Disability and Capitalism

[This is the script for this video]

Hello YouTube! Today I want to do an overview of Disability in the context of capitalism, a topic I’ve noticed many prominent Leftist YouTube channels have understandably shied away from. But not me, oh boy I can’t wait to read the comments!

This bitch isn’t even really disabled.

She’s just whining about nothing. Useless. Why don’t we do eugenics?

I’d absolutely shit in her mouth.

Disclaimer before I start: Every single person experiences disability differently, my experience is not The Disabled Experience . I am not the disability ambassador. There will likely be a lot of disabled people who disagree with a lot of things I say and these are probably smart people. I know I have plenty of internalized ableism to sort through and probably a lot of other shit wrong with me and I hope this video reaches some people who can help me with that. I want to start a dialogue, not tell you what to think. 

I don’t have a decent camera but I do have a mic that I may have borrowed without permission from my brother. So let’s get star-

-Stealing is wrong! Get a job and buy your own mic!

W-Well I can’t- I can’t work a job. 

Well…save up your welfare checks.

Hahaha ahhh oh Jeremy Strawman, you kidder. 


Oh no. You were serious.

[title music of some kind]

“Disability and Capitalism”

Access to resources is obviously something that people who are not from wealthy families struggle with, but it’s a particularly difficult problem for people who are legally considered disabled. 

Once you depend on the government for money, you are not only less likely to live above the poverty line, but also functionally no longer allowed to do so. In the United States, you can’t legally have more than $2,000 in your bank account and still receive benefits. 

And social security certainly makes sure that’s not fucking likely. 

Disability benefits hover at what is determined to be poverty level, currently $12,140 per year. C’mon, just round it up…

The Federal poverty level was first determined in 1960 and this number has only been slightly adjusted for inflation every so often ever since. In 1990 The Urban Institute concluded that in order for the poverty level to be comparable to the 1960s threshold, it would have to be at least 50 percent higher, which would put a quarter of the American population below it. Let’s see what that would be nowadays, hopefully that’s a rounder number. $18,210.

Disabled people are nearly 3 times as likely as the general population to live below the already inaccurately low poverty line. And yes before I get a lecture about person-centered language and defining disability by government standards, I intentionally put the word “disabled” before the word “people” here because in this case I’m referring to the defined social category measured by the Census, not individual people who have disabilities. Of course, there are many people who have disabilities who are not considered disabled by the state and many people considered disabled by the state who don’t themselves identify as disabled. SO basically fuck you I’m a disable-ed and I say what I want.

(By the way, if you’re American and you receive disability payments you can open up an ABLE account. You can only use that money for medical expenses because America is a dystopian hellscape but at least you might be able to avoid crippling medical debt and get that new shower chair you’ve been eyeing. Links in the description.)

You said you can’t work, but you look fine to me. Even if you were in a wheelchair or something then you could still sit in an office and do what I do. 

But I couldn’t, I’m disabled. 

Why not? You don’t look sick.

There’s a lot to unpack here. You see there are 2 main models for discussing disability, the medical and the social. The medical model of disability is that a person’s disability is a problem with their body that needs to be fixed, the social model posits that it’s a problem with society. 

How could someone being sick be a problem with society? Are you saying your sickness is society? You go to the doctor and the doctor says you’re healthy or not. What did the doctor say?

I have issues with both of these models, actually. The medical model can be dehumanizing for the many disabled people who don’t think they have a problem. Many people who are nonneurotypical or Deaf, for instance, often don’t want to be ““fixed”” since these “conditions” aren’t in any way inherently harmful or painful and, in fact, they feel a sense of pride in their identity. Furthermore, there’s a pretty long and disgusting history of subjecting people to invasive, impractical, or even deadly medical interventions for conditions considered disabling but which pose no mortal threat. Due to this huge scary fucking nightmare problem, the social model has largely been adopted as the new standard for disability discussion and legislation. However, Marta Russell, author of the essays contained within Capitalism and Disability, would contend that the current version of the social model, also known as the “minority model” has an insidious neoliberal bias which can often deny the reality of disability in a capitalist society. A more accurate model, Russell suggests, is a *social theory of disability derived from labor relations*

I don’t think doctors are diagnosing people with social conditions. Deaf people can’t hear, that is one less thing they can do. That is a disability. And you still haven’t told me why you can’t work.

