Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sustainable Freedom II: don't make enemies, either of nature or people


I’ve said before, one of the biggest interests for me is the moral environment for asymmetry: that is, how should people who know they are “different” be expected to behave, in a reasonably progressive society?  It’s one thing to have a list of aphorisms or platitudes (or as a friend in the early 1970s said, “inevitable epigrams”), it’s another to process specific challenges to one’s being able to stay on track in pursuing his own goals, especially when those goals are individualized apart from family.  (Forget the gender-neutral language;  this isn’t German, but we need another pronoun beside “its”,  maybe “shis”.)  By challenges, I mean external disruptions.  They can come from bad luck, from natural processes or disasters, or from the hostilities of others.
  
Of course, even when I am “allowed” to keep all the resources I have, I can mess up.  I can simply lack the talent I need, or turn lazy, careless.  I can be irresponsible, or even lack impulse control, out of OCD.  The moral questions around all these events are easily handled in libertarianism by normal ideas about personal responsibility.
  
But the idea of external challenges can become critical indeed to one’s outlook, at least mine. 
  
Because of the pressures put on me related to my lack of gender conformity when growing up, I tended to internalize the implied moral notions and apply them to others.  “Weaker” people were such because they were morally compromised.  I viewed people as I saw them.  “It is what it is.”  I didn’t make myself conscious of where a particular person had started in line in life.
  
The attitude is certainly understandable.  It was more than just meritocracy;  in earlier times, we needed every one to “do his part” and “pay his dues” with respect to risk taking (Feb 11).  The economic hierarchy suggested that some people were “better” than others. 
  
In today’s world, the media (including user-generated content on the Internet) publicize individual need a lot more than it did when I was growing up.  There is a lot more that can be done for some people than there used to be, especially medically.  But it would go for naught if the beneficiaries weren’t wanted as and valued as “people”.  Earlier eras had excused different stations in life and somehow pretended that “servants” (or slaves) were valued.   Later, even at the end of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, we lived with mandatory male conscription and a deferment system, implying that some lives are more valuable than others, almost Orwellian.  We know what evils came about – fascism.  Today, it would seem that an unwillingness to “provide value to others” in a personal way could gradually invite aspects of fascism again.
  
I all of this suggested what was so disturbing to some people about my presence in some living environments when I was younger, especially at William and Mary in 1961, and then as a “patient” at NIH in 1962.  I was clearly at a disadvantage in seeking “relationships” because I wasn’t “competitive”. Later, I would see myself as never having had the advantage of being “attractive” or “desirable”, even though I was better off economically – luckier—than a lot of people  But my presence seemed to be aimed at wanting others who happened to be even more challenged, to feel excluded from love and romance as “undeserving” of it if I was.  This was much less the case in the military a few years later because of the authoritarian atmosphere, concern over what might happen if ever deployed, and a genuine belief that there was a common enemy (Communism). Still, I ask, am I supposed to be responsible for how much confidence others have in themselves and their own relationships?  I also ask, sometimes when we talk about "victimless" acts, isn't the issue more that if something (which might be an omission as well as commission) is "all right", them common sustainability is imperiled? 
    
That influence can become disruptive indeed.  If people have to take risks for others, then the culture needs to welcome them, and they need to believe that they can find and keep spouses who will keep their passions intact even after hardship (as for battle).  The security of the community depends on it;  without that deep emotional solidarity, it can become more vulnerable to enemies, even in asymmetric situations, on the ground.  It wasn’t just about countries and ideologies and world domination on a political level; it could really be about people.
  
In the 60s, at NIH, my fantasies and attitudes tended to “leak” even though there was no such thing as “gatekeeperless” self-promotion as today.  But yet, the therapists and others tried to “get me to cough it up.”  Somehow, they wanted the reassurance that I would settle down, marry and reproduce;  that would take me off their backs and make them feel more secure themselves.
  
Today, one can “put it all out there.”  Prejudices toward people who “don’t have it” can come through in amateur or user generated content in tweets or movie reviews, and others can search for it and see what you’re all about.  We call that “online reputation” in part, today.  But it really existed in earlier times, too.
  
And in more modern times, I have come to see how vulnerable to “bad luck” any of us can be.  There are a myriad ways to be “less fortunate”, and it gets to the point that by the time one is an adult, others find he “isn’t any good”.  It’s very hard to catch up.  Again, we see what we see.
  
Yet, anytime a real horrific disaster threatens, I can imagine what it could be like.  The variety of imaginable calamities is endless – hurricanes, monster tornadoes, floods, supervolcanoes, earthquakes, solar storms, pandemics.  That’s to name the natural ones.  Even though I am less exposed to disaster where I am than a lot of people (I don’t live “On the Beach”, pun intended), I know “it can happen to anybody.”  Generally, I expect that if something happens, the system would work: insurance would kick in, and I would carry on in a hotel for a while.  But the system can fail anyone.  I could wind up dealing with people in a shelter like anyone else.  Yes, the idea sounds demeaning.  I should be better than that.  But I know none of us are.  I could certainly forced to “trade places” because of bad luck. 
  
So, insularity to the needs of others is dangerous, even if one (“I”, at least), doesn’t want to make the shortcomings of others “all right”.  I found out as a substitute teacher, and from all kinds of unsolicited appeals after “retirement”, how easily one can be ambushed and drawn into the worlds of others where I the past one would have been unwelcome.
  
