Virtuous Violence

August 21, 2017

There’s a secret to bending the most toxic element of masculinity toward whatever political ends you want; dress it up as virtuous.

stgeorge1

When you look at the myth of the Hero, the man who stands above the world as a savior and leader, he is always wreathed in violence. King Arthur’s badge of office was a sword. Saint George stood over a dead dragon. Heracles was driven mad to violence then used various acts of violence to attone. The entire cycle of Hindu Vedas surrounds various wars and how violence is both ennobling and necessary. The greatest gods of every place on earth are described with a power above all others that grant them the description of “greatest of the gods” – violence. Men are taught from the earliest that violence can not only be good but be holy, be virtuous. Even our idiomatic idea of a defender – the White Knight – is a vision of ennobled violence.

This is a dangerous thing for all of us.

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A Cruel Wind Blows

August 14, 2017

A little while ago I wrote about emotions, about how our emotional maps are built, and how masculinity has deep roots in one particular emotion – violence. Around the temple to that emotion is an array of the stems and roots of violence in masculinity – the spear, the arrow, the club. Thousands of years ago, men started to tell each other that these things helped define what it means to be a man. At first it may have been in use in the hunt, but eventually the hunters turned their weapons on other people. They were celebrated for that violence, and thus violence became solidified.

This weekend, the echoes of those actions brought terror to the United States and, specifically, to the ongoing targets of that violence on the internet – people of color, women, queer people, liberal people, Muslims, Jewish people. Especially, though, Black people, Jewish people, and other targets of the KKK and the Nazis. This is the legacy of tradition, a tradition going back thousands of years to those spears, arrows, and clubs.

This is what is born of masculinity’s tradition of violence.

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What I had failed to realize, despite my weeks of preparation, is that my ability and willingness to enter into a space of “debate” around the issue of abortion is a manifestation of privilege. What you are wiling to debate – what is effectively “up for discussion” – is frequently a reflection of what you think, in principle, you might be willing to give up.

via On the Privilege of Discussing Abortion.

In Defense of Idealism

August 23, 2013

We live in an age that punishes those who believe that change is not only possible, but reachable. A time when those who insist that good can be wrought from the nature of humanity are derided and treated as naive. When we are told not to read the comments, not to expect better of our leaders, not to fight hard because we shall never win. We live in an age when those who wish to save the world from the excesses of pain, of frustration, and injustice are overwhelmingly punished for the simple crime of compassion. Those who care are systemically disavowed of their notions of sympathy and affection, told that there is no functional way to achieve positive action in the world around them because people are simply too jaded, too broken to make any meaningful action. The world is the way it is, and the world shall never be any different. This, however, this acceptance of the inevitability of injustice and pain, is the first step toward defeat. Accepting that change is impossible is acquiescing to the unjust structures already in existence. Victory, in anything, requires the idealistic notion that victory is first possible, even in the remotest sense, before it can be achieved.

I am an idealist. It is why I am a feminist, it is why I am an author, it is why I am a hedonist, and it is why I am an atheist. I have a fundamental understanding that humanity is basically compassionate, basically social, and basically just. The breakdown occurs in culture, where we’re trained (not taught, but trained) to see others as non-people, to see humans outside of our prescribed tribal groups as somehow antagonistic even in the most innocent of actions. These systems are taught to those in power, and those outside of the power structure are not told about the secret methods that this training entails. People of color do not learn what white parents tell their children. Girls do not learn what men tell to little boys. Those born disabled are not told the whispered admonitions given to those born able-bodied. The poor do not hear the rules given to the rich by their parents and peers. Even groups that bloom after this training begins, such as gender and sexual minorities, are not told of the fear and indoctrination that those outside of their groups are subject to. Even now, as a pansexual man, I am frequently read as straight and the same calls and dogwhistles I heard growing up, asking me for solidarity against “The Gays”, are directed at me as if I were part and parcel with the institution of oppression that these phrases represent. However, the oppressed know the training happens. The oppressors use the same words, the same actions, the same visual cues, the same looks. Oppression is an expression of a community, not an individual.

