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The Greatest of Handicaps
In the late 1980s I was teaching in the economics department at the University of Texas at Arlington. One of the courses I taught on a regular basis was ECON 4306, Comparative Economic Systems. The course surveyed the thought of four influential economists: Karl Marx, Lester Thurow, Milton Friedman, and Murray Rothbard. I tried to teach the course in a manner that was more "philosophical" than quantitative, and, as a result, I often had a significant minority of students in the class who were majoring in fields such as history, political science, or philosophy.
One spring semester on the first day of class a very unusual young man hobbled into the room and took his seat. He was a political science major named Mike Mazero. I say "hobbled" because Mike had never been able to walk without crutches. And even with them his movements were painfully slow; he was never able to get to class on time, for example. Mike’s appearance always startled some of the other students. He was massively "handicapped" in ways that frequently elicited fountains of sympathy. His very spherical, but more-or-less normal sized, head was perched atop a body that looked remarkably like the stick figures small children often draw. I doubt if Mike’s whole body weighed more than 50 or 60 pounds. Although he was in his late twenties, Mike’s voice was high-pitched like that of a young boy. He suffered from half-a-dozen medical problems, any one of which might be seen as debilitating by the average person. All in all, Mike Mazero appeared to be a classic example of those unfortunates among us who are usually subjected to excesses of either ridicule and cruelty or effusive "concern".
But none of that mattered to Mike. And it is not what is most memorable about him. What is important, and what I most cherish, is the fact that Mike Mazero had the soul of a champion. He found joy in learning and seemed always to come to class with a smile on his cherubic face. He never complained; he never whined; he never asked for any special privileges. Because he was always late to class, once during a test I asked him if he would like to stay a few minutes late in order to finish the exam. Without hesitation he replied, "No thanks. That would not be fair to the other students." On another occasion I asked him why he insisted on being treated exactly like students with no apparent disability. He told me, "My disability is my problem. No one has a responsibility to deal with it but me." Mike would surely have had only contempt for that abomination known as the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, it turned out that Mike was a radical libertarian who greatly enjoyed the fact that one of the books discussed in the class was Rothbard’s For A New Liberty.
A year or so ago I received the sad, but not wholly unexpected, news that Mike had died. That message brought tears to my eyes. An exemplary life had come to an end. Mike Mazero was proof positive that the greatest of handicaps is the shameful belief that to experience misfortune is to be granted a moral claim on the life, liberty, and property of others. To espouse such a belief is truly to diminish one’s own humanity. Mike had too much pride and too finely honed a sense of justice ever to stoop to such nonsense. I will never forget him.
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