The Caricature of Discomfort

A powerful and painful declaration of the reality of living with disability.

From Azuos Naej

English Translation below.

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A Caricatura Do Incômodo

Incomodo: ligeira alteração de saúde; mal-estar, indisposição, não é cômodo, confortável ou aconchegante.

Instintivamente sabemos o que fazer com um incomodo, e na maioria das vezes é muito simples: é só virar a cara e elevar o coração e a vontade para as belas paisagens que criamos em nossa mente. Sim, o escapismo é nossa principal ferramenta de defesa, e com ela nos elevamos ao patamar de humanos, pessoas, indivíduos, cidadãos… Nossa mentalidade é formada pela classe média, que o ideal está em toda parte dizendo o que devemos ser e fazer, eliminado o imperfeito. Nascemos marcados em um tipo de predestinação, não no sentido místico, mas pela probabilidade social muito bem ordenada apesar de parecer um caos. De onde viemos diz muito de nós e impregna na carne, nervos, tecidos e órgãos. A adoração do belo é dos melhores escapismos que a humanidade inventou e nesse mundo que vivemos isso é o mais importante, apesar de o discurso dizer a mesma merda moralista que tem uma palavra tão linda que dá vontade de tatuar na testa- igualdade.

Quantos incômodos por dia evitamos indo para aquele paraíso em que somos os vencedores? Mas pra vencer tem que ter o belo, vivenciá-lo e fazer parte dos belos. O feio só tem valor se se submete a alguma norma, se tornando uma caricatura, e estamos nessa época. Desgastamos a beleza com nossos discursos, o feio cotidiano as vezes é colocado em certos lugares para observarmos uma beleza inexistente, que só usando a força do cinismo dá para suportar o ideal decadente jogado na cara.

O feio está em toda parte, de certa forma somos feios, mas as inúmeras maquiagens nos dão a sensação de conforto.

Não superamos nossos corpos, eles ditam a essência do ser, talvez porque somos viciados apenas em ver. Parece o único sentido que possuímos, apesar de usarmos as palavras elas pouco importam em comparação a essas duas bolas que temos em baixo da testa, bolas que lacrimejam e que não queremos muito esse líquido salgado saindo delas. O que você quer ver, o que procura no espelho, encontrou? Se não encontrar é só não olhar e desviar os olhos. Tarefa fácil, mas as vezes o medo vai se acumulando até virar um esgoto pronto para estourar, quando não somos capazes de suportar o peso de ser caricatura e não nos deixam estar entre os eleitos (olha que são muitos) só nos resta a tarefa mais difícil que é abandonar os olhos e fazer uma imersão introspectiva, e aí vem as malditas perguntas, tu se pergunta porque é o que é, e porque não faz parte, aí tu descobre que é proposital pessoas como você estar onde estar e ter que conviver com a solidão, aí tu se olha no espelho, são tantas coisas que não deveriam estar nesse lugar, os olhos não são claros, a boca e o nariz não são como você se imaginava, a imersão no corpo não para ainda mais que a todo momento você é lembrado que tem um e precisa de manutenção sempre no ideal do belo. Mas e quando a caricatura é ainda mais borrada ao ponto de nem se parecer com algo humano? Você pode falar como os eleitos, se vestir igual e ser tão capaz quanto eles, mas seu lugar de origem e seu corpo vão te empurrar para fora do paraíso, a termos muito claros para a exclusão e uma lista enorme, a caricatura humanoide é rotulada de deficiente físico, e seu corpo não é atlético e sexy como milhões de propagandas despejadas toda hora, você usa alguma prótese ou tutor numa das mãos ou pernas ou nas duas, tu não anda direito se arrastando por aí e há várias formas de se arrastar de joelhos, arrastando a bunda, de quatro… inúmeras posições que marcam o corpo, é uma vida de cicatrizes diversas. A vida passa a ser uma tentativa de se curar, pois quando você se arrasta arrasta os olhos e as bocas para si, a boca entortando de risadas ou nojo, arraste-se todo dia e todo dia as mesmas bocas e olhos. A sua forma de andar diz qual porta ou escada você pode usar, se você depende de uma cadeira de rodas sabe o que estou dizendo, mas ser cadeirante tem suas vantagens se seu problema é só as pernas atrofiadas. Você já reparou naquelas crianças dementes que babam e tem mal formação congênita, ou aquele vizinho que tem uma enorme cabeça por causa de hidrocefalia? Em que lugar eles estão na sua imaginação?

O ideal de belo hierarquiza qualquer realidade entre os não eleitos há eleitos, ainda mais se conseguir disfarçar sua caricatura, alguns como eu usa calça e evita ir em lugares que precise estar com menos roupa, temos a vantagem de nos integrarmos a sociedade fazendo tarefas idiotas, entrando em algum sistema de emprego que dará 10% de isenção a uma empresa fingir que tem preocupação social, mas na peneira só a caricatura menos borrada terá essa chance.

Você está só e sempre estará, mas a solidão é muito mais cruel se tu não tem atrativos para alguém, aí as bolas que estão abaixo da testa não param de lacrimejar, e na maioria das vezes que expressa descontentamento em público, ou tem a sorte grande de ter alguém escutando você, e você ouve que não tem problema, que a merda do mundo é assim mesmo, e que você é uma boa pessoa, e o que importa é o que você tem dentro, e é para parar de reclamar tanto porque você tem uma bela vida e tem piores. Você se pergunta se tem piores e imagina o que dizem para os piores. Os piores podem ser caricatura, eles tem esse direito?