Sometimes these systems can be reverse-engineered (such as Feminism, the academic discipline of sociology, deconstructing patriarchal systems and Critical Race Theory deconstructing institutional racism and white supremacy), but those who are oppressed are never given the full training regimen of the young oppressors. The fight against deconstructing these systems relies on a certain kind of idealism – a belief in inherent justice, in a fairness that does not rely on the narratives of the powerful and oppressive aspects of our shared culture. An idealism that rests on creating new narratives, new ideas, and new stories that are inherent in their justice and balance, inherent in their fairness and compassion. Every social movement has relied on similar idealism, whether this was a new religion, a new social order, a new economic order, or a change in leadership. Wars require idealism, no matter the kind of war they are, and new ventures require idealism. Someone who guides the new idea has to burn with the passion of change, of possibility, of ideals. Someone has to push everyone in the right direction to accomplish that change, and someone must give a story to everyone else. “When we topple the empire, we will be free.” “When we restructure the economy, all will be able to eat heartily and regularly.” “When we buy the land and build the store, people will come.” “When we make these changes, all of us will benefit.”

This is still idealism. In retrospect, we can call it vision or wisdom, potential or genius, but it does not change that, in the moment, it was a single ideal held with enough passion to inspire others to follow it as well. In our world where we are told not to read the comments and that oppression is a necessary state of the world, that all we can do is learn to adapt and deal with the aggressions against us (from micro- to major), it is important to remember that everything from new businesses to the first empire started as an ideal. It is important to remember that alone, we may feel like we are weak and powerless in the face of the status quo but together we can rewrite our personal stories, our social stories, and even the narrative of our culture as a whole. We can move mountains, we can change orders, and we can overthrow any power that can be arrayed against us. Idealism is the heart of all social change, and without idealism we will always flounder and stop before the work is done. Do not stop being practical, do not stop being realistic, but also do not stop dreaming. Do not stop looking forward in time and seeing a powerful, just, and ethical future. A future founded on what are just ideals now, but ideals strong enough to carry the world.

Cost Saving Measures

August 5, 2013

I’m disabled. It’s an insidious disability though, an invisible disability that isn’t easy to diagnose. It’s a disability that causes muscle pain, joint pain, fatigue, and a near constant haze that causes me to forget things and, sometimes, completely zone out. I’ve spent as long as an hour trapped in an unfocused, unaware state where I could interact with the world around me but I had no real cognizance of where I was, who I was, or what I was doing. The first time this happened, I was driving. I destroyed a freeway on ramp sign and struck the side of someone’s car.

To say that this is an act would imply that I am a far better method actor than I feel reasonably comfortable accepting. I cannot do Othello, so I’m pretty sure I cannot do “invisibly disabled young man.”

That accident was over two and a half years ago. I was unemployed at the time, and shortly afterward I became homeless. Given that my entire history of employment was in Information Technology, a skill set that requires a lot of typing, it obviously would not work well with the fact that my hands had deteriorated to the point where I needed to take frequent breaks to get through short paragraphs. This has affected me while I’ve written these words, in fact. I had to pause in the middle of the last three sentences to crack my knuckles and let my muscles rest to avoid excruciating pain.

Here’s the best part, though – I’ve lived in poverty my entire adult life, and I haven’t seen a doctor since before I started high school. I have no medical history as an adult, either of my normal problems (back pain, neck pain, asthma) from before I became disabled or the development of the disability. I only know that it’s (probably) fibromyalgia from the fact that my mother suffers from the exact same condition and was diagnosed with it when it was called fibrositis. So when I started down the path to get disability assistance, so I could stop being homeless and suffering, I knew it would be a bit of an uphill battle.

I did not, however, account for the Social Security Agency’s nefarious cost saving measures.

