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Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Deaf: A culture not a disability

Hanging on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery in London last November was an artwork produced by Grayson Perry with words “The Deaf: A culture not a disability” writ large across it.

Grayson Perry – whose female alter ego is called Claire – is an artist who is a living demonstration that gender is not binary; in every man there is a woman, and this is a natural state-of-being. This observation is relevant to the theme of this week’s blog, which is about perverse notions of what constitutes a normal human being. Here in Europe, humans are only allowed to exist in a binary state-of-being – male of female. States of indeterminacy – people who are both male and female are not recognised. This is because perverse notions of normality in humans have been developed and are a deep rooted characteristic of the European mind. These classifications are also a means of exercising power over people to force normality upon them, with the branding of ‘abnormality’ applied to those who do not submit to this power. Note the word ‘classification’ once again …

This particular blog however in not about gender indeterminacy, but another form of ‘classification’ of the lack of normality – disability. I will have more to say about gender in the future, so for the time being I will focus on the subject of the art object in question, and the European notion of disability and the ‘normal human being’.

The so called disability in question is (mostly) congenital profound hearing loss. So I am referring to people who have been profoundly deaf since birth, whose first language is often not English, but British Sign Language (BSL). BSL, in case you did no realise, is an entirely visual language comprised of signs, gestures and facial expressions. It has no written form, and has its own grammar. It is not signed English.

In keeping with the perversity of European thinking about what constitutes a ‘normal human being’, those who are profoundly deaf and use BSL are considered to be abnormal. They have been discriminated against, patronised, prevented from using BSL, and forced to conform with what the hearing world demands.

According to the medical profession, with its grounding in science and reason, profound hearing loss is a medical condition that has to be diagnosed, treated and, ultimately, cured. But if you were born profoundly deaf, and were brought up to use BSL as your first language, you would not consider yourself as being disabled or abnormal. You would not feel yourself in need of medical assistance. In fact you would consider yourself as part of a distinct culture, not only with its own language, but also with its own history, humour, etc. You would think instead that the disability lies not with those who are part of this culture, but with a (so-called) civilisation that has made life very hard for the profoundly deaf and have persecuted them and sought to destroy this culture. And to avoid any misunderstanding, I am not talking here about what happened in Nazi Germany, but a disgraceful story of the way the profoundly deaf were treated in the UK from the mid–nineteenth century up to very recent times. This is history of the persecution of a minority by the majority who looked to science and reason to justify their actions.

Society though is changing, and the rights of minority cultures are being increasingly recognised. Yet there still persists the belief that being born without functional hearing is abnormal. This is because Europeans are engaged in a quest to become supermen (yes I do mean men, for it is a male thing) and this is part of an obsession with control and domination – the male Will to Power, with its manifestation in science and the desire to reengineer humans so that profound hearing loss disappears from the gene pool. And with this will go a unique culture - and you will call this ‘progress’.

So in what way are people who believe in this stupid notion of ‘progress’ any different from the Nazis?

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