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Archive for the ‘ableism’ Category

One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.

It’s not hard to see parallels between the three dimensions of perfectionism and so-called “call-out culture,” lately the hegemonic tendency on the Left: a condition in which everyone watches everyone else for a fatal slip-up, holding themselves to impossibly high standards of virtuous self-effacement, and being paralyzed with the secret (again, not unfounded) fear that they’re disposable to the group, that their judgment day is around the corner. The pattern is of a piece with other manifestations of neoliberal meritocratic perfectionism, from college admissions to obsessive Instagram curation. And because it divides rather than unites us, it’s no way to build a movement that ostensibly seeks to strike at the heart of power.

Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society. It’s a gargantuan task — but with the vise-grip of neoliberalism tightening on our psyches, it’s the only way forward.

From “Under neo-liberalism, you can be your own tyrannical boss” by Megan Day in Jacobin. 

This is a theme I have been banging on about for a while, so let’s just add this as another good article for the collection.

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Now, nine months on, my father has bouts of inertia, bouts of reluctant acceptance, and bouts of dotty but clear-eyed humour and calm, as he sits in his large room in his own recliner, with his pictures on the walls and his books on the shelf. He has lost all sense of the passing of time: everything and everyone that he still remembers – all the people, places, dogs and cats, dead or alive, near or far – seem to coexist for him in some perpetual Now. Occasionally he has no idea where he is, and gets volcanically angry when told that this is his room and he has been living in it for nine months. “Bullshit !” he yells, brandishing his stick. Once or twice I have feared that he was going to hit me. Another, darker fear I have is that, if he did hit me, the red mist would descend and I would hit him back. I am my father’s daughter, after all.

When I visit, two or three times a week, I pause at the front door and take a breath to face the possibilities of what I might find when I walk into his room, the possibilities of what I might have to do. I might have to calm him down, or clean him up, or close his eyes.

You should really read this. It’s “The limit of the world,” the Horne Prize winning essay by Kerryn Goldsworthy in the Saturday Paper.

 

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Hiking is not just for fit, white, young people. I love this. And I love hiking. 

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What would happen if we all created SuperBabies? Would we make a SuperRace? Fleets of SuperAdults so smart and wise and strong and nontoxic that they would never get cancer? (But they would of course discover its cure.) By age fifteen, they would teach their teachers. They would outrun all world records. They would eradicate every harmful chemical or they would somehow render all chemicals harmless to SuperBodies. They would, each one, win prestigious awards in their fields, twisting the bell curve into a radiant point of light from which would emanate their stellar, star-like performance. They would never know rejection. They would not know depression. They would not cry, or if they did cry, they would shed tears of existential meaning and fulfillment, reflecting on their infinite successes. And on their holidays, they would gather around fires—propping their lean, tall, muscular bodies onto core-boosting exercise balls—and tell stories of the generations past, when people were not Super but Regular. In those bygone days, RegularPeople had autoimmune disorders and chronic pain. They had broken hearts and failed dreams. They had something the SuperPeople only know through history books: suffering.

We want a SuperRace because we want to eradicate absolutely everything that terrifies us. We want SuperHumans so we can transcend that thing we are: human. But a SuperHuman would lack that crack in everything through which, as Leonard Cohen sang, the light gets in. There’s something in our suffering that we need. We’ve known this for millennia, and we make it clear in the stories we keep telling. The Buddha gave up his palace and meditated beneath a tree for a week. Jesus of Nazareth said yes to a cross. Our ache is our unfortunate, undeniable doorway. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, says the copper lady with the torch. When we walk into our pain, we sometimes find ourselves on the other side, freed of what we once thought we needed to feel free.

Suffering is a part of life. –Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

From Heather Kirn Lanier’s “Superbabies don’t cry” in VELO. This is a wonderful piece on ableism, so worth the read.

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I feel I can give you everything without giving myself away, I whispered in your basement bed. If one does one’s solitude right, this is the prize.

[Yet] dependence is scorned even in intimate relationships, as though dependence were incompatible with self-reliance rather than the only thing that makes it possible.

I know now that a studied evasiveness has its own limitations, its own ways of inhibiting certain forms of happiness and pleasure. The pleasure of abiding. The pleasure of insistence, of persistence. The pleasure of obligation, the pleasure of dependency. The pleasures of ordinary devotion. The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.

Perhaps it’s the word radical that needs rethinking. But what could we angle ourselves toward instead, or in addition? Openness? Is that good enough, strong enough? You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world come as it is—working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows. And the thing is, even you don’t always know.

From Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.

 

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There’s lots to ponder here in Harry Giles’ post, “Shock and Care”. He does some really satisfying mulling over with the topic and pushes it in all sorts of directions . I think there’s a lot here that can be applied to writing, too, in addition to visual and performance arts. Recommended reading.

The argument I’m trying to build through these examples is that experiences of deep and genuine care are themselves shocking, shocking through their incongruity with a wider uncaring world. They are also necessary, because so few of us have the option to be cared for. And they define your audiences, because to choose not to care – to not take account of – audiences made up of different people with very different needs, whether those are needs based on disability, class, mental health or otherwise – is to limit your audience, which is to limit the conversation your art is having and thus the possibilities of the art you can make.

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Here is my latest article for Daily Life:

And dependence is a funny word to use for older women.

By the time they are claiming the aged pension, paltry as it is, a lot of older women will have raised children, coddled a husband through his working life (that might seem harsh but, honestly, what would you call the fact that she, alone, washed and ironed all their work clothes, cooked the dinners and made him those daily cups of tea), maintained at least one deteriorating elderly parent, and had a hand in also caring for grandchildren.

