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And Did You Get What You Needed From This Life, Even So?


1. Maslow’s Doctrine

Over time, the need to translate complex needs into depoliticized programs that posture as caring while actually further entrenching the core trajectories of the status quo of racial capitalism—the need, in other words, to orient and justify care-work within the language, ideology, and commonsense perspective of a governance model that increasingly revolves around austerity, efficiency, value for money, and return on investment, wherein so-called service providers are compelled to bid on contracts designed by municipal bureaucrats who work largely on behalf of real estate developers and business associations and whose metrics of success are designed accordingly—has led to the formulation of certain core beliefs or models that now function as something like Scriptures within social services.

One such doctrine is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. After staying with the Siksiká (Blackfoot) Nation in 1938 (more on that in a moment), Maslow developed a five-stage model of human need. At the base are physiological needs, then safety needs, love and belonging, esteem, and at the peak, the need for self-actualization.

Critically, according to Maslow’s doctrine, lower-tier needs have to be met before higher-tier needs can be adequately addressed. If a person is starving and exposed to the elements, it doesn’t make sense to focus on helping that person “become the most that one can be.” Instead, one should provide them with food, water, shelter, and clothing. A person can’t be their best self if they’re dead, right? Furthermore, and very importantly within Maslow’s doctrine, the individual who is experiencing unmet physiological needs is called to act responsibly by prioritizing basic needs over all others so as, to the best of their abilities, not be a burden on the community.

Interestingly, Maslow observes that of the Siksiká he met in 1938, approximately 80-90% were living at a stage of self-actualization that only 5-10% of Europeans attained (by “self-actualization” Maslow means, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming”). Maslow observes this about the Siksiká despite the fact that John A. MacDonald and the Canadian occupation had already cleared the plains (i.e. deliberately decimated buffalo populations and used mass starvation to drive Indigenous nations away from their own territories and ways of living onto reserves that basically operated as open-air prisons for people who were forcibly impoverished).[2] Furthermore, the Canadian state was already actively removing Siksiká children from many homes and communities (the first “Indian Residential School” for the Siksiká was opened in 1886).[3] White supremacy and racism was rampant in the nearby White communities. Maslow himself observes that the local Whites “were the worst bunch of creeps and bastards I’d ever run across in my life.” In other words, the Siksiká were already going through significant genocide-related traumas, were being targeted by well-armed colonizers intent on their destruction, were being deprived of basic needs, had their safety jeopardized, and were still living (according to Maslow) with 80-90% of their people self-actualizing in ways that 90-95% of Europeans (including Canadians of European descent) were not.

What is going on here? Well, as Cindy Blackstock and other Indigenous scholars and knowledge-keepers have emphasized, Maslow’s doctrine is a mis/appropriation of (part of) the Siksiká worldview. Blackstock provides the following illustration (which she acknowledges is a major simplification of both sides):

What Maslow places at the top of his pyramid is actually the foundation of the Siksiká teepee. This is the case, in part, because unlike the European perspective regarding the individual who must be responsible for himself [sic], the Siksiká believed that the community, as a collective, was responsible for covering everyone’s basic needs.[4] The individual who chose to enter into this life was thus, from birth (or before birth in some Indigenous ontologies), entering into a process of self-actualization. This was then carried forward from birth through the collective sense of kinship that was exhibited in practices of mutual care (community actualization), and the perpetuation of a culture that prioritized the meaningful and active interconnectedness of kin, clans, and nations (from other Indigenous nations to plant and animal nations), to a sense of home that was rooted in a sense of being of the land (rather than being owners of the land—belonging not belongings being what is at stake here). Thus, a person is born into self-actualization and then, rather than maturing into “rugged individualism” or “developing oneself as a competitive unit of human capital in a limited goods economy populated by winners and losers,” one matures into caring for oneself along with others. This is done in the present, with attention to the past (via one’s elders and ancestors) and extends into the future (for the next seven generations).

