Most people think that I am deranged or callous. But I have two related reasons, both of which seem to me to be good.
The first is that his dyslexia is an inextricable part of him. I can’t say: ‘This is the pathological bit, which I resent’, as one might say of a tumour. Take away his dyslexia, and he wouldn’t be the same person, but able to read and write. He wouldn’t be him. That would be far too high a price for me to pay. And for him to pay? Well, there you run into Parfit’s non-identity problem.
The second is that I can’t bring myself to say that his dyslexia is pathological. To use the old, deeply inaccurate language of brain lateralization, he’s a right brain person. He sees holistically; he’s a big picture person; he intuits; he connects wildly distant and different concepts. There’s a cost, of course. There always is. His left brain doesn’t do as well as mine the boring, nerdish, reductionist, systematic, literal things that our world sees as the essential elements of education. But surely he’s the real intellectual aristocrat, if only we could define ‘intellectual’ in a way that isn’t dictated purely by that self-serving left side1. If you could choose between being literal and being literary (in the sense of living the things at which the more imaginative nerds more or less obscurely hint), would you opt to be literal?
Of course I’m romanticizing dyslexia, and putting a brave face on things for him and for me. There will be great struggles and frustrations. But let’s be clear why that is. It’s because the educational system, and the world of work beyond it, sees everything from its own left-brain perspective. It will try to turn him into a left-brainer, whether he likes it or not, and regardless of the value of the right-brain stuff.
So here’s the relevance of this personal story to an ethics blog. Our values are overwhelmingly, crushingly, conditioned by the presumption that it is good to be regular, systematic, ordered and literal. Anything else is diseased, and the diseased want to be cured, don’t they? So dyslexics are compulsorily treated. They have educational therapy forcibly administered to them against their will for years.
It can be put in yet another pejorative, quasi-legal way. There is systematic discrimination against right-brain dominance, of a sort that would be regarded as outrageous were it directed against skin colour rather than neuronal wiring.
What’s to be done? So far as the changing of attitudes is concerned, there’s perhaps some value in diatribes, like the one above, using the explosive language of discrimination. Within that type of diatribe is, usually, the ‘giftedness’ idea of Michael Sandel – surely, despite its unfortunately theological flavour, the main ingredient of most coherent objections to discrimination.
But as for us? Well, we’ll hypocritically and shabbily compromise with the zeitgeist, I suppose, which means continuing to torment our son with flashcards and phonemes when he’s actually thinking far bigger thoughts than any we could imagine. We’ll collaborate with the left-brain establishment that demands his acquiescence. But we’ll always wonder what we, and he, have lost.
1. See Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale UP, 2009)