I’m sick. I have chronic illnesses which cause me lots of pain and fatigue. The specific names and causes of my illnesses are not important (and not even totally known by me or my doctors). I spend a lot of time in bed. Sometimes even weeks at a time. This is not something I have a choice about. During these times I may be able to read or chat on the internet or watch TV, but sometimes I am too sick to read even the trashiest novels (sorry Jackie Collins), or follow the simplest TV shows. Sometimes I can’t do anything but sleep and several days will pass in a dreamy blur. Even though my illnesses are incredibly painful, frustrating, uncomfortable, and exhausting etc., as a sick person my body has a lot to teach me about resisting capitalism.
The sick body necessarily resists capitalism. It resists anything that refuses to put it first. By merely existing and surviving (which is often quite difficult), our sick bodies demand that we opt out of the rat race, no matter whether that race is climbing the corporate ladder or saving the world.
Capitalism values production above all else. The capitalism system values us only as workers and consumers, and our ability to survive is directly tied to how much we are able to produce. In order to truly resist capitalism we need to sever the ties between value and productivity. Even in anti-capitalist communities, the people that are put on a pedestal and are seen and treated as the most valued are those who tend to be the most productive, or have achieved some notoriety for something they have produced. And while we should absolutely value the amazing, necessary, groundbreaking work that some of us do, we also need to be sure to value people as beings and bodies that exist separate from tangible works.
I have seen so many of my friends burned out and physically and psychologically pushed to the breaking point because they are involved in so many projects. We all want to save the world and we know and see that there is so much work to be done. And the work is important, but we are more important. We should not value people’s productivity or “output” more than the people themselves. If we do that, then what are we working towards?
Valuing people based on what they can do also reinforces racism, classism, ableism, sexism etc because typically, those of us with the least barriers are the ones who are able to “accomplish” the most.
I have been a part of many communities that are critical of capitalism, but where people are still valued based on their ability to produce. Instead of financial capital, social capital is the currency. The people that are the most involved in various projects are the ones who have the strongest ties to the community, and the most access to resources. In creating alternatives to capitalism amazing work has been done in many communities prioritizing mutual aid and community resources, and I am awed by the ways we support each other and help each other survive. It is because this work is so crucial, and what is created so important, that we need these resources to be available to everyone.
There is an irony to chronic illness. What we often need most is a network of people to help us out with various aspects of daily living (cooking, cleaning, support, company etc.), yet we often are too sick to create and nurture relationships with others to access the support we need. Because I need to spend a lot of time in bed, and leaving the house is sometimes impossible for me, I missed out on a lot of amazing events that would have helped to strengthen my ties to various communities, and these “lost” relationships are what I mourn most about being sick. But we can learn a lot from our deviant and disabled bodies. Because while I am forced into capitalism, my body in its infinite wisdom is steadfastly refusing to buy the lies of capitalism that my worth is in what I do.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone from being involved in the work that makes their heart sing and their communities stronger, to the contrary. This work is important. We just need to make sure that we value the not doing just as much as the doing. For a lot of us with disabled bodies (who are also more likely to be poor and have other marginalized identities) survival is an amazing feat in and of itself.
What I am choosing to learn from my sickness is the beauty and transgressive power of just not doing. Not producing anything. Just being.
Even something as simple as writing this piece is something that I usually cannot do. Right now, I am only able to do this in the time between waking up in the morning and the time that I have to take my medication. Right now I am usually too sick and/or medicated to even “produce” a coherent thought. For my family and those close to me to value me even at those times is truly revolutionary because to them my worth is in no way tied to what I can do. I am no more valuable to them on “good” days when I can clean the house than I am on days when I cannot get out of bed. I want all of our communities to look like this. If we are serious about creating alternatives to capitalism then we must move away from overtly and intrinsically valuing the “doing” and start to honor the “being”.
This is not about accessibility. Of course we should try to make things as accessible as possible for people that want to participate, but that is not what this is about. This is about when no amount of accommodations will work. This is about bodies that CANNOT. Bodies that WILL NOT. Bodies that REFUSE. Bodies that RESIST.
Capitalism teaches that we are only worthy inasmuch as we can produce. This is a lie. Our existence is enough. Your existence is enough.