In April, I went to my first in-person hearing for my appeal. As everyone is denied in the first round, from what everyone says (even inside the SSA), it was expected that I had to appeal. They sent me to a doctor that completely ignored my arthritic condition and just saw that I had all my limbs, that my neck wasn’t terribly malformed, and decided I must be healthy. In the hearing, the adjudication judge at the ODAR seemed impressed with how my joints cracked and sympathetic to the fact that I couldn’t work because of it. In the Hypothetical Scenario section of the hearing, the second and third hypothetical situations essentially left me without employment of any kind. The first hypothetical left me with either working retail or doing reception work. I was fairly confident that I would be confirmed as disabled or, at the very least, the appeal would be a little easier to pursue.

I was supposed to receive the decision within sixty days. It’s normally supposed to be thirty days, but the ODAR was very backed up according to the judge. I called the ODAR in July, on July 3rd in fact, and I was told that the case had been closed that day and I should receive it in the mail in the next week. As I still haven’t received it (this being the fifth of August), I decided to call the ODAR today to find out where the decision is. Apparently it was mailed on June third. It wasn’t returned and my father, who collects my mail, never received it. Luckily, they’re sending a new copy of the decision to my current address.

Now, let’s go over the time line again. I was unemployment after I lost my job, but that ended a year ago. So I’ve been without income for a year, going through this disability application process the entire time. It took six months to even get into a hearing room. The hearing itself didn’t come with an immediate decision, that took two months to generate. A decision that never reached me, which means I have not had the ability to respond to it in a timely fashion. A year during which I have been homeless. I have been poor. I have frequently been hungry. A year where a single person has accepted most of the financial burden for ensuring I do not simply starve to death. A year where I have had to move all of my possessions myself between the places I could sleep. I was able to couch surf, but that’s no walk in the park when you’re disabled in a way that magnifies joint and back pain. I have had to work the occasional day doing home repairs, days that left me exhausted and in pain for days afterward, to have any money of my own.

This year has illuminated the chief cost saving measure of the Social Security Administration in regards to its disability application process – I am sure now that they’re hoping that I die, in some unfortunate circumstance, so that they do not have to award me the disability that I paid into. That I helped support. The programs that I helped vote to keep and have campaigned to expand even before I was disabled. Given that the SSA has known that I was homeless, and that I was on SNAP (that’s food stamps to most people, and those I have been forced to reapply for since I no longer qualify according to a letter my father got last month). They know I have not had medical access for over a decade. All of this is in my file.

It’s clear that in order to avoid giving me the money I need to survive they’re taking as long as bureaucratically possible, using the excuse that when I am awarded I’ll receive pay going back to when I was identified as disabled…though unless I can convince someone in the payment processing center to give it to me right away, I won’t receive it for a year. Another year I have to tell my student loan processor that yes, I am disabled. No, I cannot see a doctor. Another year where bills that have come up while I’m disabled, money I’ve borrowed to not simply starve, people who have bought things for me that I’ve needed, go unpaid. A year of having just enough money to not die, instead I get to watch what’s left of my credit and legal personhood is destroyed by creditors.

These are situations, mind, that are known to cause suicides. Which would be convenient for Social Security – they wouldn’t have to pay me, and it wouldn’t be their fault, right? They’re just processing the system using the laws they were given. Using the budget that’s been passed. Meanwhile, I’m suffering literally every day trying to navigate this system, a system built for lawyers who exploit the disabled by pursuing disability claims using systems only they have reasonable access to in order to get some of the state’s settlement money in payment.

I have to work through this, however, because I need that money. I have to dance to their tune if I want to be able to support myself in any fashion – even if I could sell my writing, even if I suddenly generated a legion of fans who donated money to me every month to ensure my bills are paid and I can eat, letting me write and work on the things that I can contribute to everyone else, there will still be days, weeks, months even where I am incapable of working. When I will need not just the money from Social Security but also the access to disability services. To doctors who treat the poor and disabled. To transportation systems that service those who cannot get to the (inadequate) buses in Orange County and cannot afford the cab services here. Until I get the settlement, as well, it is unlikely I will be comfortable enough to be able to write enough to be published, get a part time job, or find a legion of fans who can help me every month. I was amazed at seeing friends and friends of friends reaching out for my deposit, to ensure that I won’t be homeless, but I cannot ask for that kind of support every month. It’s too much, from too many people, who I am sure are not in much better places.

