Friday, May 06, 2011

Oh, no! Not another Manifesto! (or another "screed"!)

Soon (in some period of weeks or months), I will release a new ebook, the third in my “Do Ask Do Tell” series. I want to outline the purpose of the new book.

But it will be useful to review my intentions with my first book, and to compare it to what has changed now.
Anytime someone wants to publish a work conveying a message, he must ask himself “Who cares”.

I know people “care” because at some points in the past (most of all the college and teen years) others “interfered” with what I wanted. So they “care”.

As I approached graduation from high school, I knew, more or less, what I “wanted”.  It was self-expressive and perhaps attention-gathering, and incorporated an interpersonal element. All of it can be understood in terms of both my abilities and deficits. Mainstream “America” today would probably see what I wanted as morally valid. So why did others interfere?

I maintain that the reasons invoke more than simple prejudice against difference, whether immutable or not.  There is value to others in their facing a deeper understanding of their own fears and motives.
On one level, my first book was motivated by a certain parallel between the “justification” for the military gay ban and what had happened to me 35 years before.  I felt that lifting the ban, even in the limited context of “not asking, not pursuing” would redeem my own life and make me feel like an “equal” person, whose life could well continue productively a few more decades.

My own self-perception indeed was that of an individual who had benefitted from the sacrifices of others and avoided certain community risks with some degree of physical cowardice. I must admit that lifting the ban would seem to sand down this feeling.

I sensed that “morality” was only partially expressed in the economic market. I had grown up in a world where it was expected that everyone take his turn doing community or family things that came with natural complementarity, even at some personal sacrifice or risk.  I suspected that many “prohibitionistic” rules about sex (and homosexuality) related to a need to make sure everyone did his part.

I also sensed in myself that a retreat into a world of art and fantasy with on carefully selected interactions with others, on my terms, would work out for me.  And I suspected that others feared that such an example from me would only become too tempting and “contagious” for others, because it was a “logical course” for many people like me.

It’s important to recognized at one a certain common denominator in my thinking: everything came down to the individual, and to how well he or she did.

On one level, my answer to all of this was simple: libertarianism. Stop the government from passing “deceptive” laws intended to manipulate people into conformity. Propose constitutional amendments guaranteeing the “right to privacy” and particularly “private choice” (among consenting adults). This obviously spread to many areas besides sex. (The libertarian Nolan Chart illustrates how pretty well.)

A corollary to restricting government was absolute personal responsibility for the self. I thought, with considerable justification, that a truly free market would not be able to afford discrimination, and that government would not need to be involved in ending discrimination or remedying past discrimination with relativistic and collective measures.

It was apparent that some people did better in life than others; at a certain level, only the individual could fully answer for his or her own performance.  Any other measures tended to involve the use of coercion to force an individual to sacrifice, outside the usual economic modes, for the welfare of others in the group, whether immediate family, tribe, community or country.

It’s true, we sometimes call this kind of thinking “market fundamentalism.”

But it’s also the case that people start out at different places in line, and that people “of privilege” benefit  from the physical sacrifices of others that occur outside the scope of the market.  A good example of this problem was the Vietnam era military and male-only draft, complicated by a history of various deferments. 

Furthermore, having or not having children can  affect the “sacrifices” (in or out of market) a person was likely to make.  By the 1990s, it was apparent that single and childless people are often paid less and pickup some unpaid on-call time for their family-“burdened” coworkers.  But that could mean that the lower paid singles might be more likely to keep their jobs in downturns.

In fact, even in the 80s and 90s, I was well aware that “social conservatives” viewed “inequality” as something that should be remedied by the interpersonal relations within the family (most of all, marriage, which governed everything else).  Inequality among families or social classes was the responsibility of “leaders”, not individuals, and left the political system open to corruption. That was something that could change with the “democratization” of speech on the Internet.

The general approach of my 1997 book was that the market should take care of these “competitive” personal inequities.  While I was well aware of them at an intellectual level, I had not been personally affected by them a lot, except, well, occasionally (compared to what had happened to me during college years). 

But this “broader” view of equality meant that people could be assessed as to how well they “paid their dues” as well as “did their jobs”.  But people were still looked at (comparatively) as “individuals”, and were supposed to be appreciated according to meritocratic thinking.  Ultimately, the presence or absence of progeny family was the result of a private choice, and not supposed to affect how an individual was regarded.  (I did call this the “’Pay Your Bills, Pay Your Dues’ Problem”, referring to the moral outlook of my own late father.)

Andrew Sullivan once said that human rights and equal rights are achieved when “public discrimination” ends and privacy is respected, and “that is all.”  On the surface, that would sound like it would answer many of the gay rights issues. But , “it wasn’t all”.  Three things happened:  the Internet made everyone a public person, we had 9/11 (and dealt with the existential threat of many other possible crises), and demographic changes – the increase in the needs of the elderly and other disabled – set in.

Specific events that would affect me were my mother’s illness, decline, and caregiving needs, and then an incident and some other concerns about my own online activity, and a change in the way people were behaving toward me, and some very curious and perplexing behavior by some employers.

