Monday, December 03, 2007

Social Safety Nets in Action

Gary Farber is just some guy. I don't really know him; he has a blog, but I don't read it, and he comments on Obsidian Wings, which I read, and maybe a few other places but I've never really talked to him. He has health problems that keep him from working, that have kept him from working much for years and years; because he's been ill for so long, he doesn't have enough credits in the Social Security system, and so he is not eligible for Social Security Disability. He's applying for SSI, which he's been denied and is appealing, but even if he does get approved for that, the maximum amount he's eligible for is $623/month. It's been a year since he applied, and best case scenario is it'll be another year before he knows if he's eligible or not for any aid.

In political circles, people talk about welfare like it's easy to get on, and once you get on you're set because the government pays for everything you need. In reality, if you're poor and ill in America, the government would really rather you just lay down and died. I am not sure if its really true that society has some sort of obligation to the weak and ill and poor. If there is no obligation to help your neighbor, what's the point of society? But I'm hesitant to say there is an obligation, that anyone is owed anything. Prescriptions for the behavior of others are always dangerous.

However, even if it isn't necessarily morally wrong not to help those who genuinely need it, it would still be neat if we could figure out a way to structure society so that the ill, the disabled, and the needy were treated with dignity and respect, and were provided for when they can't provide for themselves. The only other options are what Gary is facing: eviction, hunger, medical needs going unmet, homeless in the winter in Colorado, death by freezing under a bridge somewhere. Maybe there is no moral obligation for society as a whole to help the people who face these things, but it would sure be nice.

And it's not like anyone reads this thing, but still, Gary has a set up for donations and subscriptions to his blog so that maybe he can keep living indoors.

Also on the social justice front, a Lt. in the US Army, Elizabeth Whiteside, is being court-martialed for attempting suicide while in Iraq. Its a complicated story- what suicide attempt isn't- but the bare details are these: she was in charge of a trauma team in Iraq, working nonstop in the middle of the results of war; she became more and more depressed about the situation, which included a senior male officer who harassed his female coworkers and subordinates; she regularly received very high marks on performance evaluations and was loved by the team she led in Iraq; she had a dissociative panic-attack-type episode and shot herself in the abdomen, but hurt no one else; charges against her include "wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service;" if convicted, she may be put in prison for life and will absolutely be ineligible for any kind of veteran's benefits, including physical and mental health services.

This unhealthy impulse to blame victims for their circumstances in order to deny them any help scares me. I don't want to live in a world that is so heartless and difficult, and I don't understand the people who work to make things this way. I mean, I get that if you have compassion for someone, that means empathy creeps in, which means you start to imagine what life would be like for you if you were in that situation, but I don't understand the depth of cowardice that refuses to face that fear and instead chooses to deny all possibility that disaster could befall Our Kind of People.

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