Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Being "special" is a stretch beyond being "different"


The opposite bookend from abstract policy discussion is considering of the question, “How should I live anyway?”  Up close and personal, life is relativistic and “quantized”.  I’ve posed this as a topic question for someone who views himself as “different” or even “special”.  The simple libertarian idea of “personal responsibility” as generating all moral considerations gets complicated by essential or inherent inequality, by the reality that we don’t start at the same place in line, and that some of us benefit from the invisible sacrifices of others.  So life comes knocking, and sometimes demands conformity to goals set by others.  The fact that others make so much of “my” own personal choices only reinforces my notion that I am “special” as well as different.  Maybe that’s not so good. 

So, “I am what I am”, and “my life what it is”, and even. “I am where I am”, whatever the surrounding political issues.  At any given time, the typical cause that someone tries to recruit me to has little or no chance of significantly affecting me.  But over time, many do.  Back in the 70s, the energy crisis could have affected my “getting around” and meeting people on my terms during my “second coming”.  Because of my own background with the military draft and previous college expulsion, the “don’t ask don’t tell” issue was more pertinent to me than, say, marriage equality is today.  In fact, during my “working life”, I was left alone most of the time (not all), and the pressing personal issues (circumstances in the workplace, or a desired “relationship”) seemed to constitute my universe  There was “real life”, even in my own separate world, back in the 70s and 80s, even earlier, and it could become quite captivating. 

But, coercion and discrimination were a major factor in my life earlier, and a different kind of pressure exists now.  So, I ask, what do “You” want?  I think it’s fair that “you” should be able to articulate your needs.  

I think what is “needed” falls into a few, about four steps.  First, you want “me” to display the practical skills that meet the real, even adaptive needs of other people.  I know that, in the sense of gender conformity as a male, I have an issue with this and really did when I was growing up and coming of age. Then you want me actually to deploy the skills with real people with needs.  Then you want me to find emotional satisfaction doing so, even if the time and resources divert me from my own goals.  You want this process to start with “family first” and only then move out into the world.  

An obvious question would be, doesn’t this fit into an authoritarian system?  Doesn’t it serve those already in charge of a patriarchal (perhaps religious, perhaps communistic or fascist) political structure? It can, but we’re still asking “what do ‘I’ do?”  Furthermore, what it the ends of those “in charge” are morally wrong?  Doesn’t that make me wrong to?  Pastor Rick Warren has taken up that question and says, for a while that’s not “my” responsibility, but that is a reason I need a “savior”.  Even modern quantum physics says, there is no way to be “right” all the time, so you need forgiveness.  Once “I” am socialized in my family, then I may constructively start applying critical thinking and, in a free enough society, migrate to a different community if necessary.  But, “I” must always “belong” somewhere first.  

Indeed, I could see this process through different periods of my life.  Once established in New York City in the mid 1970s in my young adulthood, the Ninth Street Center, which I had discovered, seemed to expect some of the same psychological loyalties of a “family”.  But I was always “cherry picking”, and bringing up extraneous external issues (the political ones, like the energy and financial crises then), that could limit my own field to what was before me.  My tendency toward “upward affiliation” could indeed inspire resentment of others. 

But, because of my lack of physical competitiveness, I indeed had to strike a separate peace.  I would avoid partisan advocacy or alliance, play umpire from a distance, and keep on throwing “critical thinking” at everyone. “Upward affiliation” made sense in driving what I would find important and people, and I needed to do my own work alone and put it out.  That is often the temperament not so much of, say, a novelist (who really must care about ordinary people), but of a musician and composer, who can “live in your world if ideas” and hide the most disturbing implications of some of his ideas.  There are some young artists and composers, a few decades younger, whose lives seem a bit parallel to mine and who appear more successful in art and music as a legitimate career than I was.  They had the advantage of technology and a more progressive society, to be sure, but they were also better at “practical things” first as boys or young men than I was. 

On the other hand, if I were more “competitive” socially, I would indeed be more willing to show “solidarity” and join with others in pursuing narrower goals.  And, frankly, the same would have been true in the world of marriage and dating.  Had I been “better at it”, I would have found it more “alluring”.  I don’t think I ever processed what it would mean to raise a biological child from conception to adulthood, but I had every reason to believe, according to the ideas of the time, to believe it would not turn out well (that is, self-exclusion and “eugenics”). 

So why is all of this socialization necessary?  One major reason is simply, to provide resilience.  Bad things happen to good people, ranging from disease (inherited, environmental, sometimes behavioral) to external aggression, including crime and war.  People need to form and keep relationships despite the loss of appeal from these incidents, and their ability to do so helps keep a society or “tribe” strong and resistant to enemies, as well as make it sustainable.  Yes, I resented the idea that this sort of common need should actually motivate a conjugal relationship among less than ideal partners.  Sharing of risks and sacrifices, somewhat publicly, supports stability (and aims toward “equality”).  Solidarity, if not completely honest intellectually, can be necessary for survival. But, at an individual level, this is all a bit like quantum mechanics, it is unpredictable.  We all face our own specific challenges, and they will be different for different people.  So I could be expected to deal with mine, and not pretend it was “disability”. 

Furthermore, challenges are different in various generations.  I had to deal with male-only conscription, and as I wrote about it in my DADT books, I could see it made me look a bit self-serving and cowardly, according to the values of earlier generations.  Today, as an extension of reverence for life when vulnerable, there is a lot more emphasis on very personalized sharing, like for medical transplants, in ways not imagined when I was growing up.  But they are still special challenges.  We can also see that, ironically, modern social media can bring war to own lands.

The libertarian idea of personal responsibility, which I tried to reduce to atomic terms in the Introduction to my DADT-1, gets muddied when one “belongs” to a group.  If one stands out by being critical of one’s cohort, even in the interest of critical thinking, one can bring harm to others in the group. I saw that with the way the AIDS epidemic played out, when I started questioning leadership with 80s-level technology, living in Dallas at the time.  It happens to today in other contacts, including especially religious hostility. 

Having "pubbed" my story (without really "pimping" it commercially), I find others sometimes try to "drag me in" to their lives, in ways that would have been inappropriate before, so I walk in their shoes before being heard (and don't "get out of things", as my mother would have said it).  I can see how my openness to that could be seen as related to stability, at least with matters of social or economic inequality or injustice, although not necessarily religious. There is an idea, common however in religious circles, called personal "rightsizing" as relevant to stability and gradual migration not just fairness but community. 
    
We have gotten used to the neo-modern idea that responsibility for others starts with procreation – voluntary acts that create children.  True, but there are other ways it happens.  Look at happens with eldercare now, and “filial responsibility”.  It can also arise when you get a benefit that you didn’t earn by yourself, like inheritance – the “Raising Helen” scenario being the example case.  All of this bears on the debate about inequality and the instability that results.  If you didn't earn something and it gets yanked away by force because of indignation, you just might not get it back.  Look at Scarlet O'Haa in "Gone with the Wind"-- Oh, she got it back, and lost it again. 

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