Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Visitors: I can't be responsible for how you feel about yourselves, but I do empathize with what you're saying; please understand "subjunction"!


Occasionally I receive comments about a few of my blog postings or other essays, indicating or hinting (sometimes with irony or sarcasm) that the reader feels that he has been made to feel less well about himself because of the posting.

In many postings, I review lines of thinking and personal value systems of people that I had to deal with in the past. I try to restate their postulates and the conclusions or logical consequences of their “moral” belief systems. Sometimes readers believe that merely reviewing or restating their beliefs gives these belief systems credibility and “helps the enemy”; some people will take a post "personally" even though the speaker did not know them when writing the post. I maintain that it is important to understand how other people think, and how this relates to how people thought a few decades ago.

In writing, we often state hypotheses or assertions, as if they could be tested or questioned. But many times readers do not understand that these are hypothetical thought systems, and are taken as “fact”, relative to the world of the essay or blog posting author. Other (inflected) foreign languages (like French, especially) are better at dealing with this problem because they have more explicit conjugations for the “subjunctive mood,” than does (“analytic” and “simplified”) English, which places so much importance on overall context (as related to the "implicit content" problem). I’ve had another brutal lesson before (July 27, 2007 here), when readers did not understand that “fiction” by me was just that.

Given the nature of these postings, then , I don’t take personal responsibility for how a particular visitor “feels about himself.” There is no way that I could.

In a related area, however, I can empathize with the reader’s feelings. There are some “dark energy” areas in my own life where I sometimes believe others have not respected me and have felt free to suggest that I should allow my own life to be expropriated for the needs of others, that I should give up control over my own goals. This is quite disturbing to me and leads to “existential” questions about why I did not “perform better” at certain things or accept the idea of making conventional commitments earlier in life. On the other hand, I understand that when some people say these things they come from a more “collective” mindset that cares more about the group than the individual (that’s all too convenient for some people).

One of the biggest concerns underlying some of my more “challenging” columns is a concern that family responsibility is not always just a consequence of personal “choice” (that is, bringing children into the world an/or saying “I do”). Some of it can apply to anyone, depending on circumstances in that person’s family of origin, beyond the control of their own choices. Informally, many people see this as an issue of trying to "get out of things." We ought to sit down and face this squarely in our policy debates. It's about "personal responsibility" and justice, but it's about that "something else" (coummunity? family?) too. And yes, unelected filial responsibility can have a disparate impact on LGBT people.

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