The City and The City and the city, and

The final piece about my “Can Blue Planets Find Space for Rainbows?” project is the book outline. Expect the following 9 chapters, largely in manifesto form, then detailed papers based on each.

London’s Southbank Undercroft

1: A Tale of Two Scientists

Using responses to the broadcast of Blue Planet 2 to illustrate the way that much-needed activism in the face of existential ignores the needs of the disabled community. And using the response to the death of Stephen Hawking to show how widespread the notion is that tools which enable disabled people to flourish are things from which they should be grateful to be freed.

2: Places of Erasure

Looking in depth at particular responses to crises and the way that they erase disabled people, and the responses of the disabled community to that erasure in the media and through social media:

  • The banning of single use plastics, in particular disposable straws, ignoring the fact that no alternative is able to meet the needs of disabled users.
  • Banning packaging for pre-prepared fruit and vegetables, and the vilification in the media of such packaging, ignoring the needs of those with motor function or executive functioning needs.
  • Elimination of smartphones from public spaces by demand or by incentive, intended to encourage interaction with those around you, ignoring the needs of those who rely on such devices for precisely that interaction.
  • Planning of cities, especially smart cities, to encourage interaction and wellbeing and eliminate harmful emissions, and the absence of disabled people both from architects’ drawings and from consideration in the amenities provided.

3: Can’t you Just…

Much erasure of disabled people is unconscious. That is to say, architects to not set out to exclude blind people from city streets; coffee shops do not set out to exclude autistic customers; supermarkets do not set out to deny people with Parkinson’s access to fruit and vegetables. A careful examination of the responses to disability campaigners will demonstrate that the most common response to their complaints is “we hadn’t thought of that” while the most common response of the wider public is “can’t you just use/do …” This chapter will argue that unconscious ignorance can be more dangerous because it suggests the disabled are not considered as people.

4: At Home in the City of God

An examination of what is actually happening when we respond to an environmental or other existential crisis. Arguing:

  • We are attempting to answer a fundamental question about what it means to call earth our “home”, which is “How can I make earth a home for humanity and at the same time an idealised home for me?”
  • Our answers are based in part upon the notion of utopia, an idealised place in which we flourish by adopting certain behaviours that are harmonious with our environment.
  • In greater part they are based upon what Augustine would call the “City of God”. That is to say, a set of behaviours that mark people out as being “chosen” or special. Those behaviours, in this case, are good for the planet, but they mark out their performers as being special and superior.
  • In all; of the above, it will be argued that the erasure of the disabled stems from the fact that we do not distinguish between “me” and “we”, but simply assume that “we” is “lots of people like me”

5: Clean Oceans, Clean Home

Having looked at what is happening and how it happens when it comes to erasure, this chapter uses Martha Nussbaum’s exploration of the concept of disgust to explain why it happens. Nussbaum argues disgust is people’s natural response to their animality, projected outwards onto others as a means of protecting them from that discovery about themselves. This chapter will argue that the exclusion of the disabled from utopia, and the establishment of superior behaviours in the City of God that exclude the disabled is people’s attempt to deny their animality. That is to say, it is an attempt to preserve the distinction between them and the environment that they claim to have overcome.

6: To the useful the spoils

Wider social and economic movements, whether the critique of neoliberalism by the likes of Thomas Piketty or the growth of effective altruism, claim to have solved the problem of seeing people as means to an end, freeing people for a higher purpose. In practice, they:

  • Replace one external end, production of capital, with another – social utility. For the disabled, who often lack the capacity (especially without assistance) for such utility, this is equally damaging.
  • See the disabled as recipients of social utility. We are objects of good actions, and not subjects.

7: Unequal Tenants

The fundamental problem with imagining a utopia is that abled people can choose whether or not their perfect world contains the disabled. Many of the disabled do not have that choice – the presence of others is a necessity, because of our needs. The disabled do not have, that is, a freedom to imagine a home without others, and as the preceding chapters have shown those others often seek our erasure.

8: With or Without you

For the first time, technology offers the promise of providing the assistance disabled people need without the intervention of other people. This means that for the first time, soon we will be able to imagine a home in which the presence of abled people is a matter not of necessity but of choice. The consequences of this, however, are rightly viewed as horrific – they would amount to people imagining the disappearance of whole swathes of society. The horror we feel at this should make us re-examine the way we view the erasure of the disabled.

9: The City, and the City, and the city, and…

A suggestion for how we can all imagine a world that is both “for me” and “for us” is the co-occupation of the same space. Drawing on an examination of spaces such as London’s Southbank Undercroft, it will suggest that different groups can occupy the same space in radically different ways, choosing to collaborate and share but not being required to do so.

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