Theory Abuse and Ableism

I think as a break between now and my in-depth critique of the Black Paper that it is necessary to talk about theory abuse and ableism, and how this abuse is used to shut down opposition. Theory abuse is when someone uses a theory in bad faith, often misrepresenting what the theory means to convey a point that the source theory doesn’t represent, and is a form of an argument from authority. One can think of it as using a theory as a shell to transport reactionary views, with no consideration for how the theory itself functions. The purpose is not to communicate meaningfully but to dominate others over language, using the authority of famous academics and esoteric language to hide behind what can only be described as “utter bullshit”. Theory is abused by many different political interests, ranging from the sciences to abstract philosophy.

When I talk about “ableism”, I’m not talking purely about “disabled people” as a social construct, but how ability itself, imposed by physical condition, socialogical condition or otherwise, impacts our ability to do. For example, the English language is a tool we use for communication, and some people can use this tool better than others. Most people simply do not learn the language at a young age, but others may have a learning disability that causes them to struggle with understanding or using language. Others may have sociological conditions, such as abuse, that may limit their ability to use language. All these and many other groups of people are impacted by the English language imposing authority over them.

Language is just one example of how material struggle interacts with abstract theory, and how that theory may unintentionally silence that struggle through interference caused by a wide range of potentially unique disabilities. The topologies that we use to construct theory are also actively excluding most of the subjects of these theories through the centralization of theory creation, and instead create a generalized framework that allows for efficient navigation from a top-down perspective instead of analyzing individual material difference.

Techniques

In the last few months of engaging with “leftist” Twitter, I’ve encountered several techniques used to abuse theory, especially theory that is particularly difficult to approach. In this example I will be using excerpts from an anarcho-primativist abusing theory to silence criticism about their theory inherently excluding disabled people with disasterous consequences. Please refer to the original text for context.

Argument from Authority

Theory abuse is rooted in an argument from authority. The authority may be the individual promoting the theory, such as Steven Pinker abusing his role as a pop-neurologist to manipulate the masses through the media, it may be someone imposing authority indirectly through their profession, such as many gender accelerationists defending egregious errors in a theory just because it was written by “professional programmers”, or it may simply be using a theory that is connected to a famous author, such as the excessive amount of abuse surrounding Marx or Nietzsche, or a powerful institution of knowledge, such as abuse of quantum mechanics, neurology, history or economics.

Theory abuse relies on both a lack of understanding of the complex politics in these fields, and the inherent structure of power imposed by these socially accepted circles of intellectual elite.

furthermore, i think the history of disabilities (or their  historical process) is
irrelevant - material difference here is being determined by the visibility of a
difference that can’t be situated w capital. [...]

i also see that you have a personal theory of history and I respect your belief in it but i
personally disagree, & think Bataille would probably have something to say about it
- particularly in “Theory of Religion” (which i only just finished) pre-capitalism is
characterized by excess rather than scarcity, and he explains how one produced the other.
the birthplace of capitalism was not in some natural stratification by scarcity but in the
invention of the tool. but just as technology can liberate through “accommodating” while
simultaneously  categorizing, it can be radically re-tooled to embrace the natural flow of
desire and become “immanent” (in both the sense of Bataille and Guattari- fear of death is
foundational to the transcendent notion of self). 

For context, he is referring to a model I presented for the historical development of disability as caused by systemic material forces. For argument’s sake, we will assume what he is saying regarding Bataille is accurate and honest. Bataille’s theory as presented does nothing to actually explain why the history of disability is irrelevant and instead uses the opportunity to posture his knowledge. The author takes clear advantage of me not having “read” as many books as he has, despite trying to argue disability history should be ignored in favor of what his interpretation of what a famous book said. To him, Bataille and Guattari are tools to shut away the inconvenient material reality of disability and anarcho-primativism having inherent conflict, instead of a means to gain a deeper understanding of these subjects.

you claim to be “informed by by history, but first see Yung’s
archaeological evidence about care in pre-civilized cultures, and clearly making
predicted claims about what scarcity entailed is a blurry business.

anprim is not a praxis or telos. it isn’t about manifesting the end of civ. it’s a
recognition of the inevitable end of civ (which is wrong- yung calls this
“eschatological” and it’s a flaw to the theory which also extends to your critique).
it also isn’t social planning. this is also why the difference between it and your

As seen here, the author also references figures that do not have the sufficient expertise to be talking on certain issues, such as referencing Twitter user @YungNeocon’s “archeological evidence” and theory. @YungNeocon is just a grad student who is known for tweeting long, meandering threads of nonsense and only gains his authority through Twitter popularity, and should not be respected as a source of archelolgical information. He has no specific experience with this kind of work in any direction - These threads, being saturated with their own theory abuse, serve as a good way to intimidate others who are not aware of his nonsense.

