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    PloughCast #24 Takeaways: Why Disability Is about Being Human

    Made Perfect, Part 6

    By Susannah Black Roberts and Peter Mommsen

    February 8, 2022

    Peter and Susannah take listener questions about the social model of disability, how to talk about human value with non-Christians, and urbanism.

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    About This Episode

    Peter and Susannah answer listener questions: How should we think about the so-called “social model” of disability? Why shouldn’t we abort children who may not live long? How can we talk about human worth with those who don’t share our Christian convictions? And are there any downsides to designing for disability?

    They also reflect on what they’ve learned in doing this issue. As it turns out, disability is not a “niche” topic: it cuts to the heart of what it means to be human, and to the heart of Christian hope.

    Thinking well about disability also challenges us in our times of ability to realize that making the most of our talents, developing our strengths, in order to be able to help others, is an obligation: we need to be needed, and we need to give, in order to be fully human.

    • I: Q & A: The Social Model of Disability
    • II: Q & A: No Ordinary People
    • III: Q & A: Should Venice Be Wheelchair Accessible?
    • IV: What We’ve Learned

    Recommended Reading


    I: Q & A: The Social Model of Disability

    Peter Mommsen: Welcome back to the PloughCast. This is Episode 6 of the series covering the latest issue of the magazine, “Made Perfect.”

    Susannah Black: Today we’ll be taking listener questions and then having deep thoughts of our own, possibly. I’m Susannah Black, senior editor at Plough.

    Peter Mommsen: I’m Peter Mommsen, the editor-in-chief of Plough. This is the episode where we hear from you and then try to figure out what, if anything, we’ve learned from doing this issue. First off, questions and answers.

    Susannah Black: So question one is actually from a Twitter personality called Pontius Pilates, whose anonymity we are protecting by not telling who he is, although we know. He said yesterday, “I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes and read a couple of articles so far, but I’ve been surprised not to encounter the idea that disability is a social, not a natural phenomenon. What counts as ability or disability is a function of what societies construe as normally required or good.”

    Peter Mommsen: In other words, what do we think about the so-called social model of disability, which is a whole bunch of syllables for a really important insight.

    Susannah Black: Right.

    Peter Mommsen: We should first explain what we’re even talking about, because the social theory of disability, for those who aren’t following it, is summarized a little by Pontius Pilates’ question that –

    Susannah Black: Dr. Pilates.

    Peter Mommsen: That disability is something that is created by your social context or your economic context or the architectural context that you live in, and it distinguishes between disability and impairment. So if I have a non-typical arm, then as Leah Libresco said in a previous episode, I may need a different kind of door opener, and the disability doesn’t come from this arm that doesn’t function as other people’s arms might, but it comes from the fact that people insist on putting door handles or doorknobs on doors that aren’t suited for me. So the disability comes, in that case, from actually the way my environment is structured and not from how I am.

    Susannah Black: The steel-man case for this is something like left-handedness. Left-handedness is not in any way a disability. You could call it an impairment if for some reason you wanted to say – I think actually some of the church fathers did say – that right-handedness was the normal and good thing and left-handedness was an aberration. But obviously the reason that left-handedness is perceived as a disability sometimes in a very, very minor way is because scissors are designed for people with right hands. I mean right-handed people. That’s a kind of maximalist version: and of course the thing to do is make scissors for left-handed people.

    Peter Mommsen: Then there’s all the other cases. For instance, people who are blind can only not read books if you don’t have books in Braille.

    Susannah Black: That they can read, right. Or if you don’t have –

    Peter Mommsen: Or audiobooks.

    Susannah Black: Right. Right. So the solution there is, make a whole bunch of audiobooks. These are things that are easy, well, let’s just help people to be as fully and thrivingly human as they can.

    Peter Mommsen: A person who uses a wheelchair is only disabled or prevented from participating in some type of public function if the venue where it’s held has no ramp.

