Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Peter Singer supports doctors snuffing out disabled people's lives.

Meghan Schrader
By Meghan Schrader

Meghan is an autistic person who is an instructor at E4 Texas at the University of Texas (Austin) and a EPC-USA board member.

I have a confession to make: As with most people in the disability justice movement, I hate Peter Singer. His writing remind me of the hate speech I experienced growing up. During a lunch with some friends at the Society of Disability Studies conference in 2012, Peter Singer came up, and I said, “Hey, is anyone looking forward to when Peter Singer dies? I know that’s wrong, it goes against my morals to think that way, but I just can’t help it, man, I kind of want him to die.” Everybody at the table understood.

(Please no one take the previous paragraph as a suggestion to harm Peter Singer. It wouldn’t do the broader situation any good and it’s not worth getting lost in the criminal justice system.) 

I first heard about Peter Singer in a great books honors program in 2005. The idea of the class was to get us to think about how we could use insights gleaned from the world’s greatest thinkers to advance sound cultural policies and positive social change, and in the interests of exposing us to all sorts of different thinkers, the professor cited something Peter Singer had said about politics.

Suddenly a disabled friend became very upset. She approached the professor with tears in her eyes. “As one of the people who would have to die in Singer’s society, I can’t believe that you would cite him like you would any other thinker,” she said. The professor said that “Well, he’s someone who should be refuted. I’m exposing you to his thoughts to help you learn how to do that.” But the friend continued to experience deep distress. She was so upset that she needed to leave the room. Then she wept in my arms-hard-for about half an hour. She told me that Peter Singer thought that disabled people should be killed for the good of society.

Honestly, I thought that my friend had misinterpreted something that Peter Singer had written. I felt that people with disabilities were oppressed by society, I could observe that fact in pretty much every social system around me. But, no 21st century leaders wanted to kill disabled people, right?

But, when I went to the library and looked Singer up, there it was: blatant hate speech, published approvingly for all to read, as if the author was debating how to address climate change instead of whether doctors should snuff out disabled people’s lives. He was saying that some people with disabilities weren’t people. I was shocked. What the heck? How had the mainstream social justice movement allowed someone like Singer to have a career? It was a real wake up call about how much society either hated disabled people or didn’t give a crap about us. I was faced with the fact that mainstream society was so apathetic toward disabled people that it had collectively turned its head while bigots like Singer essentially advocated for hate crimes.

So, I decided that I would like to tell Peter Singer that myself. In 2015, when I was serving on the board of the Boston Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Singer came to Boston to give a lecture on his Effective Altruism theory. We took a vote, and we democratically agreed that it was a good idea to go and protest Singer’s lecture. Me and the primary leader of the group went into the lecture to ask a question, and the other members of ASAN handed out fliers to people walking into the lecture. My assignment was to ask him a question from the audience.

I was not picked to ask a question, but I still wanted to ask it; I wanted to see what he would say. So, I approached Peter Singer at the end of a book signing line. Our conversation went like this:

Me: "I don’t have a book to sign, but I do have a question...[nod], You have previously used the example of seeing eye dogs as an example of charity that you think is ineffective [nod], and even just now, you used the example of conjoined twins [nod], which falls into a pattern of you using the disabled as objects of philosophical discourse-"

Singer: "I want to help the disabled in third world countries-I want them to be able to *see.* It might not be good for some blind people in America, but I want to help the disabled."

Me: “Yes, but not only does that logic not address the issue of people who are blind in third world countries and might need seeing eye dogs, but also represents you volunteering a resource that you yourself do not need. Hence,. [referring to notes on cell phone] Because your epistemological perspective is that of an affluent, white, ablebodied, heterosexual, male resident of the United States who is not subject to systemic oppression, and who tends to volunteer disadvantaged people groups for the forfeiture of resources that you do not need, one might situate your theory of effective altruism within a privileged-"

Singer: "OH, COME ON!"

Event Organizer: “Yes, Ma’am, that’s all…”

Me: “OK….in short, it’s easy to talk about the ineffectiveness of providing certain resources when you are a privileged, white, affluent male.”

[Walking away]

[Calling after me] “Well, you’re a very privileged woman yourself.”

