An Alien Power in Contemporary America…

“It is not me,” you say. “It’s not me who causes all the trouble in the village square.” You’re right of course. Those aren’t your nazis. Hell you don’t even know a nazi.

“I know it’s not me,” you say.“

Yes you have white privilege, or you’ve succeeded at Capitalist Parcheesi despite your origin and you take a good vacation once a year. You’ve a basement crammed full of excess stuff. You fully understand the time you’ve spent acquiring non-essential commodities is time you could have used doing something else.

“Someone else will take care of the nazis,” you think. “Someone else will clean up the environment, guarantee equal opportunity for those disabled children down the street.”

Nazis grow when you’re not awake.

It’s not your fault. You gave to the March of Dimes.

I believe nazis appear when our garages are filled with too much crap.

Marx had it right:  “Under private property … Each tries to establish over the other an alien power, so as thereby to find satisfaction of his own selfish need. The increase in the quantity of objects is therefore accompanied by an extension of the realm of the alien powers to which man is subjected, and every new product represents a new potentiality of mutual swindling and mutual plundering.”

Nazis grow when people are being swindled.

“It’s not me,” you say. You’re right of  course.

Forgive me. I know I’m being supercilious.

I have a basement filled with junk.

A Sentence I Wrote in My Head While Walking This Morning

Sometimes if a man or woman, queer, trans, straight, tall or short, sometimes, sometimes, white or black, Asian, Latina, Latino, Indigenous—oh sometimes if “they” feel their stolid hearts about to break, sometimes, they will imagine a better future, where man is no longer wolf to man as they used to say when there was a vigorous labor movement, when solidarity was practiced and little boats rose on the tide—oh sometimes, when the heart is bruised, they must still believe in a future and don’t be fooled, it doesn’t involve racist monuments, but instead there’s Sojourner Truth in bronze on the village square, Frederick Douglas holding a book high up on a pedestal in a city park, Myles Horton beside him on the agora—sometimes they dream of public reverence for peace makers and educators, organizers for justice, a statue of James Baldwin and another of Pete Seeger, not murderers, fighters for slavery, ugly men who’d just as soon burn down the nation as see a man, woman, or child freed from bondage, sometimes, yes, the people have a better vision than a busted heart.


When “The Donald” Doubles Down

When you’re young it’s hard to understand how strong the muscle of state repression is.

Pop culture, whether in the 60’s or the 21st century insists, over and over, sexily, temper and performative exaggerations are enough to bring about freedom. Maybe you won’t shoot the sheriff or bring down the temples of Babylon but for a moment, a moment which sometimes lasts years, you think it’s possible.

Then one day when you’re middle aged, weakened by responsibility, you watch as a democrat (small d) like Bill Clinton, destroys the social safety net for the poor, effectively completing Reagan’s work, while proclaiming a new era of prosperity for all. Later you watch as successive presidents, Republican and Democratic, promote perpetual war. Finally you just live long enough to see an authentic fascist sympathizer take the reins of government. The songs you loved didn’t help. That poetry reading you attended where all the writers joined hands and aimed to levitate the pentagon didn’t work.

Of course it didn’t work. The world ain’t what you think it is, it’s just what it is. The line is from the folk singer Greg Brown.

I’m old. Politics are as ugly as ever. Watching today as Donald Trump doubled down on his rebarbative and shriveled opinion that there are two sides at fault when it comes to neo-nazi extremism and terror reminded me the world is never what I think it is, until it is.

Periods of progress come and go. History tells us this. Even American history. But there’s never been enough progress for people of color. Not for native Americans.  Not enough for women. Gays? Don’t make me laugh. The disabled? Many remain locked up in institutions against their wills.

Trump is working the fascist-neo-lib dial, hoping to make Nazis customary—in his version of the United States all you have to do is say they have a point, just like those people who are repulsed. God forbid you should say a fascist might deserve a punch in the mouth after shouting expletives about the jews.

“What is wrong with 45?” people keep saying. Nothing. He’s a dyed in the wool racist who won an election. He cannot lead. He can only fan the flames of discontent. That’s what his electoral base wants. They’re getting it. Don’t confuse “The Donald” with a man who feels genuine sorrow or outrage for as long as he can fan the mob’s rage he’s getting his version of the job done.

