The Price of Productivity
I am disabled. I cannot tell you exactly why I am disabled. I also cannot tell you exactly what it means that I am disabled. I can describe what disables me – how my joints do not work correctly, how I am in pain without cause every day, how I spend at least a day out of every week living as if in a deep fog and unable to focus or concentrate, or how I see the world in a way that is completely different from everyone around me. I can describe how this has limited me in interacting with the world around me in a way that everyone understands. I cannot tell you what these disabilities are, either. The reason, it so happens, has nothing to do with medicine. It’s not that there is no diagnosis for my disability, that there is no way to know what disables me. There are words for what is wrong with me, diagnosis for what limits me and hobbles me compared to who I was five, ten, or fifteen years ago. I never got to know those words, though, because I cannot pay for them. I have never been able to afford the tax we place on health and wellness. If it wasn’t for my partner, I would still be suffering almost every day.
While it didn’t help that my family was mired in legal problems throughout my childhood that prevented my parents from exploring my health issues, it was compounded when I left home at 16. Since then, I’ve been completely homeless 3 times, for a total of five years all together. I’ve spent most of my adult life without medical care. Even when I was working, the constant pressure for eating regularly, for keeping my transportation in order, for having presentable clothes for work, and for paying my rent on time kept me from focusing on my health. Even as things got worse, as my hands started to hurt and I would spend days at work unable to describe what I was doing, I still couldn’t see a doctor. I thought, for a long time, that I should just work through it. Not that I could necessarily, but that I had a moral obligation to work through it. That productivity, that devotion to my job, would be rewarded despite how horrible it made me feel, despite how much it took out of me to get to work, and how hard it was to try to focus. I had bought into something that I’ll be referring to as the Cult of Productivity often in this space. A cult that is, above all else, devoted to ensuring that we work. Work is greater than our free time, work is greater than our home life, work is greater than our families, work is greater than our health. Work is the only moral good in the America, in the western world, built on the Protestant work ethic.
And, like all cults, the Cult of Productivity demands a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is those of us with lesser means. Those of us who lack privilege. The feeding floor is poverty, where people of color, people with disabilities, people who lack access and opportunity eventually slide. The poor, then, are ground into the earth and used to feed the roots of modern capital. They form the backbone of labor that allow those with access and power to work, the productivity of the poor is exchanged for the power and access of the wealthy. The wealthy, in turn, keep the cult in motion while celebrating, while not rewarding, the productivity and the work of those below them. I have paid this price for most of my life. I’m hoping, however, that you and I, that all of us, and work together to dismantle the Cult of Productivity. A future where work is the only moral good. A future where productivity is equally rewarded as well as celebrated. A world where no one has to pay for the power another wields.