To many people, this is a sad story. A story that they are sympathetic to, but feel like there’s no way to help. This is my life, though. My every day experience. This is the life, or a better version of the life, of many people who are disabled. People who deserve our help, people who suffer as public assistance programs like Social Security go underfunded and are mired in laws designed to keep people who are “healthy” from “exploiting” the system. A worry that has, as of yet, not shown to be a statistical issue. A system that, by trying to keep ne’er-do-well exploiters out has encouraged people in my situation to give up due to hopelessness. A system that, from any rational perspective, seems to encourage my death to avoid helping me.

A system that is so labyrinthine that only lawyers can really navigate it – despite supposedly being accessible to anyone with a disability. A system that doesn’t have enough employees to properly go through the requests for support. A system that has artificial barriers preventing multiple entities within the same agency from working with the same data. A system that is designed to encourage false negatives rather than false positives, which leaves people to starve and suffer when it’s totally unnecessary. A system that makes crime look attractive because I would be treated better in prison than I am here because there is no support here. A system that asks those who are least able to help me, those people in my immediate context, rather than do what it was created to do. A system built on a philosophy so flawed that even our soldiers, returning from war, who are disabled have waited as long as three years for support despite having clear medical histories from their service.

At the risk of angering Constitutional scholars, I’d like to point to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution –

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

There is no stipulation here about it being in regards to criminal or civil prosecution. It follows two Amendments that state explicitly “in all criminal prosecutions…” and “In Suits at common law…”, but this amendment contains no explicit direction to being only applicable to legal proceedings. It states, simply, that no one in America shall be required to provide excessive bail, no excessive fines will be levied against them, and cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden. In any course. In any situation. In any context.

So why, given the Bill of Rights and the obvious sympathy for the plight of those that escaped the oppressive classes in England displayed in many of the arguments that created this Amendment and the Constitution itself, do we permit people to exist in my situation?

If being in a social position where I cannot work, where I have been homeless, where I have been hungry, where crime and suicide look like better options, is not cruel or unusual, what is it?

And if it isn’t unusual, is this the kind of standard that we want to encourage? Are we okay with a state of affairs that encourages the poor and disabled to kill themselves or commit crimes for basic survival?

I am not a person of color.

I cannot speak to the experience of people of color, since I am not a person of color.

I cannot tell you how institutionalized racism works, or how it affects me (outside of very, very limited spaces where my Romani heritage is recognized and, once, when someone insulted me for being part Finnish – but these aren’t institutional or regular for me).

I cannot tell you, outside of studies and statistics, how the United States continues to be racist in how it deals with people of color. How it continues to judge them and consider them as lesser. Continues to make the hurdles they must climb higher than their white peers. Continues to enforce systems that unfairly punish people of color.

What I can talk about, however, is how white people act. How those without the odious burden of race interact with me and other white people about race. About the myths surrounding liberal, white culture and the arguments fielded against people of color who do try to discuss racism.

I cannot talk about the experience of people of color, but I can talk about what it’s like to be white around a bunch of white racist arguments and poorly examined presumptions.

The first presumption that I notice, and one that I’ve talked about before (and is the greatest crime perpetuated by many in the Atheist/Skeptical movements and every political movement) is the obfuscation of context. It seems like in order to create a “default” person for an argument, we must make them a heteronormative middle class white individual with one difference. Look at the friendliest portrayals of people of color on TV – they’re “normal families”. It’s rare that a family of color will be portrayed in a similar context to real life with any sense of friendliness or care, and that normally happens in movies that are written and/or directed by people of color. The most saccharine I can think of is the portrayal of Tiana’s family in The Princess and the Frog – they are a family of color, in a neighborhood of color, in a life that reflects the time period the movie is set in, and they are not individually treated like a zoo of mistreated animals. They are human beings making the best of a context that has left them poorer and more destitute than those around them.