    Susannah Black: There’s no ramp. Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: I’m not sure what we should say about that, except that as far as it goes, we absolutely agree that that model has a lot of value. I’ll give an example. When I was a kid, there was a school child, there was a girl a little older than me, with Down syndrome. This was the mid-1980s. At that point, to have Down syndrome still meant a pretty short life span. At least, that was people’s expectation, although thankfully she is still doing great. But at the time, she was treated very kindly but also was in no way integrated or mainstreamed. She was part of the school community, but she didn’t run with the pack. I think even her parents didn’t expect her to be around for very long, or to have an independent life. Now we know that people with Down syndrome can do all kinds of things.

    Susannah Black: Yeah. Maureen actually, Maureen Swinger, who had a piece on her brother, Duane, who is much, much more profoundly disabled . . .

    Peter Mommsen: That’s where I think this social theory of disability has limits.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: For those of you coming at this podcast for the first time on this episode, in the first episode of this series, we talked about my late friend Duane, who was my fellow editor Maureen’s brother. He was deeply disabled, couldn’t talk, couldn’t walk, had an extremely damaged brain from lifelong epilepsy and a bunch of other conditions that went with it. There was no way that his, whether you want to call it impairment or disability, this was not socially constructed. This was not economically or culturally constructed. This was a man who was suffering.

    Susannah Black: Not always and not only.

    Peter Mommsen: Not always, who gave a lot, who was a fully human being. Isn’t it crazy, though, that we have to say, even though he was suffering, he really was human?

    Susannah Black: Yeah. Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Why are those things in tension?

    Susannah Black: Yeah. What Maureen said is there were times in their family’s life when . . . So what their family did, which I didn’t know until she told me this morning, was that basically all the siblings, and it’s her and four brothers, and they basically made a pact together as a family that whatever Duane couldn’t participate in, they would just try as much as possible to have family activities be things that Duane would be able to participate in.

    So they would just structure their decisions about what to do when they were having family time in that way. She said the times that they had tried to just think of Duane and invite other people to see him as just another kid in a wheelchair, there are plenty of kids in wheelchairs, but she said that actually didn’t serve him or them very well, because he’s not just another kid in a wheelchair. There are things that much, much less profoundly disabled people in wheelchairs can do that Duane couldn’t do, and not acknowledging that or pretending, expecting that that’s not real, was actually really hard on both Duane and on them.

    Thinking about this more carefully, inasmuch as I have been trying to, it seems like to call disability this one category is really misleading, because we’re talking about a jillion different things of different kinds. Intellectual disability is something different from even profound physical disability. If you think about Stephen Hawking, say, to use this one word to encompass all of this stuff and say, here is the correct way to think about it, just destroys the particularity of each of these people. Because what is true about each disabled person is that they are a person. There’s no one who is a quasi person. There’s no one who is mostly made in the image of God. Each of these people with all of these different things going on, all of which we call disability, what’s also true of them is that they’re a person made in the image of God. They’re our brother or sister.

    Peter Mommsen: I think that’s what I wanted to come down to as well. Neither of us belong to the disability community, if you want to use language like that. I certainly can’t speak for Duane. His family can’t speak for Duane. Actually, nobody can speak for Duane, and Duane can’t speak for Duane because he can’t talk. So to put everybody into a box, a sort of class, that’s my trouble with the social theory of disabilities. I think there’s people for whom that certainly fits. But I wonder if it really fits for those who are actually unable to express themselves, who maybe have impairments so great that they are unable to communicate their own point of view. We should not presume to do that for them. We may, and I say this carefully, but we may also just have to get a little more comfortable with sitting with the fact that one can be a fully human person made in the image of God and yet have a life that involves suffering and that we are able to hold those two things together.

    That brings us to our next reader question here. One reader wrote in, “How can we as a society avoid paternalism in our care for disabled people? How does that look?”

    Susannah Black: Right. Well, first of all, my instinct is that paternalism is not a bad word for me. When somebody needs a father, it is good for there to be paternalism around just in the way that religion is a crutch. Yes, it definitely is. As Ross Douthat mentioned on our previous podcast with him –

    Peter Mommsen: Crutches are good if you need one.