Não ame ninguém porque não será correspondido, sempre vai existir uma barreira, ainda mais se estiver se arrastando. Mate a imaginação, sonhar apenas trás dor e sofrimento, no máximo você terá um quase, quem quer se relacionar com uma caricatura, quem sentirá compaixão ou desejará estar ao lado de um reptil humano? A solidão é a única companheira e ela é ciumenta e sorrirá na sua cara a cada tentativa frustrada ou sonho desfeito l. Acostume-se a estar só mesmo que venha a dor no peito te torturando, mesmo que a cabeça doa todos os dias e sua coluna se desfaça, a maior dor não é estar num ciclo de eleitos e sim de não ser amado, não possuir o respeito comum. A dor é outra companheira, essa é mais perversa, ela gargalha alto te apertando e moendo seus ossos, por mais esforço que faça não será humano, e você verá todos que conhece com suas vidas, tendo seus amores, lutas e desafios, mas você ainda está no mesmo lugar sendo infantilizado por não estar conformado, e será julgado, sendo rotulado de arrogante, anti-social (hoje em dia temos a vantagem de termos amigos imaginários nas redes sociais que é o ápice do anti-socialismo disfarçado em integração social), de não ver as coisas belas da vida, é esse belo que todos enxergam que está em tudo menos em você.


Azuos Naej

É um poeta, músico e cuidador de gatos de Salvador.


Apoie nosso trabalho aqui.


English Translation

The Caricature of Discomfort

Discomfort: slight alteration of health; malaise, indisposition, not comfortable, pleasant or cozy.

Instinctively we know what to do with discomfort, and most of the time it’s very simple: just turn your face away, elevate your heart and will to the beautiful landscapes that we create in our minds. Yes, escapism is our main defense mechanism, and with it we rise to the level of human, people, individuals, citizens… Our mentality is formed by the middle class, that the ideal is everywhere, saying what we should be and do, eliminating the imperfect. We are born marked in a type of predestination, not in the mystical sense, but by the very well ordered social probability, although it seems a chaos. Where we come from says a lot about us and permeates the flesh, nerves, tissues and organs. The adoration of the beautiful is one of the best escapisms that mankind has invented, and in this world we live in, it is the most important, although the discourse says the same moralistic shit that has such a beautiful word that makes you want to tattoo on the forehead- equality.

How many troubles a day do we avoid by going to that paradise where we are the victors? But to win you have to have the beautiful, experience it and be part of the beautiful. The ugly only has value if it is submitted to some norm, becoming a caricature, and we are in that time. We wear beauty with our speeches, the ugly everyday is sometimes placed in certain places to observe a nonexistent beauty, that only using the force of cynicism can support the decadent ideal thrown in the face.

The ugly is everywhere, in a way we are ugly, but the volumous makeup gives us the feeling of comfort.

We do not overcome our bodies, they dictate the essence of being, perhaps because we are addicted only to seeing. It seems the only sense we have, although we use words they matter little in comparison to these two spheres that we have below the forehead, spheres that tear up and we don’t want much salty liquid coming out of them. What do you want to see, what do you look for in the mirror, did you find it? If you do not find it, just do not look, look away. Easy task, but sometimes the fear is accumulating and becoming a sewer ready to burst, when we can not bear the weight of being caricatures and not letting us be among the elected (see that there are many) we have only the most difficult task, which is to leave your eyes and do an introspective immersion, and here comes the damn questions, you wonder why it’s what it is, and why it’s not a part of life, then you discover that it’s purposeful for people like you to be where you are, to be lonely and have to live with loneliness. You look at yourself in the mirror, there are so many things that should not be there, the eyes are not light, mouth and nose are not as you imagined, immersion in the body does not stop even though every moment you are reminded that you have one body and it needs maintenance, always in the ideal of the beautiful.

But when is the caricature even more blurred, to the point that it does not even look like something human? You can talk like the elected, dress the same and be as capable as they are, but your place of origin and your body will push you out of paradise, to very clear terms for exclusion, and a huge list of them. The humanoid caricature is labeled physically disabled, and your body is not athletic and sexy like millions of advertisements dumped all the time, you wear some prosthesis or tutor on one or both hands or legs, you do not walk around right, dragging around, and there are several ways to crawl on the knees, dragging on the ass, on all fours… innumerable positions that mark the body, it’s a life of diverse scars.

Life becomes an attempt to heal itself, for when you drag your eyes and mouth towards you, your mouth twisting with laughter or disgust, crawl every day and every day the same mouths and eyes. The way you walk says which door or ladder you can use, if you depend on a wheelchair you know what I’m saying, but being in a wheelchair has its advantages if your problem is only the atrophied legs. Have you ever noticed those demented children who drool and have poor congenital formation, or that neighbor who has a huge head because of hydrocephalus? Where are they in your imagination?

The ideal of beauty hierarchizes any reality among the non-electable and the elected, even more if you can disguise their caricature. Some like me wear pants and avoid going places that requires wearing less clothing, we have the advantage of integrating society by doing stupid tasks, entering into some employment system that will give 10% exemption to a company pretending to have social concern, but in the sieve only the least blurred caricature will have that chance.

You are lonely and always will be, but loneliness is much more cruel if you have no attraction for someone, then the spheres that are below the brow do not stop watering, and most of the time expressing public discontent, or is lucky enough to have someone listening to you, and you hear that there’s no problem, that the world’s shit like that, and that you’re a good person, and what matters is what you have inside, and it’s for you to stop complaining so much because you have a beautiful life and some have worse. You wonder if you have worse and imagine what they say to the worst. The worst can be a caricature, do they have that right?

Do not love anyone because it will not be reciprocated, there will always be a barrier, especially if you are crawling. Kill the imagination, dreams only lead to pain and suffering, at most you will have almost. Who wants to relate to a caricature, who will feel compassion or will want to be next to a human reptile? Loneliness is the only companion and she is jealous and will smile in your face with every failed attempt or dream undone. Get accustomed to being alone even if the pain in the chest comes torturing you, even if your head hurts every day and your spine is undone, the greatest pain is not being in a cycle of electables but being unloved, not having the respect. The pain is another companion, this is more perverse, she laughs loudly squeezing and grinding your bones, no matter how much effort you make, you will not be human, and you will see everyone you know with their lives, having their loves, struggles and challenges, but you are still in the same place being infantilized for not rolling with the punches, and being judged, being labeled arrogant, antisocial (nowadays we have the advantage of having imaginary friends in social networks that is the apex of antisocialism disguised as social integration), of not seeing the beautiful things of life, it is this beauty that everyone sees that is in everything but in you.


