Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Shirking Responsibly

The reader is probably aware of resistance, arising from moral objections, to the disease model of addiction: “But that relieves them of responsibility for their actions,” etc. (In real life, of course, no one is relieved of anything; the legal/public health/social services system accepts the disease model of alcoholism but people are still jailed for DUI every day, and no expert testimony from addiction counselors has ever saved a homicidal druggie from the The Chair.)

The reader may not be aware that 150 years ago the disease model of disease met resistance from the ancestors of today’s Morality Police. In a book review in the New Yorker, Steven Shapin recounts the debate over the “contagion” model of disease (which eventually proved true) and earlier theories based upon bodily humors or malign, “miasmic” influences. Shapin writes, “some sanitary reformers, Florence Nightingale among them, opposed contagionism precisely because they believed that the poor were personally responsible for their filth: contagionism undermined your ability to hold people to account for their unwholesome way of life.”

Put in less charitable terms, contagionism undermined the power one group of humans was able to exert over another due to their shared superstitions, just as the disease model of alcoholism has undermined my attempts to control Teresa based upon my nutso assumption of moral and practical superiority. It is hard to let go, though…sometimes I still feel an urge to rescue her and fix her problems, though I’ve moved into my own house and thus have a myriad of my own problems to fix. I am responsible for my actions or inactions; today is Election Day and thus I’m off from work but have mucho work I should be working on, but instead I’m writing this and zooming into the Mandelbrot Set with Fractal eXtreme and am probably, alas, also about to play a game of Taipei…and I’m listening to Leila Josefowicz and I’m not sure whether I’m trying to “civilize a space / Wherein to play [my] violin with grace” or just fiddling around.

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