That last part is the most important part about this – when we treat people of color as heteronormative white people from the middle class except for that one difference then we ignore and erase both that person’s history and the history of their family. We ignore that person’s context, and we also ignore our own. It is not by any accident that our families are in the positions that they’re in. These are decisions spanning lifetimes, people for generations striving to make the world a better place for their children. Families that stretch back eons even if those filial lines cannot be recorded. When you hit a certain point in American history, however, some of our families took away the ability for other families to make a better world for their children. When we ignore the context – historical, social, economic, political – of people of color, we ignore the history that our families had a hand in that created the context that people of color are in today. We are the inheritors of a world of racism, and we must be caretakers of that world. If we ignore it, it will only continue to fester and grow. It must be actively diminished.

The second big problem in these debates is the paucity of evidence for the claims of the post-racist world supporters. There are two competing claims at issue here – that there is still institutional racism and that we live in a society free of racism. There is no null hypothesis in these two positions, as our culture is (as I stated before) the inheritors of a racist culture. The null hypothesis would, therefor, be that there are still racists among us. Now, the two claims are only at odds as the second claim tries to undermine the voracity of the first by waving away all problems yet it does not support its claim with evidence. However, the first claim is filled with the stories of people of color, of studies done showing institutional race bias, of critical examinations of the media around us, and of legal and social justice comparisons that show that racism, overt and covert, continues to be a problem. Claiming that “civil rights were achieved” was the end of racism is a fantastical claim not supported by the evidence. Our fathers and mothers were racist, as theirs before them were, and we ourselves are (in some fashion) racist ourselves, and our children will still be racist. This is because the world we live in is racist, and was so for hundreds of years. All we can do is teach ourselves, and our children, how to examine and dismantle the problem of race and how we approach it. That requires two big things; listening to people of color, and talking about race.

Speaking of talking about race, this is the third problem that I want to say something on. As a white person, in America, it is our privilege to be able to ignore race. We can socialize as white people and never have a problem with race in our every day lives or our conversations. However, people of color do not have this luxury. It is not racist to point out race when examining social conditions, it is racist to ignore the factor that race is and not be honest about it. Why? Again, white people can ignore race, but people of color cannot. At some point in the conversation, someone will either overtly or covertly remind the person of color that they are not white. That they are not “average.” That they are not “normal.” It could be something about how straight hair is prettier. It could be something about how pale people are prettier. It could be something about how people of certain body sizes or builds are better, builds that are predominately associated with white culture in America. It could be something as simple as someone asking what race they are, where they or their family are from, or greeting them in another language that’s associated with their skin color.

Someone who is brown may be greeted with “Namaste!” without prompting, assuming they are Hindu or speak Hindi or are even Indian at all. I will never be greeted with “Hei” because I am white. This is racism. It reminds people of color that they are not white, that they are not part of our cultural context, and that we do not expect them to act like us. The are Not Us. That is racism, because it assumes people should be treated differently because of their race. Just like ignoring their history is racist because it ignores the story of who they are, ignoring the person that they are now is racist because it defines them purely by their past. White culture doesn’t have this problem – we find ways to celebrate our heritage while simultaneously not defining ourselves through it. We re-enact battles of the Civil War to remind ourselves of the pain and suffering wrought when brother fought brother, but we do not feel like the Civil War was the last statement on what it means to be American. We celebrate the Scottish Games and enjoy what it means to be a Celt, but we don’t feel like kilts, beer, and throwing logs are the only things that we enjoy. We are not defined by our pasts, we are deepened by them. People of color do not have that option – they are treated as if they have no depth, either because they are products of their history or because they are individuals with no past.

Both options ignore that they are people, however. In the end, we shouldn’t be treating everyone as if they are white, and this is an insipid argument I have heard before. What we should be doing is being mindful of context. To remember that everyone’s family has a story, and everyone has a place, and everyone has a history that both defines and propels them. To do that, we must constantly work against the social context we find ourselves in where insipid arguments coming from irresponsible leaders who wish to ignore those things that are upsetting or difficult to understand and instead want us all to just pretend to get along and hope that real peace is figured out by their children.

Well, we’re their children. Lets show our parents that, unlike them, we can help actually put a stop to racism.

