About Care In The Context Of Conflict And Crisis

Estelle Ellison
6 min readSep 2, 2022

Everything relating to mass abuse apologism that we have discussed so far is evidence of an overarching collective care crisis that has made our prospects for surviving this fascist period far less favorable. If we zoom out of this specific part of a larger arsenal of patriarchal violence, we will find that this crisis is largely a result of navigating our respective trauma histories alongside our various class positionalities. The interaction between these two particular aspects of personhood plays a critical role in determining what our individual capacity is and whether the people around us deem that capacity to be “productive.”

The myth of leadership claims that hierarchies are structured according to each individual’s capacity, which we are then led to believe is an accurate reflection of each person’s value and agency. In actuality, both formal and de-facto hierarchies owe their structures to tiered set levels of capacity that are themselves inherently ableist. These perceptions and expectations determine which coordinated activities people’s capacity will be put towards. For example, the purpose, mission statement, shared values, and/or business strategy of a given group of people drives them to convene and reconvene as a group, contributing based on the expected levels of productivity for each individual.

The influence of ableist work culture is not limited to everyone’s time in the group. It also extends out and into everyone’s personal lives. This gets expressed as the assumptions people make about each other’s abilities and access to resources. This is the voice that tells people that someone’s dip in productivity is due to a lack of commitment to the cause or company, rather than an indication of burnout from unsustainable or unsafe working conditions and group practices. It’s the voice that says the person at the top of the hierarchy works the hardest and deserves to be listened to without question, rather than the fact that they belong to a different class and have rarely if ever had to be subject to another’s agency. Ableist assumptions help create dubious justifications for someone quitting a job or exiting a group that help prevent members from finding indicators of ongoing harmful power dynamics.

Why is this important to note? Well, both conflict and crisis, if handled appropriately, require that people pool together their capacity and put it towards someone or something outside of the group’s original intentions. Conflict and crisis often require a specific skillset that groups tend to have little to no expertise in. Even where there are groups that do specialize in forms of care, a change in use of their collective capacity still tends to have a destabilizing impact on the group’s structures and values. These moments prompt us to confront the reality of our own access to care or lack thereof. This reality is further complicated by individualistic concerns from funders and those with executive power in each respective group because they have a material incentive to prevent such changes to the ways their members use their collective capacity. At best, classed individuals will support these changes only to get productivity back to a place they deem respectable.

We all tend to follow implicit and explicit scripts that determine when these shifts in the use of our collective capacity and resources are and are not “acceptable.” For example, disability circles tend to have more robust support networks out of a need to survive an inherently ableist state. Trans communities tend to come together to support each other’s gender-affirming surgeries and care. In theory, survivor support is another place where support networks are more normalized. However; mass abuse apologism has made these attempts to normalize care extremely fraught. Granted, especially during this fascist period, each of these subcultural spheres of support can be fraught due to any number of unchecked reactionary tendencies. But here we’ll be focusing on how conflict and crisis are insufficient and unstable spurns into care work.

Touching back on survivor support networks, it has become clear over time that people allow their conscious and unconscious attitudes about who is most deserving of care to thwart collective attempts to stop harm and provide care. This may mean prioritizing the needs of abusers or people who’ve caused harm and putting them above the needs of victims and survivors. It may mean bystanders derailing a response to conflict because they as individuals see themselves as better deserving of community care rather than the survivor. It could also look like getting involved in an attempt at a community accountability process for the purpose of rebranding into someone with skills the managerial class deems marketable. Unfortunately, restorative and transformative justice have become easy ways of guaranteeing such people secure access to collective capacity and resources without actually addressing their behaviors that harm their respective communities. All of these examples are actions that contribute to mass abuse apologism whether or not they are explicitly known or stated.

These obstacles that prevent community care demonstrate the insidiousness of a capitalist state that seeds behaviors that preserve larger systems of oppression. Capitalism has a monopoly on not only violence but also on determining our access to resources. Just as patriarchy exists on a scale of behaviors and systems, so too does ableism. Within those who have learned to expect societal rewards in exchange for ableist behavior, witnessing instances of collective care generates fearful feelings and the desire to become the sole beneficiary of a community’s capacity and resources. This happens because it is easier to do than confront the implications of a world that so thoroughly and systematically encourages ableist behavior.

Oppressive systems are designed to try to make collective care impossible and this is why abusive individuals are so hostile toward their target’s connections to community. Submission to fascism becomes inevitable the less able we are to create formidable networks of support. The question, “how do we create collective care?” is more often than not a mere euphemism that instead communicates that “collective care isn’t possible.” This feeling of helplessness sets the stage for unsuccessful attempts at collective care while oftentimes attaching an expiration date to successful attempts. Formalized hierarchies are necessarily the worst environment for collective care to exist primarily because it is not profitable or marketable. It would require an actual flattening of the power dynamics that make up the formal group structure, and those who enjoy the most privilege from those structures have the strongest incentive to oppose collective care.

However; there are clearly major obstacles to establishing lasting collective care informally as well and that, by and large, is due to the ways that capitalism structures our lives. It takes great continuous effort to overcome the ways the work week compartmentalizes our lives and creates an artificial isolation for most people. The isolation is artificial because it requires us to be dispossessed of our relational agency and instead preoccupied with relationships that make up the workforce and our places therein. Put more simply, the people we keep in our lives would probably be different if we were in full control of what our social network looked like. Collective interdependence appears to us in the margins as a near impossible task that is only worth attempting in times of crisis, and even then those crises must be recognizable as such within their respective community in order to be assigned a value of importance.

But it is this conditional concession that sets the stage for conflicts that are ultimately about securing access to support. We can only overcome this alienating dimension of ableism by insisting that collective care practices be prioritized and ongoing. Collective care does not exist to restore workers' contributions to a capitalist economy. It exists because it must replace and make capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy obsolete. If we compromise this fact we merely coordinate charity rather than seed liberation. Our reliance on capitalism is reinforced the more we are left to face it alone or within groupings that the state might deem worthy of the label “family.”

It is because collective care plays such an absolutely essential role in liberation struggles that it is so sacred, is valued highly by those of us who want to be free, and is denigrated by those who benefit from our oppression. This is why it is of critical importance that we dedicate ourselves to creating safety accessibly while refusing to tolerate behaviors that have been engineered by the world we wish to bury.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)