Significantly, drawing on the work of Terry Cross (Seneca), Blackstock argues for a non-hierarchical interconnectedness of human needs based upon a medicine wheel, rather than a hierarchical structure (be that a pyramid or a teepee).[5]

This is a profoundly different understanding of human need, the inter- and intra-connectedness of being, and how we go about caring well for ourselves and others than that offered by Maslow’s doctrine. Critically, depending on what is happening at any given moment, a different quadrant of the wheel may take priority. Some things are worth starving for. Some things are worth dying for. And some things are not. It all depends on how a people understand their situation, what values they hold, and what they believe is the best way forward. Maslow’s doctrine forecloses this complexity, denies these possibilities and, ultimately, enforces a very Eurocentric conception of personhood, wellbeing, care, responsibility, and individuality, while making that conception appear to be a universal truth or fact.

One of the more insidious consequences of the naturalization of this hierarchical doctrine is the way in which Maslow compels those who are forcibly impoverished, dispossessed, and deprived of housing, shelter, home, and belonging, to live at the level of “bare life.” According to Giorgio Agamben, “bare life” is when “the sheer biological fact of life is given priority over the way life is lived.”[6] Furthermore, given the long history humans have of doing politics—i.e. of determining how they will or will not share in life and death together—bare life is something manufactured by hierarchies of power. The dispossessed exist because of the dispossessors. The oppressed exist because of the oppressors. The slaves exist because of the masters. And so on.

Note, then, that the reverse side of the forcibly impoverished being reduced to bare life, is the ability of the hoarders of stolen wealth to participate in the fullness of life. In Maslow’s doctrine, it is the rich who have the freedom and ability to engage in self-actualization without being deemed as irresponsible, mentally ill, or criminal. Or, in Agamben’s terms, while the forcibly impoverished are reduced to bare life (he uses the Greek term, zoe, for this), the hoarders of stolen wealth are empowered to participate in the life of the polis (his term for this is bios).[7] It turns out the rich can hoard both goods and goodness, both goods and the good life, and this is appropriate because, according to Maslow, they are the ones whose “basic needs” are so well met that they can now transcend.

Thus, Maslow’s doctrine actually justifies, normalizes, and contributes to the enforcement of this dynamic. If you are homeless, you shouldn’t waste your time or whatever little money you have doing art or writing poetry or buying yourself flowers.[8] You need to stick to a budget, go to resume building workshops, cut out all purchases that are not necessary for the physical survival of your body, take some job training courses, not overstay your time in the shelter, and invest in your human capital. If you waste time, resources, energy, and yourself on doing things you love, things that make you feel good, or things that make you feel most fully yourself (even if they don’t help you accrue credit-debt or consumer goods), then you are acting inappropriately, have misunderstood what it means to be and become healthy, and are actually behaving immorally.

Punishment follows. Thus, if you find yourself cut off of welfare for not going to a resume-building workshop, if you find yourself banned from a shelter because you didn’t get out of bed by 9:30am, if you fine yourself ticketed for sleeping too close to a bank, or incarcerated for trying to treat your own pain after your family doctor died and you never got another one, well, you must accept that these punishments are fair and just and the result of you, yes you, being too selfish or stupid or rebellious to understand which needs you are supposed to be meeting first.

On the other hand, according to Maslow, rich people have all their physiological needs met (how many pairs of shoes do you need to have before your need for footwear is met?[9]). Further, despite their paranoia (largely due, in my opinion, to repressed feelings of guilt and the equally repressed recognition that if Real JusticeTM were to actually arrive, things would go very poorly for them), the safety needs of the rich are also met. Consequently, Maslow gives these people the green light to focus on needs related to love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Thus, the bougie couple doing yoga in their penthouse while sipping on lattes from Starbucks so as not to become overwhelmed by any distress they might be feeling about, say, genocide in Gaza, are actually well within their rights according to Maslow’s doctrine. They are, in fact, making a sound moral choice. Hooray for them.

2. He Died Within Sight of the Hospital

If you spend any time journeying alongside of those who are forcibly deprived of housing and shelter, you will encounter many people who are said to be “self-excluding” from the supports that are offered to “people experiencing homelessness” (to use the depoliticized and vacuous language of Liberal bureaucrats and others who wish to emphasize the humanity of those who “experience homelessness” while also denying the reality of the oppression that produces homelessness). These people are shrugged off as “not ready to do the work” or “pre-contemplative” or “non-compliant” (as one City Manager said about “people who experience homelessness” who refused to consent to have their information recorded in the City’s Homeless Individuals and Families Information System [HIFIS]: “If they’re not in HIFIS, they don’t exist”).