For two years I’ve been homeless, and I’ve talked about this here before. I’ve been couch surfing, I’ve been staying at my sister’s while I watched her kids, I’ve been occasionally crashing other places when I could. I’ve not had privacy since February of 2011, and I’ve had trouble doing anything productive. On top of this, since at least December of 2010 I’ve had a disability that has destroyed my joints, causes seizures where I throw objects, seizures where I lose total muscle control (and collapse) without warning, loose consciousness for up to half an hour, loose focus for no apparent reason, and have lived in constant pain and fatigue. I used to work with computers but I can barely type without taking frequent breaks to rest my fingers and stretch my knuckles out again. I’ve been fighting with social security to get disability support but, due to my poverty my entire adult life, I have no medical records of my actual problems. However, my girlfriend has offered to pay my rent in a house I’m renting a room. It’s a good place, with friends, and I found the first month’s rent to move in. However, the landlord wants a deposit from me as a guarantee that we’ll pay rent. He isn’t okay with my girlfriend being on the lease as a guarantor – he’s afraid that because I can’t pay rent, no one will pay rent. Since she’s not living here, he can’t evict her, as she is staying somewhere else. Despite the fact that the legal process for demanding payment is exactly the same. Oh, and the deposit he wants? An entire month’s rent on the whole house. Which is north of $2,000. Something I need help with.

That last part, though, is difficult. It’s difficult because we share a culture where giving is not only frowned upon, but it’s actively maligned to the point where even asking for help is stressful. Especially for someone with social anxiety that is bred in the vats of Autism and raised on the understanding that people don’t help each other through real problems. Bred from a culture that thinks it’s okay for us to shop regularly, to do things like buy expensive treats for ourselves (relatively expensive, anyway), and ignore the plight of even our friends and family when the’re in need. Fed from a cultural milieu that believes that if I don’t have the money I need, I’m not “trying hard enough.”

All of this, however, is rooted in classism and, to a lesser extent, ableism. As well as a flawed and fractured understanding of actual economics.

Let’s tackle the first two on their own, though. When we look at charity, the chief element of our culture ignoring those in need is predicated on the assumption that someone else will help those in need and revolves on conspicuous consumption and the unintended consequences of these acts. In a conspicuous consumption environment, even the rich can feel poor because they only have so many houses, and they only have so many cars. This, however, is even reflected in lower classes – getting Starbucks’ coffee every day or having the latest mobile phone or tablet. These markers of status, privilege, and rarity (in that they show refined tastes) create a basic economic need to tell our peers that we can afford these things, that these luxuries are “necessities” for us and that we can afford these spending habits. Due to our need to indulge in these things for status and contextual equality with our peers, we feel like we never have enough money. People live paycheck to paycheck seeking out ways to save money, reduce their burden, and then take that saved money and move it to consumption of goods to prove that they can save money and spend it on luxuries.

When people like me, however, come to our friends, family, and coworkers with a problem outside of our control, we encounter a wall of charity. There’s no help for us, even minuscule hep, because that money is “better spent elsewhere”. Since we, the needy, are not “sound investments” those around us who might have a small amount of money (imagine $60 or less, the cost of a new video game down to the cost of a cup of tea from Starbucks) to donate refuse to because that money is necessary for the conspicuous consumption of other goods that show that they’re not living in poverty. They can write off these feeling by saying that they can’t possibly pay for the whole thing, they can’t possibly do all of the support any individual needs, so they don’t bother helping even at the smallest level. They assume that “Someone Else” with better means, better access, and deeper pockets (and possibly more compassion and less need for investment returns) will foot the bill somehow.

These system might, in theory, work in a society with a strong social safety net. Some way for the State or a State-like enterprise (such as large-format charities like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) to provide material support to those in need. However, for those of us in America, no such system exists. In fact, the system in place has been repeatedly gutted on grounds that it’s fiscally untenable and that private charity will fill the gaps that the State “cannot afford to fill.” However, when you look at the number of children who live in poverty, the number of people who suffer from starvation every day, and the number of people that continue to be homeless, it’s clear that private charity of any kind is not picking up the slack and that the State’s gutted support systems are both unable to respond in a timely fashion and cannot provide enough material assistance to be livable. By ignoring the possibility of localized collective effort (since no one can spend all of that money all at once), we leave the needy in society (especially those who come from poverty, are working-poor, or are disabled) to suffer unnecessarily.