I did come out of the whole layoff (end of 2001) and eldercare experience (end of 2010) much better off than a lot of people.  And, unlike an insect that I might swallow accidentally (Army joke from Ft. Eustis – “put it in The Proles”) I didn’t necessarily “earn” it (maybe if you’re Morgan Spurlock you can actually earn a bitcoin).  I can imagine that certain things could be expected of me.
    
First, I still want to reiterate, I want to finish all the “projects” I laid out.  Then whatever I “give” comes out of my own missions in life and “special” talents, and I’m not too concerned about the “moral statues” of the recipient.  Yes, in certain venues, I can “help people” in these areas now and that is fine.  But it gets into areas that are more basic. 
  
I can imagine, for example, that I could be expected to shelter people.  For example, look at the “political asylum” crisis coming in my own community – and right now there is a conspiracy not to talk about this publicly, for fear of bringing it on.  (I guess this blog post is obscure enough in the grand scheme of things.)  An old house (literally, as in a story on my media blog, here ) can be a burden – a lot can go wrong, unless a whole family is being raised there.  An other idea is simply reporting for community service, commandeered by the bureaucracy of others.  I’ve explained my objections to this before (like April 19, 2014).  As a sub, I ran into the issue of childcare, for someone never having been inclined to engage in a procreative act.  But I know of other men who do this, and seeing men who are other than conventional role models exhibit fathering skills sends a calming social message --- by action rather than words. Yet, I don;t find helping someone just on the basis of need (rather than by a match to my own talents) an acceptable "goal".  I can't accept the idea of making someone "all right" or being made "all right" myself after failure, even if it results from bad luck or someone else's wrongfully acted hostility (next).  (Yes, I do accept paying someone to change the oil or care for Mother, but that's "different".)  And that makes us all more vulnerable.  

One could add to the list of expectations, a willingness to replace fantasy with "real people" in relationships, when they "need" you.  One could revert to an old idea, that the ability to keep an intimate relationship and not run from it, based on gazing eyes, when the other partner runs into hardship, whether disease or actual conflict, is itself a character marker. 

Let's add, there's a real debate in progressive circles (like on some pieces on Vox Media):  does giving people money or taking them in (for shelter) help them?  Some say it really does and that allowing some expropriation is a moral obligation out of karma (whether that's based in a specific faith or not).  Other's say people should help themselves, that we have a meritocracy. No, I don't like the idea of being the backup when others fail.   The "free ride" problem has flip sides.  The compromise seems to have to do with engaging others personally in ways that might have been unwelcome in the past.  Paul Rosenfels (whom I've written about a lot elsewhere) would have called this really "creative." But it's really action, not talk. 

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I do think there is something to all of this – seeing everyone “serve” and sometimes walk in the shoes of others – sending a message that “civilization” really matters.  That brings me to the other real other source of potential hardship – the hostility of others, even the making of enemies. (I was once warned about that specifically, on my very firsr job.)  That includes violence, whether physical (and brazen), legal, political, framing, or almost any form of coercion.  But a lot of people (especially young men) grow up with the notion that the rules of society and civility are for others, not them, because the rules work against them.  (Think, again, about the old military draft.)   Okay, this leads to the idea of “class warfare” and the indignation of the far left, which a few decades ago could get very personal and exhibited some asymmetry (like Patty Hearst) that we forget about today.  Today, we think of the main asymmetric threats as coming from “radical Islam” – which have the capacity of targeting individual civilians in western countries (right now, Europe more than the US) in a manner that seems unprecedented in history, although comparable domestic threats from Communism (and previously Nazism) were more serious than we realize (and certainly were so against some populations in the South over segregation).  These threats,  augmented by other issues (cyberwarfare from the former Communist block, including DPRK, Russia and China in different ways) have other ideological causes (including and “end times” fanatical religious ideology in some areas of militant Islam), but the idea that some people “get out of things” (as my mother used to put it) certainly adds kerosene to a dangerous mudroom.  I can somewhat understand the mentality of the doomsday preppers and "my own family first" -- civilization works, until it doesn't!  I would not be of any use in a post-technology world,  would not live (in the biological sense) much longer in it, didn't procreate (maybe a good thing then), and would wonder how that would bode for my next existence (as per the Monroe Institute).  

I do get the idea of not wanting to make someone whom I see as "flawed' seem "all right",  But a desire to be kept away from that, if evident to others, may set a bad example (if I'm responsible for the influence of my "example").  Religious fundamentalism makes it easy to stay away from the "not desirable" (again, as Army buddies understood this).  There is a slippery slope, or elevation decline, from personal aloofness to eventual authoritarianism, sometimes with its most horrific eventual practices. This separation -- from forgiveness and solidarity -- can also lead to someone's paying for the crimes of his attacker. It's just as real as if he had committed them himself, and it gets ugly. No one wants to play Job. 
         
Before 2000, I hadn't had to process external "threats" much since, say, college and Army days. Since 9/11, and recently, as some kinds of crime have become more brazen and possibly politically motivated,  In the asymmetric, Internet age the "making enemies" issue (along with "chilling effects")  has taken on a potentially personal aspect that seems historically unprecedented.  I've had to think about it more, as part of a bigger picture, given my "karma".  I am somewhat in a moral Goldilocks zone.  It's like living in the "Twilight Zone" of a tidally-locked planet with less free life on both the day and night sides making claims. There are more than two sides to most arguments. 
        
There's more on the endpoint of this on Wordpress, here. True, the idea of "victim" doesn't work for me.  You still are what you are.    

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