J. LAWSON THESIS (Stetson University, 2004, Citations Omitted): “The More Freely He Breathes: Colonialism In The United States”

Author’s Note (6/14/2018):This thesis has cause me a lot of trouble–mostly, I think, at this point, trouble in my own mind. Since writing it I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Even though this thesis is now over 10 years old, it lurks in the back of my mind as one of the most subversive things I have done. At the time I wrote it, I cared nothing–nothing–about my own preservation or the preservation of the United States. I only sought what was just. As time went on, I had to leave professional philosophy due to illness and met and associated with many people. I have been extremely paranoid over the years that I am being watched, tracked, followed, spied on and, sometimes, even threatened due to this thesis. Maybe it’s all in my head, like the doctor’s say. At any rate, I thought I’d make this thesis publicly available to anyone who’d like to read it.

 

THE MORE FREELY HE BREATHES: COLONIALISM IN THE UNITED STATES

BY: JENNIFER LAWSON

 

“Having found profit either by accident or by choice, the colonizer has nevertheless not yet become aware of the historic role which will be his. He is lacking one step in understanding his new status; he must also understand the origin and significance of his profit. […] For how long could he fail to see the misery of the colonized and the relation of that misery to his own comfort? […]

He finds himself on one side of the scale, the other side of which bears the colonized man. If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; if he can benefit from plentiful and undemanding labor and servants, it is because the colonized can be exploited at will and are not protected by the laws of the colony; if he can easily obtain an administrative position, it is because they are reserved for him and the colonized are excluded from them; the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized are choked. […]

Once [the colonizer] has discovered the import of colonization and is conscious of his own position…is he going to accept them? Will he agree to be a privileged man, and to underscore the distress of the colonized? Will he be a usurper and affirm the oppression and injustice to the true inhabitant of the colony? Will he accept being a colonizer under the growing habit of privilege and illegitimacy, under the constant gaze of the usurped?”

–Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized

“It is better to be consigned to hell than to stand around waiting for a time when everyone will like what we are going to say.”

–Martha Nussbaum (paraphrased), Sex and Social Justice

INTRODUCTION

“A foreigner, having come to a land by the accidents of history, he has succeeded not merely in creating a place for himself but also in taking away that of the inhabitant, granting himself astounding privileges to the detriment of those rightfully entitled to them.”

–Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized.

In this thesis, I will argue that the primary mode of the oppression of Native Americans, both historically and contemporarily, is colonialism. Using history and philosophy, I will show that Native Americans (and all indigenous people of this hemisphere, for that matter) have been colonized nations for hundreds of years. While doing this, it will be necessary for me to explain what I take colonialism to be and draw lout definitions, such as the definition of ‘nation.’ After arguing that it is colonialism which has and continues to oppress Indians, I will use Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach to social justice in order to show that colonialism is unjust. Following this discussion, I will propose that decolonization is the goal to reach for so that Indians can have flourishing, human lives.

For those who are unfamiliar with Indian history, many things I have to say may shock you. Much of the history we learn in our schools has been told over and over from the European/Euroamerican point of view. But the story of history is not the story of one person or peoples. It is all our stories together. Just as we cannot, with any accuracy, tell U.S. history while excluding African Americans, women and children, we cannot purport to speak U.S. history while excluding Native Americans. After all, this was and is their land since the beginning of time–this is what it means to be indigenous peoples. It is not merely that Native Americans were here before those of us who are non-Indian, it is that they were always here. We can have no idea as to how the U.S. came to be anything at all–let alone what it is today–without profoundly considering Indian history. And we cannot understand how Indians got to be where they are without thinking about our nation’s past and present.

Considering that my topic is primarily about victimization of Native Americans, it is important to remember that Native Americans are not and have not been merely victims of Europeans and Euroamericans. We must bear in mind that indigenous people have been and continue to be subjective beings–actors in their own lives, They have wants, needs, loves and hates. They laugh (a lot!) and they mourn. They regret and they imagine. They make meaningful bonds with people and their environments. They stand up in large or small ways to fight for themselves and the people and things they care for. And they do this despite the persecution and hundreds of years of subjugation I will discuss. Remember when you read that Indians are not pitiable beings, they are human beings.

Non-Indian readers should be aware that seeing Indians as pitiable is condescending, arrogant and, at best, only moves the pity-holder to do something more or less charitable ‘out of obligation’. It does not, however, demand justice as it would if it was understood that Indians are human beings just as the reader is human. Consider the following passage by philosophers M. Lugones and E. Spelman:

“[C]oming into Hispanic, Black, Native America worlds out of obligation puts white/Anglos in an orally self-righteous position that is inappropriate. You are active, we are passive. We become vehicles of your own redemption. Secondly, we couldn’t want you to come into our worlds ‘out of obligation.’ That is like wanting someone to make love to you out of obligation.

Out of obligation you should stay out of our way, respect us and our distance, and forego the power you have over us–for example, the power to use your language in our meetings, the power to overwhelm us with your education, the power to intrude in our communities in order to research us and to record the supposed dying of our cultures, the power to ingrain in us a sense that we are members of dying cultures and are doomed to assimilate, the power to keep us in a defensive posture with respect to our own cultures.”

Further, Lugones and Spelman argue that the motive of friendship (and I would add, “and/or love”) is a better posture to be in if we, Euroamericans, are going to have discourse with People of Color:

” I see the ‘out of friendhip’ as the only sensical motivation for this because the task at hand for you [white/Aglo] is one of extraordinary difficulty. It requires you be willing…to suffer alienation and self-disruption. […]

If you enter the task out of friendship with us, then you will be moved to attain the appropriate reciprocity of care for your and our wellbeing, as whole beings, you will have a stake in us and our world…”

I am a non-Indian, a student of western philosophy and the mother of a Choctaw girl. It is my goal to make a positive contribution to the dialogue American Indians have going about their past, present and future. I am writing this paper out of love and profound friendship and I hope that the reader will assume a posture of friendship as s/he reads on.

May the reader understand that I am not an expert or specialist on many of the things I will write about in this paper. I do not speak for anyone but myself. what I speak is my understanding of works by Native scholars and artists that I have been exposed to as well as personal stories I have heard. I recognize that my life experiences and my cultural upbringing are such that I may not be as perceptive to certain issues as American Indians are. Moreover, my way of explaining my ideas and the philosophic foundations I will stand on are primarily from my western philosophical training and cultural background. Indians may explain things in different ways than I will. I expect more of this to happen and I look forward to it greatly.

LINKING YESTERDAY AND TODAY

“It is understandable that the average intelligent non-Indian American is uninformed about Indian [or Alaska native] affairs. It never gets into the books on general history.”

–Angie Debo, A History of the Indians of the United States

American Indians experience more extreme poverty than any other population sector in the United States–the type of poverty usually related to the “Third World.” As a result (or perhaps, associated with this) life expectancy for American Indians is about thirty years less than Anglo-Americans, male or female. American Indians have the highest “rates of malnutrition, plague disease, death by exposure, infant mortality, and teen suicide of any group on the continent.” Native American families have excessive rates of learned helplessness, violence, dependence, alcoholism “and the breakdown of values correlated with healthy living.”

When a person is confronted with the aforementioned data and honestly understands that these are not just numbers but actual people–mothers, aunts, nephews–I believe that many are able to discern that something is definitely wrong. But without knowing the historic antecedents that led to these conditions, concerned people may not give the right sort of help. Perhaps even worse, whatever lead to these conditions may continue to occur if we do not learn from past wrongs and take necessary steps to make reparations and not repeat past mistakes.

Following George Santayana’s famous quote that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, M. Annette Jaimes explains that the matter of understanding these historic link is of great importance “…not merely as some abstract exercise is seeking “Truth,” but because the nature of the past interactions between Euroamericans and American Indians within what is now the United States serves to define the facts of their present relationship.”

American Indian history is as diverse and intricate as any other history. I cannot possibly cover everything in this paper. There will be a lot I have to leave out because of space and because I am not adequately acquainted with the oral histories of any tribe. Acknowledging this fact, I will now set out to roughly describe some of the general qualities of American Indians and Europeans based on history so we can get an idea of how American Indians got to be where they are today and how the United States got to be, arguably, the most powerful nation on the planet today.

I will begin by painting a portrait of Europeans prior to and during the invasion of what is now known as the Americas. I know it is not completely accurate to lump all Europeans together. The French were different than the English. Moreover, not all French people were the same. But it is my belief that there were commonalities shared between European individuals and nations that were not shared by indigenous nations. There are philosophies, politics, economics, social practices and religions held in common.

Following my outline of Europeans, I will then paint a portrait of American Indians prior to and during the early invasion and colonial period. As with Europeans, it is not perfectly correct to lump all Indians together. But there are certain things Indian nations shared to a degree. Therefore I think it is reasonable for me to do this as long as the reader and I both understand I am making broad generalizations.

These portraits will, I hope, give us a workable backdrop to the arguments that will come later in this paper. It will help us link yesterday to today.

PORTRAIT OF EUROPEANS

“A significant thing: it is not the head of civilization that beings to rot first. It is the heart.”

–Aime Ceasire, Discourse on Colonialism

“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and everyway I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves…The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”

From The Requirement of 1513

When Christopher Columbus made his infamous trip which lead to the invasion and subordination of what is now known as the Caribbean Islands circa 1492, The Requirement (part of which is printed above in translation) was read, usually in Spanish, to people who didn’t understand Spanish.

An updated and shortened version of The Requirement may go something like this: You must convert to Christianity and take our Monarch as your ruler. If you don’t, we will brutally devastate you and your loved ones and we won’t lose any sleep over it. It will be entirely your own fault if we enslave you or murder you. Consider this your warning.

Columbus and his men eventually slaughtered, tortured and enslaved millions of indigenous people. Within 46 years the Taino population went from around eight million to an official count of 200.