    Susannah Black: Yeah, when you break your leg, crutches are great. Sometimes paternalism is good. I think that what is probably deeply annoying to people who fall into the category of disability but who just want to get on with their lives, and even on meritocratic terms, just try to succeed as much as they can, I would be deeply irritated if somebody looked at me and said, “There, there, let me help you,” infantilized me as an adult woman because I had whatever condition that made them feel like infantilization was appropriate. I don’t know. It feels like a major thing here again, is try not to be prejudiced in a very specific way. Try not to prejudge what someone is or is like or how you ought to treat them. Try to be chill and normal, I guess, is one way to put it.

    Peter Mommsen: In trying to answer this question, I’m running into the same problem we had with the first one, is that, who are we talking about? What are the experiences that we’re describing? So I’m not sure that I have a lot more useful to say. I think the bad paternalism that everyone hates, whether it’s chauvinistic guys who mansplain or people who are more educated than somebody else and let everyone else know, is anyone who’s full of themselves and not fully attentive to the essential equality of the person who’s across from him or her.

    That’s what I had to learn with Duane, as I tell in my editorial. That sneaking suspicion that my achievements, such as they are, or my qualifications or the technocratic points I’ve scored in life somehow, are what make me important compared to somebody who maybe hasn’t had the opportunity to do that. In any situation, whether it’s people with disabilities or not, that’s just a bad thing. It’s a rude thing, and it’s a deeply unChristian thing. It is unfortunately a fairly natural thing as well. So it’s one of those things you’ve got to get in the habit of maybe approaching people differently than we do.

    Do you have a question that you wanted to get into here?

    II: Q & A: No Ordinary People

    Susannah Black: I wanted to address a comment, which is pretty intensely awful.

    Peter Mommsen: You should first say which article the comment is responding to.

    Susannah Black: The comment is in response to Sarah Williams, a Plough author. She actually has a book with us. The book and the piece by implication are, or by extension, are about her daughter Cerian, who was diagnosed with a condition which meant that she wouldn’t really survive past birth, or it was very, very, very unlikely. Everyone told Sarah and Paul, her husband, that Sarah needed to get an abortion. They live in the UK. The doctors were universally basically united; they had to really fight to not have an abortion, but they didn’t. She didn’t, and Cerian was born and died. That happened, and somebody on Twitter commented on this article, “Fortunate child to not live long enough to enter a life of suffering imposed by parents’ egotistical beliefs.”

    Peter Mommsen: Well, that really flips things.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Needless to say, I think it’s safe to say that both of us couldn’t disagree more with it.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Yet, you can say “what a horrible person,” but she’s actually expressing a set of beliefs that are pretty much the law of the land in this country.

    Susannah Black: I hate to try to steelman this, and I can’t really, but if you genuinely think that there’s nothing about humans that means that humans shouldn’t kill them, if you genuinely think that avoiding their suffering is the maximum good thing that you can do for your child, and that suffering is always bad and that there’s just not a transcendent value in human life, such that it’s sacred, then yeah, the best thing you can do for your child when they’re suffering is to kill it, and to not do that is selfish or egotistical in some way.

    Peter Mommsen: The assumption here that the parents are egotistical for somehow imposing life on their child is, it’s wrong and it’s bad, but it’s also just wild.

    Susannah Black: Yeah. I have to say, I don’t totally understand why egotistical would be the word that they would choose.

    Peter Mommsen: I think because the parents, these presumably religiously motivated parents, are feeding their own sense of righteousness by somehow bringing a child into the world only to have that child suffer, right? This is a layman’s version of Peter Singer’s utilitarianism and of course his notorious argument that infants with disabilities ought to be, ought to be, not just can be, but basically ought to be euthanized by their parents. Again, here, this is not even assisted dying by an autonomous person seeking to end his or her own life.

    Susannah Black: This is ending someone else’s life.

