My Resilience Will Not Be An Ableist Apocalypse

Photo by  Erik Mclean  on  Unsplash

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

When I was five or six years old, I remember finding my mom asleep in bed with her shoes on. Not ten minutes before, we’d been getting ready to walk to the bus stop together. I tried to ask her what she was doing, but she didn’t respond. She didn’t say anything. She curled deeper into the bed and waved me away.

About an hour later, the phone rang. When I didn’t answer, it rang again a few minutes later. Finally, I picked up and it was my dad who was shocked to learn I was still at home. Over the next twenty or so minutes, he walked me through begging my mom to drink a soda. It was my first real understanding of what it meant for mom to be diabetic.

Not many years later and leading up to the new millennium, apocalyptic fervor hit the church community we were involved with. To outsiders, this period might later be described as a paranoid religiosity reacting to a globalizing world eclipsing the moral and political power of conservative Christians in the United States. But to many insiders, the turn of the century heralded the actual and imminent end of the world. In nearly all of my church community interactions for the next few years, kids and adults alike openly fantasized about the collapse of all civilization—a sudden end to electricity, food and medicine shortages, and neighborhood clashes between rioting masses and militarized police forces.

It was in these years that I first began to really consider what the end of the world would look like for people like my mom who are dependent on regular access to modern medicine. Her reply was simple: ‘Well, I’d be dead in a matter of days, so you wouldn’t need to worry about that.’

And so began one of my great fears about being disabled. Even as I’ve traded fear of a supernatural apocalypse for a whole range of emotions around our changed and still-changing climate, and even as I’ve begun to understand a nuanced critique of civilization in place of fearing its collapse, the fear of slow and painful, lonely death remains salient. Resolving this fear requires the practical: prepping for how ecological collapse is already affecting me and the world I live in. And also the interpersonal: knowing we are valued community members blunts the edge of a potential tragic death alone. While the first can be found in any of my homesteading work, the second is the dynamic I really want to engage with here today.

There’s certainly no shortage of people eager to share their thoughts on various apocalypses, but I feel that my perspective on how we might prep or approach resilience through them offers an additional layer of insight due to my experiences with disability, chronic illness, and neurodivergence. Across the spectrum of apocalyptic thinkers from evangelicals to anarcho-primitivists, disabled people are often positioned as a tragedy in these anxiously imagined post-civ futures. This is the ‘reality’ I hear often in these kinds of conversations, and it’s a ‘reality’ that’s informed my own fears around ecological and societal collapse since I was a kid.

But it’s also a ‘reality’ which feels a lot like unnecessarily horrific fantasy to me. And I’m ready for something new.

My aim in this essay is not to dictate specific terms for disabled inclusion in any resilience movement of any kind (although I include a few ideas). Rather, I want to crush the zero-sum scarcity model so often pitting disabled people against resilient and post-civ thinkers, and reorient the way we talk about this intersection to see both how disabling human society can be to us and how a thriving life for disabled people is already connected to our resilience craft for other life on this planet as well.

Disabling Civ

Where many post-civ visionaries pick up the discussion on disabled people is in a fear of medicine shortages brought on by a sudden collapse. Yes, that fear is legit and terrifying. But it is also really just a baseline to where disabled folks already start this conversation.

Access to modern medicine, treatment, and care is an ongoing issue for most disabled people around the world, even in countries with socialized healthcare. In the States, some diabetics pay $1,000/month or more just to live. Others ration insulin and die because of it. Disabled activist Carrie Ann Lucas was arguably just murdered by her insurance company’s refusal to provide adequate treatment. And countless millions of others from people with AIDS to people with chronic Lyme, diabetes, depression, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and more are or have been routinely gaslit, denied adequate care, and subjected to a labyrinthine genocide by bureaucracy in a society that counts profit ahead of people. Even celebrities like Selma Blair experience this, demonstrating that not even wealth and other social privileges lift disabled people out of this fight for our lives against the healthcare industry.

Beyond medicine, the accessibility of civilization itself continues to also be an uphill battle. Even if one can afford a wheelchair or other mobility tech, there is no guarantee that every place life demands one travel will be constructed to accommodate us. Yet without assistive technology like this, even the most basic forms of a social life can be off-limits to disabled folks. Most Deaf children for instance have two hearing parents, yet something like 88% of them refuse to learn how to sign for even their own child.

These atrocities are not the result of civilization’s fantastic collapse by ecological or supernatural means, but rather arise as part of civilization’s existence, its disabling and domesticating structures, the interests of its transnational capitalists, and their persistent devaluation of life which fails to meet its standard of normalcy, fails to contribute adequate productivity, or is unable to buy its way out of these expectations.

Many, although not all, disabilities and chronic illnesses likewise arise from the mechanics of civilization. For instance, to keep up with global demand for animal products, slaughterhouse workers in the United States are subjected to conditions which on average produce 17 ‘severe’ incidents per month, including amputations occurring on average twice every week. Studies have repeatedly noted that these same workers also experience higher incidences of PTSD, increased occurrences of domestic abuse, and increased drug abuse—all of which can be disabling in their own ways.