Many of these people have been given either formal or informal lifetime bans from supports like a shelter beds managed by the Salvation Army, emergency “crash beds” managed by a local Evangelical Street Mission, or referrals managed by the City’s Coordinated Access team (the City has slowly accumulated a monopoly on referrals to everything from Housing Support Worker programs, rent supplements, and “extreme cleaning” services offered to people who are at risk of being evicted). But even amongst those who do not have temporary or lifetime bans, there are those who make a conscious choice to refuse to accept what help is offered. For example, a couple who recently lost their housing might refuse to move into shelter because they will not be able to stay together, and will be split apart and put in two different locations. Thus, having tried to access supports (“help, we lost our apartment and don’t know where we can go for help”), and having been told by the City’s Coordinated Access team to go to separate shelters, the couple responded by saying, “we are scared to be apart… we are going through a very hard time and wish to be together… everything is scary and uncertain and we really want to be there for each other… that option really doesn’t work for us.” Consequently, the City records this couple as “non-compliant” and says they are “self-excluding” and, rather than offering them other supports that, in fact, are available to some people (generally those who have demonstrated compliance and a greater facility to transition back to labour and rental markets), the City refuses to offer them any other form of help. The end up sleeping in a tent by the river since they are “non-compliant,” “self-excluding,” and “not ready to do the work” to better themselves and their situation (for the record, this is a very common and unexceptional reason why people are sleeping outside).

Essentially, this is a quintessential “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality that encourages victim-blaming and that (often lethally) punishes people because, based on Maslow’s doctrine, they are prioritizing a tier three need (love and belonging) over a tier one need (physiological needs related to shelter, sustenance, and access to things like bathrooms, showers, and laundry).

However, this kind of alternative prioritization of need occurs all the time. I would argue that is the case in all of our lives (hence my affirmation of the deeply contextual medicine wheel view of need shared above), but we see more extreme examples of it when people are especially violently oppressed and dispossessed. To take another example, a few winters ago, a fellow I knew died of a blood infection in a tent on a hill overlooking the local hospital. Nobody needs to die of a blood infection in London, Ontario, in the 2020s. All you need is a sustained dose of IV-antibiotics and you can heal. And, in fact, when this fellow first became ill with the infection he went to the hospital. However, because he was impoverished, and because other forms of healthcare related to pain management had been criminalized for him as an impoverished person, he was treated very rudely by the nurses and doctors in the ED.[10] When he then stepped outside to have a cigarette to calm himself down, a security guard followed him, beat the living shit out of him, and told him to never come back to the hospital again (as with my prior example, this, too, is a common and unexceptional experience for homeless folks trying to access emergency healthcare). Consequently, this man returned to his tent where his infection worsened. He refused all other forms of help and, although he could see the hospital from his sleeping bag, he never left his campsite. He died in his tent because he prioritized his need for love, belonging, and just a bare minimum of respect from others, over his most basic survival needs.

In these situations, if they come to the public’s attention (which they usually do not), all of the bureaucrats, public health officials, and project managers push the victim-blaming story into overdrive. Obviously, this man must have been very bitter. He had anger issues. He was non-compliant and too proud to get the help he needed. Tragic, the bureaucrats and bosses will say while wiping whatever tears they can muster from their eyes, but ultimately there is nobody this fellow can blame for this death but himself.

And yet, as I alluded to above, there are many situations where we all prioritize our needs for love, belonging, and self-actualization above needs related to safety or physiology. In fact, nearly everyone longs to participate in that which takes us beyond the domain of “bare life” and into the realm of a life that is meaningful, wonderful (i.e. wonder-full), and that serves some kind of “higher” purpose (or even lower purpose, but some kind of purpose, nonetheless!). I know many impoverished parents who starve themselves to feed their children; many a front-line worker who has put themselves in the (literal) line of fire in order to de-escalate a potentially violent situation and help a whole community of people stay safe (NB: usually the one holding the gun here is a rambo cop, not an impoverished person); some people who have rushed into burning buildings in order to save total strangers; and more than one person who has gone to the army recruitment centre because they believed “the old lie” (dolce et decorum est pro patria mori).[11]

