Our Burden: Disability as a Lens Towards Anarchism

I am disabled. According to the conventional world and medical world, I am highly disabled. I am a C6 incomplete quadriplegic. I feel nothing from the chest down. My right side has tricep, bicep, wrist function, and limited hand function (as I type this with one finger); my left side has bicep, a sliver of tricep, no wrist, and a hand with fingers curled in. Everyday, I am assisted out of bed into a powerchair by nurse aides or my wife. Next year will be a decade since my accident. These nine years have given me plenty to think about.

Everyone’s situation is a dichotomy of physical, mental, and social impairment and disability. Impairment describes the intrinsic or applied characteristics—perhaps your brain can not send signals to parts of your body (in my case), perhaps your brain structure or function causes “abnormal” results, perhaps you are born on the wrong side of a border, or your ethnicity and nationality are “different.” Disability is external, it is how a society or individuals respond to impairment. Because of certain laws, and help from friends and family, my college experience was enabling, and because of the age and economic depression of my town, certain areas inaccessible to powerchairs are disabling. Learning the impaired, disabled dichotomy by reading disability theory just reiterated something I knew already, but applying it to the world around us is potentially liberating.

We’re all disabled physically, mentally, and socially, and that is not reductive. Some disabilities are just common sense. Humans can only run a certain speed, jump a certain height, swim a certain depth. The mind cannot beat an AI at chess, remember every instance of every event in history, or agree upon a definitive metaphysics. Human society—even the freest—prohibits certain actions. As anarchists, we need to discuss disability in this broad physical, mental, social way. Everyone’s struggle is theirs, but it’s ours too. Understand, there are radical degrees of disability, but the fact remains, there is one society enforcing it. We are free to ignore one another, fine, but if we are committed to the maximization of freedom and self-actualization, minds must be won, hearts must be won, and the world needs to change. Participation is not mandatory but should be physically, mentally, socially accessible.

Impairment can be inadvertent in many cases. There are those injured in life, born with bodies variant to the “norm,” or those whose minds are altered because of trauma, etc. The majority of the non-radical, non-anarchist population meets these varying impairments very differently. My specific impairment, in many ways, has been addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which creates spaces more welcoming to prosthetic users, the hearing impaired, the sight impaired, etc. An impairment where more work needs to be done though is mental impairment. The body is something visible; one can see another person needing a wheelchair, can see a prosthetic leg, or see one using sign language. Perhaps a technology will come along, but for now, we cannot see into the mind of a “variant.” I am apprehensive to even consider some minds variant, simply because every mind is unique, variant in its own way. I would stress, the variance that needs to be addressed are the diagnoses stigmatized by sects of our culture. Inadvertence is one thing to consider, but as anarchists, we need to address force—specifically, impairments and disabilities that are forced upon people.

There are moments where my impairment pushes me into a corner, making me feel alone, cut off. In recent years, however, I have seen myself as belonging to a huge community—those unnecessarily disabled by peoples and governments. Because of the times—the Trump Era—I want to focus on an especially heinous impairment and its subsequent disability. Imagine one’s birth, in and of itself, being an externally inflicted impairment. Here, we’re talking about social impairment and disability. Because of the accident of birth, one becomes a fellow disabled person. One’s ethnicity, nationality, skin color becomes akin to a malfunctioning spinal cord, because, the environment is structured in a way that impedes individual self-actualization and freedom of movement. My impairment is a natural impediment to freedom of movement; the social impairment refugees and migrants face is entirely made up, created out of fear, racism, and xenophobia. Anarchists should be committed to liberation in all its forms: an individual is physically impaired—provide them with the necessary technologies and services to facilitate their liberation, an individual is socially impaired—address the hierarchical structure in place that prevents crossing a line in the sand.

I speak for myself, here. I consider physical, mental, and social impairment as equal in importance. I recognize that though I am disabled by society because of physical impairment, it’s not as severe as if I had additional mental and social impairments—there are degrees of disability. My impairment, though considered severe by medical standards, is recognized and therefore often accommodated. I am white, male, and by accident born in America—the social disability of a refugee mother, fleeing violence in large part created by American interventionism, risking death from cartels (sustained by state prohibition), captured at crossing, denied access, stripped of her child(ren), and imprisoned in an internment camp facing deportation and sexual abuse is considerably more severe than my physical disability. Again, this scenario of the refugee/migrant is so sinister because their impairment is total fabrication, and their subsequent disability is expressed through state violence. The rhetoric of impaired and disabled is important to better communicate about these barriers to freedom.

By adopting the language of disability theory, anarchists have a better set of tools for distinguishing real and socially constructed inhibitors to self-actualization, freedom. What are the impairments? Are they legitimate? Are they foisted upon us by an external force? Until all peoples are free, everyone to a degree is disabled. Recognize the physical, mental, social impairments and abolish disability.

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