Okay, fine. I don’t think you’re getting it. There is perhaps no better disability to illustrate a *social theory of disability derived from labor relations* than my own Kafkaesque nightmare condition. I also have several comorbid conditions but those aren’t really relevant to this discussion. No, my main disabling condition is that I have over 25 hours in my day.

What? Then you should be producing more not less! You are hyperable! A turbo normie if you will.

No, no. Let me explain. It’s called Non24 Sleep-Wake Disorder. Every day my sleep time moves ahead 1 or 2 sometimes as much as 3 or 4 hours. I can’t reliably predict these shifts so today I might be going to sleep at 8pm and by next week I may be falling asleep anywhere from 11pm-11am. Basically it’s impossible for me to keep any semblance of a schedule.

It would be ridiculous to expect society to accommodate these insane hours when an estimated 99.95% of people in the world operate on a 24 hour day. No one wants to hold a business conference at 11pm one week and 5am the next, especially not for the sake of a single employee. So the minority model of disability doesn’t work here, there are no reasonable accommodations if, say, I wanted to work as a cashier or a waitress. Employers can’t have an employee who just shows up whenever they want and can’t fit in the schedule. And I’ve had no luck with the medical model because science still hasn’t figured out a way for me to adapt to a 24 hour schedule. And if a drug were invented that worked for me, would it be a good idea to take something that could have any number of side effects and potentially shorten my life for the sake of fitting into a 24 hour world? 

Even if I had no comorbidities or chronic pain, simply operating on a different time frame than everyone else disqualifies me for most jobs in existence. 

The medical model says that’s my neurological disorder’s fault and the minority model says that’s society’s fault for not accommodating me. But the social model of disability derived from labor relations posits that:

By focusing on curing so-called abnormalities and segregating those who could not be cured into the administrative category of “disabled,” medicine cooperated in shoving less exploitable workers out of the mainstream workforce.

Capitalism and Disability by Marta Russell, edited by Keith Rosenthal 

So the social model of disability deri- I’m sorry hang on, can we rebrand? Personally, I like the term “less exploitable.” Can we do that instead?

L e s s  E x p l o i t a b l e.

So the less exploitable model posits that a difference in condition is not even medicalized as a disability until it interferes with one’s ability to do labor. Basically, “disabled” really just means dis-able to work full time. Non-24 isn’t inherently harmful to my health but it is something that severely affects my ability to work. I can still do basically everything else that a human can do but I have to do it on my own un-accommodatable schedule. Because I can’t work on anyone’s schedule but my own, I am unemployable, less exploitable, and therefore disabled.   

So you can see how the minority model might be flawed since no other minority group is defined by their inability to work but instead by their systemic lack of access to opportunity which only creates the perception of being less able to work. 

Obviously, an argument can be made that there would be fewer people even classified as “disabled” if simple cost-effective accommodations were standard. Let me be clear: I’m not anti-accommodation, I’m pro-figuring out what the hell to do with the fact that accommodations aren’t good business practice.

Unlike other underprivileged minority groups, disabled people not only need acceptance, education, and resources but also accommodations. Accommodations which put the burden of cost on the employer and eat into profit margins. 

The reality is that we, the disabled, don’t have separate but equal skills in a free-market economy. If we did, this model asserts, then we wouldn’t be called “disabled.”

The problem isn’t workplaces lacking accommodations, it’s capitalism and the free market.

Jeeesus. You can’t blame capitalism for everything. There are jobs you can do anytime from home. You seem to be good with words, why not be a professional writer?

You’re good at video games, why aren’t you a professional gamer, Jeremy?

I’m too busy with my real job. What’s your excuse?

(sigh) In order to do either unskilled or skilled labor I’d have to have very understanding coworkers, great social connections to even get the job, and/or highly specialized skills. These things are all pretty fucking hard to come by when you’re isolated from the larger world. I was lucky enough to have a college education, but it’s common for people with disabilities to not even finish high school. However, I homeschooled for high school and took my college courses online so I don’t have any professional contacts. I don’t know any teachers or professors or even the other students in my classes. Due to this social exclusion, there are a lot of things which are “common knowledge” that I don’t know about or only understand in theory, like handshakes. I’ve given like 5 handshakes in my life. And I can’t even know what things I don’t know I don’t know. 

Okay but what about highly specialized skills? You can freelance.

