Monday, November 21, 2016

Foreign Bodies

We don't think about our bodies until they stop working (according to cultural or biological standards). Then we think about them a lot.  During the last year I have had to think about my body constantly.  When your body becomes different, you realize that your body becomes noticeable to everyone.  Having a body that is different makes you realize that everyone is actually noticing only your body.  Whatever you say is interpreted through your body. So saying, "I know this looks bad, but I feel fine," does nothing to set anyone at ease.

I know all of this material has been mined ad naseum in all the "studies" and I know that there's an obvious - "Good job white boy - you've finally learned what most of the rest of the world has known forever" critique to what I'm saying. So now that that's acknowledged, let's talk about gas stations and hospitals, schizophrenics, and the unwell.

I understand that people are apprehensive about being the only X in a room full of Y's.  But what I'm interested in is being uncomfortable by a body that is not seen - even stereotypically - as particularly threatening (in a violent, dangerous way).  For example, there's a gas station near my house that often has very poor people hanging around.  At times one of these people will approach you and you know you are about to be asked for money.  People - myself included - become incredibly uncomfortable around these bodies and I think we think the person may be threatening, but I don't believe this is usually the case.  I have been asked for money a lot of times in my life and never, not once, did a person attempt to attack me or steal anything from me. I realize others have different experiences, but in general I don't this population is particularly threatening.  A body being unpredictable is not the same as a body being dangerous - I think this may be quite relevant to this inquiry.

In a similar manner, we tend to be uncomfortable with the homeless in general.  We often don't make eye contact and we usually have an inner monologue that says "Don't look at him.  Don't look.  Please don't say anything to me" and we feel relief when we walk inside our location - comforted by other shoppers who brought their own goddamned money.

Most often homelessness is accompanied by mental illness. When I lived in Boone we had our resident homeless celebrity - Joshua Watauga - but we called him "Charlie Manson" until we actually met him because, well, he looked strikingly similar. He would often be on King Street selling stories he wrote or stones he had found or anything to make a buck. He would occasionally be seen ranting or flipping out, always because a shopper accosted  him or a college student was showing how much of an asshole he (always a he) could be.  So Joshua was schizophrenic, but he wasn't harmful, yet again, most people were immediately uncomfortable around him.

In my own case, I spent more days in the hospital from July 2015 - May 2016 than I spent outside of a hospital.  And during this time, I had friends that I saw and I had a lot of friends that I never saw. Lots of people had lots of excuses why they couldn't make it or whatever, but it really came down to the fact that sick bodies are not comfortable to be around.  There's a couple types of hospital visitor, but the worst, without a doubt, is the person who is counting down minutes until they can leave and still say "Well, I saw Dave the other day." I promise every person that has ever been sick, would rather those people stay the fuck home. I don't mean for any of this to sound bitter - just the truth without a lot of rhetorical niceties.    

Okay, so I'm not interested in this from a moral point of view.  That's boring and of course you should go see your friends in the hospital and of course you shouldn't be unkind to people who are uncomfortable to be around.  That's easy.  But what's not so easy is to figure out why these bodies are so off-putting.  What is it about our world, our economy, our institutions, and our ideologies that make these bodies so uncomfortable to be around?  Can't one imagine another world where these people garner the most empathy?

It seems to me one possible answer comes from Foucault's idea that the world wants docile bodies. We are comfortable around people who have fallen in line with our consumer culture.  We're fine in the store satisfying manufactured wants; we're not comfortable with the person outside who has real wants - often they are dismissed with a story about a time that someone saw a thing on the news where it turns out homeless people are really making a fortune. Clearly there's some denial going on. Also, perhaps there is something uncomfortable about the realization that without cash and credit most people are only a few months away from being destitute as well. Perhaps the homeless function to remind people what they could be - but that's too uncomfortable to really consider, so we pretend that they are totally alien to us.  

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