    Peter Mommsen: This is involuntary killing.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: What is the thing that is being prevented? This horrible suffering; no human being in history has ever had to live with suffering, right? This shying away from any idea that human life just might involve suffering. This comment, for all its trollishness, gets at a set of attitudes that basically that’s why we put this issue of Plough together, is to try to get at them.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Hopefully not in a way that’s just finger-wagging and “you terrible people,” but I really hope that some of the stories we told, especially for instance, in the article by Maureen Swinger, “The Art of Disability Parenting,” as well as in pieces by Amy Julia Becker and by Victoria Farmer, just telling those kinds of stories is the best argument I can think of against this whole approach.

    Susannah Black: Yeah. There’s one other thing I’d want to say. This is to a certain degree a question of fact. What we believe as Christians is that our children aren’t ours to kill, and we’re not ours to kill. Human life, each human life, is almost unfathomably holy and important, belongs to God, is made in his image. There are no ordinary people. C. S. Lewis has this line about, you go out and you look at all the homeless people. You look at the annoying lunch lady. You look at your annoying siblings, every sort of miscellaneous person on the subway, and there are no ordinary people. Each of those beings, each of those creatures that you’re looking at, is either going to be someone, he says, who you would run from in terror, because they’re going to become something horrifying, or they’re going to be something that you would be sorely tempted to worship. The holiness, which can be corrupted, obviously, but which is never lost, is at the center of human anthropology, as we think about it as Christians, and we just can’t, we don’t have it in us to let that go, not when we look at ourselves and not when we look at anyone else.

    Peter Mommsen: So I think that’s a great segue into the next question that I want to get into, which is from Spencer on Twitter. “How can we help society to see disabled people as good for their own sake when society does not share the Christian commitment to universalism in the Imago Dei, in the image of God?” So you’ve just been talking about the image of God and the Christian belief that we certainly both share, that is, because each disabled person, each non-disabled person, is created in the image of God, that is why their life is sacred. But if you don’t share that belief-

    Susannah Black: What are you going to do?

    Peter Mommsen: What are you going to do? What else is there?

    Susannah Black: Yeah. I had a couple of ideas, and the way to encapsulate how I was thinking of this is, how can we address this by common grace or by natural law? So Christians have this idea that as well as special revelation, there’s a lot of stuff that God didn’t really need to reveal to us through prophets or anything like that or through Christ, but just we know through reason, we know through conscience. We Christians don’t think that everyone who’s not a Christian doesn’t have a conscience or anything like that or can’t think about right and wrong. We all can and do constantly think about right and wrong whether or not we’re Christians.

    So a couple of things that we can just notice about human life is that we need to be needed. It’s not just that if you are disabled or something, you need help. It’s that, you don’t have a good human life if nobody ever needs you. Therefore, people who have disabilities are in some sense an incredible blessing, an incredible gift, to the rest of us who might be able to help them. That’s the paternalism bit. There’s all kinds of other ways to think about it that are more traditional. They also have autonomous subjective rights. They ought to be allowed to make their own life plans and thrive. Those are kind of like, I guess you would call them Lockean or liberal or Rawlsian ways of approaching this, but more in, again, not Christian, but a little bit deeper way of thinking about it, to be needed is not a bad thing. To be someone who calls out care in someone else is not a bad thing.

    If you’re someone who is disabled or is looking at the end of your life and a great deal of care is going to be needed to give to you, it might be that those who are going to be giving you care need to be able to give that care. You might not realize it, but by ending your own life, you might be stealing something from them that they need. You might be just, given what we know about suicide and how it impacts families, and I think this is true of late-in-life assisted suicide as well, even if it’s a little bit more muted in certain ways, I think that you’re unleashing intergenerational, multi-generational pain, if you choose to kill yourself, on those who you care about.

    This is again, not an observation based on Christianity. This is just human stuff, if we let ourselves see it. To do that to yourself is hurting the whole world, and to stay alive is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the world, and allow others to help you when you need help.

    Peter Mommsen: Looking at this question, the way I think about it is, society actually knows that people with disabilities are good in themselves with one half of its brain. Without using the language of the Imago Dei, the image of God, our legal system tends to use words like dignity, right? So for instance, the famous first line of the German constitution is, “The dignity of man is inviolable.” That’s written into all kinds of things, and specifically in regard to disability, is written into to a 2007 UN convention, this language of dignity.

