Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How we respond to coercion, when we "play on the road", does have moral signficance


If you’re “different” and live in your own world, somewhat publicly like I do, then how “you” behave is in part a moral issue.  And how “you” respond to coercion and outside pressure is indeed an important issue, too.  And “you” have a right to get people to come clean with you about what they really “want”.  Sure, conformity.  They want “me” to fit snugly into their power structure and not compete with it.  But “what others want” really does matter.
  
Coercion can be violent (crime or terrorism), or legal (with the force of government, the subject of libertarianism now), religious, politically morivated, or social, or indirect in business or personal dealings.  It can be simply what comes across as unwanted proselytizing.
  
One example of coercion is phone calls asking why I’m not more aggressive in selling copies of my books, or in attracting advertisers, or guest posters.  My “business model” is “what it is” as I have explained before.  It’s disruptive to try to change courses overnight.  Any (former) IT professional knows that.
  
It’s true, as catchy as my “franchise” title is, I don’t exactly “give people what I want”.  I don’t try to make “you” feel “all right”.  I’m not a motivational guru.  I don’t win elections or help other candidates win (very much). 
  

I do have a unique historical narrative, which was indeed very critical in addressing “don’t ask don’t tell” over the years (in a number of contexts, starting first with gays in the military).  But there is a certain irony or paradox.  I seems like I am putting myself out as a physical coward, particularly with everything surrounding the military draft – and my own encounter with Basic Combat Training (even Special Training Company, or “Tent City”) at Fort Jackson in 1968. I used my education to let others take risks I wouldn’t have to take.  I even was complicit as a graduate student when I taught math, and even some aspects of my stay at NIH in 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis went on, are, well, disturbing.  It’s indeed historical non-fiction, but like a historical novel.  Yet, politically, the narrative had underground influence.  I know it did.
  
Another area of coercion concerns volunteerism, and service.  I recently added Food and Friends, in DC, to my automated trust donation list.  I volunteered for them before effectively in the 1990s, in a different environment as I had for Whitman Walker and the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas in the 1980s, when, with HIV, the circumstances were more obviously urgent.  (That’s a whole narrative of its own.)  Yet, I don’t need an email saying “can we count on you this time?”  I don’t “belong” to “them”.  
  
Recently, however, I upped volunteerism, participating substantially in a Community Assistance weekend at a local church, but on a schedule for me set up by me.  “Managed chaos” is what the pastor calls it.
  
Last fall, Chess for Charity provided a good experience.


Sunday, there was a plea at a church I really like, Trinity Presbyterian in Arlington VA, for “Lotsa Helping Hands”, which is actually a movement here. The speaker asked the congregation to “chant” in unison that anyone (“I”) can need help sometimes.  Of course, that is true, but I found the manner of presentation rather coercive.  When I don’t live in the same emotional world as many families (married couples with small children)  I don’t really think I can be “on-call” for their “needs”.  It could actually be dangerous in some scenarios.  Another interesting area is support for the “30 Hour Fast”  Yes, I know where that is coming from.  But should I get involved in supporting teens’ fasting?  No, I think that is a personal (possibly healh-related) matter for parents only.
  
While we tote the idea of “personal responsibility” and following through with promises (contracts, as libertarians say) and consequences, we have to realize that not everything in life is chosen, and, in some ways, “equality” as activists promote it really isn’t possible all the time.  So how we respond to things we don’t choose is an issue. Eldercare provided me a lesson in that over the past years, even if I came out of it rather well.
  
I do get prodded in another way.  If I was willing to use my background, say especially in life insurance (twelve years in IT) and sell it, I could support other people (maybe adopt children) like other “real people” with “real responsibilities” (resulting from conventional committed marital sexuality, often with procreation).  I’ve heard that “We give you the words” speech, at one interview, where I would be expected to shut down my own personal voice, which was so effective against DADT in a manner not possible from anyone else but me, given my unusual history.  When I question the interviewer, he turns defensive, as if indeed presented an existential threat to his world, turning desperately toward aggressive hucksterism.
  
Let me add, I did take in someone, in 1980, when living in Dallas.  It was an experiment of mixed success.  I came about as an indirect result of the Cuban refugee crisis then.  I did not make the person “better” and the idea that he could be someone to feel “proud of” just wasn’t there.  Recently, I saw a bulletin board asking for housing for an Americorps volunteer.  It stayed up a month or so. Did a "normal family" finally offer?
    
It’s rather apparent that this idea can come up again, particular with the speculative possibility of sponsoring refugees seeking asylum, as from anti-gay countries (Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, etc) or even Syria.  This is obviously a loaded question which the Obama administration does not want to discuss from the perspective of individual citizen “obligation”, and has security concerns – that is, the administration does not want to cast this issue in “coercive” terms, whereas the GOP wants it to go away altogether (considering how it feels about immigration).  It also sounds like an issue churches will soon address, but this will be very difficult to get traction on (when compared, for example, to summer youth missions in Central American countries).  Compare this to Haiti or other issues with Africa. 
  

Something like this could work for me if I succeeded in making my media pay its own way (but it’s a lot more than just selling “instances” of books).  That would give it some integrity.  But becoming a huckster and getting paid to sell somebody else’s wares would not.  And, by the way, I wonder if anyone is writing a book or making a documentary film about the asylum issue.  Hint?  CNN Films?  Vox Media?  Morgan Spurlock?   Maybe something for the GWU Documentary Center?  (Really too bad, we lost the West End Cinema.)  But, yes, I'm "lucky" that I didn't "land" with a "Raising Helen" situation, and more specific and urgent demands. 
     
Indeed, I have an issue meeting “the real needs of other people”. I fell behind physically as a boy, and from a medical viewpoint I don’t know why.  It might have to do with measles, mild autism, or premature neurological “pruning” for music.  Most people who are “different” but publicly successful are first better at a range of practical things than I was.  I also have an issue that, if I met their “needs”, doing so would really mean something if it called for a sacrifice of personal goals – which could happen anyway because of bad luck, coercion, or medical issues. It's a "chicken and egg" problem. No one is above admitting need. We all have to play on the road some times and allow the other team the last at-bat.
     
I have seen all of this in terms of "paying your dues" and sharing risks individually, rather than "belonging" to a community.  Individualism requires inequality for a while for its innovation, but if it doesn't give back, indignation and instability result.  Sometimes, in historical contexts, revolution and expropriation happen.  This comes back, for "people like me", to moral "rightsizing".  It's a double irony that I see this in moral terms rather than live it.  
            
One other thing.  Sales people say that creating urgency is key, and that implies coercion, to me at least – more than simple assertiveness or (Rosenfels-like) “masculinity”. 
   
First two pictures: Basic Combat Training museum at Fort Jackson, SC (Columbia), pd.  Not open to non-military right now, but maybe that can change.


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