“A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. If our concern is about suffering in this universe, it is rather obvious that we should be more concerned about killing flies than about killing three-day-old human embryos… Many people will argue that the difference between a fly and a three-day-old human embryo is that a three-day-old human embryo is a potential human being. Every cell in your body, given the right manipulations, every cell with a nucleus is now a potential human being. Every time you scratch your nose, you’ve committed a holocaust of potential human beings… Let’s say we grant it that every three-day-old human embryo has a soul worthy of our moral concern. First of all, embryos at this stage can split into identical twins. Is this a case of one soul splitting into two souls? Embryos at this stage can fuse into a chimera. What has happened to the extra human soul in such a case? This is intellectually indefensible, but it’s morally indefensible given that these notions really are prolonging scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings, and because of the respect we accord religious faith, we can’t have this dialogue in the way that we should. I submit to you that if you think the interests of a three-day-old blastocyst trump the interests of a little girl with spinal cord injuries or a person with full-body burns, your moral intuitions have been obscured by religious metaphysics.”—Sam Harris, on stem cell research (via loveyourchaos)
It’s hard to describe the feeling of stuttering to anyone who has always spoken smoothly. It is not a nervous impulse. It is not, despite appearances, a spastic feeling. Stuttering starts in the voice box and the upper lungs with something like a pressure clench, the sensation of some valves closing against a flow, a trap tripping its release at the wrong moment. (John Updike described it as the feeling of “a kind of windowpane suddenly inserted in front of my face while I was talking, or of an obdurate barrier thrust into my throat.”) The clench occurs suddenly, irreversibly—in the final instant before beginning a sentence, in the middle of a phrase—making the experience of being a stutterer somewhat like the chronic knowledge that your clothes may explode off your body any moment. You stay on your toes for sudden self-embarrassment. Your sole object, when a verbal block comes, is to break past. Most of the quintessential tics of stuttering—the repetitions, hisses, swallows, blinks, head shakes, gulps, silences—are coping mechanisms, habituated tricks for pushing beyond this impasse in the throat. Why anyone would ever persist in such tics is perhaps best answered by the predicament of a swimmer cramping in the middle of a river. Part by reflex and part by urgent pragmatism, you dispense with any hope of an elegant stroke and flail toward the far shore. If you give up completely, or fall silent too long, there’s the risk that you’ll be swept entirely under, lose your meaning.
Meaning is crucial here, because most stutterers feel in constant danger of being misunderstood in at least three separate ways. There are, first, the communication risks of trying not to stutter. Speech, for a stutterer, is a chess game; it is not uncommon for our minds to be running three or four sentences ahead of our lips, with constant backtracking and recalibration along the way. In some cases, people known as “covert stutterers” or “closet stutterers” go through life apparently speaking smoothly but actually living like deer in season, constantly fleeing from words and situations that might spell trouble. Churchill—who rehearsed his speeches obsessively and faced the day buffered by epic rations of whisky—is sometimes said to have been a deft closet stutterer in maturity, his celebrated verbal dexterity being just that, a means of maneuvering away from danger. Flight, though, has a cost. When words change, meaning does also. This is true in the literal sense (in my most craven moments, facing an impatient cashier at a busy lunch spot, I’ve ordered the most safely pronounceable sandwich on the menu, which is usually turkey) and in more oblique ways, too. Not long ago, Joe Biden, who stuttered openly into college, undertook a famously weird circumlocution seemingly to avoid landing on the word Avatar—a sound that he’d just nearly blocked on. The hesitation was roundly interpreted as a sign not of speech trouble but of mind trouble, and, in some sense, maybe it was. To word-substitute is to substitute one kind of verbal control for another, to feel your speech slowly drifting away from the voice in your head.
When stutterers don’t succeed in sidestepping an obstacle, or aren’t comfortable living with their words at such a remove from their thoughts, there is the problem of being literally understood. Stuttering ravages the sentence, the sentiment, the idea, such that following the stutterer’s train of syntax can be like trying to parse a line of Morse code. (Biden was nicknamed Dash in high school.) If you happen to be a verbally minded stuttering person, this is something you never get used to. Part of your mind holds onto the hope of speaking clever things as effortlessly as you think of them, of being witty and charming; words you wish you had the tongue to say instead flourish inside, feeding a sort of verbal fantasy life. Everybody dreams. But stutterers, perhaps especially, dream of verbal transcendence: those rare moments when an ungainly cargo of words rattling down the runway pulls itself together, roars into a final burst of speed, and meets the sky.
“Fat/Size/Body Acceptance, whatever you want to call it, vitally needs people of all sizes and all levels of health. If you are a size 00, you too can advocate for fat people – so that people will stop telling fat people that all they need to do is eat less and exercise more. If you are a size 32, you too can advocate for body acceptance – so that people will stop telling people who wear a size 00 that they are so lucky to be anorexic. No one is too fat for fat/size/body acceptance. No one is too thin.”—Fat/Size/Body Acceptance 101 (via sexisbeautiful)