Back in the Eastern hemisphere, Europe was ending the Renaissance and heading toward Reformation. Capitalism was on the rise. It would be 267 years before Mary Wollstonecraft was born and would later argue that the mind has no sex and therefore women have the ability to reason. Wollstonecraft was met with vicious backlash. Male philosophers criticized her by calling her a “philosophizing serpent” and a ‘hyena in petticoats.”

When we look back, the word “hierarchical” seems to be a very appropriate descriptor of Europe. And, as Devon Mihesuah explains, the European invaders were no exception to this:

“European colonists were influenced by Renaissance ideologies, notably the concept of the “Great Chain of Being,” that everything in the universe should be in order (i.e., the God is at the top of the hierarchy, with Hell and chaos at the bottom, or, in politics, the king at the top and peasants are at the bottom). Natives needed to be placed within this order, and generally, they were seen as inferior and therefore positioned at a low rung on the ladder of civilization.”

Western philosophers and scientists were seeking objectivity and “Truth.” Descartes would soon be engaging in his Cartesian doubt and coming to clear and distinct ideas. He would attempt to defeat skepticism and have completely certain knowledge through his conception of God. Western scientists were making technological advances and learning more about the solar system while hiding from the church when necessary. And imperialism was in the air.

I have no doubt that individual persons and cultures can empathize with each other and think of one another’s needs and wants. I consider our capacities to have compassion and to imagine another persons’ position some of our greatest abilities. Yet, maybe everyone to a certain degree is egocentric, that is, self-centered. Likewise, it’s probable that every distinct culture is ethnocentric–centered around it’s own ethnicity or nation. I know this may not be an accepted thing to say, but it seems true and perhaps unavoidable. It seems that Europe, during the Renaissance and Reformation, was ripe with ethnocentricism and imperialism and had made certain advances which would make it possible to extend social, economic and political power abroad to what we now call the United States, Mexico and Canada, just to name a few.

Imperialism, the process of one nation forcefully extending power over another sovereign for the gain of the dominate nation, was not new to Europe. It had been practiced more of less inside of what we now call Europe for quite some time.

And within this context, it came that Europeans began “[B]ringing European religion to people who already had religion and European law to people who already had law.”

Today, over 500 years after Columbus, he is widely considered to be a cultural hero, a brave explorer who “discovered the New World” and, as a child of Europe, the United States still has a national day which celebrates him and his legacy. Native Americans, on the other hand, generally consider him to be on par with Hitler and I am of the same mind.

PORTRAIT OF AMERICAN INDIANS

Western historical experiences are not…the standard by which human experiences should be gauged. For every religious fanatic who saw in God the Father a justification for putting pagans to the sword, there were other peoples, particularly American Indians, who experienced God as Grandfather, who could not conceive of committing violence because of religious differences.”

–Vine Deloria Jr, Circling the Same Old Rock

We never quarrel about religion.

–Red Jacket

The two quotes above reflect American Indians ideas about religious tolerance. As opposed to European ideas–and perceived mission in many cases–of converting people to Christianity, Natives typically had no problem holding steadfastly to their own beliefs while existing beside people with different religious viewpoints. Every tribe had (and has) its own distinct religion. American Indians didn’t find it necessary to convert other people to their belief system and seemed to live satisfactorily with spiritual difference.

Prior to European invasion, “[m]ost tribes were egalitarian societies…unlike the stratified societies in Europe’s, among tribes, each sex had its own decision-making powers.” As Priscilla K. Buffalohead tells us, “[W]e stem from egalitarian cultural traditions. These traditions are concerned less with the equality of the sexes and more with the dignity of the individual and their inherent right–whether they be women, men or children–to make their own choices and decisions.” A large number of tribes were democratic and tribal citizens would openly discuss and vote on things of concern to the community. Even in those tribes where women didn’t typically attend council and vote, they wielded considerable power over political and economic decision making.

Many tribes lived communally. To be exact, inside indigenous nations, land was not split up in plots or parcels for individual ownership. As I understand it, land was seen as either belonging to the Creator or held in common by all members of the nation. In the case of the Choctaws, Elder Charley Jones explains, “The Choctaws had the concept of land ownership–everything belonged to the Great Spirit and [the] Choctaw was just a steward of the land.” The European notion of individual property ownership and the idea of buying and selling land was, to paraphrase Tecumseh, as ridiculous as owning clouds in the air.

Warfare among indigenous people before the invasion was usually very different than European warfare. As Tom Holm elaborates:

 [W]hile traditional Native Americans avidly pursued “war” as an honorable activity, it was a form of war so radically different from that developed in Europe as to be of an entirely different genus. Not only were there no wars of annihilation fought in North America prior to the coming of Europeans…but the purpose of war seems to have been…something altogether different from killing…

Honor accrued in cultures solely on the basis of personal bravery. The best-known example is the practice of “counting coup”…In a way, the whole thing was rigged to keep enemies alive in order that the contest might continue perpetually.”

Other ways of dealing with inter-tribal disputes was to engage in game playing such as stickball. In fact, indigenous was much more like European contact sports than war practiced by Europeans. Women were not barred from warfare or game playing in Native cultures, although they did engage in it less than mean. However, women were apt to fight in battles once there was a great need to defend themselves against invaders who did intend to kill them.

COLONIALISM

I have given a brief picture of the American Indians and the Europeans during the invasion and early colonial period. In this section, I will discuss what I believe colonialism to be and show that how it happened in what we know as the United States.

In general, colonialism is said to happen when a nation directly and as a matter of open policy acquires, controls and maintains control over a foreign nation. This control is power over the social, economic and political life of the other nation and, hence, over individual members of the colonized nation.

Yet, in the international community, “colonialism can properly (and legally) said to exist if, and only if, one nation directly and as a matter of open policy dominates the social, economic, and political life of another nation from which it is separated by at  least 30 miles of open water.” This stipulation that the two nations must be separated by 30 miles of open water is known as the “Blue Water Thesis”.

While the international definition of colonialism does explain historic empires, such as France and Spain, scholars have argued that the Blue Water Thesis is arbitrary at best and have discussed different definitions of and forms of colonialism since at least 1966.

The Blue Water Thesis is said to be arbitrary because it seems strange to say that if there are to contiguous nations and one extents power over the other in an otherwise colonial manner, it is not colonialism because they are neighboring nations. Rather, in the international custom, the would-be colonized is now a “minority’ of the would-be colonizer. On the other hand, if they were separated by 30 miles of open water, it would be colonialism.

For a historic example, let us consider the occasion that Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Both Germany and Poland are said to be nations. They are also contiguous. When Germany entered Poland by force and controlled it, people of the world considered this to be a colonialist act. Poland was seen to have the right to be liberated from German control. Polish people were not, by and large, seen as now being a “minority” of Germany.

With cases like German control of Poland in mind, thinkers began to offer different accounts of colonialism which attempt to describe phenomenon which occurs in the world. I will discuss two of these: classic colonialism and setter state colonialism. In addition to this, I will argue that American Indian nations are colonized in the settler state manner.

Classic colonialism is when a nation sends colonizers out and sets up colonies within the subordinated nation. The two nations–colonizer and colonized–are separated by at least 30 miles of open water. The colonizers still remain citizens of their motherland and consider it their home. An example of this which the reader may be familiar with is British rule over India.

Settler state colonialism is characterized by populations of people leaving their homelands to subordinate nations elsewhere. The people occupy and control the colonized lands on behalf of the mother country. The colonizers within the colony, for one reason or another, consider themselves less and less connected to their motherland. They eventually rebel against it. In this revolt, the colonists break away from the mother country and begin to set up their own independent nation while they continue to colonize the original inhabitants of the land. The emphasis in describing settler state colonialism is the aspect of settlers forming a nation which colonizes the original inhabitants of the land.

In history, we can see how settler state colonialism happened here in what is now the United States. At first, many European nations sent people out to claim land, find gold, establish trade relationships, capture slaves and set up colonies. For what would become America, the ‘thirteen original colonies; were, more or less, the beginning of what we now call America. During the time of the thirteen colonies, Natives of the region were being colonized in the classic manner. But when Americans revolted against Britain and won the war for independence, the Americans began colonizing indigenous people in the settler state manner. Steve Russell illustrates that the European colonizers:

“[H]ad come to look upon North America as home and upon themselves as the colonized rather than colonizers. The exploitation of indigenous people as a violation of the very same fundamental rights of human beings that the colonists claimed for themselves was not within the revolutionary consciousness of the revolution. They either held the truth to be self-evident that only some people were created equal, or it escaped their notice that the original inhabitants of North America were people.”

In addition to American Indians, many other people are or have been colonized in the settler state manner. As Ward Churchill points out, this variety of colonialism oppresses or has oppressed (in the case of South Africa) “the Inuits and Native Hawaiians in the United States and Canada, as well as much of Latin America” in addition to “Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Isreal.”

NATIONS, TRIBES, PEOPLES

If we take the general definition of colonialism as “one nation directly and as a matter of open policy acquires, controls and maintains control over a foreign nation”, objections may be raised concerning whether or not indigenous nations are nations as such. Historically, American Indians have said to belong to tribes rather than nations or peoples. Because of the European/Euroamerican perception of Native Americans as inferior and primitive, the term ‘tribe’ has often been used to describe the hundreds of distinct groups of Native people.

Naming in an important aspect of domination and “Once named, for the convenience of colonial rulers, [Native Americans’ were fixed as tribes, whatever their own sense of group identity or culture and social organization might be.” Scholars have realized that they were incorrect in using the term ‘tribe’ as if it did not mean the same thing as ‘nation’ or ‘peoples’. Many indigenous people today feel comfortable referring to the social/political group they belong to as a ‘tribe’. Yet, for many non-Indians this term conjures up images of ‘primitiveness’.