In short, we sacrifice our friends and family who are in real poverty in order to continue buying the newest iPhone and maintaining our coffee habits.

Since this is the cultural context we all grow up in, we learn to see asking for help as “begging”, no matter the situation, and that begging is the last act of a desperate person and something to be shamed. We judge people on their own conspicuous consumption habits (despite relishing in them ourselves since “we can afford them”) and ignoring that these same social pressures are on those in need. As well, when we treat modern luxuries that have become social necessities as something that can be sacrificed (such as decent housing, access to the internet, televisions, computers, or refrigerators) we unfairly ask those in poverty to live as if the world has not advanced in the last fifty to a hundred years. To live a life that we would never accept. Instead of understanding that these “needs” that have been created by our modern economic context are true necessities in modern living we ask those who cannot afford to participate to simply live further in poverty. Further into a system and lifestyle that separates those in need from the greater economy and reminds them that they will never be “one of us”, but always “one of them.”

The core driving this is the assumption that those in poverty can just “work harder.” That those of us in need could find a job if we wanted, could afford the things we need if we just tried harder and worked through whatever momentary frustrations that everyone deals with. This ignores the reality of those in poverty, however, and those who are disabled because we simply do not have the resources available to us that those who are not in poverty do. We frequently do not have family to turn to, we frequently do not have access to the educational resources many others do, we frequently do not have access to reliable or helpful medical services, and we frequently do not have access to the nutritional resources that can keep us from being exhausted by daily work. For those of us who are disabled, we have an even longer list of things we don’t have access to (such as, in my case, the ability to walk, stand, lift, type, or even sit in certain places without extreme pain for any length of time). These barriers make it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in a good economy where jobs do exist, and make it nearly impossible to participate in a bad economy where jobs have failed to materialize.

When we use the term “classism” to refer to structural inequality based on social class (that is, filial income, educational history, access to training, access to individualized assistance, access to basic support networks), assuming that anyone can “go get a job” is oppressive. When we use the term “ableism” to refer to structural inequality based on disability or limitations due to health complications, assuming that anyone can just “go work” is oppressive. Generally, assuming that those of us who are in need can just “work harder” is a folly of understanding the actual nature of the job market and is participating in oppressing and marginalizing those who need our help the most.

These issues are compounded by other aspects of classism and ableism, such as the very reason I’m in need of so much help. The deposit I am being asked to provide is, specifically, because I do not have any income myself and I will not have any income until Social Security sees fit to give me an income. A process that, for some people, takes years. While I have someone who can pay my rent, and who is willing to and accept the legal responsibilities of doing so, I am still being asked for what is known to be an odious amount of money to ensure that, just in case I can’t pay, the entire house has rent. Despite three other people than me and my girlfriend being on the lease. Despite the fact that I have a guarantor with a job and the willingness to accept the burden of paying.

This is why I turned to the internet, and my friends and compatriots on the internet, for help. What I have received, for the most part, has been platitudes and well wishes as well as some sharing, but few are directly helping me and even fewer are actively encouraging anyone else to. Once, so far, someone has actually maligned me for needing help that was outside of what he believed to be justified. Since I am not homeless and in need in the specific way that he feels is appropriate, since I have not sacrificed things that are essential necessities in our social context, I am not trying hard enough. I am not disabled enough, nor am I impoverished enough. Since I am obviously not living in a condition that is actively worse than living in a developing nation, I do not deserve help in his opinion. I have not earned what, to most people, would be basic dignity (a place to sleep, basic privacy, a place to safely store belongings) by not degrading myself as far as possible. Despite how fruitless such degradations would be.

