Posts Tagged ‘Becky Taylor’

Despatches: 2/3 of People Believe Disabled A Waste of Money

December 18, 2021

Okay, I only caught the tail end of the Despatches programme on Channel 4 Mike was recommending on his blog. This was a searing expose of the DWP’s persecution and denial of benefits to disabled claimants. Mike was urging his readers to watch it, as it is exactly the kind of programme Bojob and his fellow privileged, elite band of murderers really don’t want you to see. I heard the last few minutes of it, and that was enough. It included interviews with the relatives of people who had died after being thrown off the benefits they needed. One grieving mother, I remember, called the DWP exactly what they are: murderers. And then there were the stats of how harassment from the DWP had made disabled people’s conditions worse, further damaging their mental health and even giving them conditions they hadn’t had before. None of this is new or revelatory: Disabled rights groups like DPAC, doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists and carers have been talking about this for years, ever since the loathsome Iain Duncan Smith and the Esther ‘Wicked Witch of the Worral’ ran the DWP under Dodgy Dave Cameron and began their eugenic cull of the disabled. But what really shocked me was the closing comment. This was a statistic. A poll had found that 2/3 of the British considered the disabled a waste of money.

This is deeply shocking stuff. If it’s true, I can only conclude that it comes from the incessant propaganda from middle-market tabloids like the Heil and Depress, not to mention the dregs of print media, the Scum, to convince voters to support further cuts in welfare benefits to allow the Tories give more tax breaks to the bloated superrich. It’s no doubt related to all the propaganda that has convinced voters that most welfare claims are fraudulent, whereas such claims account for less than one per cent, a vanishingly small proportion.

More frightening still, it’s the attitude behind the Nazi sterilisation of the ‘dysgenic’, the biologically unfit, and the murder of the disabled and mentally ill under Aktion T4. Social Darwinist doctrine across the world, including Britain and America, claimed that it was useless supporting the biologically unfit, which included those with learning conditions. This wouldn’t solve their problems, and would only encourage them to breed, further contaminating the gene pool. The disabled should instead be isolated and prevented from breeding. The Nazis went further. The congenitally disabled and incurable schizophrenics were declared lebensunwertigen, ‘life unworthy of life’. The SS set up a special ambulance wing, in which the disabled were gassed in a horrifying prefiguration of the murder of the Jews later on. They were also transferred to specific hospitals and clinics, where again they were murdered. This caused a massive scandal and there was a successful campaign to stop it by the Roman Catholic nobleman, Count Galen. This episode also shows that, had there been sufficient opposition by the Christian churches, the Nazis would also have been forced to back down and halt the Holocaust. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few heroic clergymen and Christian laymen, the churches largely cooperated with the regime, despite papal opposition expressed in the encyclical ‘Mit brennenden Sorge‘ – ‘With Burning Sorrow’.

This attitude should be completely anathema to Christians. Christian theology has traditionally been opposed to euthanasia, viewing it as murder, because it holds that all humans have an intrinsic essential worth that makes their lives precious. We are all, male and female, Black and White, Jew and Greek, made in the image of the Almighty. And I also disagree with it on rational, practical grounds.

Technology is increasingly able to give the disabled the opportunities to live better lives and hold down jobs that they otherwise may not have been able to do. Becky Taylor, one of the artists exhibited in Grayson Perry’s Art Club exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, is an example of this. Left paralysed in a wheelchair and unable to speak naturally, she nevertheless is able to speak through the same kind of computerised voice synthesis used by Stephen Hawking. She was also able to paint a superb portrait of Perry through computer software that tracked the movements of her eyes. She is currently studying computers at university, and I predict she will have an excellent career ahead of her. Over a decade ago I met a similar young man at a social evening in a pub. This was a lad, who was also totally paralysed, though he still had the power of speech. But he was extremely intelligent, had a girlfriend, and, I learned later, held a very well paid job in computing. And I’ve heard of other disabled peeps in wheelchairs like him. Companies don’t pay the kind of money he was earning to people who can’t do the job. A waste of money? Nonsense! And nobody ever said that about Stephen Hawking.

