Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Is aloofness or indifference a new moral problem? If so, maybe "Modern Family" can solve it
As I’ve noted, I do believe that I played a part in the repeal (2011) of DADT, the overturning (2007) of COPA, and maybe even the Lawrence v. Texas ruling (2003), with my books and with my offering of a large amount of logically concentric content on the Web for thousands to find with search engines. I didn’t (to misquote Stephen King) “go away”. (I know, I write this posting on a cold March day where we dodged a “storm of the century”.) And I do feel that this output and result is something to be proud of.
Nevertheless, I often get calls and queries to become involved in all kinds of things to “make people money”, which is not very easy for people to get me to do. I get calls about advertising to sell my books, which are now fifteen years old. It’s fine to keep them available, but it doesn’t make sense to push political non-fiction that has aged; you have to keep replacing it with new content (as I have explained). When I go to screenwriting conferences, I hear lectures about creating a viewer hook by putting the protagonist in dire straits in the very first scene, to create rooting interest. That often happens with people you wouldn’t like and creates a literary output that is meaningless as far as saying anything. That isn’t how really interesting problems in life unfold.
I’ve also gotten unsolicited calls, ever since retiring, for all kinds of sales jobs – and I still get a lot of unsolicited and desperate calls myself. I understand that people have to make livings and have real families to support. You see where this is heading. As more of us like me retreat into our own little worlds, it gets harder other people to make ends meet, at least in this economy. (Yes, we’ve stopped making enough things, and hucksterism has turned silly as a result, but that’s another discussion .)
What all of this tells me is that others see that it is important to make money and to provide for other people. I do have plans for introducing new content that I hope will do that, but in the mean time, I can see that I count on the attention and limelight that the old Web 1.0 model used to allow me, to last forever. There are all kinds of conflicts and pressures on companies’ business models now, with conflicting goals in areas of privacy, advertising exposure and targeting (and product conversion), royalty income from media (to the extent that it is reasonably legitimate), preventing piracy, avoiding downstream liability, and protecting minors. I can’t stand still forever.
There are also pressures of a personal nature. I experienced all of this with the eldercare for my mother, who passed away at the end of 2010. I also found myself being drawn into person situations involving children, when substitute teaching and even with some unsolicited phone calls, that I had never imagined I would encounter, given my background.
When everything is going “well”, my “passive” strategy of broadcast publishing works, and attracts the “kind of people” I want. But that is getting more difficult than it used to be. One obvious reason is the “competition” from concentric social media, where people are more likely to go even for (personalized and “timelined” news now,) than to blogs and flat sites as they did a few years ago. There is more importance now attached to having purely social (or professional) connections to specific people and tailoring information directly to them (possibly to sell to them, or even cross-sell) than there was a while back. That seems a bit of a contradiction to Facebook’s policy of requiring true names for identities (no double lives).
We do need each other. One reason is that things happen to people that are beyond any reasonable application of the “free market” or notions of individual “personal responsibility” in the more modern sense. (I see right now that I got into this area in a posting here March 13, 2011).
I may well a reasonably normal lifespan without many setbacks disrupting my plans. We all die of something, right. Every single one of us. That’s OK, and we all accepted that when I was growing up. But bad things do happen. They can come because of crimes or evil of others who have decided, maybe because of some understandable indignation, that the rules and “system” does not apply to them. It can happen because of natural disaster. But the likelihood of this kind of “purifying” hardship seems more likely today than any time since the Cold War, because, as a collection of individuals, we are living beyond our means, not sharing vision and goals as much as necessary, and defying sustainability.
When bad things happen, you need to accept that you need other people. Otherwise, your loss is real and your life can end, and no one will be "virtuous" enough to notice. Which logically means you need to let them need you. And that means you need to find some emotional satisfaction in doing things for others, even people whom you might not have necessarily had a “high opinion” of. (I could give some brutal examples here but will pass on the details.) And I have to note here the assessment of others, that I am unusually aloof. This really came out in some matters of my mother’s care, as well as when I worked as a substitute teacher. Let anything go wrong, "schizoid" social isolation is dangerous, and so it is collectively, too.
