According to William F. Buckley Jr., in his column on the blind sailor Jim Dickson, the "beginning of wisdom" is to accept one's limitations in this earthly sphere. In other words, if something is lacking, let it stay lacking. If Buckley had his way, Sir Edmund Hilary would not have been able to scale the slopes of Mount Everest because of the lack of oxygen atop the mountain. That handicap was overcome by the use of oxygen tanks. Furthermore, it would appear Buckley must be opposed to the space program. After all, in outer space men are handicapped by atmospheric conditions and the vacuum that lies between worlds.
In a very real sense, man is a handicapped creature in the eyes of the universe. Ever since man crawled out of the muck, he has dreamt of being able to fly, though he is, in fact, incapable of flying.
My anger at Buckley's attitude is somewhat conditioned by personal situation. I am profoundly deaf -- and have been since birth. I have never heard a word in my life. I do, however, speak quite well (according to friends, teachers and colleagues) and have excelled academically, utilizing a sign-language interpreter. (I am a dean's list student at Cornell.) I have a TTY, which enables me to use a telephone, as well as a close-captioning device, which subtitles selected TV shows -- including the recent "Nightline" broadcast in which Buckley shamelessly and pitifully tried to defend his position. My point is that major handicaps can be overcome through hard work, sacrifice and scientific advances, as well as one's determination to buck negative attitudes in society toward the handicapped.
Buckley says the handicapped should not be encouraged "to do that which their handicap inherently proscribes." Who, may I ask, is William Buckley to decide what is or is not possible for a handicapped person? This reminds me of the recent ridiculous effort by members of Congress to cut off funding for Braille translations of Playboy. It should remind all of us of how Nazi Germany treated the handicapped as a burden on the Master Race. Among the handicapped, the Nazis decided who was and who was not fit to live. The unlucky ones were euthanized. The luckier ones were forcibly sterilized. The Nazi doctors simply decided on arbitrary grounds who was capable of surviving and who was not. While I am sure that Buckley did not intend his arguments to be taken to that extreme, it is, nevertheless, the logical conclusion.
I fail to see what is wrong with a blind man, Jim Dickson, using machines to aid him to sail the Atlantic. I think he is a hero for daring something heretofore thought impossible. Many of the things we have now and take for granted emerged from the realms of speculative fiction or the "profane." According to William Buckley, it is "profane to ask" the handicapped "to undertake challenges that in their nature presuppose the active limb or the active sense." Handicapped people worldwide are sick and tired of hearing the word "impossible" or countless variations thereof. Nothing is impossible once man sets his mind to do it.
-- David Lupi The writer worked this summer as a copy aide at The Post.