So here’s one of those things that happens that makes me wonder whether my responses to reality are inappropriate or not. Am I crazy?

They like my workshops, but they tell me I can’t continue unless I get cleared by the FBI.

Cleared by the FBI???


I’m trying to volunteer. I’m not getting paid. I’m taking my own time and resources to drive all over the city to help people have fun improvising music, and in order to that I have to get FBI clearance? Get my fingerprints taken and put into that vast black box that our justice system uses to blackball anyone they don’t like for any reason they want?

When I grew up, the cops were being used to suppress opposition. They thought nothing of shooting at young people who were merely protesting a war that seemed to have no purpose and was killing so many of their fellow youngsters. When I was young, the feds were killing students everywhere from Kent State to Philadelphia Mississippi. It was so clear to me that the police thought like bullies and had little compassion.

Have things changed that much since then? How many people have been killed by cops in the last few months just because of the color of their skin? They were totally cooperating but it didn’t matter. They were killed because the cops couldn’t control their own fear.

My first job after college was canvassing for the equal rights amendment. We were trying to engage in political speech, going door to door, asking people for financial support, and the cops were always trying to stop us. They didn’t care about speech. They just wanted to keep strangers from knocking on their neighbors’ door. I never got arrested, but I’ve spent more time than I cared to sitting in police lobbies while they try to sort out whether we have a right to speak or not.

Nowadays, the “justice” department and the security departments have vast advances in technology that they can use to bully and intimidate people into behaving like normal people. Unfortunately, I can’t behave like a normal person even if I wanted to. I’ve got a diagnosis. I’m certifiably different from most people. Supposedly, there’s something wrong with my brain that makes me behave in ways that are against my own best interest, as other people see it. Who knows? Perhaps I am doing that now, writing this.

I’ve been a data librarian. I’ve dealt with large data bases. I know how much one can learn from seemingly innocuous data. Do I want to give away information to vast bureaucracies that engage in group think and are afraid of their own shadows? Do I want to let people have an easier time punishing me and forcing me to conform if they should ever have a desire to do so?

I can’t imagine that they would ever have such a desire. I’m a good person. But then, people have weird ideas about the mentally ill. They want to take away our right to own guns. Personally, I don’t think anyone should have a right to own a gun. I don’t think the cops should carry them around. So many people would still be alive if we didn’t have such easy access to guns. So many people would have had to find another way to kill themselves if we didn’t have such easy access to guns and guns weren’t so easy to use.

I don’t want to make it any easier for cops to make me change the way I live. Even if the chances are very low that this will happen, I don’t want to make it any easier.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that doing background checks actually make us any safer. I think using vast databases to make decisions is the lazy person’s way to evaluate others. So many people get caught up and punished forever for doing silly things. Getting drunk and getting caught urinating in public can get you banned from  working with children, forever. It’s a sex offense that can get you on public lists. That’s just plain stupid.

The best way to evaluate people is to pay attention to them; to work with them; to see how they interact with the people they work for or with or who they serve. Bureaucracy is supposed to make it possible for vast organizations to control the workforce and this is supposed to be more efficient.

It isn’t. It discourages creativity and innovation. I don’t want to get caught up in these kinds of supposedly benign but secretly destructive social mechanisms.

So I don’t want to get my background checked, even though there’s nothing there to worry about. Or maybe something could show up, simply because these systems make a lot of mistakes. How many times have bill collectors harassed me on the phone because my name is so common. Never mind these other David Fords have completely different addresses. They  can’t even be bothered to use the data easily available to them to figure that out. Laziness, venality and bullying seems so much easier than doing a good job, and doing a good job means nothing if you don’t fit inside the regulations that don’t accomplish what they want to accomplish. All they do is allow people to act as if they conform, thus covering their asses, while not actually improving security one whit.

Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face? Is there some kind of fear of success thing going on here? Am I letting this bureaucracy become an excuse to not try, and not take on responsibility?

I don’t know. I can’t tell. Maybe others would make those judgments, and then I could succumb to those judgments and make myself into a horrible person again, and get depressed and all that comes along with that.

All I know is that this really bothers me. It feels so wrong. If I have to do something that feels so wrong just to volunteer, then maybe I’m not really going to be able to help either myself or others this way. So maybe I just need to find some other way to do music with people. Maybe I can’t help in psychiatric rehabilitation facilities. Maybe I have to start my own operation, and try to run classes where people can choose to come to me, instead of being forced into attendance because that’s what they have to do to get their meals and SEPTA passes. I want people to do this work who want to do the work, not because they have to satisfy the unthinking rules of big bureaucracy. Maybe that’s not the place for me.

That’s my case for myself. That’s my case against myself. I really have no idea whether I’m fooling myself or this is just the way I feel. I’m so used to not being able to honor my feelings that this throws me. Should I contort myself to be good and be liked or will that send me back to place that made me depressed?

The irony, is that these organizations are trying to help people with mental issues such as anxiety and depression. I need therapy, too. This work is my therapy. But do I have to submit to their rules, and thus shove myself down again, in order to be allowed to be helpful to others and to myself? Would that even work? Or would it all be counterproductive?

I don’t know. My therapist says “I don’t know” is a part of myself that I use to avoid my feelings. I’m pissed off. Does it matter if my anger is justified or not? I’m angry and that comes from fear that these systems will squash me yet again. I don’t trust these huge bureaucratic systems. The individuals in them are surely well-meaning, but the systems they develop take on a life of their own, and that’s dangerous, particularly to marginalized people like the mentally ill, or people who aren’t white or especially, people who are both.

“Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.”
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly

“Who’s they?” He wanted to know. “Who, specifically, do you think is trying to murder you?”
“Every one of them,” Yossarian told him.
“Every one of whom?”
“Every one of whom do you think?”
“I haven’t any idea.”
“Then how do you know they aren’t?”
“Because…” Clevinger sputtered, and turned speechless with frustration.
Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“Anyone not paranoid in this world must be crazy. . . . Speaking of paranoia, it’s true that I do not know exactly who my enemies are. But that of course is exactly why I’m paranoid.”
Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast


Edit: I went to a meeting of the West Philly Icarus Project tonight and told this story.

The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us.

There were fifteen people there and three of them came up to me afterwards to tell me that they had been required to give their fingerprints in order to work in the mental health field. One of them had been fingerprinted seven times. None of them felt that the process was anything other than busy work. They didn’t seem to believe that anyone was safer because of it. I’m not sure they shared my indignation about big brother, but in any case, it was nice to know I’m not the only one who has problems with this.

Maybe it is worth trying to fight this senseless and worthless bit of do-nothing, feel good legislation. In any case, I’m sorry I won’t be able to work with people who could probably really benefit from what I’m doing. Maybe there’s a way around this. If anyone has any ideas, please add a comment.

One thought on “Setback

  1. David, your feelings matter. I also observe that in the time you took to write this you could have completed the forms and be on your way to improving the system and the world. Keep your eye on your mission and be willing to sacrifice. We need people like you to raise their contribution to others above their personal preferences for comfort and neatness.


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