The “mores” of previous generations – much of it centering on sexual mores, including homophobia – did tend to come from specific religious groups or sometimes authoritarian political cultures. They tended to overtake the belief systems of off of western culture until things started to change in the 1960s and have progressed ever since, now unbelievably in areas of gay equality. It’s important to note that these value systems had a lot to do with sustaining specific religious, tribal or even national populations, and presumed that the individual owed specific duties to the group – of both emotional and “fuctionable” natures, before he dared seek the limelight on his own. This translates into a couple of ideas. One is that “you” have a duty to support other generations and provide for new life, which usually means marrying and having children (with priesthood exceptions). Another , as a kind of logical corollary, is that you have specific accountabilities to others and responsibilities for providing for others before you attract attention on your own. That means the way you use your “freedoms”, especially to speak and self-broadcast – is tempered by social commitment as much as by truth. (It’s easier to see this point with the Second Amendment than the First.) Today, these ideas may seem passé, but sustainability considerations can bring back the idea that everyone has a moral responsibility to provide in a personal way for future generations, so that he or she doesn’t indebt them. All of this sounds like an “alternative minimum tax” in the moral world.
The social mores of the past seemed to encourage people to take care of their own – and all their own – within families and community and tribal or religious groups. It sometimes also led to antagonism to those on the outside, and to a tendency to look for enemies and become combative. Although the Sunday School values of the 50s taught kindness to others, there were problems in dealing with those not only of different race, but also those with various other circumstances including disabilities. There was a tendency to political corruption in leadership. There were many contradictions that one encountered in trying to live by these values.
Today, we have a different spin on this expectation of eusociality and altruism. We realize that placing a full value on human life – especially the disabled and the elderly – requires real attention, affection, and sometimes sacrifice from others. This takes “personal responsibility” way beyond the idea of making a choice (having sexual intercourse and following up on its consequences, like pregnancy). It can reinforce the old idea that having children can be an important expectation. It’s no longer possible to live in a separate universe where involvement with “the others” is optional – and remain “in public life”. And it’s no longer possible to live a double life.
I find it challenging to become involved in other people’s lives, even when they do “need”, for a variety of reason. One is their “privacy”, and another is that I would not have been welcome in the past. As I noted in my last posting, I really can’t enlist in someone else’s cause. But another is that I don’t have my own stake – my own lineage or progeny. I am much more aware of this now than I was when I was younger and “invincible” (even surviving the era of AIDS unscathed.) Indeed, I sometimes find that others expect me to be prepared to serve their interests precisely because I didn’t have my own children. Simply supporting the sexual intercourse of others could only bring more shame.
But my saying, “I won’t do it because I don’t have my own family” (“modern” or not) sounds like a canard. My not having one could be partially explained by my own social aloofness, introducing circularity. If I had been able to “do” the things normally expected of “boys” (I have to bow to a bit of older sexism here), and still get established in my music (in the 1950s and 1960s, when young men were challenged by a draft and Cold War), I might have felt very differently and wanted children. And if I loved a “child” I would love the woman who bore him or her. (No, I don’t go in for surrogacy and taking a child from a mother, and the situation on “Days of our Lives” right now doesn’t make complete sense to me.) So I would have married and had my own family. But I still would have wanted may intimacy at some point in my life, at least once, even if only as a ritualistic experience. I understand the public health issues, but from a psychological and even moral perspective, I don’t understand the need for monopolizing someone, or for jealousy. (I’ve never been jealous or the object of jealousy in my life.) I suppose some of it is that you need someone by your side to face whatever adversity comes (again. This can get brutal). But that would come to me more naturally once I did have children in a marriage.
Where does that leave “gay equality” then? In a way, that’s a verbal or abstract construct. Even though my own homosexuality seems related to my non-performance in male activities as a child, that is by no means always the case. There really does seem to be something biological that happens to affect sexual interest that is linearly independent of almost everything else. Epigenetics sounds like a good theory. Without an actual erotic reward from procreation, the homosexually-inclined person is placed in a position of sacrifice for the well being of those who do experience it. Moralists can say that everyone makes sacrifices of some kind – and use the military to build many arguments (and the “old chestnut” that same-sex attraction undermines a community’s ability to defend itself really did fall apart before DADT failed as real experience showed otherwise).
A world that decides “everyone” needs intergenerational responsibility would face a lot of challenges in implementing such an idea – and my own experience certainly shows how someone like me can be just driven away. The idea that there are so many children needing adoption that stable same-sex couples should be encouraged to become possible parents for them may well fit a best case solution.