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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Arguing Attributes of Ability

Dispelling perceived criticism

Lived experience is loosely defined as knowledge based on one’s first-hand involvement, subjective outlook, personal identity, and history, beyond professional or educational experience, as opposed to the knowledge a given individual gains from second-hand or a mediated source.

I’m aware that lived experience is often used to silence opposition to a proposed argument. For instance, person X claims that group X experiences discrimination, person Y—not of group X—disagrees with the proposal, and person X then states, “You don’t have lived experience regarding group X, so you have no say in the matter.”

I disagree with this sort of manipulative approach to argumentation. Nonetheless, I suspect that detractors to the argument I outline herein will undoubtedly resort to gatekeeping by use of a defense structure rooted in lived experience.

Therefore, allow me to briefly self-disclose my personal experience with membership of the so-called disabled community. I have a number of psychological, neurological, and physiological diagnoses from qualified professionals.

As an example, I’ve been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; psychological), traumatic brain injury (TBI; neurological), and sinusitis (psychological). All of my health diagnoses are related to my military service, thus I’m considered a disabled veteran of the armed forces.

I offer this information to dispel perceived criticism about how I supposedly can’t critique disabled people, because I’m presumably not part of the in-group. Nevertheless, the lived experience distinction is nonsense, because my background as a disabled person isn’t representative of all other disabled people.

Albert Ellis and politics

I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a psychotherapeutic modality originated by Albert Ellis. In part, this technique uses disputation of irrational beliefs related to demandingness, such as the moralizing sentiment of should, must, and ought-type narratives.

As an example, person Y criticizes the observed trend of elderly United States (U.S.) politicians. Person X then demands, “You shouldn’t scrutinize people on the basis of age, because doing so relates to ageism [prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age].”

Offering a dispute to person X’s claim, one could acknowledge that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older in an employment setting. This is a fact.

However, outside of a labor setting—such as person Y’s expressed concern of an aging political ruling class, the First Amendment acknowledges the inalienable right of individuals to express matters that may even be prejudicial or discriminatory in nature. This is a fact.

Therefore, if person X’s demand doesn’t concern an employment setting, rigidly requiring that person Y adopt a moral belief is irrational and largely unhelpful. After all, person X isn’t the moral arbiter of the universe and person Y can freely express criticism of elderly politicians.

Interestingly, Ellis wasn’t immune to use of moralizing narratives. Ultimately, he was a fallible human being just like you and I. Not long ago, I discovered an interview of Ellis expressing concern with the hypothetical observation of person Y. Ellis stated:

[A]ny individual who ran for a high elective office, such as the presidency of the nation, might be required to throw open a considerable portion of the file of information that has been gathered on him to public inspection, so that the voting populace could see whether it wanted to endorse his candidacy.

Here, Ellis advocated the open access of protected health information (PHI) which is covered by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) policies. Of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic, HIPAA rules went out the window when people were required to share their PHI with others (e.g., vaccine status).

Yet, I digress. Ellis continued:

[A]nyone who wants to be president should, in my estimation, be willing to risk such complications [as open access to PHI]. If his record shows that he has a low I.Q., has a serious heart disorder, or has suffered from severe periods of depression several times during his life, I think it only fair that his potential supporters and opponents should know about these important facts.

Per Ellis’ moralistic perspective, I would be incapable of running for public office. Person X may argue that it would be prejudicial, discriminatory, inequitable, and potentially illegal to treat a disabled person in such a manner.

What attribute of a disabled person isn’t worth considering when determining whether or not a potential or current politician is competent for holding office? As a society, is it inappropriate to expect that leaders of a nation need to be cognitively and emotionally stable?

While a sinusitis condition may not weigh heavily on my ability to make rational decisions, is it unreasonable to assert that my PTSD and TBI conditions may present a problem? Add to these diagnoses the passage of a few decades; is it improper to suspect that my conditions could worsen?

These are the considerations Ellis contemplated and I don’t think it’s unsuitable to address whether or not one’s abilities or disabilities are acceptable for public office. To elaborate, I request the reader forgive me an anecdote.