In many situations people choose to suffer, they choose to forego having their personal needs satisfied, because they have found a source of meaning, belonging, esteem, or self- and community-actualization, that overrides the satisfaction of their lower-tier needs (according to Maslow’s doctrine). For as long as certain things persist—hunger in my children, homelessness in my community, loneliness in my friends, oppression in my hometown—a certain refusal to cease suffering persists in some of those who prioritize higher-tier needs (again, according to Maslow’s doctrine).[12]

I’m not sure that Maslow’s doctrine can comprehend this kind of life. If you’re suffering, it means you’re not getting your “basic needs” met appropriately. The less you are suffering, the more all your lower-tier needs are met, the more you can focus on being the kind of person you want to be—i.e. the kind of person who lives a meaningful life. Maslow presents us with a roadmap to, well, to what? To the place where all your needs are met so that you can focus on being your best self. What is the meaning of life? To need nothing so that you can become whatever you want to be. If that definition of the meaning of life seems odd to you, you’re probably not from the income-bracket where this seems like commonsense.[13] Because who would look at this doctrine and think, “that makes sense; I approve”? Surely, those who are already very rich, those who associate meaning-making with a luxury activity, and those who are inclined to see those whom they have dispossessed and impoverished as immoral, irresponsible, and unable to determine or understand what is best for themselves. Maslow’s doctrine offers a great deal of reassurance to those who are doing everything they can to stay away from suffering—not just their own suffering, but also the suffering of other people and most especially the suffering of those whose must suffer so that they can continue to live leisurely. That is to say, this makes sense to plantation owners, colonial bureaucrats, real estate developers, trust fund bros, and venture capitalists.

When a man lies down to die in a tent in view of the hospital, this is his last and final assertion of his human dignity. It is his ultimate refusal of a society that has consistently treated him like human waste—like a fucking piece of shit. It is, according to the dying man, his final way of being able to say, fuck you all, you’re all wrong, I matter. And I matter so much that I will never again put my life in the hands of those who have abused me. And if choosing to say “I matter” means that I will die in this tent, then fuck living. I will die mattering in this tent instead of continue to live in the company of those who tell me, over and over again, with their words, with their boots on my chest, with their locked doors and their faces turned away, that I don’t matter, that I’m a fucking loser, that I’m trash.

(What can I say? Brother, I hear you. You mattered and you matter. Before too long, I will lie down next to you. But I’ve got some things to take care of first. I’ve got some loved ones who love me and whom I love. I’ve got some work to do. I don’t know if I can do it, but Imma keep trying for awhile. Brother, I wish things had been otherwise for you, but I know they weren’t and I can understand why you did what you did. Brother, I’m proud of you. Brother, I hope you’re resting in peace.)

The man I know who died in the tent by the hospital, wasn’t doing anything all that different than what Thích Quảng Đức did in response to the war in Vietnam, or what Aaron Bushnell did more recently in response to the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

Self-immolation is a horrible way to die. It is pure non-sense in Maslow’s doctrine, but for Quảng Đức and Bushnell, it was an act so profoundly full of meaning (i.e. so sensible—to them) that it came before all other needs—including the need to live and the need to not die a premature, preventable, and painful death. The difference is that we give Quảng Đức a pass because he was a monk and Bushnell a pass because he had stars in his eyes and stripes on his sleeve, but we don’t ever, no never, give a pass to a homeless man in a tent who sounds pretty angry and I think he was drunk and he probably got that infection because he was using a dirty needle.

Let me be clear. This is neither a call to lie down to die outside of the hospital, nor a call to self-immolate. But I am urging people to consider that those who do such things, and those who choose to sleep in tents instead of, say, taking a spot available at the Salvation Army shelter, or those who choose not to give away their dog—often the only family they have left—in order to move indoors (as shelters do not permit “pets” and a lot of landlords do not rent to people with pets, despite what the Residential Tenancy Act requires), are making sensible, fully-human decisions based upon their understanding of what they need. If we care to be good company to and with these folks, then it is not for us to say, “hey, your logic is wrong, let me tell you how to fix yourself” (thereby further affirming messages they have received about being irresponsible, stupid, failures, and waste-cases).

