by Michael Bailey
bedient functionaries are dangerous. It is obedient functionaries who are simply “doing their job”— staffing institutions, participating in commitment hearings, doing the dirty work for nursing homes and sheltered work-shops.
Their dirty work is what makes such zones of indignity and injustice possible. Indeed obedient functionaries have been the essential props of the gigantic, insane, state-sponsored crimes of our time.
No act is committed in a moral vacuum. No job that impacts the life of another person can be evaluated or judged unless its moral content is judged as well.
There is a next step for people with disabilities who travel the road to self-determination. It is to examine in the clear light of day the values of a system that leaves so much power in the hands of people whose opinions, expertise and vision is under-valued and whose behavior is largely ignored: the obedient functionaries.
uel to power the disability business… its raw mate-rial… the bituminous coal of care... is this the future for people with disabilities?
Of course those in control tell us that is not the way it is, certainly not the way it will be. They tell us that we are entering a new era of independence and self-
direction. But I
wonder if the
thinkers and policy
makers really know
who it is who must
the vision to
change a system
which has for
upon the principles
for in the currency
who will or will
not be there to
offer the long-
alized supports are
today typically low
wage, low status
line workers whose PHOTO SOURCE: A TEXTBOOK ON MENTAL DEFICIENCY BY A.F. motivation for TREDGOLD WITH R.F. TREDGOLD, WILLIAMS & WILKINS, 1952.
being involved, let
alone for making
change, is highly
variable. Since the power in
the system has always come
and still comes from the top
down, low status employees
exist only to be managed and
directed. No one thinks of
them as policymakers. But
without them no policy
change is possible.
The result of top-down management is a large class of obedient functionaries who go about their work with no sense of responsibility or accountability beyond that required by licensing.
e know that scientists have developed and are creating ever more refined methods of prenatal screening, methods which may in future eliminate all births of what they call “fetal anomalies.” Thus we have the power
PAGE 14 MARCH -APRIL 2002 MOUTH
They are low status line workers, just doing their jobs; just doing the dirty work.
to exterminate in future the human beings who possess what is seen as a flaw, a characteristic that is today deemed undesirable.
Murder is a crime that, by destroying individual lives, violates the legal and moral order of the community. Extermination is a crime that, by destroying an entire community, constitutes a crime against the family of communities that make up mankind — a crime, as international law has come to realize, against humanity.
Murder is a crime against the living; extermination is a crime against the future. Extermination is never possible unless the obedient functionary simply does her or his job — philosopher Hannah Arendt called this “the banality of evil.”
No passion or personal animosity is required to simply follow instructions and fill the role of functionary in a system which creates only two actual commodities: suffering and dependency.
It seems to me that we must find ways to make staff responsive and responsible only to the people they work for — people with disabilities. Without a new role and a new partnership of equality between people with disabilities and industry staff, and for as long as management comes from the top down, people with disabilities will inevitably be left squarely in the role of victim — victim of what-ever current definition of “duty” guides the daily activity of functionaries in the disability industry.
uty is said to be the noblest of human purposes. This idea, like any other, is distorted into a weapon of attack in the hands of the narrow-minded who are pleased with their own mediocrity. They will use the power of “duty” to silence talent, to rid us of enthusiasm, genius, and indeed all of the enemies of the status quo. Accent on status, their status, their place in the order of things.
To hear them you would think that duty meant sacrificing superior abilities, that having a conscience or vision is a fault to be expiated by leading the same life people do when they have none of those flaws.
When the state becomes an exterminator of human spirit as well as life, and the law, instead of enjoining evil, supports and enforces it — as does the powerful weight of custom, habit, bureaucratic inertia, and social pressure — an individual who might seek to oppose a policy is left in an extremity of moral solitude.
To expect individual staff people, alone and unsupported, to resist official dictates of “duty” is to expect what few of us can offer in even extreme circumstances, as when heroism is called for. Fewer yet can offer it steadfastly from day to day.
Emanuel Kant identified radical evil (as opposed to ordinary evil) as that which occurs when the will, even when unafraid or unswayed by temptation, somehow inspires itself to commit evil.
Adults with disabilities are all survivors of a system grounded in radical evil.
Only by shifting the power away from bosses and funding sources will we at last cease being raw material for an industry and begin being the responsive and responsible people we de-serve and always have de-served to be. Anything less will leave us kidding our-selves about who is really in control of our destiny.
An individual who might seek to oppose a policy is left in an extremity of moral solitude.
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