These women have known some dependency, but you can see it was not all their own. The economy is built upon the toil of unpaid care, largely undertaken by women. That the provision of this essential care work leaves women financially depleted is evidenced by their eventual over-representation in numbers on the age pension, which the Treasurer has so sympathetically observed.

He notes the government pays for these women’s public healthcare, saying it as though governments did not raise revenue from their taxes. Which is interesting, because older women are contributing the fastest growing incomes to the gender income ratio. If women are to eventually catch up to men in terms of income and employment, it may be older women who get us there.

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My latest article is here.

Speaking of personal stories, Latham has an interesting story, too. He’s a stay-at-home father with a wife working outside the home. Having made the transition from political leadership to primary caring he might offer an insightful perspective, instead, he seems clouded by a kind of defensive masculinity. And his hostility towards feminist parenting is curious when you consider Latham’s own role reversal is exactly the kind of freedom feminists are seeking as an option to be available for more parents. But critiquing parenting has long been an underhand route for simply censuring women.

Women well know that when male commentators talk about women’s lives they are prone to holding unexamined views that run contrary to one another. So, being the primary parent has allowed Latham to see the hoax that fathers can’t be nurturing, but somehow mothering is still essentialist enough for inner-city feminists to be capable of running a secret campaign to “free themselves from nature’s way”. And further, mothers who take their experiences seriously enough to write about them are “self-absorbed”, but to not take them seriously is to be “breeding a generation of shirtless, tone-deaf, overweight, pizza-eating dummies”. Although Macdonald, apparently, manages to do both.

 

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From Hannah Black’s “Crazy in love” in The New Inquiry.

B was not my first encounter with paranoid thought. In my father’s house, intense young men pontificated at length about white devils and black ancestors. The symbolism and codes of this strand of black radicalism make up an elaborate structure of thought that is partly a mocking parody of academic “paranoid readings,” and partly a serious effort to interpret a world, this world, that appears from the perspective of blackness as formally insane. The everyday beliefs and activities of what we could call white supremacist capitalism, or perhaps less precisely life as we know it, are all, from this perspective, more deeply disturbing than the craziest fantasy you’ll find on a high-security ward. But how is a person supposed to live this knowledge? Unlike me, B was quiet, absorbing everything. Could a white-passing boy even picture the black world that animated his father’s dreams? By the time they all settled down to a quieter middle age, we had spent years steeped in this atmosphere of pain and conspiracy.

In psychosis, no event or thing is small enough to escape the tightly woven net of personal significance. A clock means a bomb, a sunset is a message, and so on. But how do you live in a world in which everything signifies? How do others who live in this shimmering, terrifying world treat you? One time B was found cowering in the restroom at a café, too afraid to leave, and was arrested. Just as much as they are implacably hostile to blackness, for reasons both mysterious and self-evident, the police are also structurally fated to hate the mad. Arrests, harassment, and lucky escapes punctuated the acute phases of B’s illness. Now, every so often, another story of police hurting or killing a mentally ill person surfaces, and I am momentarily gripped by the kind of intense, helpless pain that must be what people mean when they talk about being triggered. Still, it’s important to not overindulge in other people’s trouble, even where it affirms your own. The duty of a crazy person’s friends and family is far more practical: Our duty is to appear, as much as possible, not crazy, so that our loved one will be allowed to live.

We had to act a certain way in the hospitals, to show the doctors that B was not trash. I would put on the smooth neutral suit of sanity, which is smiling politely, listening carefully, and in all ways acting as bourgeois as possible. Those times when my mother forgot her armor, when she begged and cried, I saw how the doctors looked at her, as if she were the really crazy one. But B too knew how to put on the smooth and neutral suit; he knew how to answer the doctors’ questions with enough of an appearance of sanity to escape imprisonment, even when he was in desperate need of help. In an emergency ward, my mother cries and B shouts. We would be a spectacle if anyone cared. I adjust my dress and smooth down my hair, momentarily wishing myself whiter so as to be better able to resist the implications of the doctor’s sneer, which is on the verge of becoming impossible to ignore. I see we are all in danger of falling out of the hole in the skin of the world. Come on let’s go, let’s just leave. I remember my mother crying in the car but I don’t remember what we did next.

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I think this article, “‘Not Rescuing’ Our Kids Shouldn’t Mean Letting Them Flounder” by Catherine Newman in The New York Times is making such an important point. (Thanks to Lara for the link). In spite of my love of all things Montessori and independence, generally, I am still very skeptical of independence as an end goal. Independence, as a goal needs to be combined with compassion or it is nothing.

That is not an unreasonable approach to shepherding your children into the pasture of responsibility, and we’ve certainly practiced various forms of it over the years with our own children. No, you can’t spend our money on Cheez-Its from the school vending machine because you left your peanut-butter rice cake at home.

But if you’re cold on the hike that I begged you to take with me, yes, I will give you my jacket. Not because I’m the depressed and obscene giving tree. But because you’re my darling. Because you’re so lovely to take this walk with me. Because your father, just yesterday, put his sweatshirt around my chilly shoulders at a bar.

I understand why so many of the smartest women I know are proudly carrying the no-rescue flag. Mothers have been the coddlers, historically speaking: the bringers of forgotten things, the tenders of the beleaguered. “I am sick of doing everything for everybody,” we may be saying. “And I don’t want my kids to be hapless dependents.” Fair enough. Except, not to sound like a bad capitalist, independence may not be such a great goal either. Everyone taking good care of themselves, efficiently separated from the needs of others — is that the best possible world we can live in?

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