Monday, January 16, 2012

Updating the proposals from my 1997 "Do Ask Do Tell" book; my own plans; Wikipedia plans blackout to protest SOPA/PIPA; activists plan a "SOPAStrike"

In the coming weeks, I’ll be making specific commitments (to myself, but in public) to submit my film and music content to others for eventual professional production, through the establishment “legacy system”.
But I wanted to bootstrap this effort by reviewing what I said in my first 1997 book “Do Ask Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back”, and account for what has “changed” since then, in fifteen years.

The focus in that book was on defining and protecting the rights of the individual, especially when he/she is “different”.   I thought moral debates could be cast in very simple terms of "absolute responsibility for the self" and then sometimes re-expanded when necessary.  Much of the book dealt with the rights and exposures of “gay people” (I’ll contract or skip out here on the “distinction” between status and chosen actions), but some of it involves many other areas of self-satisfaction or transcendence.  There’s a natural tension between the individual’s own purposes and the needs of people in the community around him, to which he may owe something.  I took the position that the role of government in these areas should be very limited, or in some cases localized.  Most of the specific proposals in the book, including the constitutional amendment proposals toward the end (in the last chapter) limited the ability of most levels of government to regulate the individual, even in some situations such as being in the military.

The limitations of government were particularly concerned with areas where people try to use the legal system to scapegoat those who are “different” for problems that call for more personal responsibility from everyone.  This involved other areas (outside of sexual orientation) where people claim “influence”.   Scapegoating goes hand in hand with organizational corruption. At the same time, people may reasonably question the motives of those who are different, of what makes them tick, of what they would accomplish with full freedom.

Several trends have changed since the mid 1990s, when I wrote most of the book.  The most important change may be that life is a lot more public now.  “Privacy” (or the protection of “private choices”) is not an adequate metaphor for human rights.  The world of social media has made double lives difficult (or a sign of lack of “integrity”) and also made personal motivations more apparent and more influential. Therefore, the emphasis on “equality” has replaced it.  Yet, in some natural physical or biological sense, absolute “equality” cannot exist.  People have always needed to relate to one another with a sense of complementarity, and accept some need for interdependence.  Libertarianism has tried to reduce “complementarity” to the “vector basis” of the free market, but there are natural limits as to how far this process can go and still allow people the social cohesion they need to face big problems together.

Indeed, the appearance of the “big problems” is another important trend. The most obvious of these are climate change and demographics – an aging population.  Others could include terrorism or a variety of other possible calamities, like pandemics. People could need to relate to one another “locally” and give up the idea of “global citizenship” and reach as a copout and evasion from unwanted relationships with less than ideal people that happen to be available and in need.  “Surplus” cannot be taken for granted; “adaptive needs” could storm back and determine a lot about the personal opportunities available, even to those who are different.  "Sustainability" could provide a major challenge to global individualism, although "sustainability" alone isn't the only end; the Neanderthals sustained themselves for over 100000 years, but we don't want to follow their example. 

I grew up in the immediate post-War period (mostly the 50s), when “morality” seemed to focus on the idea that, beyond just making personal choices that you could pay for, you were obliged to share common risks and obligations and support the common goals of your community and family.  (In some contexts, cowardice could become the greatest evil.)  I was an only child and didn’t see as much of this as others; the idea, for example, that adults able to step in and help raise other peoples’ children, such as siblings’ after unpredictable tragedies.  These obligations were related to gender (most obviously with the male-only military draft, and the whole unfairness of the deferments, all ending in 1973), and tied to familial and political “power structures” which became somewhat discredited in the 1960s with Vietnam, Stonewall, and eventually Watergate.  From the 70s through the 90s, morality focused more on answering for one’s own personal choices (the libertarian model), such as taking responsibility for the children you had because of your “chosen” sexual behavior, and, later, taking responsibility for exposure to STD’s.  Even so, it was clear that anomalies existed.  People “choosing” to have kids (and hopefully marry first, still) take on risks and enormous expenses that an society dedicated to individualism may make too costly, making the sustainability of that society questionable.  Since 9/11, roughly, and given all the crises of the last decade, as well as publicity about both the hardships of people and the ability of medical technology to treat many things, the pendulum about “personal responsibility” has swung back a bit, with more sense that some things ought to be shared by everyone.

I expressed concerns about this in the 1997 book. I was concerned that government “subsidized” certain behavior, which meant eventually that non-participants help pay for it.  This idea occurs everywhere, from parenthood to using public transportation.  But a broader view is (a principle that typically forms a kernel in social conservatism) that when people take care of one another personally, mostly in the family unit but also in the community with service, government has less reason to intrude and in general there is more liberty.  In the book, I took the position that it is appropriate for government to reward (as by taxing less) persons who provide total economic support of others, usually dependent children, but also the elderly and disabled, the latter two categories having become much more important in recent years.
The concern is not just a utilitarian one about paying for personal care, childrearing and eldercare.  It also has to do with the attitude of the individual toward others, about his expectations for his relationships with others, which can become unrealistic in a world that overly supports hyperindividualism.  This gets into areas where people have, at various times in my life, been concerned about my own use of fantasy, photographic watchfulness, and general aloofness – much more visible in an era of Internet self-broadcast and obvious need, which tends to make distance or indifference look like aggression.