I will now put forth a definition of ‘nation’ from a combination of John Stuart Mill’s assertions in his Considerations on Representative Government, John Rawls’ concurrence with Mill in his Law of Peoples, and Ward Churchill’s Struggle for the Land. Following this definition is, I think, what we usually mean when we deem a group of people a nation or making up a nationality.

The term nation as it is typically used  means roughly:

A group of people, population independent, who are bound together by a common language, common culture and what J.S. Mill calls “common sympathies which do not exist between them and any other people.” Moreover, these people usually, but don’t always, have a common religion. The people reside in a certain location having a defined or definable land base. They can and do provide for themselves economically, but they can also trade with other nations. The people desire to be under the same government and evidence that desire by governing themselves. Lastly, these people share a collective historic consciousness, shared sense of pride and express similar emotions connected with historic events.

If we take this as the definition of ‘nation’ and look back at tribes of American Indians before the European invasion, we can see that American Indian nations were nations as such. They had every characteristic of what we call a nation at the time invasion began. After European nations set up colonies on the western hemisphere, Native nations became colonized nations and remain so today.

JUSTICE

“I am talking about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out…I am talking about million of [people] torn form their gods, their land, their habits, their life–from life, from dance, from wisdom.”

–Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism

John-Paul Sartre has referred to colonialism as an economic system. This is because colonizing nations have usually undertaken the task of colonized people and their native institutions for the economic gain of the colonizers. Historically, colonizers have forced colonized people to work for grotesquely unfair wages and have often made literal slaves of them. Colonizers have also been preoccupied with finding wealth for themselves that is contained in/on the land which colonized people live on (gold, timber, minerals etc.) or the land itself.

It is my opinion that any reasonable and sane person will understand that colonialism is unjust after understanding what colonialism is and recognizing that the colonized individuals are human beings. I also believe that many ethical theories and theories of justice could show that colonialism is morally repugnant. However, for this nest section, I will apply a theory of social justice put forth by Martha Nussbaum in order to show that colonialism is unjust. I will first describe her capabilities approach to social justice and then apply it to colonialism.

Martha Nussbaum explains her approach to social justice as a capabilities approach. She gives a tentitive, empirically based list of capabilities which all people should be able to choose to whether or not to exercise, without going through more trouble than other people, in order to have flourishing human lives. It is important to emphasize that Nussbaum intends the items on the list to be capabilities as opposed to functionalities. In particular, everyone should have the capability to enjoy any or all of the items on the list, but by no means has to.

To better understand the relation between capabilities and functionalities, let us consider one of Nussbaum’s own examples so we can grasp her conception. In item two on her list (Bodily health and integrity) Nussbaum includes the provision that everyone should be able to be adequately nourished without going through more trouble than other members of society. However, a person does not have to consume food. A particularly religious person may opt to fast and this, under her approach, is perfectly fine. And, as Nussbaum notes, it is the ability to have food but denying it that gives fasting its moral value.

Each person should have the capability to perform an assortment of vital functions. The focus here is that everyone should be able to be treated as a free, dignified being–a maker of choices–and able to create a life for his or herself and not have the flourishing of that life blighted by such things as inadequate nourishment or overwhelming fear.

The list itself is intended to answer questions such as, “[W]hat do we believe must be there, is we are going to acknowledge that a given life is human?”, “What activities characteristically performed by humans are so central that they seem definitive of a life that is truly human? In other words, what are the functions without which…we would regard a life as not, or not fully, human?”

The capabilities on her list are cultural universals. It should be noted that Nussbaum see her cultural universals as metaphysically agnostic. In other words, these things could be fixed in the nature of things in a platonic fashion or not. It stands to reason that people from all over the world, from different traditions, nations and cultures will be able to agree on a list such as this one. And this wide acceptance is the goal of her list. As Nussbaum explains: “[T]he point of the list is…to put forward something that people from many different traditions, with many different conceptions of the good, can agree on, as the necessary basis for pursuing their good life.”

Nussbaum intends her list to be humble and open-ended. I would like to keep the integrity of the humbleness as I transfer it to my paper. Further, no one item on the list is more or less important than another and “[a] life that lacks any one of these capabilities, no matter what else it has, will fall short of being a good human life.” (See Appendix I for Nussbaum’s List of Capabilities)

Colonialism is an institution such that every item on Nussbaum’s list is under attack. After all, the definition of colonialism is one nation controlling the social, political and economic life of the other nation. This, in effect, leaves the colonized people at the mercy of the will and whim of the colonizers. I will now give examples to show this. My discussions below are not intended to be extensive analyses of colonialism or the unjust experiences of American Indians, but rather they are specific points we can look at to show colonialism is unjust.

DIGNITY

I know that many Euroamericans cleave to images of American Indians that are thoroughly dehumanizing. Because of these images, Indians are not treated as dignified human beings by non-Indians. Colonialism presupposes that the colonizers think themselves to be superior to the colonized and this superior/inferior dichotomy is necessary to keep colonialism going.

Indigenous people have hardly been recognized as human beings by Europeans and Euroamericans. Thus, we have grown used to seeing Natives as less than human, as non-human. Aime Cesaire says that “the colonizer, in order to ease his conscious gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him as an animal…” Likewise Vine Deloria Jr. has mentioned that, while African Americans were seen as draft animals, Indians were seen as wild animals. Native Americans have been and still are thought of as savage, primitive, stoic, backward, lazy and stupid.

If we recall the Great Chain of Being where Natives were placed on a lower rung of civilization, we can see that these inferior images of indigenous people made their way into western philosophic works such as that of Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau. Natives, whether they were portrayed as noble savages or lawless savages were seen as not having ‘civilization’. They were/are thought to be less complex, less perfect and somehow evolutionarily prior to Europeans.

This perceived inferiority resulting in the dehumanization of colonized people in common in colonialism. Albert Memmi describes that in the eyes of the colonizer, “all the qualities which make a man of the colonized crumble away. The humanity of the colonized, rejected by the colonizer, becomes opaque. […] What is left of the colonized at the end of this stubborn effort to dehumanize him? […] He is hardly a human being. He tends rapidly toward becoming an object. […] One does not have a serious obligation toward an animal or an object.”

We should ask what effects these images have and the less-than-human treatment of American Indians have had on Indians themselves. To be sure, they are varied. I have heard, from personal testimony, feelings of overwhelming fear, self-hatred, anger and much more. As one American Indian told me, “Sometimes, if I am in a room full of white people, I panic. I know they don’t think I’m like them. You know, a person. But I am a person.” Further, consider the narrative by Paula Gunn Allen describing some of the contemporary effects of dehumanization on Indians:

“All but overwhelmed by ubiquitous redefinitions of ourselves and our sense of reality, one tries to write. To think. To get some kind of clarity about almost anything. One tries to function. To stay sober, to stay connected with the deeper stratum of being that is one’s identity, or one’s tradition, one’s very perception and consciousness. All too often, one gives up. Drops out of school. Flunks too many courses. Quits too many jobs. Gives in to all-pervading despair, to the murderous thoughts the whole white world projects daily, hourly, year after year. One gives up and lies down and dies. […]

Small wonder that far too many Native people, especially children, are suicidal. It is not that we possess a death wish but that the huge culture around us projects a homicidal wish on us.”

On Martha Nussbaum’s list of capabilities (Item 7, B), she notes that everyone should be able to have “the social bases of self-resepect and nonhumiliation” and to be “able to be treated as a dignified being, whose worth is equal to that of others.” Under colonialism, citizens of the colonized nation are not treated as dignified beings. They are constantly humiliated by the subservient positions their colonizers force them into, non-human treatment as well as the images and descriptions of them as made by the colonizers.

POLITICAL PARTICIPATION

Nussbaum points out in item ten on her list that all individuals should be “able to participate effectively in political choices that govern ones life.” When a colonizing nation controls the political, economic and social features of the colonized nation, none of the members of the colonized can, or can effectively, exercise the aforementioned capability. The colonizer, therefore, institutes policies which effect the colonized people, but the colonized people have no real choice in the matter. Because colonized people have no (or very little) political influence, they cannot shape and adapt institutions to their needs. For American Indians today, M. Anette Jaimes points out that:

“[O]ur ability to favorably alter [the conditions we live in] is drastically curtailed by the imposition of a federal order…that has “legally” supplanted our traditional forms of governance, outlawed out languages and spirituality, manipulated out numbers and identity, usurped our cultural integrity, viciously repressed the leaders of our efforts to regain self-determination, and systematically miseducated the bulk of our youth to believe that all this is, if not just, at least inevitable.”

COLONIAL POLICIES

I have just explained that colonized people have little to no say in the politics which govern their lives. I will now describe some policies colonizers actually institute.

GENOICIDE, CULTURAL GENOCIDE AND FORCED ASSIMILATION

Genocide is generally known as the act of exterminating, or attempting to exterminate, a national, racial, ethnic or religious group in its entirety. John-Paul Sartre points out that “Colonization cannot take place without systematically liquidating all the characteristics of the native society…” To be more explicit, wherever there is colonialism, there is always genocide. Sartre goes on to say that cultural genocide is also associated with colonialism: “For the subject people this inevitably means the extinction of their national character, culture, customs, sometimes even their language.”

Horrifically, there are abundant examples of the genocide, actual or attempted, of American Indians from the time Europeans began their invasion to the modern day. In fact, is has been said that the scope and duration of the genocide experienced by indigenous peoples of North America is unparalleled in recorded human history, with an attrition rate of about 99% since colonization began. From the infamous delivery of smallpox infested blankets ordered by Gen. Jeffery Amherst in hopes that the resulting outbreak would “extirpate this execrable race”, to the alleged order by Col. John M. Chivington to “kill them all, big and small, nits make lice.” In more recent years (late 1960’s to early 1970’s), indigenous women and girls have been subjected to surgical sterilization without their knowledge or consent. In a 1974 study, it was estimated that forty-two percent of Indian females of childbearing age had been sterilized this way. The obvious attempt was that no more Indian babies would be born. Not only was this U.S. policy an act of genocide, it also violates Nussbaum’s item two (being able to have reproductive health) as well as three (having choice in matters of reproduction. Genocide is unmistakably unjust according to Nussbaum’s list (see item One–Life–on her list). As Gabriel Horn aptly puts it:

“I know that genocide remains the most perverse human act. It eradicates entire peoples. It annihilates whole cultures. It rips beauty, wisdom, and understanding from the world and robs people of identity. Thus, when it comes to the act of genocide, I also know there can be no alternative to finding ways to fight for life…[T]here must be no surrender to genocide. Ever!”

