First of all, I want to apologise to the British ultra-slow doom metal band Esoteric for using one of their best lyrical lines as a title line. The song that this quote is from is the opener on their first album, Epistemological Despondency. The song is more simply titled Bereft, and is basically themed around the collective failure of the Human species to live up to its own promises.
Two quotes from the song are relevant for what I am getting at here. I will quote them here for the benefit of this article:
The promises I couldn’t see, for they are just words, and your words are empty…
As well as:
Lies are all Humanity knows, for if they spoke the truth, it would show that they are nothing but a shadow of each other.
Now, I am sure people will be asking me what got me thinking along this thematic line. You see, when I was a growing boy, I heard many promises from people like teachers or other authority figures that as long as people played by the rules and did the right things, they would be welcome in society and possibly even accomodated. But I think it is a sad reflection upon us and our world that not only will a band originating in one of the largest cities of England will come up with such material, but that it will be even more relevant now than both when the song was recorded and when the genre it forms part of was invented.
You see, if there is one thing that my post-legal-adulthood years have taught me, and taught me so well that senility will not make me forget it, it is that promises are essentially meaningless. As soon as a person says “I promise”, you can basically count upon them to not act in the manner entailed by the words following “I promise”.
When I was a child, a lot of activities in school concerned themselves with forward movements on the part of disability rights. A condensed version of the biography of Louis Braille is a good example of this. We were taught of how Louis Braille struggled after being blinded in an accident, but adapted and developed a system of reading and writing that has come to be named after him. To say that Braille has transformed the lives of millions of people, many of whom were born long after his death, is no exaggeration. But this exposes a weakness in how the subject of disability is broached with children. Granted, it is very hard to teach children who are barely seven years old much of anything about subjects they have not experienced before, but one thing I remember quite well is that the methodology of teaching in terms of disability always led to the impression, at least in my mind, that disability was an obvious thing.
I am not sure which year it was, I was still in the opening three years… okay, I will explain something about how schools are divided in terms of year where I grew up. Children between the ages of five and seven went to the part of the school that was informally referred to as the “infants side”, especially among the children. A poor choice of words, but it did create the necessary distinction. The other half of the school, for children ranging in age from seven/eight to eleven/twelve years, was referred to by staff and children alike as the “primary side”. The event I wish to refer to now was during one of my years on the former half of the primary school, the “infant side”. There was one room within the structure of the main building on that side of the school that was what the staff and eventually the children continually referred to as the “AV room”. I think if you saw it the way I saw it when I was a sweet little boy (haha), you would understand why I laugh at such a description now. Even Joe CRT would find the room somewhat laughable now, but the point here is that one informal lesson in this room involved a lecture from a gentleman who was in a wheelchair.
Said lecture was basically about what the spinal cord was, how easily it could be severed in the event of a violent impact against the torso, and what that meant after the fact. It was a good lesson that taught some basic facts about keeping one’s back safe, and so on. It was good education, but it also highlights a problem with disability education. Namely, that it is lacking.
You see, it was not until I was in my twenties that I even had the slightest inkling that a disability could be invisible. Even in my late teens, my main knowledge of disability was through “acceptable” normalised representations such as Steddy Eddy (or Christoper Widdows to his loved ones, hence I will simply refer to him as Eddy going forward). In the early 1990s, his act revolved primarily around stand-up comedy based on his Cerebral palsy. He was good at it, if a tad limited in terms of material. He often managed to surprise the audience with a joke or three based on his reflections concerning the stupid reactions of observers. In the year 2004, he appeared in an Australian film called Under The Radar. The film was a little too pedestrian and walking in the middle of the road to really make much of an impact, but Eddy stole the show in one scene where the central protagonist essentially muses that being disabled to the (varying) degree that Eddy‘s character and his fellow residents at the home cannot be all that bad if they get residential care and workers at no expense to them. This prompts Eddy‘s character, clearly exasperated, to loudly tell this character “look at me” a couple of times, before adding some dialogue that reinforces what a shit deal having diminished control of your person on a twenty-four-seven basis really is. As a person who experiences occasional loss of control of his person that, if anticipated or acknowledged correctly, can be prevented or ended, I was right behind him there. My respect for Mister Widdows shot through the roof on the basis of that one scene.