Azuos Naej

Is a poet and a musician from Salvador, Brazil. He also takes care of cats.


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Our Disabled and Climate Changed Futures

“Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.”

From Pat Mosley


1, 2, 3, the rain starts to patter on the metal porch roof.

1, 2, 3, I start anxiously counting out my pills.

4, 5, 6 days left, two days until landfall, the pharmacy won’t let me refill my prescription for another three days at the earliest. If there’s a delay, if the hurricanes prevent this legal trafficking of my survival, another day or two on top of that. I may have to improvise. I may go through withdrawal.

When winds come knocking and trees bury roads, how will I die? Will I hold off eating, balance my blood sugar as best I can, starve, or blackout? Will I slip into the cozy of Death’s embrace or flail madly, obtuse in anger that I am finally so close to a life I enjoy and use to bring joy to others?

Does melting ice disable polar bears? Do the highly specialized diets of koalas feel like an impairment in the face of deforestation? Do fish and birds feel blinded or disoriented with the loss of ancestral migratory patterns and changing seasonal variations that call them too soon, too late, further away, or not far enough?

When the revolution comes… We had entertained our hike months earlier. When all hell breaks loose… When every insurrectionist wakes to live and die in their favorite wet dream…How will I die?

I am not afraid of Death. We have met. Death is dressed in blue not black. When I was a child, Death was like a warm ocean as deep as time. Death was a golden pirate’s treasure sinking deeper, and deeper still while the machines beeped a slowing pace and the doctor’s inserted a needle or a tube. A few years ago, Death was electric, bright teal and navy energy arms, pushing my wheelchair down the halls of the ER. I was Death. I greeted myself at the edge of life.

I am not afraid of death. Death is the end of capitalism, the end of gender, the end of work, of war, of counting pills, and feeling guilty about not attending more socialist meetings.

I am adverse to a slow and painful death of waiting to starve or blackout, or choking on the polluted air that others’ lungs have adapted to.

I am concerned that discussion about slaying the Leviathan relegates me and other disabled folks to these slow and painful deaths. Capitalism, industrial society, and all else we observe along the body of the Beast are rightly identified as root causes of climate change. Capitalism, like its absence, also causes disabled people to suffer and many to die slow and painful deaths. But while abolishing an economic system is justified, what will we grow in its place? And more importantly, when do we begin? (Can we begin now?)

Disabled people like me want to be part of our collective conservations on life post-capitalism. We want to be included, but not in the tokenizing social progressive ways of neoliberalism. Disabled people are also people of color, Queer people, trans people, working people, immigrants, and more. Our issues at times parallel other social concerns like racism and sexism, and have even informed these prejudices. For instance, the perceived mental disability of being female was once used to justify opposing women’s suffrage. And perceived racialized disabilities preventing one from being an efficient worker have a long history of being employed against immigrants to the U.S. Being gay was once thought of as a mental illness, and debate on whether or not trans people stand to benefit in more material ways from claiming gender dysphoria as a disability rather than distinguishing themselves from disabled people was a community issue just a few years ago. In one form or another, ableism still informs sexist, racist, and other prejudicial discourse.

But at the end of the day, disability is also different. I need to eat on a specific schedule. I need to eat specific types of meals that depend on my blood sugar, and vary day to day and throughout the day. This isn’t as easy as me simply telling other people what I can eat. I’m still navigating this terrain myself. I sometimes have trouble hearing too. A few years ago, I went totally deaf for five days. I’ve had teeth removed to help relieve this impairment. Under times of intense stress, my whole body feels like it is sunburned. I get fatigued and my skin is irritated by even the softest and lightest fabric.

I need assistance breathing the air we have polluted. When I was a child, my lungs collapsed with relative frequency. I was out of school for at least a week every semester for several years. Leaving Baltimore for North Carolina sometimes helped. In fact I made that move permanent over a decade ago. But this year my symptoms have returned. I pay ~$95/month for a rescue inhaler in order to perform a bodily function most people have to intentionally set aside quiet time to remember they do with ease. I’ll be paying more in the future if my symptoms don’t subside. Many times this spring, I went to sleep wheezing because I knew I could not afford a visit to the emergency room. I couldn’t leave the house for much of July when the skies were just too hazy and the air quality was too poor. I waited for months to see the doctor in one of two yearly visits I can presently budget.

Other disabled people have other types of needs. Others have different forms of mobility, sensory experience, and physicality. Disability is wide-ranging and diverse in scale. Our experience of life is marked both by hyper-visibility and invisibility, social stigma, and the embodiment of difference. Whereas one may argue that other forms of prejudice can be resolved by changing social attitudes about their focus, changing attitudes towards disability will not resolve difference. Prejudice isn’t the cause of lost limbs, deafness, malfunctioning organs, etc. And while capitalism is undoubtedly exploiting the health and life out of disabled people everywhere and informing ableism particularly in relation to employability and worker efficiency, neither is capitalism the cause of disability.

Disability is rather an experience of being human. As we age, our bodies break down on the way to death. As we experience the wildness of life, disability becomes us. As we are born, our bodies map an orgy of natural physicalities innate to human biology, mind and flesh, inside and out. The eugenicist and capitalist fallacy of the perfect worker is a dark magic spell Freak witches and wizards everywhere have been disabling.

As the raging hurricanes and rising tides bring climate change to the doorstep of so many unbelievers, and the mindsets of those in social justice awaken to a planetary dialogue continuing with or without us, disabled people must be part of the utopian futures we envision. If not for our sake, for your own sake, when you are aging, when your body’s health eludes you, and when the weight of all that human greed has profited on betrays you. Able-embodiment is temporary, conditional, and under direct assault by the pollutions and economic obstructions leaving your health to chance and a function of your zip code. Two things are inevitable: the climate is changing and we are all becoming disabled.