Rather, it is up to us to first acknowledge and support their need for love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, and only then—having proven ourselves to be trustworthy companions—explore how we can also work to better meet their other needs.

3. Responsibilization, Power, and the Refusal to Cease Suffering

If you want to prevent other people from interfering with your plans—especially when other people asserting what they want or need might prevent you from getting what you want or need—telling them to focus on their basic needs, and then making it harder and harder for them to meet those needs, is an effective strategy.

Furthermore, if you are enriching yourself by the same mechanisms that make day-to-day life harder and harder to survive for other people, it’s beneficial to make people think more and more about their own selves in isolation from others. If I’m compelled to focus more and more on surviving my day-to-day life, then I don’t really have the time or energy, the capacity or concentration, to work out how we’re all connected (or not).

Even furthermore, the more I’m compelled to compete or die as an entrepreneurial self within a competitive market full of winners and losers, the more I see others as competitors instead of say, allies, neighbours, friends, or even enemies. In the ever-brilliant words of Wendy Brown (one of my all-time favourite writers on neoliberalism): Homo oeconomicus must internalize “the idea and practice of responsibilization” which “reconfigures the comportment of the subject from one naturally driven to satisfying interests to one forced to engage in a particular form of self-sustenance that meshes with the morality of the state and the health of the economy” [14] Smokey the Bear explains this more simply:

Being responsible means learning how to market oneself as a competitive commodity in the market. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist in order to see how this works and who benefits. This is Economics 101.

Are you impoverished? Are you forcibly deprived of housing? You’re making bad choices. Risk is a part of life, yo. Hustle harder. Grow your human capital. Stop being such a loser, loser. Grow the fuck up and take responsibility for yourself.

However, as Elizabeth Povinelli (another of my favourites) says:

the privatization of risk creates and fosters a language game in which the social is practiced as nothing more than an aggregate of individual risk calculators working according to mathematically predictable economic models. I am not in you. You are not in me. We are merely playing the same game of chance, whose truth lies not here and now between us but there and then in who wins and who loses. No one is killing me. And I am killing no one. We are each only responsible for ourselves.[15]

Who benefits from this? The same people who benefit from Maslow’s doctrine. The people who are responsible for manufacturing, exacerbating, normalizing, and ever-more forcefully imposing, the circumstances that cause more and more of my loved ones to die premature and preventable deaths.[16]

One of the results of this is that people are taught to identify with the “winners” and shun the “losers.”[17] We may think we’re grinding our way to wealth because we’re being responsible, we’re slaying all day and growing our assets, paying our phone bills on time, and maintaining high credit scores, but the fact of that matter is that 51% of tenants in the so-called USA are one paycheque away from homelessness.  Likewise, more than 50% of Canadians are $200 a month away from becoming homeless and 31% are already choosing between paying rent or buying groceries/paying other bills.

Yet this ideology utterly suffuses social services Here’s one example. Myself and a dear friend of mine used to facilitate a community space for people who were banned from corporately owned public spaces (malls), from City property (libraries, parks), and from other social services (shelters, community healthcare centres). Some of these people had (under or above the table) jobs, some of these people had no income, and a good portion of these people received Ontario Works (i.e. welfare). Because they were officially homeless, they did not receive the shelter portion of their cheque but, instead, were only given a “basic needs allowance” of $343.00 per month. [18]  To put that in perspective, that amount is still the same today but the average rent in London as of April, 2024, is 1,417.00 for a Studio apartment and $1,751.00 for a one bedroom apartment.[19] So, okay, people are getting $343.00 a month and they are homeless and they need help getting some kind of housing. What do the bosses that think we can do to both help people and produce stats that make us look like we’re accomplishing something so that people with money keep funding our program? Offer workshops on budgeting! Yes, then we can record how many people attend our workshops, then we can talk about all the impoverished people we taught to be more responsible with their $343.00 per month, and then, presumably, people will start being better, more fiscally responsible people and get housing. I almost (but not quite) goes without saying that, when you are deprived of housing and dealing with a whole host of challenges, learning how to better manage the $343.00 you receive each month is not actually going to get you into any kind of housing.

