The Problem with Isms – Wreaking Havoc Across the Planet

I am sitting here at my computer thinking about isms.  There are so many isms in the world and these isms can wreak havoc upon the people of this planet.  According to The Phrontistery, there are around 234 different isms, each representing a philosophical, political or moral doctrine or a belief system. 

Our current society is obsessed with compartmentalizing things into definitive categories or labels. Everything has to be put in a box.  If you don’t fit into a predetermined box, society will try to shove you in one whether you like it or not.  Society wants things to fit in these nice little predetermined boxes.  This is where the isms come into play. Isms are behaviors and some behaviors can be problematic. Isms can be used to exclude some voices, and, at the same time, raise other voices up.

When an ism is a belief system, then that ism generally becomes a part of your identity. According to Scott H. Young, “humans are funny creatures when it comes to our identities. Having a belief has little baggage. You will defend the belief when it is reasonable, and abandon it given enough contrary evidence. Being a belief, or “-ist”, is different. The belief becomes something to defend zealously, the way you would defend a part of your body under attack.”

Mr. Young continues by saying,

Your level of certainty in a belief isn’t related to whether it is a part of your identity or not. I have far greater conviction in the force of gravity than atheism or vegetarianism, yet I don’t call myself a gravitist.

The difference, to me, appears to be a more social one. People decide they are an “-ist” as a way of distinguishing themselves from others. Gravitism doesn’t exist because there aren’t agravitists, who deny the existence of gravity.

“Isms” develop as a way to separate people into distinct tribes. The downside is that tribal logic isn’t rational. Instead of trying to decide which belief system is true or most pragmatic, people defend their tribe at all costs.

The damage of “isms” is obvious in politics. Instead of rationally trying to decide on the best way to govern, most effort is spent on partisan battles.

Racism, for example, is a very, very problematic behavior.  This type of behavior needs to be taught.  We are not born being racists.  We are also not born being patriots, feminists, sexists, nationalists, or nihilists. A person has to be taught to be part of or against a particular ism.  

“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.” – Sydney J. Harris

I have learned that misogynists tend to be against feminists and vice versa. Patriotism and nationalism are not the same things.  Racism is so deeply imbedded into our society that people don’t even acknowledge that racism is there.  It is just day-to-day business.  Sexism is also deeply imbedded in our society.  Remember, sexism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, especially against women and girls”.

The damage of isms is obvious to those in the disability community in the form of ableism.  People with disabilities are considered the world’s largest minority group. Currently around 10% of the world’s population, or roughly 650 million people, live with a disability.  I have written about ableism before – Ableism in Society – Autism and Mental Illness.

Ableism is another ism that is profoundly imbedded into our society, so much so that people don’t even realize that they are being ableists. Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.  Ableism is also the belief that people with disabilities “need to be fixed or cannot function as full members of society” and that having a disability is “a defect rather than a dimension of difference.”  

 Ableism is intertwined in our culture. Ableism evolves within a person and spreads within a society due to beliefs of what having a disability means or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities, and how people with disabilities are often not included at the table for discussions and decision making about their own lives.  I will state again, isms can be used to exclude some voices, and, at the same time, raise other voices up. Ableism silences the voices of people with disabilities in favor of able-bodies voices.

Ableism is considered the root cause of the marginalization and discrimination disabled people are subjected to. People with disabilities need to understand their value. It is important that people with disabilities feel valued and wanted. In order to do so, it is necessary for us, as a society, to check our ableist tendencies, internal and external. Racism kills. So does ableism. It kills dreams.  It kills opportunities.  It can also kill a person.  For more on this, go to Ableism Kills.

More Information about Ableism

Ableism: How to End the Prejudice that No One Talks About

Anti-Oppression: Anti-Ableism

Ableism/Language

Stop Ableism

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