This is the outcome of treating people as consumer investments, and the idea that if you give anyone money, you have a say in how that money is spent and what their allowed dignities are. That if someone is in need, they must be in need in the way that you deem appropriate before they’re allowed to be considered human and given basic respect. However, in order for me to be judged for spending my money poorly I must first have money to spend. In order for me to have the option of being dignified and operating as a complete person in the social context we are in, I must have the basic resources that everyone else has access to. Before I can be judged for losing my home of my own choices, I must first have a home within my ability to maintain that I can lose. Otherwise the game was rigged from the beginning – I was never allowed to be a person, and no one was ever going to respect me. I am not even the worst off – I have had ways to keep myself sane and alive for the past two years and I have someone who is going to help me pay my rent and ensure that I don’t starve until I can find more permanent solutions to my own income problems. There are others out there that have it much worse than I do, and in need of much more assistance than I am, who are facing even larger problems from the world around them (such as institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or xenophobia). These are groups of people who have been taught their entire lives by the society around them that the are inherently worth less than the average middle class American, and that their struggles are of no import to most of us. They aren’t deserving of our help, especially if someone like me isn’t deserving of help at all.

This very structure, however, ignores the very components of market-driven economics that make capitalism work when it’s successful – there should be no poor, and their should be as few rich as possible, as a strong middle class is constantly consuming. They’re buying from each other, giving each other living wages, producing goods, using goods, and making the wheels of industry turn. In order for a store to have products to sell, it must have customers to purchase them. Those customers need to be making enough money to pay for basic needs as well as consuming products on their own outside of those basic needs. The larger this system is, the more specialized it gets, the more money everyone needs to be making in order to ensure that everyone can still create those jobs as necessary. The rich do not create jobs, the middle class does.

Further, an understanding of history shows that the “Welfare State” does not create dependency but instead ensure that there is always economic participation. This creates jobs, this creates conspicuous spending, and over time eliminates the underserved and impoverished classes in any economy. It is not Welfare that destroys economies but austerity and the rich. Even Milton Friedman supported the idea of a negative income tax, or essentially paying the poor to no longer be poor, in order to keep the wheels of industry turning. This is because one person making $3,600,000 cannot consume as much as 100 people making $36,000. The single millionaire will not buy 100 houses, and 100 cars, and 100 new sets of appliances, and clothing for 100 people, and food for 100 people, and 100 sets of individualized electronics. They will not pay the taxes of 100 people or eat at 100 restaurants for lunch or rent 100 movies every weekend. So long as the economy is rooted in consumption, the only way to ensure that there are jobs for people and that there is money for corporations is to ensure that there are people who can consume. The poor, in this model, are drains so long as they do not have money to consume. It is, in essence, basic economic sense that the best way to eliminate the poor as drains on the economy is to simply give them the means to no longer be poor. To make them equal members of society and to ensure that they can consume as well as anyone else. This will create jobs and ensure that there is new tax revenue and that those who are in those classes who can find work will find work. Eventually, those who are employable will be employed.

When approached with the option of personal charity, it is important to examine your own consumption and your own priorities before writing off the option of participating in said charity. Especially if it’s someone of value or worth to you, especially if it’s someone you care about, consider the context and their needs compared to your habits of consumption. Frequently you’ll find that you do have a few dollars you can spare now, and you know even more people that can spare a few dollars. This turns a large problem into a collective effort of several small problems, shifting the weight to the shoulders of many who can bear it together. This collective effort in turn not only benefits the life of the one person who needs it, but also the dozens of lives that their consumption effects. We are all in this together, and none of us accomplished anything entirely on our own – we did not build our own houses, grow our own food, pave our own roads, build our own cars, manage our own education, do our own science, construct our own computers, or even develop our own language. We have inherited and benefited from generations of collective effort before us, and with some collective effort on our own we can ensure that there will be systems that benefit us all in the future.

Do not simply write off the poor as bad investments – realize that anyone spending money in a capitalistic system is a good investment, and that simultaneously you are helping someone avoid the horrors of institutionalized oppression that would rather see those people starve and disappear. If you want to help someone in particular, I’m still raising money so I can not be homeless, so I can’t help but suggest that you start here.

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