Nice People, Disability, and the Neoliberal Campus

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.”

― Naomi Shulman

As a disabled person I’ve never had luck with “nice people” since they tend to employ saccharine batting—their spun candy—as a shield of manners the aim of which is suffocation of cripples. One knows the type: a school administrator who, seeing a child with a wheelchair says: “We’re so lucky to have you here,” and then, two weeks later, tries to prevent that child from bringing her service dog to school.

You learn to get around it, fashioning your own brand of insistence, arguing for the rights of the blind, deaf, non-speaking, mobility challenged, neurodiversity inclusion—yes, though you despise the word “inclusion” since you know it comes from the 17th century by way of Latin inclusio(n-), from includere ‘shut in.’ In general one distrusts nouns  descending from verbs. Meanwhile “inclusion” is a choice word for neoliberals as it advertises “a place at the table” while it reinforces the system of separations embedded in the old verb. The “nice people” continue chattering. The university adopts inaccessible software for all it’s employees. Refuses to admit it. Gets pushed and pushed to fix the problem. Fixes the problem and publishes a news story about how they were interested in full inclusivity from the very start. Everyone is so nice nice. BTW: if there’s a word I dislike more than “includere” it’s “inclusivity” which has about it the whiff of the country club. ‘Inclusivity” means, “we’ve let you in, an we deserve some damn good press for having done it grudgingly.”

As I say, I’ve not had much luck with the nice folks. They reveal themselves. They flat out don’t like disability, the disabled, the lame and halt, and in their tricked out neoliberal meeting they’ll use disability as metaphor just as quickly as a vicious shop owner who doesn’t want your business because you have one of those damned disability dogs.

In university circles the myth is that the disabled are “complicated” or expensive. Forget the cripples pay as much for college as the apparently unencumbered. Forget that the disabled and their families have been estimated to have over 70 billion in discretionary income. (Oh dear, am I slipping from nice? I swear I’m trying to use the language of neoliberalism…) The cripples are complicated because they won’t stay “includere” and while we talk of inclusion we don’t want to make a habit of it.

And that’s the thing: neoliberal administrators at America’s colleges and universities think the world will “go back” to a former time if they just strangle the people and resources of the agora. We will “nice them to death” and get rid of faculty, problematic students, the humanities, the arts, oh, and disability services. We’ll do it by degrees. Because we’re nice. We’re incredibly nice.


Your Voice in Times of Tyrants…

If words have import they must be like rain. Be careful how you speak. A torrent and invested meanings are washed away. A pittance and if you’re lucky perhaps you’ve written a poem, though this is not likely or assured.

In the dictionary of rain are clues to sailing and growing wheat and yes, how to raise children and support the aged.

I’ve not read the entire book of rain speech though I’m pursuing it.

I understand as I open my throat I’ve a chance to turn this place into a cafe chantants with many dancers.

I do not know who you are.

Every opportunity for speech is a moral concourse with the body and landscape.

The first day the great tenor Enrico Caruso really sang—that is, lifting his face to the middle distance and calling up a rare angel—that first day, he felt larger than anyone, any man, like a colossus, but with this trick, he was a giant you could see through for such is a voice, an invitation to incorporeality.

This happened in Cairo in the Ezbekieh Gardens. The whole district had singers on every corner. Dancers. Puppeteers. Baccarat players. Men who put small coins on their tongues to kiss passing strangers.

He sang for the champagne supper crowd at the El Dorado, for the winners of trente et quarante…

And the voice was there, lifting his heavy torso. You could still see stars in Cairo in those days.

Know what you’re voice is.

Stand for your voice in times of tyrants.

Good Morning, Mr. and Mrs. Benevolence

Purgatory, from purge: “an abrupt or violent removal of a group of people from an organization or place.”

Purgatory, in Roman Catholic doctrine: “a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.”

“Well that’s it,” said Aunt Benevolence, “the good times are over. It’s time to send the lame and the halt straight back to the dirty boulevard.”

Uncle Benevolence wasn’t so sure. He scratched his purple wen. “I don’t believe, my dear, that there IS a dirty boulevard anymore. It’s been replaced by a heated, closed to traffic, “promenade” with decent shopping.”

