Friday, May 31, 2013

Dependence and Coercion.

Photo by Virginia Reza (Wiki Commons.)

I was standing out in front of the food bank, waiting for the doors to open, when the cops drove by. It’s the same thing every time, and it got me thinking.

"...there is a strong correlation between intolerance and insecurity..." - Patterns of Dominance, Phillip Mason.

In terms of context, Mason is speaking of the image of the Indian, subject to both social dependence and coercion in the past.

At first, the fur traders lived among them, and saw them as indispensible for the trade. When settlers displaced the fur trade, attitudes changed. Native Canadians were in the way of agricultural development. Settlers had gone through a social upheaval, having immigrated from another country, in search of fortune—a kind of social mobility promised by cheap land and a chance to be independent. They were scared, they had heard all kinds of lurid accounts of native Canadians, and they saw what they expected to see.

Extrapolating from that, the same attitudes apply to other minorities, and it holds true today in terms of attitudes towards Muslims, recipients of social assistance, the disabled, gays, you name it. It applies in a kind of universal social law. It is almost as if the insecure need to reassure themselves that they are in fact superior to someone else. They are in the process of improving their social status, with its concomitant rewards of better food, better housing, better educational prospects for their children.

Like the natives in the fur trade, a disabled person is someone who is not useful in society. They have become a burden, an impediment to progress and 'prosperity for all.'

ODSP Reform.

Is the government serious about ODSP reform? I think it's a scare tactic--a form of coercion. The object was to scare the disabled into shutting up about our very reasonable demands for social equity.

In situations of dependence, there is very often a kind of coercion to be found.

Battered women are unable to leave the abusive relationship for any number of reasons. The spouse is a good provider. There is a kind of security in the relationship, it doesn’t happen all the time, and perhaps the victim is afraid of repercussions. They find a way to justify it, for the price of leaving may be very high. There is extortion, often something held over their heads, anything from custody of the children, to threats of murder, other forms of blackmail, or in some cases it’s just the constant battering of the victim’s self-esteem that renders them unable to act effectively on their own. The abusive partner has defined them, and after a while, the victim knows who they are and is no longer able to resist. The abusive spouse gets a domestic and sexual slave—their motivation is much clearer.

Don't let others define you.

That’s why it’s so important to set our own agendas, not to accept someone else’s terms of reference or definitions. Obviously this can be very difficult for a victim whose personal resources, especially of the inner, moral kind, are at low ebb. They have been broken down.

When you think of Canada’s native peoples, the same principles apply. In spite of reputed efforts of government after government, native peoples have never been assimilated into mainstream Canadian society. Over time, all immigrant groups have successfully done so.

Are native Canadians somehow ‘different?’ They didn’t even have to immigrate. They start off right here at home.

Or were they just trained differently, over the course of several generations?

Outstanding issues of historical redress, land claims issues and the like are never resolved, and yet decades and centuries have gone by. And native stereotypes persist—the drunken Indian image, the criminal cigarette-smuggler image. The masked warrior at Oka image, the image of a people who are four times more likely to end up in jail compared to ‘regular’ Canadians sort of image…for surely it works both ways and can be twisted back and forth to suit the prejudice of the beholder.

Natives still live on reservations. For our society to give up that reservation mentality, would be very difficult after all this time. It is seen as the natural thing to do. It has become accepted. And in some ways, native Canadians themselves don’t want to give up those reservations, because they are a symbol, and the land they hold is all that is left of their heritage in the material sense. This is an oversimplification, but it has been accepted by both sides of the equation for too long.

People are sometimes marginalized for sound economic policy.

One of the reasons Ontario’s disabled people are afraid to speak out strongly about social equity is because they fear repercussions, reprisals against them, and of course they are dependent on the largesse of the taxpayers. This may seem irrational, but a captive audience can be made to believe anything, even things they knew to be untrue before being exposed to long-term propaganda. Luckily, a lot of disabled people used to have jobs, used to have homes, and had independence of their own. They remember the higher social status, and how they were treated before becoming dependent on the government and the taxpayers.

Negotiating social order.

Negotiating social order and the equitable redistribution of wealth, important in any state, also takes experience at communication, and many disabled aren’t particularly well-educated. It takes self-confidence to present an effective argument. Where would they acquire such self-confidence?

In my personal experience, self-confidence stems not from success so much, but in surviving defeat. Your experience may vary, but it stems from perseverance, and a strong faith in oneself. It stems from a strong sense of self-worth.

No supernatural causes.

When I became an atheist, there were no longer any external reference points for making moral judgments. It all had to come from within. It turns out I’m a pretty good guy, and this when there are no supernatural causes in this universe.

Our attitudes and prejudices are ingrained into us from a very early age. I had a Catholic education, for what it’s worth, and I watched all the same TV shows and read all the same books as the reader probably did. I went to the same schools and played in the same little-league sports.

It would cost money to provide jobs, it costs money to make public and private buildings wheelchair accessible, it costs money to train unskilled people in the sort of skilled occupations that would be appropriate to someone with a given disability. It’s cheaper to keep them at home, although the government never admits that. Society in general, and intolerant people in particular prefer to think of the disabled as criminals, mentally ill, dependent children with no thoughts or minds of their own. Lazy and useless people who don’t want to work. We get paid to sit around and do nothing. I’ve heard that one a million times.