    That’s one great way to talk to people about it, because people actually realize that when, for instance, babies with disabilities are selected for abortion, that that is a violation of dignity, not only of those babies who are killed, but also by implication, a kind of enacted violence against born people with disabilities. That’s something that people realize and people are very squeamish about. You can see in journalism and writing about issues like, say, Iceland’s eradication of all babies with disability, a kind of nervousness. It doesn’t sit well with people. People recognize that, although they may believe, for instance, in a woman’s right to choose an abortion, they see that that’s really in conflict with fully affirming the dignity of those with disabilities. So I think one way we talk to people about it is to lean into the intuition that’s already there.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: The dignity of each human being is inviolable. We just insist it really is inviolable, full stop.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Without an asterisk.

    Susannah Black: Yeah. That means that it’s inviolable by you as well. When you violate your own dignity through choosing some kind of assisted suicide or something like that, as well as when you violate someone else’s by choosing abortion or involuntary euthanasia, you’re not just attacking that one person. You’re attacking everyone else, literally, every other person. Every other human being, you’re making it a less safe world for them. You’re making it a world that is less likely to affirm their existence, that implies that they need to make an argument and make a case for themselves, that implies that everyone needs to, at all times, be both very happy, not suffering, maximizing their productivity, in order to prove that they have enough utils, or whatever that John Stuart Mill metric is, to continue to live for one more day. That’s not good. That’s not real. That’s not true. We can just – let’s not do that.

    Peter Mommsen: Now, I do think if we use language like dignity, it’s on us too as Christians to work really hard to create a culture where that word dignity is filled with the essential meaning of what scripture calls the image of God.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: That that word doesn’t get unmoored and start meaning something else.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    III: Q & A: Should Venice be Wheelchair Accessible?

    Peter Mommsen: But that’s a discussion maybe for another day. Let’s look at another question.

    Susannah Black: Excellent.

    Peter Mommsen: Should we talk about cities?

    Susannah Black: Yeah. Matt Robare, who is a friend of the pod and an urbanist says, “How can we redesign/rebuild cities to be more open and accommodating to people with disabilities?” I really love this idea.

    Peter Mommsen: Okay. Of course everyone’s going to say yes, we should do that, right? So do we, but let me just come at it from another tack, because I was talking about Leah Libresco’s piece about designing for those with disability the other day, and the person I was talking to about it actually pushed back a bit, and he said, “Imagine redesigning Venice to make the entire city wheelchair accessible. What would be lost?”

    Susannah Black: Wow. Okay. Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: He was like, “Are you really sure that you want to create concrete accessibility ramps all over Venice or Rome or Tokyo?” I was kind of left saying, “Okay” and shutting my mouth for a while.

    Susannah Black: I feel like that too, actually. Because I was all in. As soon as Matt sent this in, I was like, “Yes, let’s do it,” and I was thinking, “Get rid of cars,” make cities be much more pedestrian friendly and slow-pedestrian friendly. It’s easy enough to put in ramps. This is kind of an easy win, but I think there actually might be cases when there is something lost, and that’s a really freaky thing to think about.

    One of the ways that we can think about what disabled people might need is helpers, and I’m thinking about the lame man’s friends who knocked the whatever sort of covering off the roof and let him down inside the house where Jesus was so that Jesus could heal him. It seems like probably the best way for a disabled person to see Venice is to see it with a bunch of people who are his friends and helpers, who would be able to physically help him, because that’s respecting the integrity of the city as it is and also enabling this person to also have the experience of the city as it is, which if the city were changed such as to make it perfectly accessible to someone who is disabled, when that person who is disabled saw it, it wouldn’t be the same city. I think that friends and helpers are the solution here in that particular question’s case.

    Peter Mommsen: Again, are we making it open and accommodating to which people, with which disabilities. That said, many, many places are not Venice.