The deluge of corporate sins upon the Earth excites many into a state of climate change anxiety. When necessary, will we flee or bunker down in place? Will I run out of medication at the most inopportune moment? Will I drown in my home, or die of treatable impairment? Those of us witnessing the storms from afar may find ourselves suddenly inspired to take action, to open our doors to (climate) refugees, or to demand revolutionary changes to our impact on the planet.

I think the impulse to burn it all down or to retreat to the wilderness and find some long ago purged part of ourselves there or to die trying are feelings we all move through. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think there is a well-traveled social change model we may think we have time to follow: a flurry of petitions, a media spectacle of permitted marches in the street, an election for the best candidates from a pitiful selection, or even a nonviolent public action of some sort providing us with the moral high ground of having been to jail for justice. Others of us may go vegan, become locavores or freegans. I’m personally traversing an evangelical stage of compost and zero waste enthusiasm complemented by a newfound creative interest in trash. A multitude of strategies will emerge in this era, and that multitude will be necessary for change.

For those of us responding to climate change and economic collapse anxiety by creating alternatives, I reason it is critical that we think as disabled people, even if we momentarily experience able-embodiment. As climate health worsens, our own health worsens too. How will we replace industrialized medicine, or rob the healthcare industry of the power to profiteer off our disabilities? How will we grow and manufacture our own pharmacies? How will we reclaim our bodies, our narratives, our medicines, and our assistance tech from capitalism? In our utopian futures, healthcare is a community function, and the health of the commons is where that value plants its roots.

Beyond the medical model, how too will we create sustainable communities structured in such a way to weather not only climate change but the physical changes of human experience? How will we modify our communities to account for multiple modes of accessibility, and to treat soil health, air quality, water potability, tree health, animal health, and human health as one holistic equation? How do we empower a biodiversity and cultural shift that values native plants, animals, and people too?

I am dreaming of wheelchair-accessible forest labyrinths, wild edible scavenger hunts, and community gardens. I am dreaming of community economic models that eschew ableist and capitalist constructions of jobs for a fulfilling life built together, from each according to ability, and to each based on need. I am dreaming of activists who learn sign language not just to better integrate with Deaf comrades, but for the sheer fun of knowing those who surveil them will have to budget time to pick up ASL too.

1, 2, 3, the little rain drops hit the curved leaves of my night-blooming cactus. A wren carries off the last twigs of an offering I made to Feronia, while a shaggy community cat perches before the altar dish with tail in carnal flex.

Meanwhile, floods return the streets of Texas and Florida to the ocean. I remember a girl from massage school whose house was destroyed by an oil spill in the Gulf. I wonder how many climate refugees will be washed ashore now. It looks like North Carolina will dodge the worst of it, this time.

The pharmacy opens in a few minutes, and I’ll finish this piece before I go to get the pills I need to survive. For another month, I probably won’t die from eating or breathing. For another month, I can work on something better without the urgency of survival gnawing at my lungs and pancreas.

How will this moment cause us to change?

What worlds are we creating in place of what is washed away?


 Pat Mosley

Pat is making magic in the Carolina Piedmont. His blog can be found at patmosley.wordpress.com

We Are Not In Charge

From Judith O’Grady


I was at Pagan Brunch last Sunday (2nd, 4th and and any fifth Sundays at Busters in the West End of Ottawa, purveyors of classic breakfast. Come if you’re in the area.) and I realized that the other end of the table had drifted onto that Pagan chestnut ‘what animal would you be?’

Our end was discussing mob violence and the small number of people able to work inside consensus management—— ‘Rarely Speaks’ (who has some sociological background, I believe) asserted that the maximum number was 15, and ‘Cogent Thinker’ agreed. It seems small to me, but then it also supports the smallness of the Grove I am Senior Druid of….. I don’t know.

‘Talks a lot about her Boyfriend’ (you see how this works, I’m not good at remembering people’s names) wanted to be a wolf or tiger; ‘Admires the Irish’ wanted to be a hawk. I was too far away to enter into the discussion without shouting, but I laughed. It’s a trick question: the answer is “I would be a scantily-haired primate with an abnormally large brain”…..

Not that I’m all that gung-ho on primates in general or Homo sappy in specific; we’re a loud, vulgar, pushy bunch that tend to rank according to obnoxiousness. But that’s what I am, will-I nill-I. It’s what we all are and rather than complain about it or wish ourselves different we should (I feel) get going with the refinement of the raw material. For example, look at another trick question— “How can we protect women from being raped?” Change their clothes/ mandate group travel/ nighttime female curfew/ …….. “Stop raping them.”

Or, to look at a governmental kind of solution: I live in a country with Universal Health Care, so it would be extremely difficult for me to create more than one persona; the documentation necessary for just the one is voluminous.

My country also has and scrupulously maintains a registry of people prescribed dangerous drugs. At one point some years ago, my doctor peered at his computer (he too has a lot of paperwork and documentation requirements) and said, “You DO realize that you’re addicted to morphine, right?”

“Of course.” I responded. He nodded his head (box checked off) and we rolled on.

My sister lives in the United States. She has to go to the doctor’s office each month to obtain a month’s refill, sign a yearly ‘contract’ about drug abuse, participate in urine testing, listen to frequent harangues, and have her dose arbitrarily lowered. But she’s not the problem. In her country, though, she suffers through the ineffectual constraints that trouble her but leave the actual criminals untouched. In my country I’m not considered a problem—- although to be fair I must disclose that my son has warned me that if he finds me planning to jack up a gas station to buy street heroin he will forcibly restrain me.

What’s the message? Focus on the actual problem. Primates tend to group and rank. Violence is a part of that. But wait!! It’s not an integral part of the process.

Although we are in the primate family, we are not Baboons. Baboons have sufficient sexual dimorphism as to allow non-consensual sex, and actual fighting is a large part of their hierarchy system. Much as some humans admire these traits, we are genetically more like chimpanzees. They rely heavily on screaming and bluster for rank and (as has been discovered in the wake of advanced test methodology) the ‘alpha male’ is not actually the father of the majority of the baby chimps. The conciliatory good sharers and compliant groomers (who waste no time on posturing) actually have more offspring. Even they get the idea. But we are not even chimpanzees, close as they are. We are humans. The large brains, the tool-using, the transmission of culture, in the image of Jehovah: Are we the apex of the Earth’s Children?

