Sunday, March 30, 2008

So, I say, "what do you want from me?" Ans. "Forced socialization"

So, this time, back to a more personal posting (away from my usual mix of Internet-related technical and legal stories), as I recycle a sensitive topic: “What do you want from me?” What do others expect of me now, given some of the recent “principled” discussions on this blog? What I’ll say is an “executive summarization” of feedback from “family,” from the workplace in certain situations (particularly when I was substitute teaching), and some comments from others about materials on my blogs and sites.

I do find that sometimes, others don't respect my "independence" as an adult at age 64. They believe I owe some sort of emotional loyalty and subordination and submission, beyond the parameters of choice (and immediate responsibility) normally expected in the modern world of "classical liberalism." It's true, as I've noted in the past in blogs, that some things I have said (in conjunction with the military situation and past substitute teaching positions) may have indirectly invited this kind of "disrespect." Perhaps my history is an instantiation of "The Secret." It is frustrating. I am, even in the eyes of the law, a ("professional") "second class citizen." My interests can be pre-empted or even "expropriated" to meet the "needs" of others. I understand what this must have felt like in earlier generations, in other historical contexts (the "N" word, the "F" word, maybe even the "M" word). Sure, that's what "salvation by Grace" insures against? That's why I like the concept of karma, even in a religious context, instead. It does seem a little more "just." True, I came of age in a world with different mores and measures than do young people today, and the same holds for my parents relative to me.

Okay, in short, some people want to see more “empathy” from me. Not sympathy, but “empathy.” They want more respect for their feelings, and more willingness from me to take more responsibility for others and be willing to connect with them. They want receptiveness and response from me to their needs. And, as I have said, that can be problematic because I did not make the same “lifestyle” “choices” (children and marriage) that normally lead to this kind of responsibility. Yet, sometimes I find I am expected to function, as if I were part of a “family”, or act as a role model as if I had once parented my own family or had some other equivalent way of being socialized by family need.

The second concern I sometimes here is, “please keep a low profile” because “you don’t have the responsibilities that others have,” and can't even compete for them (like a "man"). Yes, I can understand. People don’t like to hear me talk about “personal responsibility” and taking subprime mortgages that one will not be able to afford in five years, when one has a large family to house, and I don’t. I get that. "Let the experts (and lobbyists) get us what we want and we'll 'take care' of you." It seems as though merely bringing up certain kinds of controversies is seen by some people as tainting me and tainting others connected to me.

Yes! The blogs, websites and books are about issues, and about the interconnections among issues, as shown by the mass of facts that accumulate about the issues over the years. Intelligence calls this “connecting the dots.” Database systems (like IMS) call this concept “intersection data.” When one looks at the mass of material and considers it as a whole, the effect is to create some alarm. It does seem to some people that I am trying to point out what’s “wrong” with things and not ready to step up and do something at an individual level about it (like go down to New Orleans with a shovel).

I have been able to "indulge" in this partly because of my "retirement." But I do notice that many jobs, especially for seniors, seem to involve manipulating clients to buy some service, or to explain something to them "too complicated to understand." (Maybe preparing income taxes is a good example, or perhaps selling life insurance and annuities.) Many people would like to see me "open" to doing that ("concern 3"). "We give you the words," one interviewer said. (Maybe by acting the role with the words, I could "advance" and "protect my family" -- acting 1s OK when it's "creative", but not here!) But, again, my core values say that individuals in the general public can learn to do this for themselves. (Hey, then, where's the cut for the middleman? Or Thomas Costain's "Moneyman"?)

Let me point out that none of the blogs or sites engage in “gossip.” I am not one of the paparazzi or “gossip girls”. I don’t take cell phone pictures of celebrities in gay bars and out them (enough of them go, to be sure – and I believe that anyone has a right to be seen anywhere in public in any lawful place and not be followed); in fact, I don’t take cell phone pictures of anyone in public places. I don’t spread “rumors” about individual people. Of course , that gets closer to the “reputation defense” problem that has cropped up especially with social networking sites, and the fact that reputations are affected by what other “publish” about anyone online (sometimes identifying the wrong person). There is another mechanism, however, in which sites and blogs like mine can create a problem even when they republish legitimate and properly attribute “true” information already first presented in the “established media” – the information is free and can stay available to searching for years, beyond a time when the material would normally have been forgotten (and been archived away by conventional corporate media sites).

One good question is where I would like to head with this. Yes, I would like to see “knowledge management” make money, and I would like to see a world in which people can gain the understanding of these things on their own, without having to depend on familial or religious hierarchy. But even that aim threatens the “power structures” of some people. I’ve imagined, for example, that my “doaskdotell” would be a good wordmark or trademark as a distributor of controversial, but “legitimate” films, perhaps after carefully packaging them to make them socially mainstream. But if so, to be profitable and meaningful as a new media concept, it would have to be able to take the heat if it wanted to handle something that sparks emotions, as does the recent short film “Fitna”.

