Friday, December 19, 2014

Self-publishing, expressed integrity, the pressure to conform, and dealing with enemies


Sometime a couple years after I returned “home” (late 2003) to look after Mother, and during the time I had started substitute teaching, Mother said I should keep quiet about what happened to me a few decades before at William and Mary. 

I simply ignored her advice.  She didn’t really get what was going on, who I was being found online.  The William and Mary Expulsion (1961) and the sequence that followed became the basis for my books, and all the activism that followed, the whole second half of my life, and direction that I was following. 
  
After the incident with my screenplay when I was substitute teaching (toward the end of 2005), however, I gradually became more concerned with an “existential” problem:  my online “attention getting”, by someone who did not have the customary family responsibilities (skin in the game), could attract adversaries and pose a danger to others connected to me.  I, or my content, could be viewed as a “nuisance”.
  
There are many angles to this discussion. My mother was still OK then, but there had already been controversy over my diligence when she had coronary bypass surgery in 1999.  My attentiveness would become controversial again as she declined starting in 2007, as eventually I hired round the clock caregivers until she passed away at the end of 2010.  Many would say that she was my “family”, but I found the idea troubling because I had not procreated one of my own.
  
Yet I was being drawn into a “role” as “protector” or responsibility for others that I had not “chosen”, not having ever had sexual intercourse with a woman.  You get the point. I could have been perceived as a mooch, since I was no longer working, except more incidentally at lower wages (as a substitute teacher) and my mother did have the money to "live off of" and pay for her care later.  
  
Nevertheless, I knew that other material on my domains (even before I started using blogger) could conceivably attract the wrong attention.  For example, I had another screenplay short that demo-ed the issues I faced when my mother did have her surgery.  In a worst case scenario, an adversarial party could have, for example, made threats concerning my mother or her caregivers.  This never happened, but the idea crossed my mind, and even sometimes became a preoccupation. After all the “West Potomac High School Hoax” at the end of 2005 (regarding my "gratuitous" or "nuisance" screenplay "The Sub" that I had posted online publicly) had been bizarre enough.

I recall being told once, at around age 20, that I tended to make "enemies", of a certain kind of less intact person.  This came up on my first job, and in 1962 when I was a patient at NIH, when therapists said "I didn't get the possible consequences of things I say and do" (admitting latent homosexuality -- "pinning a label on myself" -- to a college dean). without addressing the circular thinking of "enemies".  Therapists questioned the wisdom of becoming an "oddball" and attracting ridicule if you couldn't compete normally, especially according to gender norms.  Again, circular thinking at the higher levels, going unchallenged (except by me).  Even my own father said, "To obey is better than to sacrifice", a proverb with a sting and a double meaning. 
     
I’ve had only one hack, back in 2002, on the old “hppub.com” domain, two files, one discussing nuclear terrorism.  It was easily repaired from a backup, and never recurred.  An obvious vulnerability at the ISP explained it.  But the point of the attack seems troubling.  Was it to make the actual threat, or to threaten an “ordinary” non-Islamic speaker for his lack of humility?  The hack had bizarre jibberish about Russia and Finland.

Of course, it isn’t hard to see what recent current event stimulates this “reflection”.  The Sony mess, and what we make of it.  There is a parallel.  My screenplay had been seen as gratuitous, unnecessary, and possibly provoking an unspecified student into tempting a teacher into illegal behavior, as well as suggesting that I might be “vulnerable” to an approach.  Why had I been willing online to leak this impression of me?   I could say, if it left that kind of impression, it had been effective and had said something important: older teachers are more vulnerable and more likely to be drawn into trouble than anyone wants to admit.  It needed to be said, even if nobody wanted to hear it. All of this constitutes what I call the "implicit content" issue, all the sudden critical in national security and international politics.  
   
Flash-forward.  The Sony film “The Interview” is said to be silly, a satire   We’ve seen these before (“The Dictator”, “Team America”).  But the adversary decided that the mere existence of this film constitutes a threat on that adversarial country’s "president's" life.  They consider it as part of a threat from the US, and see anyone participating in making or distributing or even seeing the film as a soldier, a potential enemy.  This doesn’t seem to make sense to us.  It would seem to give Sony filmmakers credit for a lot more “power” than they really have and give the movie a lot more credit for influence than it seems to deserve artistically.  It seems to take normal western thinking about artistic products and flip it around.  Likewise, the school back in 2005 gave my work much more credit for being potentially dangerous or disruptive than one could reasonably believe (today), in hindsight, that it “deserved”.