No, that is not the case. It’s a part of the same flawed perception of creation—- Not too long ago a Christo-Pagan (don’t ask ME how she reconciles that because I don’t know) asked me if I believed in “Design”. “By which you mean we were made in one step? Assuredly not, because then the Creator did a piss-poor job. Were knees designed on Munday after a week-end drunk?”

We must necessarily be a work-in-progress if we are not a failed experiment. If we see the Gods as humanoid I believe it is a seeming taken on by the Deity-inQuestion in order to make Themself more understandable to our limited comprehension. Creating Gods don’t have maleness, or whiteness, or dominance as attributes. Those Gods embody conception, making-out-of-‘nothing’, originality—- in my limited comprehension I see this as female. My creator is Mother Earth, working with primordial soup and natural selection.

But (this is the other hand) I am not necessarily right. My opinion is just my opinion. My opinion with yelling; my opinion with weapons; my opinion with governmental supports—— still just as good or not-good. What works remains whatever works whether enhanced by yelling, weaponry, or laws or not. Making it difficult for my sister to manage her pain has absolutely no effect on street drugs; blaming woman’s clothes does not lessen rape…… By our uncontrolled use of resources, by our failure to share, by our insistence on privilege we have messed up our home-place.

 

On the gripping hand, I believe that it is our refusal to perceive ourselves as one species, our demands for unequal standards of living for some, our reliance on power and dominance for leadership selection that push us towards ‘failed experiment’. The systems we are currently using do not work. We are not in charge; we are not the solution. It is not to us to fix things, to save the Earth. It is ourselves we must fix. If we do not find the way to sharing economy and consensus government we will fall with capitalism and democracy. We must fit ourselves into the non-apex space of Gaia Ecology that is actually ours and learn to accommodate each other within that limit. I look to my Gods for solution; I hope that humanity will quit fucking it up. Step out of the driver’s seat and don’t man-splain what actually indistinguishable from the rest segment of humankind the problem is— the problem is all of us.


Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

Why Suffer for Social Justice?

 

lourdes_sign_for_confession
Outside a Catholic confessional in Lourdes. Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, a town near me saw its first May Day rally in decades. Because “working class” means more than “blue-collar white men,” the organizers invited me to talk about disability and other speakers to address white supremacy, climate justice, and patriarchy.

My speech observed that the paid work of formally-employed workers and the unpaid work of unemployed workers (housework, childcare, social and emotional support, etc) depend on each other. Society can’t run with just one of them. They’re like a nail and a hammer: without both, you can’t build a thing. Disabled and abled workers are both part of that reciprocal process, including disabled people who will never have access to paid work. But under capitalism, the ruling business-ownership class controls the economy, government, and culture. So, no one but them has meaningful social power, even though society only exists because of our collective labor (paid and unpaid). Therefore, we share an interest in doing away with the current system. Sticking up for each of us is in the enlightened self-interest of all of us. We don’t need moralistic notions of allyship – we need to fight for each other, together, because otherwise only the ruling class wins.

Before May 1, the organizers needed a speaker bio. I didn’t hesitate to talk about my political work, but I agonized about whether to mention that I’m autistic. I didn’t believe that simply being disabled qualified me to speak. I thought that my knowledge of the issues and on-the-ground political practice did. However, I intended to say that disabled and abled workers ultimately have exactly the same interests and that neither has meaningful social power. So, I finally did disclose my disability. After all, I was criticizing the basic assumption of most social justice disability politics: that all abled people benefit from the oppression of disabled people and, therefore, are complicit in it. If I hadn’t announced my autism, I could have exposed the event to accusations of booking an abled Marxist to “ablesplain.”

As it happened, my speech was well-received. The crowd wasn’t the typical activist scene; nearly everyone there was from either the AFL-CIO, the Industrial Workers of the World, or a local, independent farmworkers union. However, based on past experience, a less unusual “anti-oppression” crowd (say, college student activists) would likely not have been so receptive. In situations like that, I’ve noticed three typical responses:

  1. The audience ignores the content and responds as though it had been the standard social justice position.
  2. The audience attacks the speaker as not actually part of the oppressed groups they’re part of and chalks up their disagreement to privilege.
  3. The audience reflexively defers to the critique on the basis of the speaker’s identity – and instead of actually engaging with the substance, confesses their own privilege while changing neither their ideas nor their practice.

You may notice a pattern there. While those committed to allyship-model politics may talk about taking marginalized voices seriously, in practice there’s not much room for anyone, regardless of identity, to dispute their basic political assumptions.

The credibility they grant ostensibly on the basis of identity actually depends on political agreement. They might say “disabled people are telling us to check our privilege and understand our complicity in ableism,” but disabled people who don’t say that tend to get brushed over or called out.

Now, that in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. Defending opinions one agrees with and attacking other views is just part of what it means to take ideas seriously – it’s legitimate and necessary for any sort of politics. But why, then, frame it in terms of who is talking rather than what they’re saying? It’s empirically untrue that all members of a given identity group have basically the same politics. Why does social justice talk as though they do?


Alexander_Jakesch_-_Old_History
Old History, Alexander Jakesch. A woman expresses her pain for a small audience. Wikimedia Commons.

Disclosing my autism gave some cover to the rally’s organizers. But, I could have gone further.

Broadly speaking, social justice says that being disabled should be the main qualification to talk about disability. Even so, I could have boosted my credibility further by claiming additional marginalized identities. For instance, “autistic person” carries less intersectional weight than “autistic nonbinary trans woman.” For the subculture, more marginality means more right to speak – at least on the surface.

But for social justice, there’s more to identity than just the identities people have. “Autistic nonbinary trans woman” might give my words more intersectional force than “autistic,” but “autistic nonbinary trans woman who has survived rape and abuse” carries me substantially further. That ought to sound pretty strange – after all, having been raped isn’t an identity. Every identity group has some members who have been raped. It’s an experience, not an attribute.

