March 13, 2011 § 3 Comments
Update: Harty has resigned!
[TW for eliminationism, disablism]
It came out a few days ago, but this has still been eating at me. Apparently one of the Republican state representatives in New Hampshire has advocated shipping “defective people” like the homeless and “the crazy people” to Siberia (or the freezing-and-dying equivalent thereof in America) in order to combat “overpopulation.” The Huffington Post and a few other places have reported on it, but relatively few people seem to be calling him out on it, and the Republican House Speaker William O’Brian has gone on the record saying that although he should have chosen his words more carefully, the 91-year-old has basically earned the right to say what he wants.
Well, not really. Martin Harty, the representative in question, does not deny saying that “I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population.” I don’t care if you’ve fought Nazis–the enemy of my enemy is not my friend if they espouse basically the same beliefs (as well as those of Stalin, ironically enough.) The fact that you can say this without being immediately asked to resign is disgraceful.
I was thinking of writing a letter — a real, pen-and-paper letter — to this man. It was going to try to touch on all the basic measures of humanity–compassion, empathy, kindness. But honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Harty hasn’t shown an iota of these things, and it would be a waste of my time to attempt to reach the humanity of someone who doesn’t have any. Harty has every right to his hateful and frankly evil beliefs, and I doubt a heartfelt letter from anyone is going to change them. Harty is the real-life equivalent of the trolls who go on autism support boards and tell people to kill themselves. Engaging them on a personal level does nothing but give them the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve hurt you. Don’t feed the troll.
If we want any results, we’re going to have to go over his head. There’s a petition circulating right now to ask for his resignation — I don’t know how much difference an out-of-state signature like mine will make, but it can’t hurt to go sign it here. It might also be worth an email or letter to part of the Republican Party of New Hampshire, which can be reached at this page.
What’s strange to me, though, is that we’ve more or less begun advocating a kind of utilitarian works-righteousness in our measures of who does and does not deserve to live. Here’s the response from the other party in that conversation, Sharon Omand.
“[The mentally ill] are productive people,” she said. “You can’t throw them away.”
Omand runs a community mental health program, and I have nothing but respect for what she’s doing. But this response strikes me as playing by Harty’s rules–acknowledging that the only people who deserve to be supported are those who can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, who can be “productive people.” This is the logic of the jungle, the Hobbesian state of nature. It’s not the logic of a country that has made a commitment to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for everyone–mentally ill or not. If we judge people only by their “productivity” (which, in this man’s terms, is dictated by how much money they’ve made), then what’s a social contract for?
What’s more, by doing so we accept the logic of people who have been defending him: If you make enough money, if you’re self-supporting enough, if you join the military, you have a free license to support any monstrous cause you wish. This is “might makes right” at its most basic level, and it’s loathsome. Productivity does not excuse evil.
A last note: Harty drags Isaac Asimov into this, claiming that he’s been influenced by his work on population explosion. Leaving aside the fact that this makes no sense — the American homeless and mentally ill are a laughably small part of the world population — it’s interesting to note that Asimov had a special note for people who believed in culling: Anyone who advocates a plague or other way of killing people to solve overpopulation, he said, must be the first to volunteer.