Saturation

Another frequently used technique is to saturate texts with heavy amounts of complex theory or abstract language to distract the reader.

this is why I made the comparison to Cartesian dualism at first. your critique
of anprim treats tools/technology as transcendent in their ability to make live
& let die, reifying the dis/abled binary and thereby creating a dualistic image
of thought (Guattari’s words), meaning it’s no longer schizoanalyzis: you’re
still chained to your micropolitical investment in life-saving technologies. 

In this example, it’s clear how the author saturates the content with references to dualism and schizoanalysis, both very complex subjects - yet, despite this, there is very little, if anything, being said here.

anprim is not a praxis or telos. it isn’t about manifesting the end of civ. it’s a
recognition of the inevitable end of civ (which is wrong- yung calls this
“eschatological” and it’s a flaw to the theory which also extends to your critique).
it also isn’t social planning. this is also why the difference between it and your
post-civ doesn’t matter, because if you’re trying to do social planning, you should
be acknowledging the shared sentiment these people have. not the “center disabled
ppl” sentiment, the “world is a evil machine” sentiment: you should be building a
coalition from the misguided instead of worrying about the way belief informs action
then causes violence. w/o coalition your ecosophic praxis doesn’t work, and any
discourse you are creating that reifies bio-essentialism is by default worse. 

Identity Abuse

Although not part of this example, another common tactic is to abuse an abstract social construct such as being disabled to allow authority on a subject. This consists of claiming a social identity, such as being “trans” or “disabled”, to dismiss criticism. While their opinion is a consequence of their unique material intersections, that doesn’t necessarily mean that opinion isn’t harmful to people who share that identity, even yourself. People in a specific demographic are not homogenous and the demographic itself is imposed post-hoc. Instead, focus on the material conditions surrounding the situation - what has the person experienced and what are they trying to express about that experience?

Disability and Academic Authority

School is, in of itself, inherently ableist. Popular education is based around success and failure, the ability to replicate a subject and to maybe even contribute towards the ever increasing accumulation of knowledge produced by this cycle. Through every dimension of education - socially between a teacher and a student, temporally through a student’s progression in their academic career, technically through the demonstration of learned behavior, and beyond - there are interfacing problems, where someone will be unable to compete, simply because of the structure enforced upon the student. Perhaps a student struggles to process language, or as they get older they grow more weak and unable to stay awake; or even they might have a motor disability making it very time consuming to repeat basic tasks. There are thousands of possible nodes to explore in this complex struggle. Special education programs further isolate disabled populations away from the academic mainstream, assuming they are simply “too unable” to learn anything beyond a prescribed level.

As such, a systemic sorting process begins. Very few people who enter school will emerge with the authority to talk about something as complex as say, neurology, but that doesn’t change the fact that neurology impacts all of our lives, and those who have achieved the status of “neurologist” have substantial privileges in society over other people, those of which could be used to dangerous effect. Neurology achieves this finely tuned ability to describe such complex phenomena through a systemic motion of knowledge annihiliation and careful watering, like that of a bonsai tree, creates an intricate but limited web of knowledge that, by its very nature, excludes most of its common subjects - those with neurological disabilities.

Through this process, and through the authority that we impose upon those with degrees and impressive credentials, manufactured from a process that eliminates most voices from participation just to concentrate the discussion, we suffocate the real material voices of those that surround us. Is that to say that the knowledge produced by academic institutions is inherently bad? Of course not - but it does mean that these works are missing key insights that only disabled people can provide, who more often than not are culled out of the academic discussion through the rigorous and specialized training required to achieve this position. But perhaps more terrifying is that through the lens of academic elitism we are telling ourselves that our own experience never has nor will matter and that we have no chance to escape, and are bound to submit to an abstract intellectual authority we will never truly know. This is the lie we have to tell ourselves as a cost for trying to believe the world’s knowledge can be concentrated in an institution.