For Native Americans, cultural genocide has been a constant force since about 1611, when French Jesuit missionaries set up schools to acculturate Indians. The intention has been one of “demolishing the internal cohesion of native societies, thereby, destroying the ability of these societies to resist conquest and colonization.” Cultural genocide is often coupled with forced assimilation which is the act of forcing one group to become like another–forcing the ‘uncivilized’ to become ‘civilized’. Thus, when the colonized child then goes to school, “The history which is taught him is not his own…Everything seems to have taken place outside of his country. […] The books talk to him of a world which in no way reminds him of his own.”

Cultural genocide and forced assimilation creates individual identity and social identity confusion (among other things) upon those who are victims of it. The colonizers who try to exterminate the cultural characteristics (including, but not limited to, the religious, linguistic, and social makeup) of the colonized consider the culture of the colonized people to be inferior. The identity confusion of colonized people associated with cultural genocide and forced assimilation facilitates the colonizers efforts to control the colonized people. While this certainly ties back to Nussbaum’s claim about dignity (everyone should be able to be treated as a dignified being), it also makes it extremely hard for colonized people to freely exercise the capabilities “Senses, imagination and thought (item 4) as well as “Emotions” (item 5), “Practical reason” (item 6) and “Play” (item 9).

To further investigate my claims, let us look at the institution of boarding schools (1870-1933) which was one of the United States’ policies which was geared toward cultural genocide–or as the phrase goes to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

“[M]any boarding schools were operated like prison camps, with American Indian children being starved, chained and beaten. Children were forbidden to speak Native American languages, practice Native American religions, or to convey or enact anything that might remotely resemble Native American lifestyles, beliefs, or customs. Children were taught that Native American cultures and religions were inferior, even evil, and were influenced to be ashamed of their parents, their family, their kinship systems, their language, their way of worship, and other remaining facets of Native American identity.”

From this description, we can see how indigenous children and young adults who attended boarding schools were unable to exercise their religion and avoid “nonbeneficial pain” (item 4). In addition to this, Native youths were prevented from having “attachments to things and persons outside” themselves (families and other social units), they were unable “to love, to grieve, to experience longing…and justified anger” and their emotional development was unquestionably blighted by overwhelming fear and anxiety (item 5). American Indian youths were swayed from forming a conception of the good (item 6) informed by such things as virtuous role models, adequate educational instruction and spiritual grounding. Moreover, these young people were unable to easily “laugh, to play” and to “enjoy recreational activities” (item 9).

REMOVAL AND RELOCATION

Forced relocation or removal of colonized peoples is also frequently found in colonialism. This is typically because the colonizers are by and large looking for land or resources of the land the colonized people are in their way or, to be blunt, in the way of progress. Colonizers have been historically known to force colonized people from their homes and lands so that the resources and lands they once occupied can be used for the empire. When housing provisions have been made by the colonizers, they are normally very substandard. In addition to this, the locations colonized people are removed to tend to be harsh, unfriendly and very confining environments.

Many thousands of American Indians have been forcibly relocated and removed from their homes and lands since colonization began. The instances most often noted are the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek nations from their homelands in the south east of what in now known as America to “Indian Territory” (Oklahoma). This forced removal is known as the “Trail of Tears” or “The Trail Where We Cried.”

Forced removal creates excessive physical and psychological hardship for those removed. This has been especially true for American Indians who, oftentimes, had to transport themselves–for example, literally walking from the Mississippi area to Oklahoma–by threat of violence–without adequate food, shelter or clothing. This is complete opposition to, at least, Nussbaum’s capabilities 1-3.

Further, the loss of traditional homelands created (and still creates) spiritual injury to American Indians because most indigenous religions are location specific. That is, they are centered around and in relation to specific geographic points and features of the natural world which cannot be remade by humans. This made (makes) it virtually impossible for removed people to practice their religions. This prevention of religious practice is opposed to Nussbaum’s claim that everyone should be able to practice her/his religion. Additionally, it prevented Native people in concern with plants, animals and the world of nature–item 8 on Nussbaum’s list–which are of particular significance to Native people.

SUMMARY

I have touched the unjust makeup of colonialism in general and have explicitly pointed out examples of how these injustices show themselves in relation to Euroamericans and Native Americans.

In brief, for colonialism to ever begin, capabilities of the soon-to-be colonized are already undermined since colonizers, in order to move toward colonizing, see the colonized as inferior and worth less than themselves. Once colonization starts, it becomes more difficult for colonized individuals to have flourishing lives.

If we recall Nussbaum’s claim that a life that lacks any of these capabilities, whatever else it has, will fall short of being a good life, how, then, would we describe a life that lacks all–or nearly all–of these capabilities? How would we describe millions of these lives? How would we describe those who prevent these lives from flourishing?

Martha Nussbaum says that:

[H]uman capabilities exert a moral claim that they should be developed. When these capabilities are deprived of nourishment…they are fruitless, cut off, in some way but a shadow of themselves. They are like actors who never go on stage, or a person who sleeps all through life, or a musical score that is never performed. Their very being makes forward reference to their functioning. Thus, if functioning never arrives on the scene they are hardly even what they are.”

Now when we call to mind the data I presented in the section “Linking Yesterday to Today” that American Indians experience the most extreme poverty in the borders of the United States. That life expectancy is for American Indians is about thirty years less than for Anglo-Americans. That American Indians have the highest “rates of malnutrition, plague disease, death by exposure, infant mortality, and teen suicide of any group on the continent.” That Native American families have excessive rates of learned helplessness, violence, dependence, alcoholism and the breakdown of values that correlate with healthy living.” When we look at all this, we can now see the links between yesterday and today. We can also see that, clearly, American Indians today are not practically able to exercise capabilities which make a human life flourish. If you have even a loose agreement with me here, out next question might be: What do we do?

DECOLONIZATION

“The whole country changed with one handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500’s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians.”

–Annie Mae Pictou

To answer the question “What do we do?” we must first turn to American Indians themselves. As with previous sections of this paper, this section must be informed by Native American voices. This is, after all, their lives we are talking about. This is about their experiences and hopes. These answers cannot, then, come from “objective” observation or from mere reason. Those of us who are non-Indian need to realize that whatever propositions we make for the betterment of Indians need to be seriously informed by American Indians. If our propositions are not informed this way (engaging in dialogue, reading/listening to Indians voice their life experiences and scholarly views etc.) we are simply continuing to be imperialist. To restate the point, it would be an arrogant continuation of colonialism if we presumed to know what is best for people we’ve never met, talked with or listened to.

Think back to the introduction of this thesis when I asked the reader to assume a posture of friendship. This motive–the motive of friendship–is necessary for those of us who are non-Indian if we want to break colonialist thinking. Our writing and postulating must include, to a large degree, Indian voices. M. Lugones and E. Spelman explain that white/Anglos don’t need to set out to understand African American, Hispania, Native American communities, but we may become friends with individuals within those communities. However, we mustn’t befriend individuals for the purpose of theory making as this would be, Lugones and Spelman right tell us, “a perversion of friendship.” Further they inform us white/Anglos:

“[F]rom within friendship you may be moved by friendship to undergo the very difficult task of understanding our lives in our communities. This learning calls for circumspection, for questioning yourselves and your roles in your own culture. It necessitates a striving to understand while in the comfortable position of not having an official calling card (as ‘scientific’ observers of our communities have); it demands recognition that you do not have the authority of knowledge; it requires coming to the task without ready-made theories to frame our lives. This learning is then extremely hard because it requires openness (including openness to severe criticism of the white/Anglo world). sensitivity, concentration, self-questioning, circumspection. It should be clear that it does not consist in a passive immersion in our cultures, but in striving to understand what it is our voices are saying.”

American Indians have been exercising their voices for quite some time, despite the many obstacles they must overcome in order to speak out. But American Indians have been, by and large, only talking to themselves. Read how Anne Waters (former chair of the Committee on the Status of American Indians, American Philosophical Association) explains the concerns of the Committee on the Status of American Indians in 2003:

“We have had continuing discussions about: why there are no tenured or tenure-track American Indians in a philosophy department that offers a terminal degree; why there are no American Indians on any APA committee other than the Committee on the Status of American Indians in Philosophy; why no American Indian have received any prizes, awards, lecture opportunities, etc. from the APA; why we experience isolation and lack of audience (other than ourselves) at the divisional meetings; and why American Indians holding a PhD in philosophy do not receive inclusive opportunities to participate in philosophy department-sponsored diversity conferences at various universities across the country.”

It should be understood, then, that we–non-Indians and principally us Euroamericans–have not yet begun to strive to hear what indigenous voices are saying. Hence, the vast majority of us are ill prepared at this time to offer suggestions about the road to justice–the path to flourishing indigenous life.

If we understand that American Indians are the ones who know what they want and need and we also understand that they have been speaking (albeit to deaf ears) we may ask what is it that American Indians have been saying. What do indigenous people want?

I cannot rightly say that all indigenous people want the very same thing, but I do believe that many would agree on this: decolonization. It is colonialism which has squelched their populations, social cohesion, pride etc. therefore it must be the reversal or ending of colonialism which will put them in a better position to take back what they should have just by the mere fact of being born.

