Monday, August 31, 2009

Check Up: What is my own "online reputation"? What are my own goals?

In view of some of my recent posts, I guess I can ask myself, “what is my own online reputation? What is my own brand? Where is all this heading? What are my own goals?”

It’s even more meaningful as a question as practical reality means that everybody has an online reputation that can be crafted by others even if they never go online and are supposed (by job requirements) to “keep a low profile”.

In the past twelve or so years, I’ve developed and deployed a body of content that helps visitors “connect the dots” among various facts and arguments related to our notions of social justice [particularly if "man's justice" is to become "absolute"] and individual sovereignty. I’ve also wanted (and to some extent started ) to develop the application infrastructure that would allow others to do the same (and I will be looking for others to partner with in doing so).

I’m particularly struck by a particular dichotomy with which we regard the “moral” basis of freedom. Today, we place an emphasis on personal choice and following through on the consequences of choices. Libertarians call it “freedom to contract.” I sometimes call it “paying your bills.” But a few decades ago, most of the emphasis was on belonging to a community (starting with the nuclear family established by socially and legally recognized and married parents) and on the socialization necessary to guarantee that everyone shares some of the risks, uncertainties and burdens at a personal and intimate level, beyond what is normally subsumed by “choice.” I sometimes call this “paying your dues.” There is some evidence that some of this is returning today. At least, we need to understand how it was in the past and how to deal with sustainability and generativity pressures today -- we're having to back away from the naive notion that responsibility for others always starts with "chosen" sexual activity or with pregnancy. None of this dilutes the fact that we endured enormous “group” injustices in the past. But it does recall the moral example set by "The Greatest Generation" and how close we came (to the end of civilization as we know it) a couple times (at least in 1962) during the Cold War.

I originally got into this debate over the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, which relates to some of my long-term life experiences in an unusual way, and which also connects to this dichotomy. Over time, I’ve found that similar problems come up in other areas, for example today health care, eldercare and the supposed “demographic winter.”

When every "netizen" can "connect the dots" on his own, special interests and their hired lobbyists (yup, lobbying can be a job or career, too) become less effective and less influential on end results. More important, silly petitions, encouraging people to send emails and letters written by others (this is the "we give you the words" problem) become less important, and people get away from victimization thinking and accept the need for some tough love, sometimes.

Much of the social tension over “personal sovereignty” or “self-ownership” does revolve around the right and practical capacity to select one’s own consenting adult significant others. But another increasingly visible component of it centers around personal expression, particularly all of the controversies attending the “free entry” mechanism that we have for Internet self-expression. While I think my presence on the Web has helped win the Lawrence v Texas case (2003) and COPA, and while I have faith that my steadfastness will become significant in overcoming “don’t ask don’t tell”, I think that the biggest challenge may eventually be to “save free entry” on the Web. As I return to the job market, that’s where I would like to focus a lot of my effort.

I do have two practical problems. One of these is that I can’t go through life “getting out of things” myself (just by avoiding "uncertain" choices). It is difficult to maintain individual sovereignty and take care of others when one was not as competitive as one should have been much earlier in life as a boy or young man. Like it or not, this takes on moral dimensions. (In the 1950s, for a young boy with artistic or musical inclinations, becoming a “regular man” first was depicted as a moral absolute, but for the good of everyone else.) The other is that it is difficult to profess public objectivity and “neutrality” (and I chuckle now at the phrase “network neutrality”) when one is in a personal situation, not completely voluntary, that requires some exercise of authority with bias. I must walk the line as best I can. But the worst possible outcome would be to become compelled to dedicate one’s public presence to become corrupted into transmitting the biases and messages determined by others (out of demand for loyalty). I’ve seen it happen when people fall. And, over the years, I've come to see why moral simplicity can become a compelling end in itself.

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