There is a certain philosophy very popular in America, that all one needs in order to overcome tremendous adversity and achieve wild riches is to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I’m not a fan. But I think I need to explain more fully why I loathe this particular victim-blaming expression as much as I do.
There are certain basic needs humans have. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a widely accepted standard detailing these basic needs for safety, sex, and satisfaction. I am only going to be talking about the bottom two layers of Maslow’s pyramid, the most basic of human survival needs.
- Physiological needs – breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
- Safety needs – security of: body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property.
I have never in my life fully achieved having either one of these basic need categories met. Ever. I was born into poverty. I am fatalistically convinced I will die in poverty, probably well before my time of something treatable and preventable. I have been homeless, with a child. I have never been “safe.” I have never had two month’s worth of bills sitting in a savings account somewhere. I have been evicted from two apartments and kicked out by family so many times I lost count (and keeping track was depressing.) I have been abused by parents and lovers. I have lived in trailer parks, duplexes, four-story walk-ups and places infested with roaches. I have lived in a car. I have slept in bushes. I have worked for less than minimum wage. I have worked under the table. I have worked as a C-level executive, and now at the ripe old age of 29, I am disabled to the degree I cannot work outside the home. My pain is so bad most days I don’t get out of bed before the afternoon, when my son comes home from school and needs me, no matter how much pain I’m in. So, to save money I make things myself – like shampoo and laundry detergent and dish soap. My fiancee makes all our bread by hand, from scratch, and shops around and clips coupons on our produce. We make a four pound chicken feed a family of three, for five days at least.
At no point in time did I ever find those magical “bootstraps” people speak of. I have not at any point in time in my life had enough sleep, medical care, enough food, and secure shelter I knew I was going to have come next’s month rent too, all at the same time. If you have ever had this combination – of shelter, food, and medicine, at once – you can kindly shut the fuck up forever about goddamned bootstraps. Some of us have never even had boots.