be seen, because you want that wink to be there, while Goffman intended to be read without anything remotely approaching a wink, a sign, or a sympathetic sigh.

    Posted by  on  04/04  at  11:35 PM
  43. I’m so happy to see this being talked about. Thanks for posting it, Michael.

    I’m not sure that the actual term that might or might not replace “the R word” or “special” matters a whole lot. I agree that it’s easy for well-intentioned folks to get overly caught up in semantics, and that, on the other hand, the cultural power of those clever but insensitive twelve-year-olds will usually beat out the good intentions of wordsmiths and turn any “new” word into an insult. So yeah, changing words every few years is certainly not a solution.

    The value, in my mind, is in the discussion itself. All language users can benefit from conversations about the roots and implications of our words, even if we thought we understood them a decade ago. The assumptions that underpin those words change, after all--the words carry more (or at least different) baggage as our cultural attitudes shift.

    Maybe at the end of it all, the Special Olympics remain the Special Olympics; fine. It would be nice to know that we’re calling them that not because the Shrivers decided it, or because it’s too expensive to re-print the T-shirts, but because the participants and their families and fans agreed that those are the Olympics in which they want to participate.

    So there’s self-determination at stake here, but that’s not all. We non-participants can be reminded that our assumed understanding of those Olympics may be based more upon a string of mediocre jokes than on any actual experience of the event (the “everyone gets a trophy” bit, for instance). Then I’m forced to say to myself, Hm. I wonder if there are other things I think I know but that are in fact based on equally spurious sources?

    My point is that I think that the stakes in these conversation are actually much more universal than finding a word that won’t hurt anyone. And for people who are impatient with discussions about words, I’d say that this gets directly at material reality. This is about looking more closely at the way we (think we) know things about each other.

    I take Wittgenstein’s point, but I don’t know that the process he describes requires a name change. I don’t even know that banishing a word from our lexicon is necessarily the answer. I’d just like words that are used to describe groups of people to be treated as questions that are perpetually at issue. We can’t let them settle into comfortable usage, because that’s when they gather the dust of unexamined assumptions, when those assumptions firm up and look like facts. Just have to keep stirring the pot, or as we say in Louisiana, conversating.

    Thanks again for starting it!

    Posted by  on  04/05  at  12:31 AM
  44. In looking for language that can transcend stigmas (if that is really possible in this age of tube internets), i think of how indigenous tribes handled these sorts of issues.  Certainly, in many cases, those with significant impairments, handicaps, disabilities, cognitive issues, etc., may have been cast out or even ritually killed. Yet i am aware of several tribal languages that contain classes of terms which describe those individuals as being enriched by unique and magical gifts.  They could be attributed with powers with which they were asked to perform functions: naming, showing the backward way, lightning touching, creating relationships, identifying trails and food resources, etc.

    We live in a much different circumstance in this Anthropocene Era; but discovering connections of relationships will always be critical for human social sustainability.  Being asked to consciously reflect upon our relationships with others with cognitive disabilities opens our awareness of our own sparks and seeds of compassion.  We need all the compassion we can generate.

    Posted by  on  04/05  at  06:12 AM
  45. Special Olympics is trying to do away with the R word?  I understand the revulsion that they might feel at being associated with Republicans, but what word are we supposed to use instead? Fasciologs? Panderbunnies? I don’t know- I don’t think this thing is going to work.

    Posted by Green Eagle  on  04/06  at  07:47 PM
  46. It’s always amusing to read the oh so sensitive ruminations of today’s castrati Oprahists. Many thanks for the entertainment, guys. Retards.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  01:30 AM
  47. Many thanks, Laura!  If I’d had the good sense to ask your email address, I’d have given you a heads-up on this.  Anyway, I agree completely—more completely with each paragraph, and extra extra completely with the last three.  Thanks again.

    And a special thanks to Augustine for stopping by, too.  It’s always amusing to hear from the manly manly men and Super Geniuses of the internets.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  09:15 AM
  48. Agreed—language sometimes matters (I’d even say it always matters). I’m just not sure if it matters as much.

    And while English vocabulary is huge, I’m not sure about eliminating words just because they have a history, because all words have a history. I think it depends on the history, and I’d like to give words the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Personally, the words “idiot” and the word “retard” have very different valences for me—"retard" is very much a playground insult that still carries with it a reference to a medicalized condition. “Idiot” (actually, especially when used as an insult) doesn’t have that sound to me, and is enormously expressive. Because there are times, like when I’m driving, that I would like to be able to expressively and emotionally insult the person driving in front of me for being stupid. They have the same point of origin, but have perhaps followed a different trajectory since then.

    Captcha: “issue,” as in “this is a very complicated.”

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  11:36 AM
  49. Very frustrating that there’s no e-mail address listed to reach Monsieur Berube.  Good article in today’s Toronto Star about yet another example of a kid with ‘special needs’ turning out to be, with some additional attention, a superior contributer to his school’s community-and not as another ‘example’ to the other kids (blah blah blah) but as the head of his school’s student support technology team (i.e. fixing other kids’ computer problems-the ‘goto guy’ as the article puts it).  Not earthshattering, but another useful example of how a little bit of effort can often find remarkable skills under the label.  Hope you can find it.