Ward Churchill tells us that “Decolonization means the colonized can…exercise the right to total separation in whole or in part, as they see fit, in accordance with their own customs and traditions, and their own appreciation of their needs. They decide for themselves what degree of autonomy they wish to enjoy and thus the nature of their political and economic relationship(s), not only with the former colonizers, but with all other nations as well.” This means that all indigenous nations within the current borders of the United States will be able to choose what relationship they want to have with the U.S. and how they would like to present themselves to the world. This does not necessarily mean that indigenous nations will completely separate from the U.S. and form independent nations, but it does mean that a given indigenous nation would be able to do so if the individuals of the nation thought it would be practical and best for the tribal citizens.

One concern I have run into while talking to non-Indians about the possibility of giving autonomy to Indians goes like this: If Indians want justice, does that mean that all of us white people have to get on the next ship to Europe?

The answer here is: no. This objection is, I think, a slippery slope. All I have ever heard Natives say is that that want to be able to control and shape their institutions to suit the needs of their citizens, to be able to practice their religions and access their sacred sites. They want nutritious food and water which does not contaminated with uranium. They want to be able to stimulate their economies and provide healthy environments for themselves and their loved ones. They want to make artistic works and scholarly works. And they want to do this without the U.S. government holding controlling policies over their heads and without the threat that the U.S. could, at any time, instate policies which would take away what Natives have worked hard to get. This does not mean that people who have heritage outside of this hemisphere must remove themselves.

We should not take this to suggest that American citizens will be unaffected by decolonization or that it will be comfortable for them. Giving up overprivilege is not comfortable for the oppressor. And taking back what has been stolen is not comfortable for the oppressed. But if we care about human lives and human flourishing and if we claim to be friends or would like to become friends, will will willingly give up our overprivilege–whether it’s comfortable for us to do so or not. We will also understand that whatever relationship Native nations have with the United States in the future will be up to indigenous people–not merely tribal leaders, but Indians, ‘formally’ educated or not, in positions of power or not.

If we understand the imperial power we hold over Indians, if we understand our overpowering privilege, and see how our colonial privilege stifles Native lives. we should do well to consider the following passage by Albert Memmi:

“[The colonizer] finds himself on one side of the scale, the other side of which bears the colonized man. If his living standards are high, it is because those of the colonized are low; […] the more freely he breathes, the more the colonized is choked. […]

Once [the colonizer] has discovered the import of colonization and is conscious of his own position…is he going to accept them? Will he agree to be a privileged man, and to underscore the distress of the colonized? Will he be a usurper and affirm the oppression and injustice to the true inhabitant of the colony? Will he accept being a colonizer under the growing habit of privilege and illegitimacy, under the constant gaze of the usurped?”

It is my wish, my intense hope, that we–Euroamericans–will not continue to accept our role as usurpers. I hope that once we have understood our current and historic status as oppressors and out implicit agreement to be colonizers, we will not explicitly agree to that position. I hope we could not live with ourselves as colonizers under the constant gaze of the colonized. I believe we can give up out power; we can choose to not support colonialist activities of our government. We can see American Indians as citizens of the world–citizens of their respective nations–whose worth is equal to that of ours. If we can give up overprivilege and understand Native Americans as human beings, then perhaps Sherman Alexie is right–“It’s a good day to be indigenous.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She Works Hard For The Money

Lately, I’ve been thinking about money. And I’ve been thinking about working. As readers know, I tried working last month. It turned out really bad for me.

But as kids graduate high school and college this time of year and they start turning to the job market, I’ve began really thinking about whether it’s even just to require that people work–literally work–for the basic necessities of life. This is especially true in America, where we have the ability to provide things to people without them having to work.

I’ve thought a lot about things like Basic Income. And it’s not just the automation issue that motivates me. It’s the fact that in order to have any necessities of life–let alone luxuries–people must toil for “the man.”

Currently, the workplace and the culture of work permeates our society. People try–and sometimes fail–to climb the ladder of “success.” And “success” is often measured by one’s ability to perform certain tasks for a business.

When did we forget to enjoy our lives? When did we stop thinking that leisure time was “extra” and not a requirement?

I know many people who work 40 hours or more each week. 40 freakin’ hours. Or more. This is at a time when Keynes anticipated a 20 hour work week. Imagine: 20 hours of work and the rest for what you will. That sounds a lot more like it. (Granted, I still don’t know if I’d be capable of such activity.)

We need to remember Keynes’ vision–his projection. It was based on the fact that the American worker is so productive that all we really even need is a 20 hour work week. It’s well-known that pushing people over that threshold of productivity leads to waste, boredom, burnout, and more. The 40 hour work week is bunk and needs to go.

Let’s replace the current standard. Let’s advocate for a shorter work week. Let’s advocate for a Basic Income. Let’s take pride in leisure instead of work. In the end, your body, mind, spirit, family and friends will thank you. And you will have more time for hobbies and developing yourself focused on things other than marketability.

Housing First and Housing Initiative of Florida

I specialized in ethics when I studied philosophy. There’s many aspects of ethics and one of them is adequate housing.

I’ve recently written about housing here. It’s not an issue I’ve covered a lot on my blog, but it’s an issue I’ve discussed elsewhere quite a bit.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, NPR did a yearlong report on the need for housing and housing first initiatives. Housing first initiatives, in general, see the need for independent, safe housing as prior and separate to others things, such as mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. Housing first sees housing as a basic right for individuals and doesn’t pre-suppose treatments or other “strings-attached” when it comes to getting a place to stay.

I’ve been an advocate of housing first for several years. Now I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m starting a nonprofit to help at-risk individuals gain a pathway to homeownership. You can check us out here.

Help End The Affordable Housing Crisis

If you happen to live in a safe and secure home, you’re incredibly lucky. For millions of people, it’s just not possible. People with disabilities, battered and abused women and children, people with substance abuse disorders–they all, typically, struggle with finding a place to live, let alone a home of their own.

I grew up with an abusive father, as many people know. He battered my mom. For a while, I stayed in a shelter for abused women with my mom when I was young.

The struggle for many people to find their own place–a safe and affordable home of their own–is all too real. That’s why I’ve taken the time to do some research on this and try to come up with a solution: to create a non-profit that enables people to purchase a quality–but inexpensive–home of their own in Florida.

Take a minute to read about the issue of Housing First.

UPDATE: For those who think HUD is the answer, check out this article on HUD. The problem goes beyond Ben Carson.

Why UBI Should Become A Key Issue For Political Platforms

It’s estimated that about 7 million jobs will be lost due to automation over the next 10 years. Many of these jobs are cashier and general retail jobs. Already, Walmart has stores that are completely cashier-free. The savings in having automation is partly what drives these advances.

Many people worry about lost jobs. And the people hit hardest–if we don’t do something–is and will continue to be low wage earners.

A UBI is a solution that nips this right in the bud.

It’s time for UBI to become a more mainstream idea.

I first read about UBI over 8 years ago in graduate school. Back then, it was an idea in the philosophy world that didn’t seem to gain much traction. I liked it, however. So much so that I became an advocate for UBI, having volunteered for Basic Income Earth Network and written about the success of UBI-like programs used by Native American tribes.

Most of the arguments for UBI fit nicely within the capitalist framework. So don’t let anyone tell you it’s a form of socialism or communism. There are various proposals to funds a UBI and current estimates are that a UBI–one that really only covers basic needs–would be about $800-1,000 per person per month.

This is not nearly enough to live The American Dream, but it’s enough to keep people from going hungry.

There’s plenty of justification for UBI. The idea has been fleshed out enough over the years that there are more than enough arguments for it.

The real questions are those yet to be asked and answered, such as: At what age does a UBI begin? 18 years old? Or working age (16)? How will a UBI be funded? Exactly how much should a UBI be?

 

 

 

Transcending My First Memory

I’m going to share with you some things that have been kept quiet in my family for many years. It starts with my first memory. My first memory is of my dad beating my mom. It’s a sad memory and I’ve rarely told it to many people. I can still see my mom, in desperation, trying to fend off my dad.

We never talked much about abuse in my family, but it regularly occurred. It’s time to shine a light on this and move forward.

I am a survivor of traumatic neglect and a witness to domestic violence and child abuse.

I was a quiet and somber child, very observant. I rarely got in trouble. I also experienced a lot of anxiety.

At about the age of 8, I was asked by a judge who I wanted to live with–mom or dad–as my parents went through a divorce. I picked my mom. I thought this would be better and in some ways it was. However, my mom soon married another abusive man, who not only chased her around the room with an ax, but who also abused, in various ways, my two younger brothers.

As a bystander, as a child, I didn’t know what I could do. But when the man my mom married came into my room and told me to pull down my panties, I knew what to do. I pushed him off the bed. But there was little I could do to prevent the abuse happening to my mom and brothers. Occasionally, the man my mom married would want us other kids to participate in abuse and torment. I always refused.

The man my mom married died in a blizzard. I’m sure this was sad for my mom, but it was liberating for me. I attended his funeral and, when a box of Kleenex was passed to me, I looked at it like, “What do I need this for?”

However, I had to live with my dad again for a while. It was during this time I experienced neglect. I was about 12 years old. Although my dad sometimes cooked–and I remember the things he did cook–there was often very little in the fridge. I remember ketchup sandwiches. I even remember stealing money from my dad to buy food from Taco Delight.  Some of my friends’ parents noticed these things and reported them to my mom, who was doing her best to tie up loose ends with the man who had died in the blizzard.

When I was about 13, while living back with my mom, I experienced my first bout of extreme sadness. It was depression.

At 14, I became pregnant. I also moved to a different state–Florida.

Florida has a law which states that every county has to have a school for teen parents. I attended one–now called The Chiles Academy. Of course, I gained a high school diploma, but I also took parenting classes and learned about various kinds of abuse and neglect. I tried to raise my daughter differently from how I was raised. I went by the book. I never, ever wanted her to experience the things I experienced.