I realise most disabled people aren’t computer geniuses, but they can do other jobs, although it might mean that they have to use adapted equipment. Or that in the case of those left brain damaged through head injury, they just take a little longer than everyone else. Unfortunately, I got the impression that the economics crisis caused by austerity has led firms to lay off these workers, even though having a job allows them to support themselves and contribute to the economy through their expenditure. And then the DWP harass them as if it’s their fault. And even those, who are unable to work, have an intrinsic worth that goes far beyond money. I was told years ago that some foster parents, for example, prefer to foster children with Down’s Syndrome, because they are more loving. Caring for the severely disabled is not a job I could do, but nevertheless I am extremely impressed by those who do and find it rewarding.

How we treat the poor, the sick and the disabled is a vital measure of how genuinely civilised a society is. The Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, had public hospitals. As did Islam. According to the programme, What Islam Did For Us, one of a series of programmes which examined the scientific contributions of civilisations around the world present by Adam Harte-Davis back in the ’90s, Haroun al-Rashid, one of the medieval Arab emperors, founded a hospital in Baghdad. Its staff included musicians, who were employed as it was believed their music would calm the shattered minds of the insane incarcerated there. Truly, a humane institution.

And unfortunately, these humane attitudes that have raised human civilisation up from the Dark Ages are being undermined by the vicious persecution of the disabled by the DWP and the vile propaganda of the right-wing press.

And the result of this is a return to the underlying attitudes of Nazi barbarism.

Grayson Perry, Futurism and the Democratisation of Art

December 13, 2021

One of the best programmes to have been on during the lockdown has been Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4, hosted by the Turner Prize-winning potter. He has attempted to encourage people across the country to get creating their own personal works of art. They have included ordinary Brits, as well as celebrities like Johnny Vegas and Boy George. At the end of the series, the works he selected for inclusion on his programme were exhibited in one of the country’s museums. Last year’s entry’s were displayed, I think, in Manchester. This year they’re being exhibited at the City Museum and Art Gallery here in Bristol. Accompanying the exhibition was an edition of his programme last Friday, in which he went behind the scenes to show the works being put up, as well as display the pieces that he had selected and talk to their creators. Those included came from all works of life. One was a volunteer at a food bank, who had painted one of the other women working there behind the counter. Another was a transvestite, who had painted himself in feminine make-up. Johnny Vegas had produced a highly stylised human figure representing Norman. This was a young lad he remembered from school, who always seemed hunched up in his coat as if he had already been defeated and given up on life. Vegas wished he could go back and encourage him to become more positive. One of the most amazing people was Becky Taylor, a young woman stricken with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, she nevertheless was able to speak and create through the same type of computer technology as Stephen Hawking. She was able to paint a portrait of Perry by moving her eyes across the computer screen. Their movements were captured by the software, which turned them into brushstrokes. The result was an astonishingly good likeness. Perry tried to do it for himself, but unsurprisingly only succeeded in making a mess.

It struck me that Perry’s programme in many respects was close to some of the ideals and demands made by the Italian Futurists. Not that the gentle, transvestite Perry had anything politically in common with the hypermasculine, nationalistic belligerence of the Futurists, who celebrated violence and declared war to be ‘sole hygiene of the world’, and whose survivors after World War I joined Mussolini’s Fascists. But Taylor’s art and the technology that enabled her to express her creativity would certainly have pleased them, as they celebrated the new industrial Italy. Marinetti, in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism of 1909, had looked forward to ‘the coming union of man and machine’.

But Marinetti had also called for museums and exhibition spaces to be opened up to the public, to display the works of art that were being produced by ordinary Italians. He was impressed by the number of people, even in small villages, who were artistically inclined and dismayed by how they were frustrated and crushed. In his ‘Florentine Address’ of 1919, he remarked on ‘the proletariat of geniuses’, the frustrated intellectuals of contemporary Italy, calling for their encouragement and display. He said, or, more probably, declaimed

“I wish to fill another gap by turning now to the only proletariat that remains forgotten and oppressed: the vitally important proletariat of geniuses.