Me: “That’s right.”,

Singer: “Well, then none of your ideas are any good either, because you’re a privileged white person.”

Me: “I am a privileged person who cares about subjugated individuals.”

Event Organizer: “Ok, Ma’am, that’s all.”

Me: “Ok, that’s fine, have a nice night.”
Of course, I can’t prove that this interaction even happened. But, those who doubt my veracity should note that it parallels pretty much every other interaction that disabled people have had with Singer at one of his lectures. Disabled people have been using nonviolent civil disobedience and blunt rhetoric to challenge Singer at his lectures since the 1980s. A UK disability rights activist reasonably compared Singer’s rhetoric to the rhetoric of Satoshi Uematsu, a man who stabbed 19 disabled people to death in a Sagamihara Japan nursing home in 2016. Singer didn’t like that comparison at all. (Article Link), (Article Link).

There are many ways to deal with people like Peter Singer. Some people prefer finesse; running right up to him after a presentation and telling him what a monster he is - is only one way to resist people like him. But, at the end of the day, people like Peter Singer are bullies who need to be stopped. In the Psychology Today article, “Stand Up to Bullies,” author Rick Hanson writes, “Bullies target lone individuals or minority groups to prove their dominance and create fear. So gather allies who will stand with you if you’re being bullied.” In addition to other suggestions he gives for answering a bullying, Hanson advises that the targets of a bully should do the following:

  1. With moral confidence, name the bullying for what it is.
  2. Dispute false claims of legitimacy.
  3. Laugh at bullies (who are usually thin-skinned).

That’s essentially what disability rights activists, disability studies scholars, and disability rights allies are doing when we stand up to people like Peter Singer. Because that’s what Peter Singer is: a socially enabled, grown-up bully. Of course he’s not the only one; Canada’s disabled citizens are essentially living in a Singerian universe-one where people are offered the choice to be killed while money that might be spent on accommodating them is used for other things (Article Link).

So, my advice to Singer’s opponents is that if you ever have the chance to confront him or one of his friends at a lecture, just call them on their inordinate social privilege. Use that fact to point out why utilitarian bioethicists’ ideas suck. They won’t like it, and they’ll respond in the petulant, angry way that any bully would. By doing that, the disability rights movement and our allies might eventually be able to implement Hanson’s 5th suggestion, which is, “Remove bullies from positions of power.” (Article Link).

Alex Schadenberg comments: It must be noted that Peter Singer is taken seriously by society. When Meghan states that Canada's euthanasia law is Singerian, she is right. Singer is a bully but he is also a dangerous philosopher who advocates for countless killings of disabled people, newborns with disabilities and many others.


Unknown said...

My only encounters with Songer have been his writings. I am appalled that he would degrade the status as human beings for those who do not fit HIS definition of a human being who is a conscious person who can make conscious judgments. Yet, as you said, there are a multitude of human beings who Singer would decline on human status who continue to make some kind of contribution to society. Singer is the worst kind of bully. He speaks platitudes and expects others to raise a flag to him, tell him how great he is, when he is truly a piece of evil work.

I am unfamiliar with his life story, but if I were a betting man, I would say his life has never been challenged, be it facing psychological abuse an bullying, or coming close to death from injury, illness, criminal violence, or other factors. As disabled persons, we face those moments of truth frequently. The privileged, well-off white guys haven't a clue. Yet they make absurd comments like, "I'd never want to live that way." Yet, in the bottom line, when push comes to shove, they are the ones when faced with tough situations who panic, go through the melodrama, are uncooperative with solutions, and blame others for their pain. I've seen people like Singer collapse in the face of crisis. You approached him with truth, and he basically panicked, which means he is actually unsure of his own position. It means he is doing it all for the big applause, for his own fame and glory. I don't want to be a fly on the wall when he finally meets God and has to justify how he has influenced others to disregard other human beings in Singer's image, not God's.

I applaud your bravery. God bless you and keep you safe.

Deacon Bill Gallerizzo

Kim Oliver said...

What also disgusts me is that Peter Singer is a prominent Ethicist when his beliefs are not much different from Adolf Hitler’s