We are all retarded in the view of some people. And retarded people don't have an opinion.

'Surely there must be something you can do.'

Mental illness can make a person unemployable. This is an unpalatable thought for some. Yet the very same folks, if they knew a job applicant suffered from depression or schizophrenia, wouldn’t hire them. They wouldn’t be willing to take a chance on them, even as they were telling the victim of this discrimination, ‘Surely there must be something you can do.”

I throw the words right back into your face.

“Surely there must be something you can do.” And there is—you just don’t want to do it.

Surely most if not all disabled people would prefer to be self-sufficient. Have you ever wondered what would happen if someone actually succeeded, and got off of ODSP? Under the terms and provisions of the ODSP guidelines, recipients can be asked to pay back benefits. When you think in terms of a single person who might have been on benefits for ten years, that would be well over $120,000. That’s a pretty daunting prospect for someone who might be barely keeping their head above water on some minimum-wage job, and it’s still daunting even if they had the great good fortune to bag employment as a pension administrator at $70,000 per annum.

Let’s be clear: it would be hard for the average Canadian bourgeois family, with a household income of $150,000 a year, because after all, they still want a roof over their heads, they’ll need transportation to and from work, then there’s food, fuel, insurance…the list is long. The point is, that repayment of benefits is not only punitive—a kind of coercion—and an obvious disincentive to succeed at anything. It is essentially restitution—a criminal paying back the proceeds of a crime to the courts, and of course a very small percentage of that would end up in the victim’s pocket. That’s because administration costs are everything in such situations.

Self-sufficiency is a key element in personal well-being.
While this theory speaks about Imperialism or colonialism, there are certain parallels.

Coercion theory.

Coercion diplomacy.


Kenneth Coates, from Best Left as Indians, on the police administration of welfare in the Yukon.

“Relief, or welfare, has long been the government program most readily associated with Indians.
A myth developed in the 1900-1950 period, and persists today, concerning the natives' reaction to the availability of relief. The standard account is that the Indians readily surrendered to the convenience of government assistance, abandoning more rigourous pursuits in favour of supplication at the Indian Agent's table. Those administering the relief program in the territory almost universally shared this belief, and their attitudes played a major role in shaping the program. As the Yukon experience demonstrates, that image was a misleading portrayal of native interest in government handouts.

Federal authorities initially refused to accept any obligation for native suffering, doggedly maintaining that the arrival of the white man had been of considerable benefit to the Indians.

Faced with the potential starvation of a small band of Indians at Moosehide in 1900, the government finally acted.

N.W.M.P. Inspector Z. Wood of Dawson authorized immediate distribution of food to alleviate the crisis, only applying for official permission after the fact.

The government insisted that ‘whenever possible the Indians should be required to perform labour or supply game, skins or other commodities in return for the provisions issued to them.’

In the short term, however, police officers were enjoined to ‘provide against anything like destitution.’

From 1900 onward, the government provided parsimonious relief assistance to those truly in need. Few took up the offer however, limiting the welfare rolls to a small number of widowed, aged or infirm natives.

The relief system was occasionally required to respond to more widespread destitution, as occurred in 1905 near McQuesten and 1912 in the southern Yukon, when game stocks unexpectedly proved insufficient. While few came forward to claim these fruits of the government's munificence, the police officials in charge of the program before 1914 believed that the availability of relief rendered the Indians graceless supplicants.

As the Commanding Officer of the Whitehorse Detachment commented in 1908, ‘It is evident that the government assistance given to sick and destitute Indians at Whitehorse is most injurious to the well being and morale of the Indians.’

He then proceeded to ascribe alcohol abuse, prostitution and general laziness to the ‘pernicious effect’ of relief. As a counter-measure, the police imposed controlling mechanisms to protect against abuse. Inspector Horrigan noted in 1912 that ‘young husky Indians asking for provisions were asked to split some stove wood. Needless to say in every case they found that after all they did not require provisions. This plan has worked admirably in weeding out the undeserving cases.’

Those in need found assistance from the government but, self-righteously convinced that the Indians were inveterate malingerers, police officers closely regulated their disbursements.”


Hopefully the reader will bear in mind that the police administration of welfare was the cheapest option. Acting quickly in an emergency was the right thing to do. Over the long term, the police probably hated the duty.

The infrastructure, such as it was, was already in place. Also, welfare, while it is social assistance, is not a disability pension. By definition, the recipient is able to work. What is interesting in Coates’ story is that the natives were reluctant to accept subsistence except when it was strictly necessary for survival, and an ‘entitlement mentality,’ if I may call it that, simply did not develop.

Anybody that doesn’t think subsistence—food, shelter or clothing, can be used in a coercive manner has never told their kid that if they don’t behave, they won’t get any desert. In other words, it’s bullshit.

Best Left as Indians, Kenneth Coates

Ontario’s disabled, the mentally ill and working poor families are lining up at food banks three or four times a month. Why is that?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment on the blog posts, art or editing.