Sunday, February 18, 2007

Expanding and Redefining Some 'Everyday' or 'Normal' Concepts

A friend of mine sent this information to me and I thought that it was interesting enough that it should go on our blog. If nothing else, it will definitely get us all thinking about and maybe even redefining some our ideas about communication, language, thought, personhood, ethics, and probably some other philosophical issues that I haven't even thought of.

The first link is to the blog of the author of the short film piece, an autistic girl living around the detroit area. You can watch the video there or you can go to the second link and see a larger version of it on google. I don't really have any questions to help spark a discussion about the issues related to this film, but I think that in this case, the film speaks for itself and just by watching it people will come up with some questions on their own or at least contemplate these issues a whole lot more. It is most definitely a thought provoking piece of filmaking, or at least it was so for me. Let me know what ya'all think. Talk to you soon!


At 1:17 AM, February 19, 2007, Blogger ballastexistenz said...

I am nowhere near Detroit. More like Vermont.

At 1:44 AM, February 19, 2007, Blogger jason maynard said...

sorry, my mistake, it was sent to me by someone near detroit who works as a supports coordinator, so i assumed you were near detroit too, is anything else inaccurate as well?

At 9:39 PM, February 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the blog that you have. I was wondering if you would link my blog to yours and in return I would do the same for your blog. If you want to, my site name is American Legends and the URL is:

If you want to do this just go to my blog and in one of the comments just write your blog name and the URL and I will add it to my site.


At 11:04 PM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Sarah said...

Mr. Stefanini-

I'm glad that you enjoy our blog. This is a philosophy blog. We only link other philosophy blogs. Your blog, unfortunately, does not fall into that category.


Sarah (WMU Philosophy Grad Student Blog Administrator)

At 11:06 PM, February 22, 2007, Blogger Sarah said...


I have spent a fair amount of time pondering your post. The video is rather amazing and very interesting. However, I am curious as to what philosophical issues it raised for you. Questions of personhood? Questions of language? Questions of cognitive abilities?

At 3:25 AM, February 26, 2007, Blogger jason maynard said...

Sorry it’s taken so long for me to reply to your question Sara, but I wanted to think some more about what the video meant to me and why I thought it deserved to go on our blog before I replied to your question.

I guess that for me, the video raises a few issues that I believe have some philosophical import. The first issue has to do with the word normal. Obviously, this is a word that we all use in our daily lives but I think it takes video’s like this to make us question what exactly we are saying when we use that word. I believe that inherent in the use of that word is a prescriptive judgment about the value of things that are normal vs. things that are not-normal. I thought that one of the main points of the video was that non-autistic people would label her forms of communication, her ways of interacting with the world, and her very identity as not-normal because these things are different from what the majority of other people do. I thought that the video was trying to teach people that this is an invalid labeling of autistic people for several reasons.

The first reason seemed to me to be that normal itself is such a loaded, vague, and ambiguous word that the application of it to anything is itself problematic and fallacious. I don’t know if it would be a form of equivocation or something like that, but this word has no sort of ontological or semantic definiteness to it for us to use it as commonly and as non-chalantly as we do. I thought that she touched upon this lack of any meaningful foundation to the word normal in the video and that the video should serve as a lesson to those who would use the term in order to label her or anything about her as not-normal.

The second reason why this labeling of autistic people as not-normal is problematic is because the words, despite their ambiguity, carry with them a value judgment that implicitly says normal is to be preferred and is better than not-normal. By labeling something, anything, as not-normal, we are implicitly stating that it is somehow defective and there is less value in it than normal things. Using this implicit value judgment inherent in the word normal to refer to autistic people automatically devalues everything about them including their very existence and I thought that the video was a protest against that as well. I guess a lesson to be learned here is that certain words that we use carry with them implicit value judgments about the worth of existence itself (that we may not of even known they had) if they are extrapolated to a logical extreme and applied to the world. I’m sure that people who label other people as not-normal didn’t think that they were making a value judgment about the other’s very existence, but I think that the video teaches us that this may be implicit in the use of that particular word.

I guess that the last lesson I drew from the video has to do with assumptions that we make in regards to communication. When parents hire speech counselors to help communicate with their autistic children, they are already making a value judgment as to what are and what are not good and valid forms of communication. We automatically assume that just because there is a failure to communicate with others, especially with autistic people, that the failure resides on their side of the communication bridge and not on ours. I think that this is because there is an implicit value judgment that our form of communication (language) is better than other forms of communication and if others somehow fail to meet our requirements for communication, we label them as not-normal or communicatively defective. I think that the video was trying to raise the question as to why her form of communication is seen as not-normal or defective and ours is seen as normal or regular. I think she was trying to raise questions about how and where to place the burden of communication failure, on the people who use language to communicate or on the people who communicate without language. Why is language the standard bearer of what is and what isn’t good or bad communication and is it valid or correct to place a defective or not-normal tag on those who refuse to communicate linguistically, like autistic people? I think that her video was a protest against this communicative prescriptivism of language.

Those are the issues that the video raised for me. That is why I labeled it the way that I did. It definitely helped me to enlarge and redefine what my ideas of normal and not-normal are, especially when it comes to communication and autism. These reasons are also why I thought it had philosophical worth and thought I would share it with my fellow graduate students.

Sorry, maybe I should have included this in the initial blog post, but I wanted to see what others thought about it before I put in my two (looks more like three or four) cents in. What about you Sara? What did you get out of the video, if anything? Or maybe you disagree with some of my thoughts above about the video or about the implicit value judgments I think are in inherent in certain words? Or maybe you think that all of this has no philosophical import at all and should be wiped clean from our ‘official’ philosophy blog and I should be banned forever from posting anything on in the future? (hopefully this is just a possible truth and not a necessary one, :), <--my sad attempt at a modal joke) Talk to you soon, jason


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