Saturday, 30 March 2013

Disability and the Public and Private Self

In politics, it doesn't matter who the politician is, it only matters who they appear to be. Presentation is key in politics; if you are a bad person but you can present yourself well you will be successful. If you are good but present yourself badly then you will appear bad and subsequently will fail to win the public vote.

What happens when a disability affects the means by which you present yourself (e.g. stammer or Parkinson’s)? Does it then matter who you are? Do the means of presentation (i.e. through disability) become who you are?

Heidegger distinguishes two different ways we present ourselves. In everyday life we present ourselves to other people; we put on a public face and engage with public life (Heidegger calls this public the “They”). We can get swept along by the They and become enamoured by their views. The opinion of the crowd takes over our views and we become lost in the They; we lose a sense of ourselves.

Therefore, presenting our Public self to other people means becoming lost in public opinion; because we surrender ourselves when we engage with the They, we have no control over what other people think; the They is free to think whatever it likes. We take on as our own the opinion of the They and in this case we are the means of our public image. We become our disability.

We also present ourselves to ourselves. We can appeal to our own judgement and disengage from the They. We call to ourselves by recognising our ability to choose one possibility over another (Heidegger calls this ability our potentiality-for-being); choosing involves nullifying one possibility (e.g. the opinion of the They). We are free to choose, thus forming our own opinion. The means of the public image and the image of disability itself is nullified and becomes insignificant. In choosing, we become ourselves.

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