Other conditions like asthma and type 2 diabetes are also linked in one way or another to the design of modern civilization. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma attacks are associated with environmental factors like industrial air pollution from sources like factories or vehicle traffic. And the gross modernity of American grocery chains, combined with health illiteracy by design, food deserts, the legacy of racism and colonialism, the structure of the ‘work day,’ and financial instability are all structural economic parameters a critical eye may find to put us at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other chronic conditions.

Similarly, our mental health is under assault by our day-to-day experience of civilization. In satire, we joke about how unhealthy office jobs are to one’s physical and psychological health, yet the message of the joke is true. Throughout much of his work, Mark Fisher challenged his readers to think of depression beyond a medical or neurological model.

In his book Capitalist Realism, he wrote:

“The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces Capital’s drive towards atomistic individualization (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repolicitizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism,” (p. 37).

Fisher’s politicization of mental illness here and elsewhere re-centers the importance of links between economic insecurity and depression. While the idea that having welfare cut can enable depression is likely obvious to a working class audience, Fisher additionally notes that mainstream mental health treatment buries this disabling structural trigger in favor of blaming individual behaviors (like believing in yourself or taking medications), which I would note runs parallel to the mainstream medical approach to conditions like diabetes. For comparison, note how this piece from the Texas A&M University Health Science Center frames being poor and living in a poorly designed neighborhood as ‘behavioral risks’ (i.e. individual choices we make) rather than structural conditions of racism and labor exploitation resulting in disabling health disparities.

Likewise, consider how sensory overloads and meltdowns experienced by people on autistic, ADHD, OCD, and other neurodivergent spectrums are framed as individual behaviors to be controlled, masked, or disciplined out of existence. For instance, rarely in my life has it been suggested to me that my difficulty navigating emotional or mismatched social cues, implicit hierarchies and rules, or noisy environments where it is necessary to focus on one task or speaker is anything but a personal failing deserving of medications I do not want to be on or isolated self-reflection on what I did wrong. In my timeouts, I have observed that the culture and the psychogeography that manifest these ‘quirks’ remains unchallenged. Specifically I mean: if people learned to communicate more non-violently and directly, if noise pollution was minimized, or if the design of our settlements accommodated for cool-down areas and cool-down breaks throughout the day, would my ‘failures’ still exist?

Animals experience an analogous reframing of their behavior. The severing of wild areas to accommodate human expansion decimates animal populations and coaches behavior change like mammals becoming nocturnal to avoid humans. The persistence of animals in these spaces—not human traffic, expansion, or ecological destruction—is then viewed as the problem. Civilization is totalitarian in its human-ism. And it is disabling, whether you are chimps held captive in the best zoos, farmed goats trying to leap to your death after a mate is sold, or lab animals whose torture and death will hopefully advance human science.

The upswing to all of this is supposed to be that we gain more than we lose. Disabled people, we’re assured, are now more or less included in human society. Treatments for terrible conditions are now possible for those who can afford and access them. Neurodiversity is now roughly understood enough to be pathologized, quantified, and in at least one prominent case, named after a Nazi eugenicist with little observable dissent from the medical establishment. Fewer people are dying from preventable illnesses thanks to vaccines, and human life expectancy seems to be trending upwards around the world. The problems that remain, like access to healthcare, safer workplaces, or nuance in urban design, seem to the dominant culture problems simply requiring time and effort to resolve within the existing framework, not intrinsically disabling features of our society.

In this sense, we may inherit a mindset that undoing the predicament of disabled people is necessarily pitted against more daring critiques of civilization as a whole. But to me this mindset also seems mired in a reductive re-framing of how disabled, chronically ill, and neurodivergent people experience contemporary human society. Our struggles are very frequently structural, not merely based in prejudicial attitudes, and so to me this is indicative that our impulse if not our theory is towards critique of civilization, not solely the social dynamics within it. A complete redesign of our agricultural food system for instance is not a reform to society, it is an abolition of disabling infrastructure. At its heart, liberation from the mandatory pathologization of madness and neurodivergence is not to demand an expansion of ‘normalcy,’ but to uproot its role in human economics, autonomy, and social relations. In many ways, we are fighting against not for a civilization that disables us. So it seems to me that the primary difference between disabled and other post-civ thinkers is a matter of how deep we are willing to dream better futures and how rooted in disabled experiences those visions are.

Regrettably, this is frequently not the case in practice. Many disabled people, already understandably defensive from fighting for basic access and life in human society, hear criticism of civilization as a fascist neo-primitivism accelerating an already present eugenics effort. On the other hand, many able-bodied critics of civilization seem to hear disabled class struggles as a pining for ecologically destructive industry, plastic, and liberal reforms to an already collapsing way of life. In both cases, there are these apocalyptic narratives guiding our alienation from one another—a fear of genocide and a fear of preventable ecological collapse. In both of these fears, I hear echoes of Mark Fisher who conceptualized ‘capitalist realism’ around an observation that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The realism we are both struggling to imagine beyond however is not limited to capitalism alone. It is, as Jiddu Krishnamurti is credited with describing, the ‘profoundly sick society,’ we find ourselves and our planet disabled by. In recognition of this shared desire to imagine our ways somewhere better, I believe there is tremendous room for cross-pollination between post-civ and disabled thinkers—more of us must reach out and seize our agency to claim these intersections.