When in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was required to undergo physical and psychological evaluation when undergoing training to become a Marine Security Guard (MSG). When protecting embassies and consulates across the globe, MSGs at the time were required to maintain top secret or sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) clearance.

This is because at any moment the President of the U.S. (POTUS) could visit a diplomatic post and MSGs needed to be pre-cleared to be around POTUS. As well, we guarded TS/SCI information and needed clearance to handle such assets.

I was subject to a single scope background investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, required to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) to assess my psychologic suitability, and had to meet with a psychologist for assessment.

Later in life, when seeking employment as a security police officer (SPO) in the field of nuclear security, I was required to maintain a Q clearance with a white bar designator, which is functionally similar to a TS/SCI. This required annual MMPI assessment and psychologist interviews, as well as investigation through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Likewise, because I fulfilled a security billet, I was subject to physical fitness tests. If for any reason it was suspected that security force personnel were in cognitive, emotive, or physical decline, our clearances and employment status could be impacted or even terminated.

The astute reader may wonder about how it was I was able to maintain employment as a SPO when I had service-connected disabilities. As long as an individual remains proficient regarding occupational demands and associated assessments, disability isn’t an entirely limiting condition for employment.

With this understanding, a reasonable question remains. Since MSGs and SPOs were required to submit to competency evaluation—and we weren’t required to make or evaluate laws—why then wouldn’t our nation’s politicians also need to undergo similar assessment?

A concerning observation

Not once, but twice, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell has seemingly frozen in place when speaking in public. Some people have speculated about the potential of seizure or stroke activity, though I have no direct PHI concerning the validity of these claims.

Likewise, and though I have no PHI regarding U.S. Senator John Fetterman, one source claims he’s suffered a stroke, another source suggests depression, and yet another source illustrates Fetterman apparently struggling to form cohesive thoughts or utter an intelligible phrase.

Although she has since expired, and I have no PHI relating to her, the late Senator Dianne Feinstein allegedly forgot that she’d been absent from her job for three months when asked by a reporter. Not long after, Feinstein appeared confused about her work duties when voting on policy.

As I don’t have any PHI on President Joe Biden, I’ll simply let a compilation of his many gaffes up until 2020 speak for him. Since that time, all one may do is merely perform an internet search for Biden’s faux pas to discover POTUS speaking to himself, greeting people who aren’t there, and mumbling incoherently.

The behavior of these political entities is nothing new. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ronald Reagan, and a number of others have allegedly experienced some form of significant cognitive decline when employed as representatives of the people.

Though this isn’t a novel occurrence, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that at minimal it’s a concerning observation. For the astute reader who can detach from partisan bias and employ the use of critical thinking skills, I imagine you understand my concern expressed herein.


I have little doubt that detractors to the argument I’ve outlined herein may chastise me for arguing attributes of ability rather than doing the perceivably nice thing by going along to get along. After all, it isn’t polite to question the consequences of disabilities.

As a disabled person, I maintain lived experience regarding my own limitations. Although my background suggests very little about the level of competence related to others with disabilities, some very clear cases of concern have been highlighted herein.

Admittedly, I’m not prepared to take Ellis’ approach and declare what should, must, or ought to be done about legislative, executive, and judicial personnel who may no longer be competent at their jobs. Nonetheless, I don’t think silencing observed concerns is any healthier than the matter of cognitively waning politicians.

Noteworthy, I purposely didn’t list the ages of political figures when drafting this post. After all, some octogenarians may function at a higher level than some people in their fifties.

If pressed on the matter, I suspect term limits, recurring cognitive assessments, and similar measures could benefit the nation. Undoubtedly, this would mean that some people would be excluded from leadership roles.

Still, not everyone was accepted for service as an MSG or SPO. Additionally, not all people need access to diplomatic or nuclear secrets.

Likewise, I think it’s worth questioning whether or not some people need continued access to sensitive data and authoritative roles when they can barely form coherent sentences or they lack orientation to person, place, and time. The reader may disagree with this conclusion.

For those who read the words written herein and who become self-disturbed by your beliefs about what I’ve suggested, I work with people to scale down this sort of self-induced suffering. If you’d like to know me, I look forward to hearing from you.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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