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  12:49 PM
  50. My wife wrote what I think is a very good response to Obama’s Special Olympics gaffe for our local paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/41707867.html

    She kind of frames it as “what do we do now?” given how spine-bendingly surprising it was to hear.  Although Obama called Tim Shriver, I don’t think the White House has done nearly enough to address this mistake.  (I have also been struck by the “he called and apologized so get over it” rhetoric in several editorials.)

    Cecily at #6 asked about How’s Your News?  We’ve entirely given up on the MTV version.  It lacks the sincerity, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness of the earlier versions on HBO and the Trio network (though I have not seen all of the HBO episodes).  In short, it has been Jackass-ized by MTV.  Parker and Stone (the South Park guys) are executive producers, and helped fund the earlier versions.  However, it is my guess that MTV producers on the daily operations level are choosing (or “suggesting") situations for the interviewers that are more interesting to MTV’s target demographic than, say, earlier episodes shot during the Presidential primaries or the “cross country” stories featured on the DVD (all of which were really good). 

    John

    Posted by  on  04/07  at  06:12 PM
  51. No problem, Michael. I try to be helpful. Speaking of which, I think it could do you - along with your fellow Oprahists (your number is legion today) - a lot of good to study this book:

    http://tinyurl.com/d487wp

    Cheers,
    A

    Posted by  on  04/10  at  04:02 PM
  52. In my construction days, I worked with a guy who had a brother with Down’s Syndrome.  Every Monday, he’d tell me about all of things he and his brother had done together that weekend - fishing, hunting, going to ball games, you name it.  This guy so totally loved his brother and was so proud of him.  It just showed in the way he’d want to regale me with story after story of their weekend adventures.  Not unlike how the author of this blog often writes about his and his son’s adventures.

    This guy always described his brother’s condition as “mongoloid.” Now, this guy was older, so maybe that’s what he had been accustomed to calling DS.  And, yeah, I think we certainly can all agree that such a word is anachronistic, pejorative, and racist to boot, so it should be retired (as it largely has).  But my co-worker didn’t mean it in any of these senses whatsoever.  He was doing the best he could to describe his brother with the vocabulary that he had.

    I think this (albeit) extreme example informs my opinion with regard to not retiring “special.” No matter what we do, any word we use to describe the cognitively disabled will lend itself to some kind of pejorative meaning ... when those who use it wish to speak pejoratively.  I think “special” may be the best we can do to describe cognitively disabled people, given that other words immediately carry negative connotations.  “Special” in its current use at least immediately connotes something “good.” “Retard,” “mongoloid,” “idiot,” et cetera immediately connotes something pejorative.

    Posted by matthew frederick  on  04/12  at  05:50 AM
  53. "And, yeah, I think we certainly can all agree that such a word is anachronistic, pejorative, and racist to boot, so it should be retired (as it largely has).”

    No, we can’t all agree.

    To all of you:

    Let’s move on and interrogate those who would coercively, in a most Orwellian fashion ("special," for example, is entirely Orwellian) “retire” certain words. Let’s ask them: Do you seek to “retire” such words because you’re more compassionate than those who don’t? Or do you seek to do so because involvement with this “retirement” provides you with a means of claiming the moral high ground and, therefore, of seizing power? Is not your push to “retire” such words actually far from compassionate, and really thoroughly demagogic? And, incidentally, is it any coincidence that you’ve recently chosen a rank demagogue as your President?

    At any rate, whether or not such a word is “retired” (decoded: censored) is best left to each individual, with no coercion of any kind. Reject the tyranny of political correctness and your servitude to its dictatorship of relativism. No doubt, you feel quite smug right now, don’t you, quite self-satisfied? You believe that you securely occupy the moral high ground in relation to troglodytes like me who speak against your “compassion,” isn’t that right? Which reminds me:

    “Political correctness seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking. Its relativism creates the illusion that it
    has reached greater heights than the loftiest philosophical achievements of the past. It prescribes itself as the only way to think
    and speak - if, that is, one wishes to stay in fashion. Being faithful to traditional values and the knowledge that upholds them is labeled
    intolerance, and relativism becomes the required norm. I think it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment,
    which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion. In Sweden, a preacher who had presented the Biblical teachings on the
    question of homosexuality received a prison sentence. This is just one sign of the gains that have been made by relativism as a kind of new
    ‘denomination’ that places restrictions on religious convictions and seeks to subordinate all religions to the super-dogma of relativism.”

    -Joseph Ratzinger, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity,
    Islam, p. 128.

    Also see:

    http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Introduction--The-dictatorship-of-relativism-3981

    Posted by  on  04/13  at  04:19 AM
  54. Dang, I didn’t realize I was such an all-powerful demagogue.  This is awesome!  Hmmmm ... what should I retire next?  Better give Barry a call ...

    Posted by matthew frederick  on  04/13  at  01:51 PM

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