All Bodies Are Part of Earth’s Body

Once we are able to conceptualize how civilization can be a disabling force in our lives, I believe it is easier to perceive great connectivity between the wild natural world and disabled people. Indeed, like all life on this planet, the foods we all eat—the grains, the herbs, the fruits, and the vegetables—the water we drink, the medicines we take, the salves we apply to wounds, the flowers we smell—in all these ways, our senses and our bodies are intimately connected to the earthen body of our planet. When we die and are buried, we are broken open by mushrooms and worms and ants. We return the cells we have borrowed to the Earth who loaned them to us.

And this relationship is independent of the conditions of our bodies. Whether we dance on four legs, two legs, or no legs, whether we are deaf and blind or hearing and seeing, whether we experience chronic illnesses or a difference of the mind does not sever us from the Earth. The construct of today’s human society does.

In this sense, I identify being disabled as an intimacy with the untamed wild. I identify my conditions like asthma and diabetes with my wild body’s resistance to civilization. I am a plant, choking on ozone when my lungs tighten and I cannot breathe. I am a raccoon foraging for something still edible when my pancreas cannot process the foods of grocery stores. My neurodivergence is the wild reasserting herself—gathering intelligence through my eyes, slowly digesting the magnitude of the human problem in my overloads and my meltdowns, mourning bees in my depression, snarling at humans unknown to her in my anxiety, and planting the seeds for her jailbreak in my guerrilla gardens and my wildlife shelters.

My fear of a lonely and painful death can be undone in the synergy of thriving ecosystems, the health of soil and meadows and pollinators, and a rejuvenating approach to human life as part of these things, and not master over them.

And this is not just metaphor. Many of the ways we are presently discussing ‘saving the planet’ from human-driven climate change will not only enable the resilience of wildlife, but create a more enabling society for disabled people. Localizing our food system and rewilding our lawns for instance not only decreases greenhouse gas emissions from refrigerated transportation, but would repopulate food deserts (an indicator for diabetes), and potentially grow food within an arm’s reach of all in need whether poor, disabled, or simply hungry. For me as a diabetic, this has been a major motivator in my own drive to grow as much of my own food as possible. When I talk ‘local foods’ I am not just referring to food within my zip code, but food I can reach out and eat off the vine when my blood sugar is dropping and I have no food in the house. At present, my alternative—assuming I have money for food—is to get out into traffic and hope I don’t blackout trying to make it at a snail’s pace to a grocery store. The planet and I are both tired of that choice.

The needs of other disabled people will have to be communicated by them, but I am certain that there must be hundreds of ways our fate and the fate of nature are tied together in acts of mutual aid. Butterfly sanctuaries are as critical to life on this planet as Deaf culture. Designing a human food system where wild bees are not discarded is as imperative as designing human settlements that accommodate a multitude of human and animal ways of living. Even learning to value solitary wild bees is to carve out room in our minds for life that chooses its own path outside the assigned social order of hierarchical hives. Futures envisioned on top of expendable people and animals are not resilient enough for my time. Leaving one destructive way of life for another is as cosmetic and as absurd as the politics of people advocating plastic straw bans to save the marine life they still eat. Biodiversity is not just about survival of the fittest in a world contrived by the evilest. Biodiversity is about life’s web entangling the marginal, the disabled, the endangered, the wild, the domesticated, and the feral—together, synergystically, our magic is in the collective sum.

Whether intentionally advocating eugenics or not, so much of the imagery employed by evangelical and anarchic post-civ preppers alike tells a story I am not dreaming and can only relate to tangentially. The futures they describe are some of my worst childhood nightmares and adult fears. But like the stories dominant culture teaches its own prophets, theirs is a fable I do not have to draw my future in. Yes, like many disabled people, I am terrified of dying slowly and painfully alone for totally preventable reasons. And yes, the looming presence of climate catastrophe amplifies these fears in new and horrific ways.

But I am also the kind of wild thing that has not yet been hunted to extinction. I am teeth that rend, claws that shred, nectar that nourishes, and a web that holds through the dew I may cry. My resilience craft will not so easily shed the same lives discarded by today’s humans. Instead, I believe we all have futures to discover in thriving ecosystems who survive the Anthropocene.


This essay appears as part of the Deepening Resilience community blog project. Project coordinator Syren Nagakyrie and the project’s contributors are creating conversation on climate change and human responses to the issues our ecological crisis raises. Learn more or even submit your own thoughts at the blog project’s home page or Facebook group page.

Enjoyed this post? You can buy me a coffee here.


WIN_20180115_12_57_40_Pro.jpg

Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to info@pat-mosley.com