Why the fuck should disabled people be expected to hone highly specialized skills when able-bodied people can get by without? Story time: I made a friend in a support group for non24 who used to live independently as a freelance graphic designer prior to developing this disorder. They are highly trained and highly skilled, but once they couldn’t make it to appointments, they couldn’t make a living. Often, it doesn’t matter how good you are at something, if you can’t show up or communicate in a timely or “acceptable” manner then you’re not getting as much work as someone who can, even if you’re more talented.

But the ADA-

Oh yeah the ADA. Do you honestly think we live in a world where all workplaces are totally accessible now because the ADA made employers promise they would try harder? 

Clip “Hitler promised not to invade Czechoslovakia, Jeremy. Welcome to the real world.” 

The ADA was passed 30 years ago and the unemployment rate for people with disabilities has not changed. In 2014 only 16.8% of people with disabilities were employed. Certainly many workers who may be considered disabled are just as capable as anyone else and ultimately cost the same as any other employee, but employers and insurance companies only see the risks which come with a pre-existing condition. Ignoring, of course, that any number of their “able-bodied” employees may have costly invisible disabilities. 

Okay but I still don’t really see how losing sleep is an issue. You just don’t want to work. You’re blaming capitalism for something that you need to just get used to. I never sleep.

Listen listen liiiiisten. I don’t want to have this conversation where I have to show you my medical records and explain that sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture. I just don’t. I don’t feel like using any more time in this video justifying myself. And I think this is partly what keeps so many disabled people from entering the public discourse. There’s a fear that you’re not disabled enough, or it’s not in the right ways. That people will blame you or pity you or treat you as if you have no value. That people won’t listen to what you say because they only care about your misery porn or fixing you enough to get a job or hearing your ~inspirational story~ 

Which reminds me, I have an inspirational anti-capitalist quote I want to read 

Ughh can we stop talking about capitalism-

Let’s see if you can guess who said it. *USSR anthem fades in*

“In such a crisis the capitalist class cannot save itself or its institutions. Its police and armies will be powerless to put down the last revolt. For man at last will take his own, not considering the cost. When that day dawns, if the workers are not thoroughly organized, they may easily become a blind force of destruction, unable to check their own momentum, their cry for justice drowned in a howl of rage. Whatever is good and beneficent in our civilization can be saved only by the workers. And the Industrial Workers of the World is formed with the object of carrying on the business of the world when capitalism is overthrown.”

I don’t know. Can you people stop talking about the end of capitalism as an inevitability? You sound like an edgelord.

It’s Helen Keller. And no. Did you know there was an FBI case file on her due to her Un-American socialist rhetoric and organizing activities? Link in the description. Leaving school, all I knew about Helen Keller aside from her disabilities is that she knew the sign for “water.” Why is that?

Because what she said is leftist propaganda.

Granted, the lack of nuanced discussion may be more of a problem with our education system and less of a problem with how we use disabled people to propagate the myth of “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps” but I’d propose there are several cognitive and cultural biases working against an accurate public perception of comrade Helen and people with disabilities in general.

Like what?

Well I think that might take more than one video but the first bias I’d like to dig into is the “Just-World theory” because it kind of sets the stage for the others. In a study done by Lerner and Simmons in 1966, 72 undergrads were subjected to watching a video of a girl who appeared to receive severe and painful shocks every time she got an answer on a test wrong. As the video went on, it became clear that the undergrads could do nothing to help her and that these shocks would continue into a second session. How did these people confront powerlessness in the face of another person’s suffering? Simple, they devalued the girl. If a guilty person is being tortured then that’s okay, right? (No, it’s not okay but I don’t have time to talk about that right now).

That’s messed up. I’d never do that.

I’m not here to force you into introspection, but remember how after I told you that I can’t work you responded by claiming I could work even though you had pretty limited information on my life and my conditions? This propensity to blame someone for something they can’t control is often called “victim blaming” and probably every person familiar with the #metoo movement knows the term. 

I prefer “just-world theory” in this context though, because many people with what are considered disabilities don’t consider themselves victims or even necessarily disabled. It’s not uncommon for Deaf people to say that they simply speak a different language. The term “Just-world theory” focuses on the biased person’s own perception of the world as fair in the ways they deem appropriate, for instance seeing the idea of being deaf as a loss of hearing rather than being capital D Deaf as an identity. This way we don’t unfairly label said Deaf person a victim. 

