Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Short Story About Bread, Disability, & Privilege

Imagine that there are eight people confined in a room. One of them has five loafs of bread, six of them have no bread but they have enough tokens to exchange for enough bread to keep themselves fed, and one person isn't able to get any tokens and is unable to secure any bread for themselves due to reasons beyond their control. There is enough bread for all eight people if it is divided evenly.

The person without the bread begins to feel hungry, but they don't want to have to ask the person with five loafs of bread for anything in fear of looking inadequate or frowned upon by the other people who have tokens. Finally the person is so hungry that they give in and ask if they could please have some bread. The person with the bread says, "well, since we have such a just group, all you have to do is prove to us that you really really want the bread, and that you're not lying to just get extra bread." The person without bread feels upset that despite their misfortune and starvation they have to actually "prove" their worthiness for the bread and that it is suspected that they could actually be lying about their situation.

Since the starving person doesn't really have much of a choice, they agree to the conditions of having to "prove" themselves to be in need of the bread. First, the person in control of the bread tells the starving person to do eighteen laps around the room since it ought to not be difficult if you're starving and truly determined. The starving person feels even more upset since they're already starving, in a vulnerable position, putting themselves out there in front of everyone asking for bread and risking being frowned upon, having to agree to any terms necessary, and now they have to run around a room to do laps when they aren't even in any condition to do so.

The starving person does the laps despite wishing to be doing something else that they believe is more beneficial to the group or that they enjoy but they don't have any control in this matter at all. Feeling rather helpless and distraught, the starving person returns to the person with the bread to ask if they've proven themselves "worthy" to be given some bread. The six other people with tokens bicker to the person with the bread since they don't want to see someone who doesn't have tokens have anything that they are able to get with their tokens. The person with the bread decides that to appease all of the bickering people that they will make the person who's in need and desperate go through another round to prove themselves.

The person with the bread tells the starving person that although they had done what was commanded, they are not found eligible for any bread, and that they must agree to do something more in order to acquire the bread. Feeling even more deprived of autonomy the starving person again agrees to do what will be commanded of them. The person with the bread tells the starving person that they must present records of how much bread they've been able to eat over the past year to ensure that they aren't trying to get free bread.

Feeling overwhelmed, the starving person sets out to collect records to prove that they have been malnourished for an extended period of time. After some work they finally return and present the documents in front of all seven people. Feeling quite on the spot and deprived of their privacy the starving person then asks if they now qualify for some bread. The six other people with tokens bicker to the person with the bread. After quite a long time the person with the bread returns to present their verdict to the starving person. They tell the starving person that they do not believe they have proven themselves worthy yet for any bread and that they must now prove as to why they can't acquire their own tokens for their own bread.

Feeling completely fed up and hopeless the starving person leaves to find proof of their impairment that disables them from acquiring the tokens needed to receive bread. After some time, gathering documents from people qualified to explain their predicament, they return to present their proof to the person with the bread and the other people. At this point the starving person doesn't know what to do. They feel completely controlled and subjugated by these people they have to continually appeal to. They wonder how other people in a similar situation would get through this process. How many of them would just end up dying before receiving the help that they need.

The person with the bread reviews the documents and the other people bicker. Finally the person with the bread tells the verdict to the starving person that they still do not qualify for bread. Bewildered, the starving person begins to wonder how this is a "just" system. They wonder who actually does get any bread when they are in need. On the edge of crying or screaming the starving person asks, "what could I possibly do now?" The person with the bread replies, "you may repeat the previous three steps to try to prove your eligibility two more times and if you're still found to be ineligible, you can appeal by finding someone to represent your defense."

The starving person goes through the same time consuming and painstaking process two more times and each time they are declined with the verdict being that they are not eligible since they do not appear to truly have an impairment that affects their ability to acquire tokens for bread and that they are not truly deprived of nourishment.

Feeling completely sick and worn out the starving person then sets out to find someone to defend their case which is their last option. Since they don't have any tokens to acquire someone to defend themselves one of the six people with tokens is tasked for defending the starving person. The starving person sits down with the person who's there to defend them. The starving person presents their case and all of the details of the hardships they go through. The person representing them is so moved that they tell the person with the bread to allow the starving person to be given some bread.

Finally the starving person is awarded the bread that they had to work so hard for. The starving person doesn't feel happy at all though. They've had to run around in circles and feel miserable for such an extended period of time that they feel like they've lost any dignity that they've ever had. They now feel worried that people will judge them for having to rely on a system of bread support.

They were awarded bread support under the condition that they must periodically report all of their token finances and any changes in their life situation including where they live, who they live with, if they have any children, if they are given any gifts, and so on. The person who's now given barely enough bread to live on feels pressured and like their privacy is being invaded. They also feel tense and uncomfortable about fulfilling all of these conditions. There's also a bread support deduction if the person actually happens to acquire some tokens meaning that there isn't much hope of becoming self-sustaining.

Over time the person on bread support finds that they are in need of other things essential to a quality life like dental care. They go to the person with the bread to request tokens for the care. The person in control of the bread tells the person on bread support that although their just system of support does cover these services, they do not qualify since the dental work they need is not included under what they consider "basic dental support". Feeling helpless and realizing that everything that the person on bread support needs must be constantly fought for they retreat into the darkest corner of the room and think to themselves for awhile.

They think about how hard they've tried throughout their life to maintain their dental health and how much it meant to them and how now they seem to be in such a helpless situation. They think about how hard they've tried in their lives to have some dignity and how this entire process has taken it all away and reduced them to an undesirable liability. They think about their ambitions, passions, skills, and what they believe in. They think about how they want to create something with meaning in this world and to not have to live a life that is below the heels of people who just happen to have the ability to readily achieve tokens to exchange for bread.

What to do though? Part of the person feels like revolting against the person with the bread along with the other people who impose this system upon them and another part feels like giving up on life. Perhaps the person can just keep going along and give up more of their humanity but is life really worth living when you give up everything? If they speak up publicly about their situation perhaps they will just end up losing their support or worse. Maybe they'd be painted in such a way that they're looked upon simply as a reckless and destructive bum. Maybe they'll be imprisoned. Maybe their criticism will be met with, "this is how the system has to be!", "You don't want this just group to fall apart by people thinking that they're all entitled to free bread!"

It's not like there are many other people being vocal about this issue that they can confide with. They are a minority. An "other" that is unable to be part of the main group and stigmatized by the group. Due to this they feel broken and undesirable. They are the most vulnerable and are given the most difficult time. What ought they to do?

"The Backstreets" an image from one of my conceptual photo series. The series is called the "Difficult Series". It is about the hardships many people face during their lives.