As to some of the more specific points I made, some of which have become outmoded over the years, there are at least three areas of real problems.

First, of course, the recommendations in my long (Chapter 4) on the military gay ban and “don’t ask don’t tell” policy would now be obsolete because the policy was repealed, with a long process that started in 2010 in Congress and ended with “certification” in the fall of 2011.  From a practical viewpoint, a major concern is maintaining a political climate (with the 2012 general election) that does not lead to reimposing the ban (with some of the GOP candidates).   In fact, my original involvement with the issue in 1993 had been motivated by what seemed like a parallel between the concerns over “privacy” in military barracks and similar concerns in the dormitories at William and Mary as I had experienced them in 1961, when I would be expelled.  As I’ve noted, the concerns over “privacy” have waned in our culture since 1993, and a world of Facebook makes DADT totally unworkable.  But the military buzzword “unit cohesion” has applicability in the general society, with a broader concern over social and familial cohesion. Most of my recommendations in 1997 centered around President Bill Clinton’s “don’t pursue” clause, and were predicated on a now outmoded notion of privacy and even personal secrecy.

Second, I had actually proposed a constitutional amendment that sounds a bit too much like DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), which may well fail in court eventually.  But at the time, I wanted a legal climate where states thought they could experiment with allowing various forms of civil unions and then marriage – which were just beginning to cook as an issue in the mid 1990s (with Hawaii and Vermont).  Reducing the federal impact might encourage more states to liberalize same-sex benefits laws as much as possible locally. But in the past eight years or so, the concept of absolute political equality has become more critical (Washington Blade former editor Chris Crain’s “Piddle,Twiddle and Resolve”), as some states approve full gay marriage and Congress sometimes considers banning it by amendment.    Why is “equality” so important to those who aren’t married and who say they don’t even “need” marriage, and just want “freedom”?  (That used to be the mantra.)  Because eventually sacrifices are demanded of everyone to help deal with common problems, that are increasing. My own story with eldercare in the past decade provides plenty of material.   With parenting, we have a curious tension now between claims of a tremendous need for adoptive parents (to the point that every adult should take notice), and the supposed importance of the “mother-father” family as an absolute ideal and birthright.  Do they want me or not? Again, my experience as a substitute teacher provides a trove of stories.  What is becoming apparent is that belief in the “family values model” (that every competent adult should be expected to strive to raise a family through a conventional marriage – and follow the Vatican “openness to new life” principle) is critical to some people in being able to keep their own marriages together (or even to form them in the first place).

I could characterize my perception of the importance of communal motivation and sustainability as something like a "climate change" that is occurring now, compared to the series of cultural squabbles fifteen years ago that were more like "weather events".  In the 90s, I generally had the perception that "having a family" and participating in familial and communal closeness was a personal choice that went with personal responsibility, although there were "deviations".  Today, it's clear (again) that responsibility for other people doesn't wait for a chosen act of procreation to come down on one's shoulders. If you don't chose it, it will be chosen for you.

Indeed, for me, one of the most threatening prospects can be to thrown into dependency on others by circumstances beyond my control.  But "freedom from interdependence" was never a fundamental right; it just looked that way for a couple decades.  

Third (returning to my 1997 proposals), I had suggested that some forms of restriction on minors-inappropriate Internet publication would be appropriate as long as it was allowed behind adult-verifications screens.  At the time I wrote the proposal, the Communications Decency Act was still before the Supreme Court (I even went to the oral arguments in March 1997).  At the time, I thought a verification provision would save things.  As we now know from the COPA litigation, this wasn’t feasible – although I think a content-labeling scheme could be developed.  

What has become apparent is that the ability of “average users” to post content on the Web without third-party screening and particularly (in most cases) without eventual third-party downstream liability, does expose the “public” to indirect risks – varying from piracy to cyberbullying – that may be hard to manage legally because of the way the Internet works.  I’ve been covering the debate over SOPA recently (and there’s another detailed story on the Business front page of the New York Times today, by Jenna Wortham and Somini Sengupta, link).    Wikipedia (as of this writing) plans a 24-hour blackout on Wednesday January 18, 2012, information here (the "Kids do your homework early!" tweet from Jimmy Wales here -- I hope civics and government teachers will take this up in high schools this week).  It seems that one could make the case that one should not be able to self-promote globally until one has taken responsibility for others and can “compete” and fit-in socially to provide for others. At least, that would be a potential argument from “social conservatives”.  But perhaps its self-serving, a way to keep old power structures intact. 

I also understand from YouTube that Reddit also plans a blackout. In fact, later information is that a number of sites will participate, for at least 12 hours Wednesday. Here is the story on Webpronews.  There is a site called "Sopastrike" that instructs individual webmasters how to participate, link here.  I do not intend to disable any of my own sites during this period.  As of late Monday night, there is no information from any of my own service providers that they will participate.  

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