    Susannah Black: Most places are not.

    Peter Mommsen: Most places are not Venice.

    Susannah Black: All but one.

    Peter Mommsen: I think there is clearly way more that can be done to make cities good for kids, good for people with disabilities, good for families, good for old people so they don’t need to be put away into old people’s homes where they die of Covid, as they tragically have here in the Hudson Valley over the last two years. There’s so much more that could be done to make cities true cities, where people live together of all generations with all different kinds of ability and disability, cities that are good for people.

    Susannah Black: Yep. I have to say, if you hear this and you start saying, “Oh, it’s going to involve a lot of changes. It’s going to really disrupt, blah, blah, blah,” we did this to make cities accessible to cars, and cars are not as important as people. Therefore, I think that we can get it together.

    Peter Mommsen: We could probably do a lot more.

    Susannah Black: Yes. Yes.

    Peter Mommsen: Thanks to all of you who sent in questions.

    Susannah Black: Thank you very much.

    IV: What We’ve Learned

    Peter Mommsen: All right. So we’re getting into, what did we, as in you, Susannah, and I, what did we learn from doing this series on “Made Perfect: Ability and Disability”? Do you want to start?

    Susannah Black: Sure. I definitely feel like I was starting from zero in the sense of, I hadn’t really thought much about this. I feel like, especially in terms of sensitivities around the way people talk about disability and think about disability and that sort of thing, and the social model of disability, I just hadn’t thought very carefully. It wasn’t something that I’d really run into much. I feel like the biggest thing that I learned pretty quickly after we got started on this issue three months ago or whatever it was, is that when someone first mentioned it, the topic, “Let’s do an issue on disability,” I was like, “That’s kind of niche.” The biggest thing I’ve learned is that this is not niche. Because not only are there so many more people who fall into this incredibly overgeneralized category than you would think, because for various reasons, one of which is our society makes visible the people who are able and in their peak earning years and look nice and invisibilizes people who don’t function or look or seem the way that we feel most comfortably that they ought to, but also, questions about disability just touch really directly on both questions of basic humanity, like, what does it mean to be human, which applies to all of us, and also cut right to the chase in terms of Christian hope.

    The main thing with disability, or a main thing with disability, thinking about profound disability in particular does, is it makes you ask, What are you hoping for? If someone’s just not going to be able to succeed meritocratically and is not going to be able to do a human flourishing, do we believe or don’t we that there’s the resurrection of the body? What does that belief imply about the way that we can think about difficulties of various kinds, suffering of various degrees, annoyance of various degrees, obligation? Either this is true or it’s not. This topic really has shoved that right in my face in a very helpful way, I think.

    Peter Mommsen: Yeah. So one thing I’ve learned, similar to what you said, is although I had thought since my experience with Duane and also others with disability that I’ve known something about this topic, still, when we began, I was thinking about disability as “them,” “those people.” Now, the chances are that most of us talking and listening are heading into disability ourselves. Millions of people get Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s every year. Simple old age brings with it all kinds of impairments. Those are all things that are facing most of us, right? So when we’re talking about disability, we’re not talking about other people. We’re talking about possibly ourselves.

    With that came to me that we so often think about disability as the topic, as the, so to speak, problem to be solved, when maybe it’s ability that we should be thinking of as the problem to be solved. Because the flip side of technocracy or meritocracy, or whatever you want to call it, the big words we use to describe measuring people by their economically valuable or socially valuable achievements, is that while we then think that those who aren’t able to succeed in those ways are less valuable, and we think that’s a problem, and we’ve talked about that, it also means that those who are able to succeed in those ways think that those achievements belong to them. So maybe it’s the goals and purposes of ability that we need to question just as much. Of course, in the gospels, Jesus does that. He speaks of the parable of the talents: those talents are not yours. So if for a number of years, maybe a number of decades, maybe for most of your life, you don’t live with impairments or disability, but those abilities are things lent to you to do stuff with.