“Well,” said Auntie, “we’re going to have to send them somewhere. Once there’s no Medicaid to speak of, and no health insurance for the knock kneed elders and the scoliatics, etc..”

“Well I hear North Dakota is empty,” Uncle said. “It’s mostly empty, anyway.”

“How will we get them there on the cheap?”

“Everyone knows boxcars are cheap.”

They sat for a time side by side in silence.

“It was easier on the old days to just take care of people,” Auntie said after a little while.

“Yes,” said Uncle, “but they’ve gone Pagan now. You know, Horace and shit. The best days are the first to go.”

“When did they forget Jesus?” Auntie asked.

“In America?” Uncle asked.

“Yeah,” Auntie said, “you know, Christian’s bundle, noblesse oblige, shit, even just a minimal sense of national regard for appearances…”

“It was never a Christian nation,” Uncle said. “And the Devil loves a vacuum.”

The Washington Post’s Distorted View of Rural Disability

The Washington Post has published an article that purports to examine a steady increase in disability Social Security claims by poor families. Under the heading “Disabled America” the headline bellows: “One Family, Four generations of disability benefits. Will it continue?” If you’re disabled like me and you’ve a sense of disability history you have to shudder since the half-rhetorical question evokes an edict by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who infamously wrote: “three generations of imbeciles are enough” in Buck vs. Bell, a 1927 ruling that upheld the right of Virginia to sterilize “mental defectives” without their consent. (You can read more about the case here.) In short, the Post’s headline raises the specter of eugenics whether the writer or editor knows it or not. Either way its fair to say “shame on them.”

Shame also for committing the journalistic equivalent of what I call “Betsyism” for Betsy DeVos who presides loudly over our education system without experience, knowledge, or curiosity. Only Betsyism, the willful extrusion of facts for ideological purposes explains the Post’s perfervid and ill informed article. Why is it ill informed? Because like other mainstream media forays into the subject of disability and Social Security there’s only a singular narrative: the US is filled with fake cripples who are stealing from good old you and me–a story that received considerable traction two years ago when the redoubtable radio hipster Ira Glass rebroadcast (without journalistic fact checking) a spurious story from Planet Money asserting phony social security disability claims are officially out of control in America. The provenance of the story hardly mattered to Glass, who, when confronted with its falsehoods simply declared himself a journalist and shrugged. It mattered not at all to the doyen of “This American Life” that the tale was largely the dream child of a notorious rightwing think tank, or that the outright falsehoods contained in the broadcast might do tremendous damage to the disabled. Falsehoods about the powerless play well.

One also remember’s NPR’s broader foray into this terrain when Chana Joffee-Walt launched a blockbuster series of stories about disability benefits. Her stories argued there’s a massive fraud taking place, that the number of people claiming disability benefits has gone up alarmingly. What’s of interest from a disability studies perspective is that Joffee-Walt offered (as a means of laying the foundation for her story) that there’s no medical diagnosis for disability–a matter that she found shocking.

Disability isn’t a medical condition for obvious reasons: the limitation of function that renders a person “disabled” depends on multiple factors–some have etiologies, some have a great deal to do with structural and social barriers. This is why scholars who study disability do so through both medical and social analyses. A Betsey-esque analysis lacks this sophistication and suggests poor people with disabilities should be held as suspect for not being–well, rich. Or as Herman Melville put it: “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.”

The Post’s article (which I won’t summarize) argues that poor people beget intellectually disabled children—actually pray to have them—for kids with bi-polar disorder or who are on the so-called autism spectrum are trailer park cash cows. A la Betsyism if you want people to believe an elitist narrative, startle them with the nefariousness of poverty as Reagan did with his mythological story about a welfare cheat who owned several Cadillacs. If you want readers to evince a collective moue of disgust tell them about real life hillbillies who are just like the characters in Katherine Dunn’s novel Geek Love—circus performers who’ll do anything they can to have crippled and deformed children—this is the insidious face of American poverty. Don’t tell your readers that impoverishment increases the likelihood of illness, that the lack of access to prenatal care and education increases the probability of childhood disability. Don’t tell them that the absence of accommodations in pre-school and all subsequent schooling assures failure for children with intellectual disabilities. Don’t tell them. Just insinuate the poor are up to dirty tricks. Don’t remind your readers that Adolf Hitler called the disabled “useless eaters.”