Friday, May 23, 2008

Disability and Citizenship

(This is sort of for BADD, except that was a month ago. Clearly, I'm much too slow for the internet.)

I am an anarchist at heart. It is an impulse that goes deeper than rational thought; I don't know how it got there, but it is definitely lodged somewhere deep in the back of my brain, this idea that the essence of government is coercion, which is immoral. Perhaps this is the result of my rejection of the paternal God of my childhood, perhaps I simply read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at too impressionable an age, but whatever the reason I am an anarchist.

I am suspicious of government in all its forms. Even when I know, rationally, that governmental power is required to accomplish a good goal, the incarnation of government irritates me. Sweating pot-bellied men in orange vests on the freeway demanding that everyone drive 45 mph, incomprehensible instructions on tax forms that make my eyes blur painfully, impersonal and disinterested bureaucrats at the Social Security office or the DMV who make you sit in a hard plastic chair waiting for your number to be called while they go to lunch: I hate it all. This morning I read that the improved GI Bill had been passed in the Senate with a veto-proof margin, and even though I am strongly in favor of social support for veterans I still cringed when I saw that the bill passed because it was attached to all kinds of other government spending, because the fact is, you could show me that a spending bill was perfectly efficient and effective in funding only good programs, and I would still be uncomfortable with the amount of money and power that was being funneled through the government. I'm an anarchist, I can't help it.

I used to assume that my gut reaction to government was evidence that government was actually a bad thing. In my freshman year at college, I worked on a campaign for a Libertarian Party candidate for state Rep, and in 2000 and 2004, I voted for the Libertarian Party ticket from local city elections to President. Any agency monitoring my library records would have put me on a watchlist: I read things on tax protesting and survivalism, Ruby Ridge and basic bomb making (I was just curious, I swear), secession and how to obtain official citizenship from obscure countries in the South Pacific that will give you a free passport and let you do just about anything you want.

I still think a lot of this stuff is very interesting. A few months ago when there was news about parts of the Lakota Nation filing papers to revoke the treaty they signed with the US a hundred or so years ago and effectively secede, I was cheering them on. I'm pretty sure now, though, that whatever my gut feeling on the matter is, any kind of social structure requires a government with coercive power- a monopoly on violence as anarchists are so fond of saying- in order to remain stable. And although I still feel that coercion is wrong even if a majority approves it, I think in most cases coercion in the form of taxes, regulations, and government-provided services is actually a lesser evil than pure individualism.

The thing about anarchism is, to the extent that it is asocial, its very foolish. When you're young and healthy and idealistic, its possible to believe that you can transcend society. But you can't. Not even a pseudo-Aspie like me can ever really truly be alone; everyone relies on other people. As soon as you have two people in the same space, you have interactions between them, compromises and annoyances, all the things that make up a society.

Societies can't be avoided, so they must be managed. The anarchist says that societies don't need to be managed by any authority: they will organize themselves along natural (usually economic, either free-market or communist) laws. But people don't really work that way. When I was healthy I could believe that people would naturally help those around them if they saw that there was no other social safety net to help the helpless. I really believed that there would be enough people who cared on a personal level that no coercion would be necessary, that the impulse to charity, which is very real, would be enough to make society a friendly place.

Obviously I was naive. It took illness to teach me that without law, enforced literally if distantly with the barrel of a gun, society is more than happy to take from any productive person as long as she can work and then when she can't fit into a pre-formed space in the economic machine toss her out on her ear to die cold and alone. People do have good in them, but, as any starving child in Africa can testify, out of sight is out of mind and society works to maintain the comfort of the many by hiding the pain of the few. Before I got sick, I didn't understand the reality of living with illness, so I didn't understand the role society is able to play in making life accessible to the ill, and I didn't understand how difficult and necessary it is to channel the impulse to charity through society into actual physical benefits for those who are in need.

Anyway, this is really long and possible a bit incoherent. The point is, at heart I'm still an anarchist. My votes, though, go to Democrats, and although I may cringe at the veterans' benefits/spending bill that was passed the other day, I know intellectually that this bill is a good thing, because I am disabled, and being disabled has made me a better citizen.

1 comment:

The Goldfish said...

Have been catching up on my reading and shall add this to the Blogging Against Disablism Day archive when I get a chance. It would be a shame not to include such an excellent post. :-)