I am not an economist, nor am I fantastically well-versed in political theory.
But I am a disabled person living in America in the 21st century.
And what I have learned as a disabled person living in this society is that the “powers that be” don’t consider me to be:
A) a person, or
B) a threat.
When someone doesn’t consider you to be a person or a threat, they don’t take pains to hide their true intent around you. The murderer chasing his victim through the woods isn’t worried about the squirrels witnessing his crime, for instance.
And it is in this way that I have had the unique opportunity to see “the man behind the curtain” and to see that the Great and Powerful Oz is really just an old white guy in a suit holed up with unearned power in the Emerald City.
It’s no secret that politicians lie, either intentionally or unintentionally. They make promises they can’t keep, either because they never intended to keep them, or because other politicians block their ability to keep those promises.
But if you’re not a member of a marginalized community, it’s not as easy to see the lies.
As a disabled person, I am living with the consequences of those lies every day. They impact me and my quality of life in very direct ways.
For instance, the average American probably believes that if you become disabled, there are social welfare programs that you need only apply for and show proof of disability and you will be accepted and supported. That is the lie that is believed.
What they don’t know is that these programs are gatekept by requirements so narrow as to exclude the vast majority of people who apply. Just like insurance companies are in the business of trying their damndest not to pay people’s claims, the US government is dedicated to withholding social welfare (which isn’t even enough to survive on, by the way) from those who need it most.
I have several diagnosed, documented disabilities that prevent me from working. When I applied for disability, however, I was denied on the basis that I didn’t have enough “work credits.”
To be approved for disability, you have to be a child who has parents who have had their income taxed, or you have to be an adult who has worked a very specific amount and had your own income taxed to qualify. BUT, if you worked too much, you also don’t qualify (because if you can work, clearly, you’re not disabled).
Even if you happened to sit right in that sweet spot of having worked just enough but not too much, the government may dispute your diagnosis and require you to be examined by their doctors, who have a vested interest in disproving your diagnosis or condition.
The process of applying for disability takes years of denials and reapplications. People die while waiting for their applications to be considered and reconsidered, and if they don’t die, they may lose everything and end up homeless.
“Why don’t you just get a job?” Able-bodied people love to say this about homeless people. Well, many of us literally can’t because of physical and/or mental health conditions. And once you’ve fallen that far down the ladder, and you don’t even have the ability to shower regularly or afford nice clothing for an interview, or have an address to list on a job application, and you’ve been out of work for years, how easy do you think it is to be hired?
So we find ourselves living in the post-Industrial Revolution age, with every challenge to abundance answered by industry, with surpluses in food production, housing, and wares of all kinds… yet it doesn’t matter. Millions of people still live in poverty and lack. Millions of people still live in homelessness. And millions of those people are disabled in some way.
This is capitalism at its core – produce or live in poverty/die.
THAT IS ABLEISM.
There are more mundane levels of ableism, more specific and local manifestations of it, but that is the overarching tenant from which all of the rest comes.
And nowhere is that more apparent than in the disabled community.
People can pretend all day long that America is a “mixed economy” and not a true capitalistic economy all they like, based on the technicalities that government has interjected with regulations meant to keep things in balance.
But until disabled people are truly supported, that’s a bunch of BS, as far as I’m concerned.
Because here’s the bottom line – capitalism cares about profits only, full stop. You are not worth anything under capitalism if you cannot produce profit for capitalists. If you want to know whether a system is a true capitalism or not, look how it treats its members who cannot produce a profit.
Capitalism is ableism’s parent. Ableism would not exist if members of a capitalistic society weren’t brainwashed into conflating unquestioning productivity with inherent worth as a human being.
We are inculcated as a society into these beliefs slowly, over time, like frogs being boiled in water. We are trained with positive and negative reinforcement.
What is the point of answering every challenge to abundance with efficient technologies if millions are kept from what those technologies produce?
The point, in a capitalistic society, is to make a profit.
And it’s not profitable to support disabled people who, under capitalism, represent a poor return on investment. It’s not profitable to ensure that these people have access to the wherewithal for survival, to these goods that have been produced.
We need to ask ourselves as a society what gives a human being worth – the fact that they exist, or the fact that they can produce profit. Really, stop and ask yourself this. What kinds of answers are you getting? You may be surprised how insidious these capitalistic tenants are, how deeply rooted in your subconscious they have become – tenants like “if someone is unproductive, maybe they don’t deserve the means for survival.”
Funny that the “heartbeat” crowd is also the “bootstrap” crowd – an unborn life has to do nothing other than have a heartbeat to be fiercely defended, but the moment they are earthside, it’s their own damn fault if they were born disabled or into poverty and they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps or die.
The very term “Aspergers” comes from the surname of the Nazi doctor who performed barbaric experiments on autistic children in concentration camps. He sent the ones who couldn’t produce a profit to die and saved only the ones who could be “useful” and could turn a profit. I know some people in the autistic community still identify as “Aspies” but as far as I’m concerned, I hope Hans Asperger is burning slowly and painfully in hell and I will be damned if I ever associate who I am with such a monster.
Who I am has value, not because that value transfers to dollars and cents on someone’s bottom line, but because I exist and I am human.
As disabled people, we are living, breathing challenges to the idea that the only value a human being is capable of conferring is monetary.
We are like the trees and the sun and the grass and the hawk – interconnected, inherently worthwhile. The only fair economy is a circular, lateral economy, one of interdependence and sharing. We are stronger as communities than we are as individuals.
And communities, and societies for that matter, are only as healthy and evolved and advanced as they are able and willing to care for their “weakest” members. And I put weakest in quotes because what metrics are we using to determine whether someone is a “weak” member or not? Productivity? Fuck that.
Disabled people have more to offer than our productivity, just like a tree has more to offer than being a table top.
Until our society is able to see this and embrace this, until our society is able to view disabled people through any other lens than productivity, we will be seen as burdens and drains. We will be judged only by what we cannot do under capitalism. We will suffer from the ableism that is necessary to keep capitalism going.
People are, always have been, and always will be, more important than profits. It’s time we grew up as a species and realize this. It’s time we live this.