It is indisputable that our race surpasses all others in the large number of geniuses that it produces. Even the smallest Italian group, the smallest village, can claim seven or eight twenty-year olds, who are brimming over with creative fervor, youths of overweening ambition as revealed in volumes of unpublished verse and in eloquent outbursts in the public squares and at political rallies. Admittedly some (though they are few in number) are little more than foolish dreamers who will probably never attain true genius. But there is genius in their temperament, which is to say that, encouraged in the right manner, they might well contribute to the nation’s intellectual dynamism.

In that same small group or village it is easy to find seven or eight middle-aged men above whose heads hovers the melancholy halo of failed genius, a halo that accompanies them through their lives as petty clerks or professionals, in neighbourhood cafes, and with their families. Remnants of a genius that never found a propitious environment in which it might thrive, they were quickly laid low by economic and sentimental necessities.

I founded the Futurist artistic movement eleven years ago in order to brutally modernize the literary-artistic milieu, to deprive it of any authority and destroy its ruling gerontocracy, to debunk pedantic professors and critics, and to encourage the reckless outbursts of young genius. My aim was to create a fully oxygenated atmosphere, a healthy, encouraging, supportive atmosphere where all of Italy’s young geniuses might prosper. I sought to encourage all of them, to increase their pride, to clear a path for them, to swiftly reduce the proportion of failed and worn-out geniuses.

It is sometimes difficult to recognise, appreciate, and encourage young geniuses. In part this is because instead of viewing their homeland as a vast malleable mass to be molded spiritually, these youths regard it as an idiotic network of abuses of power, criminal rackets, corrupt authorities, and asinine rules. And, of course, they are right. Everywhere in our country, genius is undervalued, derided, imprisoned. Only mediocre opportunists and over-the-hill, one-time geniuses are celebrated and crowned….

Many other youths – dynamic, impetuous young men, intoxicated with spiritual heroism and revolutionary patriotism – have now swollen the Futurist ranks. But a great many others remain ignorant or depressed, stifled by the atmosphere of small ultrapasseist cities. Thanks to the vast wave of stormy soirees and demonstrations that swept up and down the Italian peninsula, Futurism came into contact with nearly everyone. But the nation’s political forces will have to undertake a more systematic campaign if we are to save, re-ignite, and tap the vast energies possessed by the proletariat of geniuses.

I propose the construction in every city of a number of buildings that bear a title like the following: Free Exhibition of Creative Genius. In these facilities:

  1. works of painting, sculpture, graphics, architectural drawings, machine drawings, and designs of inventions will be on display for a month at time;
  2. Musical works, small or large, for orchestra or piano, in any genre, form, or size will be performed.
  3. poems, prose, scientific writings of all kinds and lengths will be read, displayed, recited;
  4. all citizens will have the right to exhibit free of charge;
  5. works of any kind or any value, even if seemingly judged to be absurd, inane, crazy or immoral, will be displayed or read without a jury.

With these free and open exhibitions of creative genius, we Futurists wage war against an ever present danger: the danger of seeing the spirit shipwrecked on the ideological seas that swirl around the formulas of communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From: A Primer of Italian Fascism, ed. and introduced by Jeffrey T. Schnapp (University of Nebraska Press 2000) 271-3.

Some of this has been realised through recent initiatives to open up museums and art galleries to the public and aspiring artists, as well as the new opportunities for display that have come through the internet. I don’t quite share the Futurist’s artistic tastes – they were militant avant-garde artists who attacked traditional art and Italy’s artistic heritage. And there are obviously artistic, literary and scientific works that are too dangerous or immoral to be displayed or encouraged. But Marinetti had a point. Up and down Britain there are people, who have tried their hand at art or literature, and been discouraged because of lack of opportunity. They also deserve their chance. It’s great that programmes like Perry’s are there to encourage them.

But perhaps, to encourage the genius of ordinary people still further, we should build the exhibition halls he called for to show what talent is still out there, waiting to be discovered.