by Jack Bragen
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” – United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3
Every person of every race, religion, ancestry, sexual orientation and disability should have the right to exist, and people should let us be when we are minding our own business. If someone has a benign agenda, not actively doing something to disrupt the lives of others, and especially when engaged in efforts to better their lives and living conditions, there is no excuse for harassment, threats or outright attack toward that individual from any entity, including government officials, corporations or others.
Poor people in the U.S. are denied the right to exist. The cutoff of the right to exist is automatic: Some of its mechanisms are ingrained in the fact of everything costing too much.
Disabled people are also denied the right to exist, to improve our living conditions, to have a decent level of income and often, and to have autonomy in our lives.
The waters of poverty are deep and their surface is choppy. It takes bravery to navigate out of them. And poverty entails jeopardy from numerous directions. If you are not careful, your boat could take on water.
If escaping poverty is like crossing a channel, and the opposite shore is the income needed to protect you from the harsh mechanisms in society, and if you aren’t powerful enough with your oars, your boat gets shredded by a great white shark, and you become its lunch, with smaller sharks in thanks for the leftover pieces.
Factors that impede well-being and comfort make it impossible for us to think clearly and solve our problems, affecting our ability to exist. The conspiracy to dump people on the streets who can’t make it in the conventional workplaces is a slap in the face to our rights to exist.
I recently had the experience of winter temperatures affecting the indoor habitability of my rented unit. The heating system didn’t work. It affected me. Cold temperatures and the inability to be comfortable adversely affect consciousness, so I couldn’t get any work done. My mind kept obsessing with how I could get warm.
After about five days, someone gave me a space heater. (I could have also bought one, but it was the end of the month when my funds are limited.)
When a person is excessively cold or hot, starving, thirsty, or lacks shelter from the sun and wind, they can’t think and can’t bring about their higher faculties. It is only by having those faculties available that we can think well enough to improve our situations, or at least prevent ourselves from slipping backward.
Politicians and CEOs are quite aware of this, but they intentionally don’t make efforts to solve it. This is yet another denial of the right to exist.
Primitive homo sapiens, our ancestors, no doubt were acclimated to cold, heat and going without food. But if you are acclimated to comfortable surroundings, you can’t just snap a finger and become immune to this level of suffering.
Suffering isn’t always fixable with cognitive work. Sometimes, there is no obvious method to avoid suffering. And along with this, we are less able to think clearly enough to fix our difficulties.
If someone is in your face and won’t let up, that interferes with your thought process. When someone constantly knocks you off balance, you can’t even think well enough to devise strategies to deflect. The person getting in your face is impacting your right to exist.
When I was in my twenties, a man forced me into a fistfight, claiming that if I didn’t get out of my car and face him, “I’m going to rip the door off this car.” He was unhappy with me because I had a job and a moderate level of success in my life, which he wasn’t able or willing to do for himself. I was permanently injured in the flight. I discovered decades later that most likely in this fight, a bone in my eye socket was fractured, leaving me prone to brain infection.
Other people have done similar things. The problem is where people won’t allow others to succeed because they have sour grapes and want everyone else to remain down. People can’t let you be.
This fight was the last straw that led me to apply for Social Security. This is because in its aftermath, I believed that people wouldn’t let me be a success. It also led to a break in my forward momentum and a regression to a post-traumatized state where I couldn’t think.
When people endure too many hard knocks, they can’t bounce back. At some point they get knocked down for good, and that’s the beginning of the end.
With technology as it currently is, we could make everyone reasonably comfortable. But the wealthy are afraid of this, because it will cause common people to want more for themselves, shifting the status quo. The rich don’t want things to be equal. They don’t want a person at the bottom obviously being smarter than they are. They want to maintain and increase their dominance.
Big corporations rely heavily on migrant workers and on outsourcing. Recently, they are relying more on automated systems and artificial intelligence, taking humans out of the equation entirely and eliminating jobs. I’m not just citing that we’re not giving people of color work that bolsters our economy; the inequality of pay and
the inhuman working conditions must also be addressed. In the 1990s, I made one last try at nighttime cleanup work. In the mid-’80s, I’d been able to make a living at it. The worksite was a giant office building, and there was a crowd of about 30 workers. And I discovered I was the only English-speaking worker there. The work I expected, but the isolation was far beyond what I could bear, so I left.
Those who at one time worked in manual tasks and odd jobs sometimes end up on the street or incarcerated. Meanwhile, people acclimated to much harder, more demanding work without any complaints or demands have replaced them, because that’s the sterilized, faceless, machine-like workforce corporate leaders want to see. This denies the right to exist of those displaced from work, those in labor unions, and the replacement workers themselves, whom corporate America has invited in to work harder with less pay than most documented workers are willing to do.
In the mental health treatment systems, I probably receive better help today than I ever have. This may be because I have demonstrated the complete unwillingness to become defunct. It is an irresistible force meeting with a stubborn, if not immovable, object. However, treatment professionals force antipsychotics on many of us. These drugs seem to work to alleviate symptoms; still, they are like a chemical straitjacket.
On antipsychotics, you can barely move your body to do physical work to earn money. You can barely assimilate and regurgitate dense academic material as you would have to do in college. In my writing, I’ve had to overcome the effects of antipsychotics through sheer effort and through taking breaks. Treatment practitioners can’t argue with success.
Neurodivergent people are controlled in many if not most aspects of our lives. We are restrained through lack of income and through court actions. Psychologists know how to manipulate our thinking. Being in outpatient institutionalization is better than being homeless. The outpatient mental health treatment systems are partly helpful, but also partly restraining. It is part of their job to keep us controlled so that we don’t disrupt the mainstream of society.
It could be interpreted from the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the right to exist isn’t distinct from the right to create personal success nor from the right to create good living conditions. If we want to see the right to exist carried out, we must do that for ourselves. No one is going to stand up for us unless we do. We must be unwilling to go under. We must be determined. Other people won’t have the same investment in our right to exist, therefore we must make it so.
Jack Bragen lives and writes in Martinez, California.