So, basically, if you start with the assumption that the world is fair, God is good, karma exists, hail Satan, spit in my mouth mommy then this can be really great for your own self-esteem. It can give you a sense of control, which can be a really positive thing. But what happens when that control is challenged by an existential threat like someone with a disability… existing… near you? MENACINGLY. Well now you have to either decide the person deserved what’s perceived as an illness because they are less valuable (yikes) or their condition somehow adds to their life and they’re actually normal. But not just normal. Extra super special. Deeply meaningful. ~Inspirational~

So we talk about the story of the kid who learned to communicate despite being deaf and blind ~inspirational~ and don’t mention anything that might be polarizing about her life. Anything that might just show that not only was Helen Keller a full grown adult with opinions of her own,~infantilization~ but that those opinions, to some people, were bad and could hurt public perception of people with disabilities. Knowing that Helen Keller was a socialist is enough for some people to tip the scales from “she was extra special” back to “she fucking deserved it.”

Basically, it’s bad optics. It’s bad for the brand. But I think we need to make room in The Discourse. Obviously a large part of the problem of how we perceive people with disabilities as victims is how we measure value in a capitalist society.

And of course it all comes back to capitalism.

But really, what can be done about the fact that it’s not profitable to employ disabled workers, especially considering that there are already not enough jobs for able ones? I’m not going to pretend like it’s any different. I know when it comes to both the labor market and video making I have low production value.

You just don’t want to work

Of course I want to work, do you think I like having no organizing force in my life and being crushed by existential dread on a daily basis? It’s not… ideal. I can feel a desire for work and still understand that it would be a nonsensical business move for someone to hire me full time. That has nothing to do with my work ethic or self-confidence and everything to do with my confidence in the free market.

Maybe a lot of us less exploitables can’t work a full 40 hours/week but, if given the resources to survive and educate ourselves, we can absolutely contribute in meaningful ways. If our society was structured in a way that we only did the work that needed to be done and extra work was optional then I’m really not even sure how many people would be considered disabled. Could we then finally, genuinely, call people “differently abled”? Or will this always be a dysphemism?

Of course there are people who will always need carers and people who will not be able to do any amount of physical or intellectual labor, but without the need for everyone to work then I wonder if people would be quicker to recognize these individuals as added value rather than added burden. And please don’t get angry at my use of the word “burden” here because, currently, that’s what I am in this society. I don’t want to sit here and pretend like it’s different, I want society to be different. I am currently not only a financial burden but an existential one. Families can become homeless caring for children with disabilities, especially children with disabilities unrecognized by the state; families skip meals and make huge sacrifices because they can see the human value in individuals who aren’t valued by the free market. Unfortunately for countless people with disabilities, many families don’t see their value outside of the free market or aren’t willing to make those sacrifices and instead abuse them, kill them, or leave them to die. Knowing there are people who think the world would be better if you were dead can really take a toll on a person’s self-esteem, to say the least. But I think it’s better to face this reality and discuss its causes rather than cover it up in social taboos and polite language and hope it’ll just go away. Superficial analysis only leads to superficial solutions.

And I’m sure it’s totally safe to have that sort of serious life or death discussion here, people never receive death threats on the internet /s. I can know, intellectually, that it’s okay to enjoy life and spend time with people I love, doing things that I love, without the crushing guilt of not producing anything of market value. But it’s hard to re-condition myself to accept that just because I don’t have labor value, I do still have human value. 

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, over 16 million Americans have lost their jobs at the time of writing this video. Yet society hasn’t collapsed, people can still receive medical care, houses haven’t disappeared, food hasn’t disappeared, we still have all the same resources. The only problem is that people are prevented access to these resources due to our economic system. Our system is founded on the false and dangerous idea that every person has to work full time, even if they’re just standing outside flipping a sign around for 40 hours/week when they could be doing something that contributes meaningfully to society. And, what’s worse, the idea that people should be punished if they don’t. That if we didn’t punish people for not working then there would be no doctors or farmers or scientists. That no one desires to do work, help society, or expand human knowledge without payment. (Please explain the existence of fanfiction). 

With the rise of automation, more and more people will not need to work. Already there is no need for the 40 hour work week. I hope, with this channel, we can all explore how to define value outside of the capitalist labor market together.

And remember, there’s no shame in being less exploitable.


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