I do believe, however, that Eddy would agree with me about one thing. As bad as the discrimination and mistreatement can be, at least being visible can help in a small but significant way. Of course, he might also counter that if the society were are in regresses back to a Nazi Germany level, at least I have a snowball’s chance in hell (just barely) of passing for one of them. That would provoke the counter-counter from me in the form of a question. Specifically, why the hell would I want to, other than for strategic purposes? The Sepultura song called Refuse/Resist is among my favourites for a reason, after all.
But the point (yes, I am getting to it now) is that we go through our entire lives with people making promises. Some are explicit, some implicit. When we tell people that we will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, for example, we are explicitly promising that we will not lie our arses off for the audience. We also implicitly promise that we will tell as much of the truth as we are aware of in response to the questions that relate to it, but that is a whole different kettle of pirhanas. One of the most powerful implicit promises we make, and one that is only delivered upon fractionally at the best of times, comes with the act of bringing a child into the world. We promise them that we will guide them to the point of being able to fend for themselves. We promise them a lot of things, in fact. A really good parent, one that understands the way things really work, understands that even if they did not set out to make this promise when the child was born, they made it implicitly by having that child.
The society that a child is born into also makes promises, both to the child and the child’s mother. And this is what I am trying to get at here. I suspect it is also one of the reasons why, in a display of typical conservative daftness, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once told the press that there was no such thing as society, only individuals and families. Of course, the entire world was wondering how a woman could possibly rise to be the head of a state as First World as the United Kingdom without even a rudimentary understanding of sociology. But the thing is, families are an example of the natural forces that compel us toward group survival. Nature decided, long before there was such a thing as Humanity, that animals should be born small and thus require adult animals to care for them until such time as they are ready to go out on their own, and care for the next generation of young animals. Thing is, the bigger a group gets, the more things it needs to do in order to survive at even a basic level. This is abundantly clear from looking at societies where there are virtually no taxes or social services. When one looks at such a society, the average life expectancy tends to be less than half that of a society where members combine efforts and take care of one another.
Corporations love the fact that societies depend on people taking care of one another in order to really thrive. Even as they denounce it, they know damned well that they would have very little chance of long-term survival without police, army, and natural disaster protection. How they would get started at all without the government they constantly refuse to pay for having laid out the tracks for them to get started on is a question I would dearly like to see some of their staff answer. Frank Zappa has been quoted as saying at some point or other that if you want something from the government, you pay for it. But what would he have said if he had been appraised of the fact that certain people have been demanding more and more of the society they inhabit whilst paying less and less for that?
This is one reason that I feel the services provided by charity organisations should not only be nationalised, they should be placed under the purview of a government department that is explicitly designed to receive and act upon feedback from the people concerning how the services are delivered. If your “charity” is called Autism Speaks, for example, the government listens to feedback from autistic adults all over the world concerning the service you deliver, and the impact that has upon their lives. Charities are the biggest misdirection and theft of resources for individuals that vitally need them that has ever existed. They are relics of the Victorian era, and should be done away with accordingly. As efforts like Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme are founded upon, protecting and caring for the most vulnerable parts of your society is supposed to be an investment, not charity.
When I was a boy, the talk from teacher to child was often nasty, quite peppered with interjections of “what are you going to do for us when we are old?” and the like. The thing is, what goes around tends to come around. The people that they had supposedly elected to lead them were ripping the guts out of society’s welfare system, and making the children who were just about to become adults the first generation since World War II to have to accept a lower standard of living compared to their parents. Oldies from the time when I was growing up (and probably now, but I have learned to filter them out somewhat) loved to bitch and moan about how little respect they received from the young, especially of the kind that was unearned and unnatural. Had I known during those times what I know now, I would have told them the same thing I am telling them here now:
Gee, I fukking wonder why.