My time at The Chiles Academy was great. My relationship with my daughter, I think, was great. After four years–and after meeting many different politicians and leaders–I graduated with a high school diploma.

I decided to go to college. I applied for Daytona Beach Community College (now, Daytona State College). I did fairly well in all my classes–except Math. However, I decided I was ready to transfer, so I applied to Stetson University. I was accepted.

Being a non-traditional, working class, commuter student at Stetson was, well, different. I didn’t come across many other students with my background. Very few of them could related to the experiences of being a young parent.

And, all the while, I was barely treated for the abuse and neglect I experienced growing up.

However, even though I didn’t make too many friends on campus, I did find solidarity and support in the campus culture. Many Stetson faculty, staff and students are involved in the community and social justice activities. I got involved in social justice issues.

I wrote two theses: one on facial affect (for psychology) and one on colonialism (for philosophy).

Not long after I graduated undergrad, my dad got sick with cancer. I had to travel back to Texas to deal with his death.

Soon, I applied for graduate school at the University of North Florida. While there, I did very, very well in academics, teaching and research.

Still I had not gotten help for my abuse.

I had learned to be distant from my feelings. I didn’t take time to process things and transcend them. However, I spoke out about injustice toward anyone else whenever I could. This was empowerment for me. It was as if I was making up for all the times I couldn’t do anything for my brothers and mom. I sometimes wonder if other people who are passionate about social justice are survivors like me.

While in graduate school, I had my first experience of psychosis. Of course, the current routine is: drug them up and hospitalize them.

I wasn’t seen as a survivor of horrific things who had accomplished so much. I was seen as a “schizophrenic.”

New research sheds light on the traumatic experiences people have which lead to psychosis. Instead of seeing these as “ill people” with an “incurable brain disease,” we should look at them as potential survivors of domestic torment and adversity. After all, if you don’t think I experienced adversity, you don’t know the statistics on teen moms. Merely graduating high school is a very real accomplishment for people with my background, let alone going on to college and grad school.

If you glance around my portfolio, you’ll find I have indeed accomplished a lot. My most recent accomplishment is what I’m doing now: transcending my negative childhood experiences.

 

 

Re-Tracing The Trail Of Tears: My Undergraduate Thesis

I have thought about placing my undergraduate thesis online, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. As part of my research for my undergraduate thesis, I re-traced the Trail of Tears. I visited the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and then followed the trail to present-day Oklahoma, visiting the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

After visiting Oklahoma, my daughter, her father and I went to visit family in Texas. My daughter’s father took a bunch of pictures of the time we were traveling. The above is one that sums up how I felt being photographed.

 

Meeting Hillary Clinton

When I was about 16 years old (that is, when Bill Clinton was President), I had the pleasure of meeting Hillary Clinton.

I traveled with members of Healthy Start Florida, a couple of my teachers and other girls from my school to Tallahassee for Children’s Week.

We were all interested in health care for children, which is something Hillary Clinton was working on. I sat in a group of people and listened to her talk. Afterwards, as the room was clearing out, I hiked up my dress, climbed over chairs and, finally, reached the front of the room where Hillary was. There was a large group of people shaking her hand. Still standing on the chairs, I reached over the group of people and shook her hand. I recall someone snapping a photo at the time I shook her hand, but I do not have that photograph.

At the time, while political issues were important to me, I was still rather a little rapscallion, but not really a troublemaker. As I shook Hillary Clinton’s hand, I was aware of Secret Service people looking on at me. But I was harmless.

A silly girl by nature, on the way to Tallahassee, I did snap this picture of me:

A Series Of Misunderstandings: Political Communication In The Contemporary United States

People use signs, signals, actions and words in order to communicate. In the United States, I’ve been increasingly worried that we are starting to use different languages to communicate with one another. I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our whole landscape has become so polarized and many of us live in such information bubbles that we have started “signing” in different ways, often misunderstanding one another.

This is a more charitable view than one which states we are intentionally ignoring, poking at, etc., each other.

I initially started thinking about this when I started a #DefendDACA rally. The rally turned out to be an awesome event, being televised across Central Florida. It really wasn’t my doing that the rally turned out so well. I had other, quite wonderful, organizers who made things happen.

But what opponents don’t/didn’t understand is that it takes a lot of hard work and effort in order for such an event to take place at all. I should know.

So, when you see a group of people protesting, you can assume that some of them missed work to do so, some of them had to travel a certain distance, and many other things. In other words, they have to overcome life in order to protest. That’s saying something.

The rally I organized was so successful–with many other rallies taking place across the nation on the same day–that our events made national headlines and generated a conversation about DACA recipients. That’s also saying something.

At the time of this writing, however, the president is saying he will protect DACA recipients if and only if he gets his border wall built.

So the events that have been scheduled since the rally I organized are coming down to a negotiation that will probably not fly on the part of DACA Defenders.

Let me say it again: it takes a lot of effort and work to participate in a rally. If you see successful rallies all over the country, that’s really, truly saying something.

But many opponents of DACA recipients have said things like “Get a job!” to folks who rallied. (To be clear, nearly all DACA recipients already have jobs!) It’s as if they are now speaking a different language–a language in which the effort, time and sacrifices made by protesters is scoffed at or not even acknowledged.

As I survey these actions across the country, I have just had to wonder whether some things, like various propaganda, have left people on the Right speaking a whole other language than people on the Left. This language doesn’t understand the concept of protest, making protests on the Left ineffective (if they are trying to persuade people on the Right).

That we are talking past each other now has real-life consequences. DACA recipients will be protected or not, a border wall will go up or not, depending on how we understand one another.

As someone who has only recently started to live in a Leftist bubble, I can say that many people on the Right nowadays simply do not understand–or take time to understand–arguments from the Left. Yet, I know of scholars devoted to studying the Right, so we on the Left get a translation of what’s going on, which keeps us up to speed.

We are now a fractured nation, speaking different political languages. It doesn’t have to be this way, however. We can become fluent in the language of the other, but it’s going to take some work.

Reasons For A Universal Basic Income

I ask people, “Would you like to win the lottery?”

They say, “Yes!”

I ask people if they support a UBI and they say, “But, but, but…”

There’s not a whole lot of difference, except a UBI would be about 800.00 per month (according to proposals I’ve read). Not millions of dollars.

It would allow you to stop hitting the snooze button and actually get some sleep. It would make companies compete for you–instead of you competing with other people.

There’s literally thousands of reasons to support a UBI.

Most people who support a UBI are simply against coercion and they think we are currently coerced into working. Others argue that technology is taking our jobs, anyway, and that automation will only increase, so why not have a UBI.

I personally think that uncoupling labor from money would be a good thing. People would be more free to develop their own unique skills and not have to develop skills for the labor market. It could totally transform what kind of people we are. (I think for the better.)

Of course, there are issues of poverty, as well. Currently, there’s a lot of inherited wealth in our country. It’s hard to climb up the ladder, especially if you are not an already well-to-do white male. With a UBI, extreme poverty could be almost virtually eliminated. And companies hire people, typically, with a certain pedigree. A UBI would make us more egalitarian in these respects.

UPDATE: If you’re one of those people who wants to know how we will pay for a UBI, it’s actually pretty simple. Tax meat. Tax pollution.

Climate Change: God’s Law of Consequences

I’m reading the book Boundaries. It’s really a wonderful book. I’ve learned through that book that God has certain spiritual laws in place in addition to laws of nature. I seek to discover each.

Let’s take a look a climate change. Many unschooled Christians think super storms, like the hurricane we experienced in Florida this year, are God’s punishment for things like gay marriage. But I think the lesson is far closer to the point here. God wouldn’t make us take such wild leaps in logic.

Rather, I think the lesson is that we haven’t been very good stewards of the Earth. The Bible says we are to be managers of the Earth. How are we doing as managers? No very good.

We can look to climate science, which tells us that human activity—yes, human activity—is causing a great rise in temperatures. If you don’t believe climate science (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t), you can merely look to the increasing amount of super storms. Why are they happening?

God put in place consequences for every action. Bad actions cause bad consequences. If we are poor stewards of the Earth, we will get an unhealthy planet.

What climate change and super storms tell us is not that gay marriage is bad. Instead, the lesson is that we haven’t been good stewards to the Earth. We need to do much, much better.

(Cross Posted at The New Floridian)

Review of the Past Year

Last week, I was in therapy and the topic of more daily tasks for me to do came up. After reviewing my past year, I think I’ve remained pretty busy!

For example, in the past year, I was:

-Involved with NoDAPL and received a letter from President Obama on the matter.

-In regards to NoDAPL, I was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

-I was published on the Ghost Parachute Blog 3 times.

-I wrote a book.

-I edited an international philosophy journal.

-I was on Team Bernie during the primaries.

But most importantly, I have remained focused on my mental and physical health.

So, Obama Emailed Me

I recently contacted the White House regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. I asked Obama to oppose it, specifically. Today, I got a letter from him via email. He didn’t come out to oppose the pipeline exactly. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Thank you for writing, and for your thoughtful input. As President, my greatest responsibility is ensuring the safety of the American people, including when it comes to our Nation’s energy infrastructure. My Administration is setting the highest possible standards for oil and gas production and transportation, and each day we are working to make sure our pursuit of energy resources does not put our communities at risk. That work includes steps the Army has committed to taking in light of important issues raised about the Dakota Access pipeline.

I understand the risks associated with the development and transportation of fossil fuels, which is why my Administration has overhauled Federal oversight and raised the bar on safety across the board. As part of our efforts to improve Federal permitting and review processes, we are making safe pipeline infrastructure a priority in order to help ensure the health and security of our communities and the environment.

As new energy infrastructure is developed, the Federal Government will continue working with State, local, and tribal governments—which play a central role in the siting and permitting of pipelines—to address the concerns of local communities. One of my priorities as President is upholding an honest and respectful relationship with Native American tribes, and we have made a lot of progress in restoring ancestral lands, waters, and sacred sites over the past 8 years. My Administration also remains committed to consulting with tribes to ensure meaningful tribal input is factored into infrastructure-related decisions across the Federal Government. In the weeks ahead, Departments and Agencies will meet with tribal leaders across the country in a series of formal consultations on this issue.

