I’ve been thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and about a conversation I recently had about social security. You would think that, as an anarchist who wants a stateless society, I would be against both. That would be the ideologically pure position, no? To be honest, I’ve had a bit of cognitive dissonance on this issue.
The need for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and for social security is real. My aunt grew up with cerebral palsy (CP) in a time when people hid their relatives with disabilities. She lives in a private home. The home was started by a woman whose child had CP. She started the home knowing that, when she died, there would be nobody to take care of her kid. This valiant effort by one individual has provided a home for many people. But it would not survive if the people living there, many whose parents are no longer alive and who have no children, did not receive social security.
The kids I helped at Camp Challenge were sometimes trapped in their houses most of the year. The profit driven market has no interest in starting an accessible transportation company for one kid in rural Tennessee. There is no profit in that. The market does see profit in at-home care, but only for those people who have an extra $2,000 a week to pay for it. And eventually those kids’ parents will be gone and they will need a place to go and a means of support that they can count on.
Saying the market will take care of them, in our present circumstances, is absurd. It is true that there is coercion involved when people have money taken against their will and redistributed to others. But it is also true that we live in, and help to create, a society where differently abled people have virtually no freedom at all – that the freedom to not help them can be directly in contradiction to their freedom to leave their house, get around, have a job, communicate with people…Doesn’t their freedom count?
I pointed out in my previous post how Rachel Maddow gave the government credit for integrating Woolworths, rather than giving credit to the everyday people that actually did it. And that is true. But it is also true that my aunt could not march over to Woolworths and insist that they lower the counter to accommodate her. She needs someone to dress her and feed her. She needs a wheelchair. She needs ramps to get out of her building and into Woolworths. She needs people who have the patience to listen to her as she struggles to get out the words. She needs people who can see past her chair and drool and speech impediment and who will listen to the brilliance of her thoughts.
We all need to take responsibility for ourselves and the people around us. But we also need to acknowledge that some of us face obstacles to taking responsibility that others don’t.
So I see a need, in our present circumstances, for the the ADA and for social security. But I also see how these things are part of the problem. It isn’t just about some idea of freedom or the free market. It isn’t just about some principle against coercion. The home that my aunt lives in is run by grossly underpaid, African American women. Having an anonymous government bureaucracy deal with the details makes it so much easier to keep those women (and the people they take care of) out of site and out of mind. I can just file that tax return and never have to think about the whole lousy system – until I end up in it, of course.
The worst part about supporting government programs is knowing that I am helping to feed the machine that causes so much destruction. The machine that is supporting my aunt is murdering people in Afghanistan and incarcerating millions of people who have done nothing wrong. That machine uses a few token programs to bolster its legitimacy so that it can continue to exploit and oppress at will. Every small bit of good it does comes at someone else’s expense.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me with a moral dilemma.
My instinct is to try and resolve that dilemma with some neat philosophical jujitsu. But every practical bone in my body fights against it. And, if I’m being honest here, every selfish bone in my body fights against it too. If I were going to be ideologically consistent, I wouldn’t rely on the state at all, right? I would tell my mother and aunt to stop collecting social security. I would give up my job and my life. And I would try to find some way of supporting them and taking care of them myself. (No idea how I would have a job and provide 24 hour care for my Aunt.) But should I really be expected to give up any freedom I have?
The truth is that sometimes there are no good choices. And I am going to have to live with some moral ambiguity. That bothers me. But not so much as it bothers me when people pretend that everything can be wrapped up in a nice package and that these issues don’t pose any moral dilemmas.
Our world was designed by and for a very limited number of people during a very limited portion of their lives. An anarchist world would be a very different place. A world designed by all people – all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds, where everyone has a seat at the table, where all can express their own needs and desires – would not have these contradictions. But we don’t live in that world.
I know that the system can never be the solution to a problem it helped to create. But I also know that I cannot snap my fingers and have magically appear an all voluntary non-coercive method of dealing with the problems of real people. In the time between now and then, real people have real needs that need to be met. Too often, we anarchists get so caught up in philosophical discussions that we forget that.
It is, I believe, a real weakness to pretend these moral dilemmas don’t exist. It delegitimizes our arguments in the eyes of people who experience the obstacles we too often ignore. And it constrains our strategies in trying to imagine a new world and how we might get there.
In short, what I am trying to say is that I think we should embrace the doubts, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas that are inevitable with the world as it is being so far off from the world as it should be. Rather than having litmus tests for authenticity or trying to pretend that we are all ideologically consistent, we should admit that it is impossible and give each other room to breathe. By allowing for the ambiguity, I suspect we will find ourselves better able to reach out to people who find our beliefs somewhat alien. And I suspect that we might find ourselves better able to come up with creative strategies for getting from here to there.