For what it’s worth, Millenials are seeing through this “it’s your fault you’re impoverished because you don’t know how to handle money reponsibly” bullshit. Boomers and Bankers are keen to say that millennials are lazy, that they are complainy, that they just don’t want to put in the work, but Millenials understand better that, when you start in such a deep hole, grinding doesn’t get you rich. It just gets you ground up.

However, what we frequently overlook are the ways in which this line of thought applies to how we talk about people who are forcibly impoverished.[20] Oh, are you homeless? It’s probably because you smoke cigarettes. Or because you got new shoes to keep your feet dry when you walk from meal program to meal program instead of, um, buying a condo.[21] Or it’s because you took the $343.00 given to you for the month and got a motel room for a weekend so you could have a shower, a warm bed, a door with a lock, and a safe place to visit or, god forbid, have a little fun with loved ones.  God, what a fucking loser choice. Stop being a loser, loser. Grow up.

Again, though, this goes back to how we understand need and the ways in which Maslow’s hierarchy of needs works to legitimize, naturalize, and justify the enforcement of, other hierarchies of wealth and power. Affirming the Siksiká perspective and the medicine wheel model developed by Terry Cross and expounded on by Cindy Blackstock, fundamentally alters our approach to need and, critically, destabilizes other hierarchies of wealth and power. Do people who are impoverished, oppressed, unable to access bathrooms, showers, or clean bed-sheets, people who are targeted in public by security guards, cops, drunken University students, frat bros, predators, and property owners, need a safe place to go once a month (at minimum)? Absolutely they do! Do they need to have fun sometimes? Fuck yeah, they do. Should they not be permitted to have any joy in life until they go back to paying rent! Fuck no!

Depriving another person of their ability to experience joy in life is Henrik Ibsen’s definition of “soul murder.” But in Maslow’s doctrine, soul murder (or soul genocide since it targets everyone who is impoverished and dispossessed) is the only responsible choice—one that should be imposed on people by force if necessary. You’ve got to be rich before you’re permitted to have fun. “Get rich or die trying” isn’t a “gangster” mentality. It’s an ethical injunction that neoliberalism forces on all of us.

To affirm the “soul” of life is not to urge a return to some kind of religiosity or whatever spirituality is trending today. As I understand it, our soul-self is that part of ourself which relates to the search for meaning, which struggles with suffering, which seeks out joy, which desires to both love and be loved, and which knows that self-actualization is at the base of the teepee, not the peak of the pyramid.

But here’s the thing: affirming that the people who are left for dead and treated as human waste are people who deserve to live as their best soul-selves (right here and now) is a revolutionary affirmation. Just as Maslow’s hierarchy justifies other hierarchies between people, so the refusal of Maslow’s hierarchy delegitimizes those other hierarchies. It cuts the foundation out from beneath them. Because it turns out that the ability of the oppressed to live as their best selves is directly related to the cessation of oppression (that this seems to be a mind-blowing, novel, fringe idea to the bureaucrats who manage our cities and the bosses who run our social services, just demonstrates how deeply embedded we are within oppression). To put Agamben’s twist on things, if we refuse the hierarchies that are naturalized through Maslow’s doctrine, then it turns out that those who are assigned to “bare life” (zoe), can no longer be excluded from determining how we all go about sharing life together (bios).

Bringing things back to the Siksiká, we can see that this is part of the reason why the brutal hierarchies of power that we take for granted today, largely did not exist in Indigenous nations prior to the genocidal conquests and ongoing colonization of Turtle Island. Maslow’s doctrine did not exist—it would have been considered non-sense. Different understandings of human need, flourishing, and politics were operative. As John Fire Lame Deer, a Miniconjou Lakota Sioux, says with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek:

Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If a man was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white men came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without these basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.

There are other ways of doing things. And, in fact, the ever-present Spirit of Life is continually rising up within and amongst the left-for-dead. There’s a whole lot of soul in this company, although it might not be obvious to those never get to know us well enough to discover who we truly are. The soul of the oppressed manifests in a multitude of ways. It is ever-present in all the ways in which the oppressed resist their oppressors and fight against oppression. It is there when the impoverished refuse to be dispossessed and when they liberate goods from the corporate thieves who steal labour, wages, raw materials, and the well-being of entire communities in order to enrich themselves.