In my opinion, the way that we approach the synthesis of theory and discussion should be changed. Many people see theories as concepts , instead of modelled perspectives that illustrate the world in one particular framework. All theories will have limitations and represent subjective views. Theory must be developed as a social process instead, as opposed to a concentrated academic one, where information is exchanged in distributed networks of communication influencing each other rather than centralized authorities of highly concentrated resources.

Summary

We shouldn’t forget that these dishonest techniques are used to manipulate language and references to put theory over material bodies - the concern of disabled people isn’t whether or not someone’s personal theory is proven correct or reaches its full potential, or whether or not two people agree - there is a real, material life on the line that is ignored through the discourse. We should not be treating the voices of disabled people, or any people, as secondary to the theory of famous authors as we speak about them behind their backs, even if we are among them. Through this, the real oppression emerges - how disabled people trying to express their own concerns by educating others is shut down through manipulative tactics that take active advantage of the social weaknesses of disabled people to further a narrative of oppressing disabled people - including disabled people inflicting that on other disabled people.

Recall that specifically in the case of disability that everyone expresses disability so uniquely because it is directly a consequence of their material bodies interacting with their environment - everyone is disabled to some extent and the scale of disability is an artifact of capitalist value culture. Thus, we render the voices of the disabled inferior to voices in academics, or even just popular people, as more important than the voice of a sickly masses, losing the value of most of the voice of the people, and for what, to defend a pet theory? A fantasy of how we wish the world could be?

Can the same be said about gender? Race? Most likely, but I can’t divulge deeply on the consequences of that today. This is supposed to be a “shorter” post.

Original Text

I offer the original text for this conversation here, so that it can be evaluated independently.

My reply:

there is no organized system absent capitalism; capitalism is the accumulation of resources
into organized systems of exploiting labor for larger systems; this is what is meant by
"molar" systems

even in primordial times we still were operating on value of individuals because the
physical limit to give prosthesis still exists materially and thus social distribution
is made based on this perceived scarcity. The accumulation of knowledge is what allows
us to distribute things more fairly because scarcity is less of a problem. however as you
might notice there is no point where knowledge is complete so universal communism
represents a physical limit

what is the problem is the accumulation of capitalist pressure, enforcing hierarchies;
this synthesizes new disabilities at an accelerated rate. this can only be overcome
through gradual processes of rrestructuring both the body and the social construction
around disability - but these will be replaced by new constructions  that gradually
disassemble and restructure this over time. there are sudden accumulations of pressure
that causes sudden changes that might be mistaken for revolutions but all changes are
essentially revolutions

psychiatry is not simply a classification of disabled people but rather those who cannot
be categorized by systems of capital - labor exploitation. autism is separated from
physical disability historically because of its intimate ties with psychiatry and by
consequence theory of mind. therefore it has real material social differences from
those surrounding physical disabilities which have a much longer history

My criticism of anprim isn't that its anti-tech but many people are anti tech. its that
it is based on an ideal of the reversal of accumulated knowledge rather than building
on it through deletion-addition. it also seems to believe that capitalism is an
exclusively human phenomena and commits dualism of human against nature by implying
that capitalism isn't a natural process that has occured in the past (extinction
events based around accumulation of bio-capital, such as the great oxygenation event
for example approx. 2.1 billion years ago). the solution to capitalism must point
forward then

this means that anprim cannot project properly the needs of disabled people moving forward
because it doesn't consider disabled people as proper subjects unto their own right but
rather consequences of a system that should be removed. unlike desiring-production this
model does not explain why people's bodies can interfere with their production, which is
the material condition that creates disability. While in the case of autism/adhd it makes
sense to reject the existence of them as disabilities outright, the rejection of
disabilities that can kill you does not because even if sans-capitalism was possible they
would still be expressing that desire to change if only to not die sooner, and this is
backed by historical changes as well

Disability is not derived from capital alone, as an individual struggle it emerges from
failing desiring-production and in capitalism it emerges as a social construct based
around labor exploitation caused by the channeling of the flow of individual
desiring-production. Disability emerged first and its originating desire was seized by
capitalist flows

bioessentialism is not the belief that material conditions create disability, its the
belief that biology as a socially constructed science represents an essential physical
state. I have material conditions that made me my gender for example based on physical
conditions that can be expressed through biology, but the biology that explains that
existence is not essential and may even be undermined entirely by my existence.
biology is just another system of description, a fascism