Identity and privilege, though, tend to get framed almost exclusively in terms of “lived experience.” For instance, non-men are often assumed to understand patriarchy in ways men simply can’t because of their fundamentally different lived experiences. The line between what you are and what you’ve been through starts to melt away. But why should that be? What puts “being a woman,” or “being disabled,” in the same category as “having been abused by a partner?” What’s the common thread between a specific act of violence and an identity that’s there throughout your entire social existence?

Perhaps the social justice subculture doesn’t actually care about identity. It cares about suffering.

After all, it’s not the neutral features of my autism that would qualify me to speak about disability (such as flapping my hands when I’m happy or rocking back and forth when I sit). It’s my experience of ableism, of alienation and discrimination – in other words, not my identity, but my pain. And if I don’t put on a good enough show, I might lose the right to talk in the first place.


“Oh, baby, don’t you have a story? Of abjection, ruin, despair?  Did you lose a child?  A lover? Were you not raped?  Beaten?  Oppressed? How could you possibly go through all that and not confess, confess, confess?  How can we possibly think of you as real if you don’t confess?  No tragic dramas?  Make them up! But, always: Confess and Reveal.”

Yasmin Nair

In the US, like the rest of the world, most people are in the (paid and unpaid) working class. The social justice subculture, though, is different.

It’s rooted in cultural studies classrooms, student clubs, Facebook cliques, Democrat-in-practice “non-partisan” nonprofits, and the recent graduates that fill out the scene. While working-class people can be found as individual participants, it’s the professional-managerial class that holds (sub)cultural hegemony: its ideas, interests, and preferences dictate the entire community’s priorities and beliefs. And like the rest of the professional-managerial class, the “anti-oppression community” is richer, whiter, and more privileged in general than the working class.

When marginalized people suffer in public for a social justice audience, not everyone watching is very privileged. However, as a rule the allies far outnumber the self-advocates (hence the preoccupation with allyship and privilege over liberation and strategy in the first place). So, when the subculture proclaims the pain of the oppressed, the point isn’t to “amplify and normalize marginalized voices.” It’s a performance with a very particular purpose. The social justice subculture exploits oppressed people’s pain to prove to its members that their politics are moral.

On May Day, why did I resent having to foreground my disability? I wasn’t ashamed of being autistic. I just hated the thought of being a prop. I don’t want the subculture to use my suffering as Exhibit A to prove how right their beliefs are (especially since I think many of their beliefs aren’t right at all).


“We do not advocate exhorting white workers on an individual basis to give up their privileged status. What we do advocate is promoting vigorous struggle with the ruling class with equality at the forefront and to articulate the lessons of these struggles.”

David Ranney

Don’t take social justice at its word.

It has no desire to radically transform anything. When it slanders class-based politics as intrinsically white, straight, cis, abled, and male, it isn’t telling the truth.

There’s another agenda in play. The professional-managerial class doesn’t want to lose control of progressive politics. We will have to force it to, because otherwise the working class will keep losing. Working-class power is the soul of any Left worth the name. But the social justice subculture doesn’t want revolution – it wants self-congratulation. Paradoxically, that goal is served by its fixation on suffering, privilege, and personal complicity in larger social systems. When “anti-oppression” activists self-flagellate, they create a nearly Protestant sense of collective morality. You want grace? Admit your sin. You want validation? Admit your complicity, your privilege.

Thankfully, their underlying beliefs aren’t true. The ability to change society comes from the latent power of the people who create society (and everything in it): the working class, paid and unpaid. We can only free ourselves by getting rid of the ruling class. Now, for anyone who wants working-class unity, privilege isn’t a useless idea. In fact, it’s vital. Male, white, abled, and otherwise-privileged members of our class are materially less exploited than other workers. They receive tangible and intangible benefits that set them apart from the rest of the class. Working-class unity doesn’t just drop out of nowhere. It has to be knit together, thread by thread, struggle by struggle. Unless fighting privilege and class-based organizing happen through and alongside each other, we will defeat neither capitalism nor privilege. Privilege is part of the class system. It doesn’t float around somewhere in the ether; nothing under capitalism is outside capitalism. Revolutionaries who ignore it can only fail. In a white supremacist and deeply patriarchal society like the US, cultural and material privilege does more to destroy working-class unity than anything else, and avoiding the issue doesn’t make class-based organizing easier. It makes it impossible.

However, the social justice subculture has no useful role in that work. It doesn’t actually break down privilege within the working class. That would mean helping privileged workers understand that opposing their privilege is not self-sacrifice but enlightened self-interest, and proving it through the experience of class struggle. But the subculture prefers to dismiss (or even attack) the working class, while acting as though privilege is a law of nature instead of something we can abolish. The trope that “working class” is a euphemism for “white men who think they’re not privileged” is not honest analysis. It’s psychological projection – the social justice milieu is irredeemably by and for the professional-managerial class, which is disproportionately white and male. We should reject it as such.

You don’t get justice with the politics of guilt. You get it with the politics of solidarity. Freedom doesn’t come from shame. It comes from treating an injury to one as an injury to all (because for the working class, it objectively is).

Do you want social change? Don’t look to the social justice subculture. If, like most of us, you’re a worker (paid or unpaid), help build your class’s power instead.

How else do you think you’ll get free?


Sophia Burns is a communist and devotional polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her at Patreon.

Cuts Both Ways

The Labrys is, to me, a symbol of great potency. Not just because of the aesthetic beauty, the Minoan Mother Goddess, etc; but also, because it exemplifies a perfect metaphor.

It cuts both ways.