But, let’s come back to the topic. Yes, I like to draw attention to the traps hidden (of a “moral hazard” nature) under many of these issues. I like to peak in Pandora’s Box, and risk the baggage of the “Knowledge of Good and Evil Problem”. When I was working in information technology, before my end-2001 “retirement”, I had a “reputation” (that word, again) for being the person who found the obscure problems in a system that everyone else missed but that could come back and bite the company seriously later. So it is with these issues. It’s important that people understand them in detail, and not depend on lobbyists and special interest driven politicians just to get them what they “want” with no intellectual responsibility.

So, here I come to my own trap. I know that when people raise families, many people, at least, they give up a certain amount of “independence” in order to bond as a couple and as a family. They need to accept “help” from others (as in a religious fellowship) and not question everything, in order to be able to function as a family. Because of the kind of life I have led, I find myself unwilling to do that. Libertarian thought and “radical individualism” fit well into my system of thought in the 1990s; and this has been challenged by many developments since 9/11, many of which force someone like me with the very real prospect of forced interdependence and socialization. That's my own gut response (not always valid) to the election of a socially conservative candidate: intrusion on my space and goals to meet the needs of those with "families." The tension between those with families and kids and those without is very real in all kinds of areas, ranging from Internet censorship issues (like COPA) to the allocation of “sacrifice” and mandatory overtime and scheduling (as well as benefits) in the workplace.

Consider how we usually phrase “moral principles.” We understand the moral issues underneath “the Cheating Culture” (as with Callahan’s 2004 book) that extreme capitalism encourages. On a social level, we understand that, when people have children, it’s much better if they are first legally married and able to provide permanent, two-parent families. I don’t think that these assertions on their own are controversial.

The real problem comes with people, like me, who are “different,” as to how we should be expected to compete and “behave.” In short, the real controversy concerns “forced socialization.” That’s the real heart of the matter. When I came of age a few decades ago, people rather understood this without being able to articulate it. The controversies of the past days included the equitable sharing of the risk of military service (the draft deferment controversy of the 60s), and the ability of men to prove they were “competitive” enough to protect women and children and provide for families. Times did change, and that’s partly because technology made other lifestyles possible (if sometimes problematic). Women, quite understandably, asserted their ability to speak for themselves, and this took the pressure off certain kinds of “men” (like me). Diversity became a virtue. Yet, in certain contexts, the expression of social or sexual diversity becomes problematic. (At least it did until a few decades ago, and in many "religious" communities around the world it still does.) It comes across as a desire to evade responsibility for others ("family responsibility"), and sometimes, because of the expression of "upward affiliation," it (particularly male homosexuality) is interpreted as hostility to those who do marry and have kids but encounter problems doing so. Getting the adolescent personality (me!) to "like people as people" is taken as a way to make bloodline and "life-affirming" procreation emotionally compelling for anyone; socialization is seen as a way to get everyone to do his part with emotional transparency. So there is a lot of undercurrent social tension -- between individual initiative, and the need for people to count on one another emotionally, even beyond the usual mechanisms of voluntary choice.

Add to this that external “threats” and demographics is making the ability to provide for others, and even connect with them on some legitimate level, a real moral issue again, even for those of us who are “different.” That idea, and the expectation even in the early 90s that it could surface again (as it did with 9/11 and now global warming and other problems) drove some of the “moral thinking” concerning the debate over gays in the military, and then gay marriage and adoption. It was all about how those who were “different” would participate in shared sacrifice and responsibility. This is where I think the real “moral” debate needs to be, and the politicians won’t bring it up. It’s interesting to me how they talk about health care and social security, but won’t say much about eldercare and long term care, an issue that is approaching a crisis because of medical demographics. Why? Because this issue demands a lot more sacrifice from individuals to address, and no politician can run on it, and no advocacy group can really help people that much with this. We understand the moral outrage at “deadbeat dads” but I wonder if “deadbeat adult children” could surface as a phrase next. It’s inevitable that involuntary filial responsibility has to become an issue again.

Another way to put it is something like this: if someone like me isn't emotionally willing to start my own family, at least I'm going to be held accountable to somebody (parents or blood relatives) before I go "global." What I have to say, the thinking goes, is nothing more than "preaching to the choir" until I have someone who needs to be lifted up by personal interaction with me.

Where does all of this leave me? What I am going to “do about it”? I don’t know. Of course, it is the social and emotional “unit cohesion” of the traditional family unit that is supposed to help people take these responsibilities (even people who have not personally “taken the dive”, including, often, LGBT people). The rise of “radical individualism” has diluted the socializing effect of the traditional family – especially the family’s ability to socialize people, even adults, who live on their own. This is a good thing in terms of meeting discrimination, racism, and inequality – to let people account for themselves “as individuals.” On the other hand, the (traditional, heterosexual) marital relationship will sometimes lose “utility” or “value,” with the inevitable increase in divorce and problems for children – and eventual increase in crime and inability of many people in future generations to “compete” and make a living, and an inability or disinclination to even form new families at all. On a macro level, one set of problems changes into another.

As I’ve noted before, I can imagine a world that accepts both gay marriage but also filial responsibility, and that is much more energetic in expecting certain kinds of connective performance from everyone, harking back to the expectations of people decades about during those “greatest generations”. Freedom “is not free.” Whether that would be good is hard to say, because we really could wind up with less spontaneity and less individual freedom, even less artistic expression. But it’s a debate we need to have.

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