    Susannah Black: You better not screw up what you’re doing with them. That’s not yours to decide what to do with. That’s not yours to use for only your own good. If you have the ability to thrive, even just in terms of thinking of, if you don’t have a disability, therefore you might be able to get stronger or get healthier, and you don’t do that, that’s a bit problematic too, because if you were stronger or healthier, you would be able to help more. There’s the way of thinking of everyone’s ability as belonging to everyone, not in a kind of creepy collectivist way, but in a kingdom of God way. If all of our potentials, all of our talents, all of everything that we could develop, everything that we have developed, if all of that is really for the kingdom and for each other and to help, what do we do every day? How do we live every day if that’s true?

    Peter Mommsen: Let’s get back to Socrates. We talked about Socrates at the beginning of this, right? This quote that shows up on gym walls about how every man has a duty to basically be all he can be.

    Susannah Black: For Athens.

    Peter Mommsen: For Athens, right? Well yeah, in this case for a city nearby Athens. And that every man has a duty to achieve the greatest degree of physical perfection that he can. Maybe that’s the way that what’s true about what Socrates said right there is true in the sense of looking at abilities, at talent, that you can use for others.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: Then you really do have that duty.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: You need to push yourself so that you can be there for others during those years, recognizing that it’s temporary, that you’re going to have that strength, have that ability, mental, physical, whatever it might be, and you’re going to make the most of those years when you have it. Then also be able to, without rancor, relinquish it when the time comes.

    Susannah Black: And receive help in your own turn. So much of what we’re talking about just seems like remedial human stuff. We were talking to Kelsey yesterday about what it means to live according to the Torah. Again and again, thinking of things in terms of how they’re described in the Bible, thinking of things in terms of basic Christian concepts and basic Jewish concepts, it’s like, How could we have forgotten this? How could we have started thinking of ourselves in a different way, with this huge emphasis on living for ourselves and on our own personal agency and on our making commitments, making decisions, that are purely based on our will? That’s just so fake. That’s not real. That’s not what human life is. Yeah, I feel like a huge thing that this issue has taught me is just, it’s reminded me what human life is, which is I think a good thing for a Christian magazine to do.

    I guess one other thing that I’d like to talk about is the way, I felt a lot of the disability-rights language that we were running into when we were thinking about how to incorporate different ways of thinking about disability into this issue, just as much as the kind of technocratic meritocracy based way of thinking about humans is I think lacking, I think some of the disability-rights ways of thinking about disabled people is lacking in the sense that I just am a little bit unnerved or worried about the idea of thinking of disabled people as a political class who have a political interest in the way that some disabled advocates tend to talk about them. There’s something there, but it seems like what that’s trying to get at is the need for human solidarity between people of all abilities.

    Peter Mommsen: Hmm. Well, I think that’s the weakness of rights language in general, is that it gets at real truths. Boy, if you look at the history of the way people with disabilities have been treated in this country and actually throughout human history, is there ever a reason for a disability rights movement. Disability justice, nobody’s arguing with that.

    Susannah Black: Yeah.

    Peter Mommsen: And yet …

    Susannah Black: And yet …

    Peter Mommsen: Rights language is extremely limiting and can become misleading if we then take our eyes off of what really matters, which is the individual human being, his or her flourishing as an image of God and being loved and being able to love.

    Susannah Black: In a community, living in which community helps them to be the fullest expression of that individual self that they are.

    Peter Mommsen: Well, this has been a lot of fun, Susannah, and thanks to all our listeners for joining us on this journey. We look forward to the next series of the PloughCast, which will be on …

    Susannah Black: Music.

    Peter Mommsen: Till then.

    Susannah Black: Thanks for listening. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes or your app of choice and rate us. This is the last podcast for this issue, but for the next six weeks, you will be able to download one audio article per week, and we’ll be back in a month and a half with a podcast series full of music.

    Contributed By SusannahBlack Susannah Black Roberts

    Susannah Black is a senior editor of Plough.

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    Contributed By PeterMommsen Peter Mommsen

    Peter Mommsen is editor of Plough Quarterly magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his wife, Wilma, and their three children.

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