In my world there isn’t any unqualified ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Actions, beliefs, morals, et al have good effects when correctly used and bad effects when applied thoughtlessly. Well, not quite “isn’t any,” because the world runs on perceivable rules/tracks/algorithms:

  1. Every being has free will (until they give it away)
  2. Don’t be a douche (it’s double-bladed)

The rules apply both ways; if I want to be addressed only with the pronouns ‘ze’ and ‘hir’, then when my hypothetically douchey neighbour (HDN) decides to be addressed as ‘sir’ (or possibly, ‘master’) I can’t argue with him. If I call him ‘you’, I feel that I should accept him calling me ‘you’ as well. Or I can argue with him, hoping to change his opinion. Or I can refuse to address him at all; but then I allow those tools to be used on me.

HDN goes on (as always happens, neh?) to broaden his demands. He wants sir-ness to mean ‘white males’ and for all of his white male buddies to be addressed as sir.

“Good luck with that,” I respond, “You and all your douchey buddies can huddle together calling each other ‘sir'”.

But, of course, that’s not the rule they want to apply. They (hypothetically) want all the others to call them ‘sir’ while they slap each other on the back with the douchey flock call (“Har Har Har”) and address each other as buddy.

But I live in a nation. I choose to abrogate my free will and follow societal rules (by and large; I don’t urinate in public but I do sometimes jaywalk) because I want there to be roads and public transportation, universal health care, safeguards against poverty, water and gas delivery and poop removal–and I don’t want to administer those things my own self. I pay taxes for those things as well as a (tiny) say in the administration and decisions of my nation, but my more urgent choice was to pick a nation that gives all citizens equal personhood under the agreed-upon rules and gives all humans hypothetical personhood, even if not citizens.

So, when HDN says that he only likes white people, both I and my nation get involved. He and his buddies can discuss how much they like white people inside his own house; I won’t visit. But when he and his douchey buddies post signs in his yard about his love of white people not only can I and my friends put up signs in my yard:

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But my nation will protect me when he and his buddies come over to my yard to fight it out.

Same with his café; not only can I boycott it and stand about outside with informational stuff about his decisions, but my nation will prohibit him both from putting up a ‘white people only’ sign and also from excluding perceptually-to-him-not-white people. Of course, he and his buddies can come and eat in my café and, indeed, talk about how much they love white people. But not how they hate other people and what they’re going to do about it.

Also, of course, no nation is perfectly (or even adequately) administered. The other price I pay for not having to dig out and later fill in my very own back-house poophole is vigilance.

Some people are being targeted? I must try to know when this happens, broadly transmit the examples pointed out to me, communicate with the elected officials who should be monitoring this, publicly demonstrate for redress—whatever I am able to do.

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Because it is Right Action, but also because I want my own personhood acknowledged and protected in turn. When I march up to my government buildings I expect them to be handicap-accessible and I would expect my fellow-beings to help me complain if they’re not. As a matter of fact, my province (in the name of universal health care, for which I pay taxes) just gave me 75% discount on a brand new roll-y because my old one wore out (see the shiny newness of it?)

Cuts both ways.

I’m limited as to marching, so I rely on other people to do that. But I have a little extra money, so I share it. I drive a car, so I give rides and grocery trips to people who don’t (in exchange I get someone to push my grocery cart for me). I have free time so I organize for my group. I have an ability to hear outside my species so I converse with Land Spirits and Deities and pass on information. I am blessed with several-person’s-worth of opinions so I spew them out.

But I, like everyone, have limited resources. I only confront my Hypothetical Douchey Neighbour when I feel it’s really necessary; HDNs will take up all your time if you let them and nothing will change. I prefer to act in solidarity with the people being acted on, being denied free will. Not only do they understand the problem better than you but they also probably already have a plan that addresses the problem more directly and effectively. So there are addenda to the First Laws:

Look for the victim*

(*being as sure as you can about that; sometimes when I’m in the grocery store and realize I’ve forgotten something we’ve already passed and my friend nicely goes back for it so I’m sitting all alone on my roll-y in an aisle thinking about dinner menus or the woes of the world and someone bursts into my personal space all “are you all right! do you need help! can I DO something for you?!?”)

Listen, and then share.


Judith O’Grady

judithis an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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The King’s Injustice: Choices and Consequences

by Naomi Jacobs

Under the Conservative-led government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London.
Under the Conservative-led UK government, homelessness has risen 55% in the past five years. Photo: homeless man in London. By Victoria Johnson.

After that, Lugaid mac Con was a year in the kingship of Tara, and no grass came through the earth, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. So the men of Ireland expelled him from his kingship, for he was an unlawful ruler.
– Aislinge Meic Conglinne, trans. Preston-Matto, 2010

A ruler’s truth overpowers armies. It brings milk into the world, it brings corn and mast.
– Early Irish text cited in Ó hÓgáin, 1999

In ancient Ireland, the king’s justice, the King’s Truth – fír flathemon – was the condition of sovereignty on which the prosperity of the land depended. If the king ruled with justice, the land prospered. If he failed in this, the land was barren, and the people suffered. Eventually, he would be deposed and a good king would replace him.

On May 7th, the UK had a general election, and a Conservative government was elected. This post is not about party politics. It is about political activism, and why it is needed – especially when the king’s justice is by no means certain for the future.

The Conservative-led UK government has spent the past five years implementing all manner of economically and socially conservative legislation and programmes. These cuts and measures have disproportionately targeted the poorest and most vulnerable* people in UK society. Here are just a few examples. I could have cited many more.

Injustice limits access to justice

Legal aid is an extremely old concept, found in the Bible and other ancient legal systems. It’s been a pillar of the UK social security system for generations, and it exists in many other countries too. The UK government has made sweeping cuts to legal aid, limiting most people’s access to financial support for legal representation. People in the foster care system, homeless people and parents in custody battles are all having to represent themselves in court. The worst affected area has been family law, which has seen a reduction in the use of mediation, which is likely to have had negative effects on families and children. In an unintended side-effect of the implementation of the cuts, people who experience domestic violence have been asked to show evidence of this before legal aid will pay their legal costs. The evidence is required to be no more than 24 months old. And it must be police evidence, which is a serious problem if the police haven’t believed you, or if you’ve been too afraid to report the abuse. Meanwhile, employment tribunal fees are no longer being paid by the government, as a result of which the rate of tribunals has dropped by 90%. This means less justice for those working in insecure jobs, in poor conditions, not receiving minimum wage, or facing discrimination at work. Injustice entrenches itself in the system.