His response:

[paragraph 8]
yes science is fascistic but “material conditions” absolutely cannot be theorized from
within Modernity. this literally concedes to science being correct but not sufficient,
when above you describe diagnoses as synthesized. and i don’t think a metaphysics of
desiring-machines lets you get out of that: technology is the affective encounter that
actively shapes our subjectivity and the production of social relations (i would also
say this is an area your theory might falter at - how does disability distribute care
w/o a science through which i understand my body and it’s capacities?). this is why I
made the comparison  to Cartesian dualism at first. your critique of anprim treats
tools/technology as transcendent in their ability to make live & let die, reifying the
dis/abled binary and thereby creating a dualistic image of thought (Guattari’s words),
meaning it’s no longer schizoanalyzis: you’re still chained to your micropolitical
investment in life-saving technologies. 

[paragraph 4]
furthermore, i think the history of disabilities (or their  historical process) is
irrelevant - material difference here is being determined by the visibility of a
difference that can’t be situated w capital. there’s a missing explanation of why
being worse at labor or desiring-production necessarily means you are more at risk of
death under capitalism. “needing medical treatment” is an arbitrary standard and
doesn’t necessarily mean “less employable” or “better at blending in”, as systems has
shown. remember, the social ecology is where capitalism is material; to understate the
impact of non-osmotic sociality (being unable to learn conventions) is nothing more
than discrimination, and wouldn’t reflect Guattari’s dissensus, I don’t think. 

[paragraphs 1, 2, 7]
more generally, i think your notion of a catastrophic refrain of scarcity is
problematic. you claim to be “informed by by history, but first see Yung’s
archaeological evidence about care in pre-civilized cultures, and clearly making
predicted claims about what scarcity entailed is a blurry business. social
planning - attempting to predict future distributions - is constrained by the current
world (its episteme technically) just as much as past distributions are. 

i also see that you have a personal theory of history and I respect your belief in it
but i personally disagree, & think Bataille would probably have something to say about
it - particularly in “Theory of Religion” (which i only just finished) pre-capitalism
is characterized by excess rather than scarcity, and he explains how one produced the
other. the birthplace of capitalism was not in some natural stratification by scarcity
but in the invention of the tool. but just as technology can liberate through
“accommodating” while simultaneously  categorizing, it can be radically re-tooled to
embrace the natural flow of desire and become “immanent” (in both the sense of Bataille
and Guattari- fear of death is foundational to the transcendent notion of self). 

Finally, I’ll return to one of Yung’s chosen terms: teleology. to argue that
pre-civilized people weren’t capable of sufficiently caring for each other is both
ahistorical (see archaeology) and falsely constructing a barbarian past that we must
“move forward” from, and afaik the “reversal of accumulated knowledge” is impossible
and/or incoherent, and seems to be based only in the connotations of “primitive”.
but if Guattari defines this process lmk. and i’ll note that Bataille’s theory of
the solar economy resolves this critique. 

[paragraph 6] 
anprim is not a praxis or telos. it isn’t about manifesting the end of civ. it’s a
recognition of the inevitable end of civ (which is wrong- yung calls this
“eschatological” and it’s a flaw to the theory which also extends to your critique).
it also isn’t social planning. this is also why the difference between it and your
post-civ doesn’t matter, because if you’re trying to do social planning, you should
be acknowledging the shared sentiment these people have. not the “center disabled
ppl” sentiment, the “world is a evil machine” sentiment: you should be building a
coalition from the misguided instead of worrying about the way belief informs action
then causes violence. w/o coalition your ecosophic praxis doesn’t work, and any
discourse you are creating that reifies bio-essentialism is by default worse. 

[paragraph 3]
one question I’m left with through all of this is “if disability is proliferating
under capitalism, will it not eventually encompass everybody and thereby exceed
the binary of dis/abled?” our desiring-production is universally territorialized
(now at least) by capitalism: if disability is the excess of that, would that not
suggest that it isn’t so much about “physical conditions” and more about mortality?
i.e as expectations rise, capitalism will become gradually more uninhabitable
until the Human ends up replaced entirely? if so we can’t rely on the
(supposedly non-scientific) primacy of the body to escape that.

posted on 06:35:05 PM, 06/17/20 filed under: needs [top]