This is a kind of footnote to my last post about the conference on ‘Care Ethics and Precarity’ that I attended recently in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to Twitter, I came across this beautiful article by comedian Jeremy McLellan, on welcoming people with intellectual disabilities. You don’t have to share the author’s religious beliefs (though I do) to conclude that this is a perfect encapsulation of (one aspect of) an ethic of care. Here’s the key passage, but do read the whole thing:
Our culture does not make it easy to welcome intrusions. Avoiding such inefficiencies is baked into liberalism itself. We have worked to replace a social order built on a rich web of unchosen obligations with a series of voluntary relationships entered into by rational, sovereign, independent individuals. And once our obligations are reduced to only those to which we have freely consented, we cannot help but regard the uninvited presence of the other as an intrusion.
It is no mystery, then, why close forms of community, particularly the extended family, have collapsed in the West. After all, you do not choose your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, ancestors or heritage. You can choose whether to have children, but you cannot (yet) choose what they will be like. You can choose a spouse, but you do not get to choose how that person will change. Over time, he or she will become a different person. And so will you. In the end, every marriage is an arranged marriage.
So whether it is the disabled, the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the refugee or anyone else, our attitude is often the same: We did not agree to this. This was not part of the plan. They are burdens. And they are. But we are all burdens. We were once burdens, and we will be burdens again.