Injustice compounds injustice

Then we’ve had the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. If people in social housing have more bedrooms than are deemed necessary, they have to pay more for them. Often this occurs in housing where people have lived for many years, where there can be many reasons for extra bedrooms (including the need for space to store disability-related equipment or to have a care worker sleeping nearby), and which they are now being made to leave. This measure is very badly timed, hitting people simultaneously with other serious housing issues, including a rental market that is spiralling out of control, as landlords charge more and more in rent, especially in the cities. As a result, thousands of people are being forced to move away from their home towns, relocated to cheaper housing elsewhere. This is having a knock-on effect on families, with parents even losing their children to the foster care system. Injustice compounds injustice.

No extra rooms allowed, no matter what you need them for. Photo: wheelchair in a room at home. By Wheelz24.
No extra rooms allowed, regardless of need. Photo: wheelchair. By Wheelz24.

Injustice destroys the weakest

Another horrendous move has been the closure of the Independent Living Fund. This fund helps to pay for the care of the most severely disabled people in our society, ensuring that they do not have to live in care homes, allowing them a measure of independence despite severe impairment. The fund is due to close in July. The government claims that the funding will move into the general local council social care budgets – but it is not ringfenced, i.e. the government will move the funding over without forcing local councils to spend it on the care of disabled people. Local council budgets have been cut by up to 30% across the board, and they are already struggling to pay for the care of disabled and elderly people, whose support is being cut as a result. This moving video features disabled people who are currently supported by the ILF, talking about their fears for the future. It’s worth watching. Injustice is brutal.

Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.
Photo: disabled people protest against cuts. By Roger Blackwell.

There’s also been ‘reform’ of disability benefits – by which the government really means cuts to benefits. Disabled people have been affected by government cuts 18 times harder than non-disabled people, some statistics suggest. Employment Support Allowance, an out-of-work benefit for those who can’t work due to disability, has been scandalously implemented via a ‘fitness to work’ test that has certified people as ready to go back to work just before they died from their conditions, as part of a system which has negatively impacted many people’s health. ESA has since been time-limited for many thousands of people, while ill people are being penalised and having their benefits removed if they cannot keep appointments (because they are sick).There have also been changes to funds that help to pay for the extra costs of disability, regardless of whether or not a person is in work. Without some of this funding, I will have no money to pay the soaring costs of disability in a society that increasingly doesn’t have room for me. I fear for my future and ability to work when I do. Injustice is expensive.

Injustice tramples the rights of the people

The government is now attempting to scrap the Human Rights Act, which allows us such terrible things as the right to freedom of expression, the right to an education, and the right to a private family life.

According to ajgcanada.com, these are all reforms that entrench poverty and increase inequality. Reforms that leave people in desperate situations. Reforms that destroy local services, including social care for elderly people and the National Health Service that all of us rely on (there is very little in the way of decent health insurance available to anyone in this country, except for those who are very rich and healthy). Reforms that kill. Injustice is relentless.

Fír flathamon – our truth, our justice

In a system that allows free elections, we are complicit in ensuring justice for all, and in denying it to anyone. We are the king’s justice, and the absence of it. We voted in a government that plans to aim further cuts at an already-ravaged population of poor and disabled people. We will only be able to blame ourselves when the land is torn apart by fracking, the foxes begin to die again if the hunt returns, homelessness numbers rise and rise, the people suffer because food banks are not enough to meet the needs created by government austerity programmes, and more poor and disabled people die.

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Photo: protester holds sign that reads ‘Ban fracking and support clean green energy’. By The Weekly Bull.

 

One of the worst kickers has been that, when I’ve told US citizens about this situation, hoping for commiseration and support, their reply has mostly been “Welcome to America.” Thanks for the schadenfreude, friends, but I think we can do better than that. One country’s injustice does not mean we have to support a string of unjust systems across the world. If anything, it should make us more keen to fight for justice, both in our own lands and abroad. The UK has a history of an excellent welfare state that was a true safety net for those in trouble. We should all fight its collapse, not celebrate it.

Religious institutions have been slow to respond to the injustice of the austerity measures and cuts in Britain. So slow, in fact, that our Prime Minister recently felt able to co-opt Christian frameworks in support of his cuts. But members of various religions are starting to step forward and speak out against the situation. Pagans need to do the same. We have access to many myths and metaphors that highlight how social injustice can lead to social and economic collapse for all. Some of those myths have been validated in the modern world – we know that societies that emphasise social justice and reduce inequality tend to do better economically and socially. The good judgments of the king really do lead to a prosperous and peaceful land. The opposite is also true. The land will not prosper while the people are oppressed. No grass comes through the earth in Britain today, nor leaf on tree, nor grain in corn. It’s just that not everyone can see that yet.

Today, the King’s Truth is our responsibility. It is our truth. Today, the majority has failed the minority in society, those who are weakened to sustain the power of the rich, of the more privileged. The bankers who get away with economic collapse. The politicians who get away with murder. We give them their power. We can take it away again.

But on May 7th, we failed to do that. We elected a government that we knew were planning to extend austerity measures and to create even more devastation and destruction. We could have deposed the king and replaced him with wise and just ministers. We chose instead to sustain and support gau flathemon, the injustice of kings.

The question is, what are we going to do about it now?

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Photo: a large sign held up by protestors reads “Thatcher’s gone – now let’s bury Thatcherism”. By Darren Johnson.

*Generally I dislike the word vulnerable, but in this case it’s true. Society is making disabled people, and others, ever more vulnerable in this country. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s another thing that we choose to allow, to stand by while it becomes ever more true.

References

Preston-Matto, 2010, Aislinge Meic Conglinne (the vision of Mac Conglinne). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Ó hÓgáin, 1999, The Sacred Isle. Cork, Ireland: Collins Press.

All photographs used under Creative Commons licence.