Let me mention the employment thing first.  Numerous times, I was invited into or solicited for situations involving activities like personal mentoring or role modeling, or sales, lead-generation, and customer manipulation – activity that requires skill in and belief in a social hierarchy.  I found myself resisting these beckonings, because they seemed to demand me to become something I wasn’t, as well as sometimes seemed to be trying to get me to support ends, defined by others, that I did not believe. I called this the “’We Give You the Word’” Problem.

And let me also characterize the “Personal Thing.” I became aware that many people shared much more emotion for family and others – relationships given to them [by married parents] as well as chosen by them – than I did.   It seemed that for most “family oriented” people, the scope of affection  (as for siblings and other less direct family members) was determined by the sexual intercourse of others (parents), not by their own actions.  I had come to understand interpersonal emotion (as it could gradate into sexuality) in terms of the “polarity” theory explained in my first book.  But for many people interpersonal emotion took on an existential nature and set their goals, to the point that they no longer (and perhaps never had) saw themselves as individuals competing with one another, to be assessed by an outside “akashic” entity.

I also had to question what I had accomplished with my books and Web 1.0 presence. I had indeed affected the debate on matters like “don’t ask don’t tell” and COPA, and I thought I was playing
“keep ‘em honest”.  If one determined person could do this, that could be revolutionary in a political sense. Nevertheless, especially after a particular incident in 2005 (involving the school systems), one could question my “purposes”, maybe even rising to legal questions about “intent”. Specifically, I hadn’t been motivated by financial gain in the usual sense, and particularly the need to provide for (and go to bat for) other people, as in a family. This came to be known as “’The Privilege of Being Listened To’ Problem”.

The heart of the my life as a “quanderer” however seemed to spin through this dichotomy between becoming one’s own person (and expressing it), and creating a maintaining a stake in one’s group. The obvious observation is that by having children one has a stake in the continuity of one’s own blood, and should care about the world left after he is gone – that’s the heart of “sustainability” – and we often call it “generativity.”   But often, in recent years, I found myself “dragged” into the stakes set up by others in all kinds of areas I wanted nothing to do with. (For specifics, see other postings or chapters.)  Perhaps it’s morally wrong to “get out of things” this way (my own Mother used to say that).  This all does relate to the balance between “individual” and “community”; to have a sustainable community, individuals must take some “risks” (as when they have children) and know that others can back them up.  Then I realized I would have indeed felt differently if I had set up “ownership” of my own stake by having children after all. That means I can flash back in my mind to some specific events in the far distant past and imagine that I might have handled others very differently than I did.

I have not gotten the emotional “kick” from helping those not intact that I see others (more family-centered) get (on a few occasions, I was “ambushed” by some situations with these potentialities), and my interpersonal emotions seem driven by “upward affiliation”;  and my own aesthetic;  all of that seems to me like a “logical conclusion” of exposure to a competitive childhood and the inability (for reasons still not totally clear) to compete according to gender. Yes, I had a “gender deficit”, but those who say that probably have their own dangerous agenda.  I find this to be a “’Chicken and Egg’ Problem” (inviting explanations of immutability).

There is a theory that “women tame men”, and men who don’t find the “power” to reproduce personally promising may have little reason to be “tamed” and to learn to “love people as people” (as my father used to say). Or maybe it’s the other way around. It sounds like a metaphysical problem. “Upward Affiliation Works” when “freedom works”, but as it becomes more public (as in the Internet age), others find it a threat to their experience of socialization. It could become a threat to long term committed marital experience (it’s possible to word this in crass terms).  Yes, there’s something to this: some people will live “satisfyingly” along religious social (and gender-specific) norms when they believe that others do and that others “have to”. (This is really noticeable, I think, in much of Islamic culture, as well as with our own “Christian Right” or the “Moral Majority” of the 1980s.)  It’s also true that if you sum up “what makes individuals tick” you integrate it into something that matters: if too many people remain personally distant from the more vulnerable that often work out of sight, very dangerous social and political trends could follow, as history has often taught us all the way back to the time of Sparta. On the other hand, “upward affiliation” (and a refusal to feel for people on their terms rather than yours) can be seen as a way of admitting that “hierarchy matters” after all.

This leads me back to a potentially shocking conclusion about my own parents. It’s possible that all the William and Mary and then NIH business (again, elsewhere in these blogs) could have threatened their marriage (even more so because I am an only child). It did not in fact, but if it had, much of the rest of my life could have been much harder.

During the 1964 campaign (and just after one of the worst periods for me personally), president LBJ said "we must love each other, or we must die."  Maybe his conduct didn't live up to what he said. But the statement really means something.

First picture, above: A paper plant in West Point, VA, site of a Science Honor Society (Washington-Lee High School, Arlington) field trip in  April, 1961, as I headed down to take a test for a chemistry competition at William and Mary.

Below: JFK on Inauguration Day, 1961, my senior year of High School (from the Kennedy Center). "Ask not..."

So we have a conclusion: responsibility for others, as a moral principle, depends on a lot more than just deciding to engage in behavior that can produce children; part of the idea is to share “community risk” and to stand ready to when necessary, and accept the fact that you own your life (and possessions) in a kind of morally revocable “trust”.

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