Again, thank you for writing. I hear you, and I am optimistic that together, we can grow our economy and create new opportunities while securing a cleaner and safer future for all our people.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Activism Skills

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to write down the skills I have gained as an activist and try to incorporate them into my resume. Here’s a short list of skills I have developed from my activism work:

  • Campaign strategy and planning
  • Building a movement and organizing in community
  • Campaign communication: face to face mobilization
  • Media skills and social media
  • Lobbying skills
  • Meeting facilitation and participatory decision-making
  • Fundraising skills
  • Action and event planning

UPDATE: Here‘s an article by Microsoft’s Lisa Brummel on the undervalued skill of social activism.

What I’ve Been Doing

For the past month or so, I have been involved in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I have done many things with this movement, and wish to incorporate my activities into my professional experiences. As you will see in my previous post, I wrote a Letter to the Editor which was published in the Daytona Beach News Journal.

In addition to fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, I have also started doing editing work for a Basic Income website. I haven’t done as much work on this as I would have hoped because the Dakota Access Pipeline movement got in the way of that, but I have edited a couple of pieces on Basic Income.

I have been wondering about how to incorporate my volunteer and activism experiences into my resume. I will be doing that soon.

waterislife

 

Parity in Medicine Means Parity in Motives

There’s a lot of talk about parity in medicine, especially now during Mental Health Month. Brain disorders are treated differently than other illnesses, so there’s differences in policy, funding, and so forth. But when we talk about parity, we also need to keep in mind that, for carers, nurses, doctors, and other non-disordered people, we need parity in motives.

I’ve come across many people who seem to just want an ordered world–a world free of psychotic people. These people are not acting from the motive of caring and concern for someone who may be suffering. They are acting from other motives. When we think about treating brain disorders, or when we think about possibly curing or ridding the world of them, we need to search our motives, and make sure they are the same for any ill person.

Sometimes I think psychosis simply bothers some people, and they feel the need to rid the world of it. This is not the motive one wishes to move from.

Calling Schizophrenia a Brain Disorder doesn’t Give Primacy to the Biomedical Model

In this essay, I want to argue that we should refer to psychotic disorders as brain disorders, but that doing this doesn’t mean giving primacy to the biomedical view versus the biopsychosocial view.

In keeping with some of my previous thoughts, let’s assume you get a broken leg. Furthermore, let’s assume that your broken leg is due to a social ill—someone assaulted you.

You go to the doctor. You get a cast, but, in addition, as you heal, you may need physical therapy in order to heal better in your leg.

Seeing a broken leg as a medical issue doesn’t mean you won’t need treatments other than having a cast, and using crutches until you heal.

In fact, this may be yet one more trauma in your life that you don’t need.

Now imagine that, years down the road, you become psychotic. Imagine further that this is because you have experienced hardship, childhood abuse, and trauma, including being assaulted by someone who broke your leg, years back.

You are taken to the hospital. The psychiatrists there see you as a brain patient. They try to treat your brain by giving you antipsychotics.

But, in addition, you are assigned a treatment team that includes social workers, case managers and counselors.

Seeing psychosis as a brain issue doesn’t mean you won’t need other treatments, like counseling. And, further, your society may need some treatments of its own, if it produces people who traumatize and torments people, and produces social injustice.

Calling psychosis a brain illness doesn’t negate other biopsychosocial causes or cures, just as thinking of a broken leg as a medical issue doesn’t negate the fact that you have been assaulted, and may need counseling, or physical therapy. In other words, calling schizophrenia a brain disorder doesn’t commit us to the biomedical model over the biopsychosocial model.

Justice at Both Ends: Preventing and Treating Psychotic Disorders through Social Justice

Introduction

It seems like a cruel joke. People who are already in disadvantaged positions are, on top of that, vulnerable to brain disorders. Then, the society that produced the disadvantage (poverty, racism, sexism, etc.) stigmatizes the person for having an illness.

I want to be transparent here. I am diagnosed with schizophrenia. I live openly with my illness. I am also trained as a philosopher. I had my first psychotic break in graduate school, where I was studying ethics and political philosophy. My doctors told me to apply for disability, but I wanted to work. After a series of various jobs and hospitalizations, I finally applied for—and was granted—SSI. The day I was granted SSI, I cried. It had been an extremely rough ride.

One of the jobs I applied for, and kept until I was hospitalized, was as a case manager. As a case manager, I was trained to treat people in a holistic way. I was to look at each client from a variety of perspectives. But, also, I was trained to advocate for justice for my clients. That’s what I want to focus on here.

Theory and Practice

I want to set aside the theories of justice we learn about in school for a minute, however important and interesting they are. Although my academic training is mostly in philosophy, I have also done an assortment of different work. I have had time to think about—and live out—the issues I am discussing. So I’m not going to apply any certain theory of justice to the problems I am discussing. Besides, Bernard Williams would think applying a theory to a problem the way that is often done would be really uninteresting. And, of course, I want to be interesting.

I am also not going to get into a debate about psychiatry versus psychology. Brain versus mind. I think training as a case manager was good experience for me in diffusing that dichotomy. I am trained to deal with both medicine and psychotherapy, as a case manager. And I am trained to think about the soul and the brain, as a philosopher.

However, I am going to refer to schizophrenia as a brain disorder in this paper. Because that’s what it is, whatever, ultimately, causes it. There is something going on differently in my brain when I am psychotic. I’ll set aside issues of dualism, materialism, and so forth, and let other philosophers better trained in that area deal with those issues.

I am also going to set aside cultural differences. Although there has been interesting anthropological work on the differences in the expression of psychosis, there is also consensus that psychosis occurs in every culture. What I will focus on, however, is treating psychotic disorders in the United States. That’s where I live and am best trained.

“What happened to you?”: Social Causes of Schizophrenia

We know that social factors can be a cause in brain disorders. For example, Holocaust survivors are at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. There is, we may say, only so much a mind can take.

This does not discount other factors involved in developing brain disorders. However, I want to discuss various abuses and forms of disadvantage at play in developing psychotic disorders.

Prior to taking up research specifically on psychotic disorders, I did a great amount of research in Native Studies. Native Studies is an interdisciplinary field, and I had to learn and read in many different fields—anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, law, criminal justice, philosophy, to name a few. In the social and psychological work I read, it was clear that the effects of colonialism had an impact on the minds of indigenous people. They are at an increased risk for many illnesses, including brain illnesses.

This informed my early notions of brain illness: that it’s mostly social. So, when I became ill, I didn’t know what caused it. (It could be, however, that I have, in fact, experienced a lot of hardship, and was prone to developing a psychotic disorder.)

I eschewed psychotropic medications, and psychiatry in general. I was held, for periods of time, in hospitals and told to be “compliant” (to take medications). I sought out therapy, however, and had a few wonderful counselors. Counselors, I knew, treated things differently. They are not medical doctors shoving, as it were, pills that caused me horrible side effects down my throat.

Eventually, however, I was given an antipsychotic that both managed my symptoms and didn’t cause side effects. I am now a firm believer in taking the appropriate medication at the appropriate dosage, along with therapy, case management, and so forth.

One of my good friends, who, for reasons to protect them, will remain anonymous and vague, works for the military. This is not a delusion. They really do work for the military, and they are not the kind of person you would imagine an ethicist would associate with. The fact is, it’s their job to kill people efficiently and effectively. They are not a soldier. They make the plans that others carry out.

Let’s just say that this person knows how to inflict all kinds of torment on people. (This does not carry out into civilian life.) This person once asked me the most important question anyone ever asked me about my illness: “What happened to you?”

They wanted to know what kind of torment, abuse or disadvantage I experienced that made me have schizophrenia.

I wanted to tell them that I was a teen parent, who had to fight for her education, and was treated very badly by, especially, conservatives as a teen parent. I was told I was going to Hell, and funding for my high school, which was my joy and hope in the world, was always threatened.

I wanted to tell them that I had experienced sexism in the field of philosophy that made me very uncomfortable.

I wanted to tell them that I experienced a lot of sexual harassment when I was working as a teaching assistant.

I wanted to tell them that academia is not made for parents, especially teen parents.

I told my counselor instead.

Stigma

There are at least three kinds of stigma: (1) Self-Stigma, (2) Other Stigma, and (3) Stigma by Association. The literature discusses each of these.

Self-stigma is when a person internalizes the stereotypes and “othering” the society holds about them. They may think they are, in fact, a bad person for having schizophrenia. They may think they are at risk for committing violence. They may think they should be punished, or closely watched. This can cause a person to have low self-esteem, live “in the closet,” and not seek treatment.

Other stigma is when people who do not experience psychosis have negative views and discriminate against people with psychotic disorders. This can include not wanting to date a person with schizophrenia, not wanting to have conversations or be friends with people with schizophrenia, and not wanting to work with people with schizophrenia.

Stigma by association is when people who are associated with a person with a psychotic illness feel shame about having that person in their family, school or workplace. They may lack education about people with brain disorders, and there is evidence that proper education about these issues can lessen stigma by association.

Stigma can lead to discrimination by making people treat one differently. As someone who has dealt with gross amounts of stigma, I can say that people have treated me as a potential threat, a wild-eyed disarray, and needing to be “compliant” and tamed. This, even when my symptoms, which have never been threatening, were at bay. Stigma leads one to “see” you differently. It leads to bias in how your actions are interpreted.

I have learned to deal with stigma by living openly and “calling it out.” I risk all kinds of things doing this, but it’s the only thing I know to do.

