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Compassion Deficit


I’ve wondered why The Atlantic hired on Graeme Wood as a columnist. I’ve never read anything interesting or provocative from him. I can’t recall a column of his.* His Twitter bio reads “@Yale political science. Once upon a time: @CFR_org, @newrepublic, @DeutschePostDHL.” According to Wikipedia, he writes. Not even anything particularly notable, as far as I can tell.

*Until last night. I won’t link to it and give it cred. I will copy and paste a bit. I am hoping, for their sake and Wood’s, that The Atlantic deletes it.

Yesterday, people who haven’t been writing alt-text on the photos they post on social media got excited about Kamala Harris’s introduction of herself at a meeting of disability activists. As one does in the introductory part of a meeting, she said a few things about herself, including her pronouns and what she was wearing.

That set off a lot of people, including Wood. Apparently giving one’s educational background, current employment, and area of interest, standard in such introductions, are okay but pronouns and clothing are not? Wood goes on for several hundred words about his dismay at this breach of his preferences.

Most puzzling was the end of the clip, where she described her attire for no apparent reason, then flicked her tongue across her eyeball and adjusted her notes with a dorsal tentacle. Okay, I made up that last part.

That’s all Harris was doing: giving a quick aid for the blind. Self-description is meant to be helpful to those who need it and unobtrusive to others. But to those unacquainted with the practice, it sounds like a failed simulacrum of human speech, the idiom of a pod-person.

He may be attempting to be humorous.

The standard script for these self-descriptions certainly suggests that the blind are into fashion. I can see just fine but routinely forget whether I am wearing pants and am sometimes accused of having dressed myself in the dark; I never notice whether Harris is wearing a suit or dress. Do most blind people care about these things much more than I do? 

I don’t know. Let’s ask a blind person. I particularly appreciated this Twitter thread, from which a few selections. (A link to Wood’s column is in the thread if you must read it.)

This week’s rightwing uproar is over pronouns. I won’t dignify that with links, either, or much discussion. It’s always seemed to me that referring to people by the name they feel is theirs is the reasonable thing to do and their pronouns are an extension of that. As we’ve seen with George W. Bush and Donald Trump, the belief that one is entitled to name others is a power trip.

Likewise, acknowledging others’ realities and sharing those realities seems like the decent thing to do. But apparently not to the right wing or a certain type of opinion writer.

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