And it is there in the bodies of those who refuse to cease suffering when those who hold the keys to life and death, to health and home, make accepting the fact that you deserve to be treated like a piece of a shit a condition of receiving care. The oppressed are not zombies or “the walking dead” (despite how they are presented in countless Hollywood films and television shows). No, we are living and we are legion.

[1] The title is a variation on the opening line of “Late Fragment,” Ray Carver’s final poem. I substituted the word “needed” for the word “wanted.”

[2] See Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Indigenous Life by James Daschuk.

[3] See here:

[4] On the paradigm that influenced Maslow and the way in which his doctrine took hold within social services, cf. Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism along with Talcott Parson’s notion of “the sick role” in The Social System. These perspectives, along with the rise of policing—as studied by the likes of Kristian Williams in Our Enemies in Blue—are fundamental the “commonsense” of contemporary of social service workers. Essays like those collected in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (edited by INCITE!) provide a crucial perspective on how this came to be the case.

[5] See here:; which draws together a lot of great material on this topic and to which I owe some of the other quotes from Maslow. My first engagement with the Siksiká teepee alternative to Maslow was in a talk I gave in at CAST Canada’s Ground Trauma conference in 2018, entitled “Kindness and the Trauma of Love: Developing Community in Social Services Increasingly Dominated by a Medical Model of Care” (see here:

[6] Agamben most famously discusses this in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, but see also here for a handy reference and the source of the direct quote:

[7] Achille Mbembe pushes Agamben’s thesis further and argues that, during the globalization of neoliberalism, capitalism has produced a “necropolitics” which creates “death worlds” where those who were relegated to the status of “bare life,” are now more akin to “the living dead” than anything we might recognize as human (see: Necropolitics).

[8] Miley Cyrus can buy herself flowers, though. She can afford it!

[9] St. Basil: “The bread that you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.”

[10] it’s nearly impossible for people who are forcibly deprived of housing to receive meds for pain in comparison to the ease with which the hoarders of stolen wealth—and health—can access those meds.

[11] “The old lie” is how Wilfred Owen describes Horace’s line, in his poem about World War One.

[12] I owe the term, “the refusal to cease suffering, to the subtitle of Daniel M. Bell’s book, Liberation Theology After the End of History.

[13] Or, more likely, you didn’t inherit enough stolen wealth from your predecessors for this to make sense to you. See here:

[14] This quote is from Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, p84.

[15] Economics of Abandonment, p183.

[16] Just under three years ago, I started counting how many of my loved ones were premature and preventable deaths, but I stopped adding when I got close to 300 because I was on the verge of a total breakdown. So, my apologies to those who think stats are always more trustworthy than people and that, in the absence of a verified number, no action should be taken, but I can’t tell you how many people I know who have been left for dead and who have subsequently died in this way.

[17] Malcolm X was bang on: they got us loving the oppressors and hating the oppressed.

[18] A full Ontario Works cheque for a single person who is able to satisfy their worker’s demands for receipts that show they are working towards “employment related goals” is $733.00/mo. However, the $390.00 shelter allowance is not given to people who are forcibly deprived of housing and shelter (despite the very obvious difference this would make in their lives). Instead, in London, the provincial government gives that rental portion to the municipal government where the money is put into the general budget for the programs the City runs to “manage homeless populations.” There are many bureaucrats getting paid six-figure salaries out of this general budget (the Sunshine List tracks this annually and searching that list is always an enlightening experience). Consequently, we have a situation where the bureaucrats who are supposed to be “curing homelessness” are actually getting paid with monies that come, in part, from the rent money of people who are forcibly deprived of housing. As a friend of mine from the streets likes to say, “You can’t make this shit up!”

[19] See here:

[20] Just as we also miss the ways in which the same respect we give to Thích Quảng Đức and Aaron Bushnell should be given to many of those who “choose to self-exclude” from the services that claim to want to help (as explored above).

[21] Remember when the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of Liberal benevolence and truth, ran that article telling people to skip breakfast in order to save money? Good times, good times. (See here:

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  1. Shared this with the group of friends on the island who work with us at the shelters. Im also going to share it with the folks at the LA Cath worker who have a new newsletter. Blessings in your work. _/\_.