We could ponder Islamic extremist attacks or threats on media (Jylland Posten Muhammad cartoons, Salman Rushdie. and Theo van Gogh’s “Submission”) in a similar light.  But in this case there is no “threat” in the same light, and no “enticement”;  there is, indeed, the idea that if a religious figure can be “desecrated” in speech anywhere in the world, then the lives (and those of future generations) of a whole global faith becomes meaningless. 
  
I think the homophobia of the past works in a similar way.  If male homosexuality, even in private, were regarded as acceptable, the whole “meaning” of family life that motivates “straight” people could be undermined.  It seems like negative thinking, and seems self-deprecating today.  But it wasn’t seen that way in 1961 when I was expelled from William and Mary.  I wasn’t really a threat to approach people for unwanted sex.  My freedom was a “threat” to the “meaning” of their entire future heterosexual experience.  That’s what happened to Alan Turing.

Yet, I have sometimes been approached with a message like “conform, keep quiet, don’t make people uncomfortable with themselves or their own flaws, give up your fantasy world and come join us, get saved and converted”. Indeed, there is a certain irony: my own “fantasy world” is not that kind to people who “don’t make it”.

I see all of these threads as interrelated at a psychological, Dr. Phil level. 

You can see where this could be headed.  Enemies from radical causes (where states or rogue, whether communist, fascist, or religious like radical Islam or even extreme right-wing Christianity) could threaten companies over almost any content they find somehow offensive – even in the Sony case, the content was more “provocative” than usual.  They could even target individual artists or citizens, and try to threaten businesses willing to work with them, as a way to make a point about western or secular life. One concern that seems to give a particular context is the concern among many radicals about “unearned” or inherited wealth, as undermining the idea among the less fortunate that “law and order” even makes sense. By the way, the notion that very personalized “communist”( or “fascist”) terrorism could come to our shore has been known since World War II and an idea in a couple of my earlier novel manuscripts. In Europe, both Hilter and Stalin made things very personal.

There’s another angle to this.  An old essay on self-publishing in “Writers Digest” had recommended “Write what other people want”.  Well, I could be hired to ghost write someone else’s story (may one of the other “gays in the military cases”), but telling my own took all the time.  One could say, “you can publish, but don’t talk about THIS” (as a java keyword).  Then none of my work would have any integrity.
  
But I do get the retort, “but why do we get the news about this from YOU.  There are regular media outlets.  Why don’t you go out, use your life insurance background, sell, so you can return the favor by raising someone else’s disabled kid?”  I get the drift on this idea of payback.  Sometimes these ideas have been floated at me almost as hidden threats. But I can’t provide for anyone else unless my own life and work has integrity.  

I do add nuances to stories that I report, that major media outlets might miss, and I will often add a personal perspective based on incidents in my own life, often from the distant past (without identities of people). But I do get the idea that when it comes from "me", the "purpose" of the speech seems to matter to some people, and make them wonder if they are supposed to act in some way, rather than remain alert.  That is what "implicit content" means.
  
It doesn't make sense for someone to say, "I can still love you" if I have to go along with extortion (direct or subtle -- conformity) for the sake of "Staying Alive" (John Travolta style, another movie), that is, to "protect" myself or others around me.  You either have honor or you don't (Joe Steffan's book).  You are either worthy or you aren't.  As the song by Otto Blucker starts, "Hiding isn't what we do." 

In fact, there are some details I don’t publish.  I don’t give names and information about non-public people.  There are a few arcane incidents, like some workplace litigation in the middle 1990s, where I can’t go into a lot of detail even now, but I don’t avoid subject matter just because it upsets someone who could become a threat.

There are lines I don’t cross.  Imagine some nightmare scenarios (we don’t need to get carried away, because imagination is endless), like destroy all copies of my "Do Ask, Do Tell" books because someone’s ideology is trampled or someone somehow imagines a threat.  I would not.  I woudn’t be around if I had to. But of course, extortion like that would show that my work really did say something and really did matter to the rest of the wold.  Again, think about the paradox. 

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