The Oppression of Science

Numerous thoughts today, but first I want to start here.

This is what I call the science of oppression. I am so glad this blog was written, and I want to talk about it further, because I talked about it a little bit in a post I wrote not all that long ago.

The Science Of Oppression is one that exists across several groups of people. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it at all, but someone in this  MSNBC documentary about trans people really summed up what I wanted to say, when he talked about science and society being obsessed with finding out WHY people are aberrant. Why are people gay? Why are people trans? Why are people fat? Why are people developmentally disabled? Why are people mentally ill? Why are these different people different?

A lot of research money is spent in locating genes and brain chemicals to determine the answers to these questions. Sometimes genes are found to explain the differences. Sometimes the scientists develop theories involving hormones, or a lack of a certain neurotransmitter, or a missing chromosome. Sometimes these discoveries make huge headlines, and everyone in the not-different culture, the dominant culture, can declare: Aha! The different people can’t help being different. Science says so. We can forgive them, because it isn’t their choice.

Soon after, research may be done to figure out how to alter the genes, the chromosomes, the neurotransmitters, the hormones to make the different people, not-different anymore. Isolating the cause of differences may allow people to choose whether they want to have a potentially different child, giving them the chance to abort it, preventing them and the child a life of cruelty because of the difference — or so the argument goes. Science may develop pills and treatments and institutions to deal with the different, and assure the not-different that the different are receiving the best, most humane care.

Politics plays a part in the acceptances of the differences. Under caring regimes, the people who are different may find a tolerable life, and may only be annoyed at science’s attempt to label and classify them as “other.” Under more interfering regimes, the different may find an altogether painful life where they suffer immensely. And while it may seem science is doing the different and not-different a world of good, is this really any different than this?

In the MSNBC documentary, one of the people interviewed talked about science coming up with all of these theories about why people become transgendered. He said: Who cares? It’s a dangerous proposition to be finding out why people are the way they are, when the effort should be focused on accepting them for who they are. I say: Why spend the money on pointing out differences and the reasons for them? Inevitably, that will lead science, funded by dominant culture, to want to cure the differences, so we can all dance atop a mountain, teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, One and the Same. Isn’t the current scientific genetic climate leaning toward cloning, anyway? That’s kind of an indicator of what the scientific community thinks about the concept of difference, don’t you think?

The disability rights movement has us all trumped here. They say: Accept us for who we are. The mental health community lost out, when they started labeling everything biochemically based, and medicated the shit out of everyone with too much of a gleam in their eye. Everyone else better keep a close eye on what the scientific community has to say about their differences, about how they don’t fit into the dominant culture. It is a slippery slope, one that leads to the loss of rights and the addition of further oppression. Slipperly slope, indeed.

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8 Comments

  1. Limor said,

    January 18, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with you 100%. Science is always looking for a way to “normalize” everyone, and as a society we’re very intolerent of any differences. However, I have a hard time with your comparison of WLS and the holocaust. I lost 2 uncles and countless extended family to Hitler’s genocide. WLS is not the same thing. I have experienced hatred as a fat woman, and as a Jew, and frankly no one is trying to kill me, and my family for either in this country. I distrust the government/establishment/the man, as much as the next person, but as far as I know they don’t have any death camps for fatties. Not yet anyway.

  2. Sandy said,

    January 18, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I have to agree with you. It is a very scary especially for those of us that do not exactly fit the norm. At the moment we are tolerated…but I have to wonder when they do eventually medicate/genetically/surgically alter all of the gays/lesbians/disabled people in the world what are they going to do to us free-thinkers who never agreed to that in the first place.

  3. Rio Iriri said,

    January 18, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Yep! We’re all a little different, and we need to get over that little reptilian part of our brain that says, “eep, different is scary!” Otherwise we’ll be stuck in this evolutionary rut forever!

  4. thoughtracer said,

    January 18, 2008 at 5:13 pm

    Limor,
    In no way am I diminishing the impact, nature or horror of the holocaust. However, the point must be made that a culture of tolerance to intolerance allowed those atrocities to occur. It wasn’t barbaric people who performed the hateful crimes against humanity — they were citizens who had been convinced that for both economic and scientific reasons, they would be better off without an entire segment of their culture. That same argument plays itself out today against many oppressed people, and it is because of the spectre of the holocaust that the argument does not come to obvious fruition in the form of mass killings.

    However, it does come to not-so-obvious frutition, as people internalize the message and play the tolerance-to-intolerance message, which has become corporatized, medicalized and institutionalized, out on their own bodies. We don’t need concentration camps to harm us, because we are willing to harm and kill ourselves.

    I am grateful that there are no concentration camps, although people like Michael Savage are calling for them to eradicate the cost that the health care system is spending to support us fatties (an economic reason to send us all away … sound familiar?) I am grateful that no one is going to kill me ouright physically for being fat. However, what about the subversive way the messages have caused fat people to work on killing themselves by being afraid of the healthcare industry, fitness centers, etc etc, that might help them stay healthy?

    I am sorry for the Holocaust. And I will never stand for any culture to oppress another in order to prevent another one from happening again.

  5. Shauna said,

    January 18, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. However, you seem to be lumping all “differences” together. I agree that some things that make people different need to be embraced, not medicalized and eradicated. But sometimes differences are actually negative, beyond just the negativity society ascribes them, and science can (maybe, someday) give people the tools to fight those things.

  6. thoughtracer said,

    January 18, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Shauna~ what kinds of differences are you talking about that are negative? Can you elaborate?

  7. Shauna said,

    January 18, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Certainly. I was referring specifically to your use of the phrase “mental illness” as an example of difference. While there are many, many problems with our current definitions of mental illness and how the mentally ill are treated, I think we also need to be aware that sometimes, mental illness is illness and as such, it’s a good thing for scientists (and non-scientists!) to try to explore causes, treatments and cures. Obviously it is up to the individual whether to make use of what we find out, but I think it’s a worthy pursuit to get to that point.

  8. thoughtracer said,

    January 18, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Oh for sure. I have a mental health diagnosis, and I work in the field, and working on getting my MS in Community Mental Health. I am treated by medications, and they make a difference in my life for sure. However, I think that we are overmedicating and pathologizing behaviors that teachers, parents and professionals don’t want to deal with, simply to make people more manageable, and I think it ties in with the advent of newer psychopharmaceuticals — as in, that kid’s a little too moody, so let’s give him a bipolar label and put him on mood stabilizers. And I pick that diagnosis, because it’s gone up by 40% in the last few years. That’s coincided nicely with the number of newer medications used to treat the more “severe” mental health issues, of which bipolar disorder is often seen as one. It also happens to be my diagnosis.

    I think we are very quick to put people on medications and blame genes for everything. I think a more (w)holistic approach is sometimes lacking in the mental health system. That’s all. I’ve had so much experience in the mental health field — sitting in shrink’s offices as a consumer and a professional — and watched them try to medicate the life out of me and clients I supported. And that’s where I have a problem.


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