Bill Long 12/29/04
Hi, I'm Bill, and I'm Codepedent
I am on a point from the previous essay. My point is that people define squishy concepts broadly for a number of reasons, but one of the motivations is economic. So, the reports forming the basis of the ADA, passed in 1990, suggested that there were 40,000,000 disabled people in America. My first reaction was, WHAT??? Where are they all? Certainly not fighting for handicapped parking spots. But then I thought, 'Well, what is happening here is the tendency to inflate numbers so that you will get recognized, you will get laws passed, people will recognize you and funds will flow your way through increased programs and legal protections.' Depending on how broadly you cast the net of disability, you have 40,000,000 disabled or, as the really cool people say today, "other-abled." The Americans for Other-Abled Act. Sounds right.
We need not limit our treatment of the subject to the ADA. In the last several years gay rights activists have enjoyed considerable success on the simple, and pretty persuasive, argument that same-sex benefits ought to be awarded in a non-discriminatory way to gay partners. But one of the methods they have used in trying to show a "broad acceptance" of gay values/relationships is to inflate the number of people who are gay in our culture.
I have seen "studies" that purport to show that 10% of America is gay. Well, maybe on Castro Street. But in What Cheer, Iowa? Intercourse, Pennsylvania? Probably not. Actually, I would venture to say that the numbers of gay people (and people discover that they are gay all the time) is probably no more than 1% of the population. But we exaggerate for a reason.
Perhaps the funniest (when meant to be the most serious) example of this definitional expansionism came for me in the late-1970s, when I attended a really liberal church in Boston. The pastor was preaching on the virtues of liberation theology, the latest theological fad which had blown in from Latin America via Union Seminary in NYC and Harvard Divinity in Cambridge. Liberation theology was Marxism in biblical drag. In any case, liberation theology posited the existence of oppressors and oppressed; its central principle was that Christ came to liberate the oppressed from the oppressors. Of course, this is ok as far as it goes, in my book. But when you start naming names, then you might have some interesting discussions.
Well, the pastor, who was the best preacher I have ever heard, waxed eloquently on the "preferential option for the poor" in Jesus' teaching and the need for the liberation of the oppressed. But the existence of the oppressed presupposed the existence of the oppressor, and there was no more likely group of oppressors than we in the pew. We were disproportionately white, highly educated, wealthy and mostly healthy. If we sang in our hymns that "God's got the whole world in his/her hands," we did so knowing also that we had a pretty good grip on that same world. How did the pastor handle this problem, without getting himself fired?
Very adroitly. I still hear him asking the question. "Who are the oppressed?" he intoned. Silence fell over the caverous sanctuary. We were ready, bracing ourselves really, to be told that we were the oppressors. But, then, using the principle of definitoinal expansion, he continued, "We all are oppressed." I could hear the collective sigh of the congregation. We knew we were pretty evil people because we had so many good things going for us, but just once we needed to be comforted, rather than afflicted. And our pastor knew it. He knew we needed to be comforted, and so he included us in the category of the oppressed. "We are all oppressed." And then he listed the myriad ways we might be oppressed, from being late to the T to having severe illness at home.
We loved him for that sermon. It made us even love liberation theology all the more. Indeed, we loved it when handsome young theologians with thick Spanish accents spoke mellifluously to us about the liberation of the oppressed. We could imagine that we were the oppressed, and that God was really a pretty good guy (or girl) for deciding to liberate us all.
Finishing with Codependency
So, now we understand the psychology of definitional expansion. It can get you more money. It can get you a broader hearing. It can also salve your conscience. After all, if we are the world, we are also the codependent, dysfunctional, oppressed world at the same time. There is only one solution for all of this. Treatment. Reimbursed by insurance, of course.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long