When You Can No Longer Consume, Conform, Reproduce, Obey. What “Disability” Means Under Capitalism & Patriarchy

“Consume, conform, reproduce, obey” is a reference to the 1988 American science fiction film “They Live” which suggests that subliminal and other cultural messages essentially program people to behave in certain ways which benefit the state and for-profit corporations.  Although the film was fictional, there is an excellent case to be made that it was also based on real life and the real experience of human beings existing under the brutal systems of capitalism and patriarchy.  Here, we are expected to conform to society’s rules with an alleged “greater good” prioritized over the needs of the individual; to obey the mandates of our elite corporate and public overlords created by them to benefit themselves at our expense; to reproduce if we are able and to seek medical assistance to conceive if we cannot; and of course to consume as many products and services as possible which generates income for the most wealthy and powerful among us.  Most able-bodied Western people do these things without thinking too deeply about them or they do it for as long as they physically and mentally can.  But what happens when, due to a serious chronic and debilitating illness or injury, we are no longer able to conform or obey because our illnesses direct our lives?  What happens when our ability to consume is hampered because we no longer have an income?

Here, in the face of serious and disabling illness or injury, the coercive reality of our station is writ large: the new role to which we will conform is that of a professional patient; we will consume medical goods and services whether we want to or not and whether they improve or further damage our health or not; and we will obey this mandate or, without means to supply ourselves with food, shelter or the necessities of life, we will be left to die.  This is the foundation and essence of the disability-based benefits structure and it is very real indeed.  As a seriously ill Crohn’s patient, this is my current (and likely future) station and I am furious about it.  Recognizing my immense vulnerability as a disabled person I am also saddened that it has come to this, horrified that I will be unable to stop it, and terrified for my future.

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