“I have a right to live,” cried out my adult brain-damaged brother as he realized what our mother’s death meant. The house would be sold. He would have no income. He could not get work. He would die on the street.
I did not have enough money to go fetch my brother and he ran from me anyway. If I managed to bring him back to my house, there was no room for him and I could not have afforded to feed two people. I had let things dwindle down this far so that I could put all my energy and thought into writing, which his presence would prevent. I had assumed writing would be a source of income, but publishing has collapsed. Authors must now pay publishers to produce a book. So I just write. At least I am back in Montana.
Increasingly, this is the pickle for many Americans, regardless of class, skills or contacts. However, since I started adulthood in 1961 on the reservation, I am aware that many -- maybe most -- people here live this way, piecing along somehow. I can write about it and I do, besides thinking about it and corresponding with many people also thinking about it.
Most “middle class” (whatever that is) people think that everyone should live as they do, according to their standards. I do not. That’s irrelevant. And even ignorant. Millions now live under flimsy plastic tarps, eating like livestock and washing in polluted puddles. That’s irrelevant for this piece. What IS relevant is that there is no way that everyone on this planet could live in the way ordinary small town Americans expect to live because there are not enough resources on this planet to build and equip a modest house for everyone alive. Let alone the infrastructure or energy and food supplies.
In addition, our social conventions and organizations are woefully behind the curve when it comes to guiding society. No one HAS to have babies, we can’t MAKE everyone educate and immunize their babies, not everyone even WANTS to live in a house, some people WANT their addictions, and so on. The question becomes “what is the minimum for life?”
This is the list of basics that the Australian government thinks its indigenous people must have as individual households for themselves and the good of the community:
Functional washing facilities reduce the spread of diseases, including diarrheal disease, respiratory disease, hepatitis and infections.
WASHING CLOTHES AND BEDDING:
Regularly washing clothes and bedding can help reduce the incidence of infectious diseases, such as diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, scabies and other skin infections.
REMOVING WASTE WATER AND FECES SAFELY
Waste water leaks and overflows around the living environment can make people sick. Disease-causing bacteria can be transmitted if people or animals come into direct contact with waste water or if the drinking water supply is contaminated with waste water.
IMPROVE NUTRITION, ABILITY TO STORE, PREPARE AND COOK FOOD
Poor nutrition is one factor contributing to high rates of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and renal disease. Poor nutrition is also a major cause of infectious diseases in children. In remote communities, choosing a healthy diet is complicated by factors such as low incomes, the cost of food, local store management practices and the ability to store, prepare and cook food at home.
REDUCE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF CROWDED HOUSEHOLDS
Crowded living conditions increase the risk of the spread of infectious diseases, such as meningococcal disease, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis and respiratory infections. In a crowded house it can also be more difficult to access health hardware, such as a working shower, toilet, hot water and washing machines.
REDUCE NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF ANIMALS, VERMIN AND INSECTS.
People’s health is badly affected by contact with animals, vermin and insects. Examples include:
- Mosquito borne illnesses,
- Chronic gut parasite carried by dogs,
- Dustmites causing increased levels of asthma,
- Flies carrying trachoma bacteria that impacts on eye health,
- Mice and rats attacking electrical cables and water pipes.
REDUCING THE HEALTH IMPACTS OF DUST
Many small communities, particularly in rural and remote areas, experience problems with dust, caused by either unsealed roads or vacant land in the community or from dust that is blown into the community from surrounding arid, rural or drought affected lands.
Dust causes direct health problems through the irritation of mucosal surfaces and the skin, which contributes to eye diseases, such as trachoma, respiratory disease and skin infections.
CONTROLLING THE TEMPERATURE OF THE LIVING ENVIRONMENT
Living in houses that are too cold or too hot can contribute to a range of physical illnesses, as well as emotional distress. The young and elderly are most at risk from temperature extremes. Dehydration is a major risk factor for young children.
REDUCE HAZARDS THAT CAN CAUSE TRAUMA
If houses are poorly designed and constructed, or not well maintained, there is an increased risk that residents may be injured. Elderly people, people with disabilities and young children are particularly at risk. Injuries may require medical treatment or hospitalization and could result in infections or even disability.
I do not know whether they have worked out the cost for these minimums.
THESE ARE MY OWN SUGGESTIONS FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF SOCIETY AS A COMMUNITY:
1. Re-criminalize cohabitation without a marriage license. All fabulous social weddings should be severely taxed and the money dedicated to the prevention of infant abuse.
2. Define marriage in two categories originally suggested by Margaret Mead. Gender, race, and age below 16 is irrelevant. Parents of the marrying parties should be encouraged but not obliged to participate.
a. A registered legal agreement for the management of assets and obligations. Leaving the relationship would be relatively easy. There would be no provision for “common law marriage” which thus would be illegal. Marriage would have to be conscious and voluntary. Cohabitation would no doubt occur -- it just wouldn’t be marriage and would not be a financial advantage. Religion would be a separated, if not walled-off, system.
3. Provision in every town of a consolidated facility for washing people and clothes. Laundromats should have showers.
4. Provision in every town for human excretion, possibly street pissoirs as in France, so that seclusion will not be available for illicit purposes. These should include the capacity to dispose of dog feces.
5. Provision in every town for feeding stations. Possibly brown paper bag meals but preferably sit-down-and-visit meals. This exists already in towns with Meals on Wheels like Valier. These should not be used as points of capture.
6. Sleeping pods that can be latched from inside (with an emergency release key in the hands of a reliable monitor), space for belongings included. No electricity. Decent ventilation. Heat in winter in northern climates.
I do not know how to handle medical functions in a decent way. I just know they are too often sordid points of capture, easy to game in spite of the best efforts of everyone. In the end, my brother was actually in a VA hospital, treated for his heart attack, and released to a conspiring cousin without anyone realizing his brain damage. The cousin left him on the street again. He had been terrified of being committed for insanity. He soon died.