Justice at Both Ends

We may live in a world where luck is involved, but there’s luck and there’s luck. We have the ability to change our world, to make things better for other people and ourselves. We have the ability to reduce the amount of negative luck people experience. For example, if we alleviated poverty, there would be fewer brain disorders, just as if we reduce child abuse, there would be fewer cases of child PTSD. If we want to reduce the amount of brain illness in the world, we need to be committed to justice.

At the same time, there are people who do and will continue to suffer. For those people, we need justice at the tail end—we need justice for people with brain disorders. This means making people feel OK with accepting government benefits, increasing government benefits so that people with brain disorders are not living in poverty, and, of course, reducing stigma.

I hope I have made a case for justice before and after psychosis.

Indigenous Studies

My undergraduate thesis in philosophy, entitled The More Freely He Breathes: Colonialism in the United States, explored indigenous colonization drawing upon work in Native Studies. All of my prior education prepared me for taking up the research role, during which time I consulted experts across campus, students, experts from other universities, American Indian philosophy, and American Indian Law. In addition, I took a road trip recounting the Trail of Tears from the Choctaw perspective, visiting the reservation of The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, where I was priviledged to experience Choctaw Indian Fair and a speech by Chief Martin. I visited The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, seeing historic, administrative and governmental sites and visited tribal-owned businesses.

Happy Earth Day

As I mentioned previously, I live on a protected environment. I have also worked with an environmental organization. I did business development for a local environmental nonprofit. I had to quit when I fell ill. But perhaps my biggest environmental accomplishment is helping get the lake and wetlands I live on protected.

I received a great environmental education at Stetson University. I learned about Florida springs, wetlands, and more. When I moved to the place I currently live, I was told the lake was over 80 feet deep, and was naturally spring fed. Some years later, they were beginning to put a development up on the other side of the lake, cutting down acres’ worth of forests. People in my community got together to have the lake and wetlands protected, which they now are.

Since the wetlands are protected, we let everything grow as it wants to. This is what it looks like now:

And this is what I looked like working for the environmental organization:

Things Have Been Growing

Last year or so, I posted about living on a protected environment. My neighborhood had the lake and wetlands I live on protected. So, we have been letting things grow as they wish. Turns out, things have grown quite a bit! Take a look:

Job Hunting with Schizophrenia

There’s an article in the Atlantic about job hunting while having schizophrenia. According to the article, 85% of people with schizophrenia are unemployed, while 70% of them would like to work. This gets back to my previous post about how I am an asset. I explained that discrimination still occurs. Check out the article.

When Having a Disability Means You Can’t Work

Right now, my doctor doesn’t want me working. I’m simply not ready, and I have to come to terms with the fact that I may never be ready.

I have a very good friend who has bipolar disorder. He is also on disability, and we recently discussed working. He was feeling like he should work, but was unsure about whether he could handle it.

He’s been stable for a few years, and here’s the conclusion we came to: He remains stable by (1) taking meds, (2) going to counseling, and (3) maintaining a therapeutic lifestyle 24/7.

We concluded that, without any one of these, he would probably go back to the hospital.

It’s the same for me.

I continually do things that are therapeutic—whether it’s participating in poetry, painting, writing, reading, photography, walking, and so forth. I maintain a therapeutic environment for myself 24/7, under the advisement of my doctor.

It’s only been a year since I have been in the hospital, and just under a year that I’ve been on my current medication. That’s far too early to tell whether my medications will prevent me from having a psychotic break if I should try working. I have, in the past, had a psychotic break every six months to a year. I still vividly remember my last break, and I don’t want it to happen again.

Keep in mind that I was given a poor prognosis. The very first psychiatrist I saw told me I should expect to lose a lot of cognitive functioning. I’m lucky to have not lost as much as they thought. I chalk it up to having good care, and fighting like hell.

But I still struggle with not working. The feeling of not working for a living.

If you browse around my website, you will see that, from an early age, I have been involved in many things, and have been very career oriented. For a person like me, not working is devastating.

This is true even though I have doctors’ orders.

I know I have a legitimate disability. There’s no doubt about it. I have had serious psychotic breaks. I am trying, each day, to maintain my health, above all else. I don’t like becoming psychotic, and it’s not like my medicine is so magical that it will, with 100% efficacy, prevent a psychotic break.

They know that, for example, stress can exacerbate psychiatric symptoms. So, I try to limit my stress, and engage in stress-reducing activities, like practicing mindfulness.

Currently, I have to come to terms with the fact that I cannot work—my doctors says so, even—and that I may never be able to work again.

For me, coming to terms with this myself is one thing; a big thing. Realizing this is but one step in coming to terms with my condition and lot in life.

But the even bigger thing is having regular people understand this. When people meet me—when I am out in public—they may not know I have a mental illness. (Unless I am symptomatic. In that case, I may be in my pajamas in public, or looking a huge mess.) I have an “invisible disability.” Not to mention, many people still have stigmas about mental illness, making them think a mental illness is not a real illness just because you can’t really see it.

So making other people understand that I may not be able to work—and that I may be on SSI (and poor)—for the rest of my life is difficult. But it’s something that’s important.

I hope that, if you are reading this, you will not judge people who have to be on disability and who cannot work due to disability. There’s a segment of society that makes people feel like it’s not a legitimate option. This often stems from conservatives who tout the notion that people exploit the safety net system. For so-called Christians (as most of them allege they are), they are highly skeptical and not especially loving when it comes to caring for the wretched of the Earth. (WWJD?)

In my experience, it’s very difficult to get disability. It wouldn’t be easy to fake it. I had to be hospitalized eight times and given a poor prognosis from several doctors before I was given SSI. I was suffering, and denied SSI (and, thus, healthcare) for several years. The whole process is insult to injury. And then you end up living in poverty, anyway.

But my whole point is that each of us can make a difference. We can change things so that people like me, who have to be on disability, do not have to constantly feel like we have to justify this to people who have no business prodding for our medical information.

The fact is, I have tried working several times. Everyone who knows me knows I didn’t want to go on SSI. I wanted to work. Take a look around my website—I like professional accomplishments. But I had to go on SSI because I simply could not work.

Let’s try to make things easier for people who are already suffering enough.

Breaking Stereotypes

What do you think of when you think of a person with schizophrenia?

If you are like most people, you probably don’t think of technology savvy people, using said technology to better themselves.

But according to this new survey, that’s exactly what the picture of schizophrenia is in America, currently. That puts me in line with other people with schizophrenia. I use a lot of technology–computer, smartphone, tablet–and I use all of this to connect with other people, including other people with mental illness, and gain information and other things to help me.

Poor People and Having a Voice

Right now, as I write this, my area, Daytona Beach, is struggling with a “homeless problem.” City officials don’t know how to handle the problem.

Some have proposed a shelter in the area, but the city doesn’t know if it can afford it. They want surrounding cities to pitch in. For all the discussion of how to solve the problem of poverty or homelessness, I rarely see the voices of actual poor or homeless people. Their voices are lacking in these discussions. They are treated as a problem for others to solve, not as human beings with their own thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I have found that, even though the world of a poor person may be limited because of a lack of resources, they still usually know what they need. They are the best ones to solve the problems they face. But, too often, others try to speak for them.

I’ll tell you a story: I used to give money to homeless people in Daytona Beach. Back when I was in college, I’d see homeless people panhandling. I’d stop and give them a few bucks. I never thought twice about it.

Frequently, I hear how people don’t trust that the homeless would spend the money on food or something they actually need; that they’d spend it on alcohol. I never cared about this. I figured they need money, otherwise they wouldn’t be asking for it. We rarely talk about the alcohol and drug problems of the wealthy, but when it comes to homeless people, we are ready to speak up. Why is it that we are so harsh on poor people?

My local newspaper continues to report on the homeless problem, but rarely are actual homeless people consulted in their own affairs.

Having a voice at all is difficult. Having any social or political say when you are poor is a challenge. But it is especially paternalistic when other people think they know how you should best live your life. Often, the solution is a shelter, even though Housing First initiatives, which provide homes to homeless people outright, have been shown to work. We don’t think we can give poor people money directly, even though, if you ask them, that’s what they need. We don’t think we can just give homeless people homes, but places that have done that very thing have solved their homeless problem.

Perhaps, in the future, we can actually listen to poor people, especially when considering their affairs.

Why *Have* I Been in the Hospital?

I mentioned previously that every time I have been hospitalized (8 times), it has been against my will, and against the law.

So you may wonder why I have been hospitalized. There have been times, no doubt, that I have acted oddly. I have had strange beliefs sometimes when I’ve had psychotic breaks. Apart from being disturbing to others, they were mostly harmless. What I mean by that is that I’ve never been a danger to anyone.

People often overreact, or act inappropriately, when it comes to schizophrenia. What’s best is to acknowledge that my beliefs and emotions are very real to me, and to try to deescalate my symptoms. And, if all else fails, for my family to call my doctor. It’s not against the law to act oddly. And when you have schizophrenia, it’s a sign you are ill and need compassionate concern.

The police are often involved in mental illness–to an extent not seen in any other medical condition. It’s a horrible state of affairs. I have written a poem about one time I had a psychotic break and the cops came for me. It’s called Fight With God.

Volunteer Recognition

I just received the newsletter for the American Patient Rights Association. I was recognized for my work as a Web Content Editor:

A big thank you to our Volunteer Website Content  Editors

APRA also wishes to recognize the great work by our volunteer website content editors Jennifer Lawson and Stephanie Kumar. They work hard to keep our website updated with the latest and most relevant news and information with respect to patient safety and rights, particularly having to do with hospitals.

A Dose of Reality

One of the projects I have worked on has to do with mental illness. I worked as a case manager and I found that, in my area, there were few resources available to my clients. A friend and I came up with the idea of a website that could serve as a resource for people with mental illness, their friends, family, and supporters. My brother, Jeremy, enhanced the idea. He proposed creating a social media site. We all collaborated and came up with the website A Dose of Reality.

If you are interested, you can sign up and communicate with like-minded individuals.