Monday, February 20, 2012

Challenges to "those who are different" (me): Outlierage, Part I (general aspects)

I want to continue here a discussion I started Feb. 4, about points I would make in my planned video on “how sustainability culture may affect those who are different.”  

I particularly want to share some specific impressions that I have evolved, about how people have perceived me and my work, now that I am 68.

There is a bit of bifurcation in my thinking. Some of the “feedback” is directly connected to my sexual orientation, but the larger purview of it is not.  Some of the concerns could well apply in a world that fully accepted same-sex marriage and parenting.

The most important feedback element is that I don’t seem to experience much emotional attachment for “other people” just as “people”.   I seem aloof, indifferent.  Yes, I don’t warm up to the cause or the needs of someone thrust in front of me, either in person or (more often) by the media.  There was a time when aloofness was a virtue (I remember a particular conversation about this in Dallas in the early 1980s with a “boyfriend” who happened to have just finished his PhD in clinical psychology).  But now, the feedback (as in one particularly angry email from Australia a few years ago) is that my postings show lack of “empathy”.

There are some natural explanations for this observation.  When I was growing up (largely in the 50s), people were perceived as having a natural life span.  From the seventh decade of life, deaths from heart attacks, cancer, or degenerative diseases seemed to be accepted as part of nature, not worthy of a lot of personal or social attention.  There was not much that could be done to prolong life, compared to today.  Very few people became noticeably senile or developed disabling dementia.  Therefore, the idea of developing emotional bonds with people in this area of need did not come up.  It was something that stayed in families.  I was an only child exposed to less of this than those in other families.

There was also, even in the fifties, a wide divergence in the way “church” was experienced.  Mine (The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC) would have been considered liberal politically for its day (Dr. Pruden had been very progressive on racial matters back in the 40s). The culture of the membership stressed academic excellence and the cultivation of art and classical music, but relatively little of collective professions of faith, such as prolonged “singspirations” or public professions common in other more evangelical churches.  I would be surprised, in my adult life, of the public nature of faith in many other churches, especially when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s (even with MCC Dallas). 

Even so, the sum result was a perception that I was unresponsive to others who should benefit from connection to me: that is, from women in general when I was growing up (I had no interest in the usual aspects of courtship), and then lack of “emotion” during my mother’s eldercare, which sometimes caused heated reactions from a couple of hired caregivers. 

Correlated with this observation (about diffidence) was what friends in high school had called “my physical weakness”.  I was way behind other boys in competitive “athletic” activities, and in some areas of physical coordination.  I resented the idea of being pushed into activities like football, which I perceived as “dangerous”.  I was right about some of this – look at the recent medical controversy over head injuries for football players.  I would overcome some of this, becoming able to bat a pitched softball and actually innovating a form of “back yard softball” with carefully constructed rules for the boys in the neighborhood (we had very big back yards with “outfield” fences) where I could perform (as well as a couple of clever “board games”).  Eventually I would develop some competitiveness over the chess board.

My father made a big issue of the “form” with which I did household chores, and made a lot of the idea of “formation of proper habits” and “learning to work”.   While I understand people need to learn work habits in the home before they are successful in a (market-driven) workplace, his concern seemed to be partly moral and ideological.  There was a concern that someone like me could become a “mooch”  (like the Ayn Rand character of that name) or “parasite” on the sacrifices of others.  This became especially evident when I went through the Army draft and Basic Training, after graduate school, in 1968 (where “form” is everything).  I remember the “joy” the day I passed the PCPT test in Special Training, still.   I actually improved quite a bit on these matters in Basic and learned a great deal from the experience, an idea that might be lost on today’s generation of young people.  I remember well the resentment of less fortunate recruits over the way the draft and assignment to combat exposure (during the Vietnam era) had been managed, and some of it was directed at me (“too much education…”) .  The discrediting of US foreign policy and the Vietnam war as it would play out in the early 1970s (with Watergate) would cover up the moral questions over how sacrifices are shared.

I had developed an interest in piano, which I started taking in early 1952 (at age 8), as well as an ear for classical music and an interest in composition.  (How did I have time to write by hand a full length romantic piano Sonata at age 16 and enter it into composition?)  I was pretty good by the time I was a senior in high school; I could play some of the Rachmaninoff Op. 32 Preludes (like the concluding D-flat Major triumph) pretty well.  But I did not stay in the game to make the cut professionally.  Why?  In the days of a hovering conscriptive draft and stereotyped expectations about competitive, sometimes self-sacrificing and fungible masculinity,  I was “the boy who plays”.  And in the moral view of my father’s world, I hadn’t “paid my dues”.   I would experience a mild hearing loss in my right ear after a day on the rifle range (“coaching” with inadequate ear plugs), further “paying my dues”. 
The same idea would occur decades later with my self-published books and Internet web publishing activity, mostly according to the values of a Web 1.0 world (as it was around 2000). In recent years, we’ve seen political debates over how the need to “protect children” from inappropriate content (COPA),  counter piracy (COPA) and contain online reputational damage and cyberbullying could bring back those “downstream liability” (that is, “I must become my brother’s keeper”) provisions into cyberspace that would end the era of “free entry” and amateurism on the web that basically gave me a second career as my mainframe world petered out after Y2K.   I would find people approaching me with unsolicited proposals for employment situations that would require giving up my own self-directed political speech on the web in order to sell their message and to “help other people” (as specific individuals in need).  That seemed to be a turnaround from the world of social combat that had driven me way back in the 50s.  Could I really “trust” them anyway?

Nevertheless, in retrospect, it seems as though the Internet might have evolved in a much more controlled way, without allowing for unsupervised, capital-less self-publication because of liability issues (without the “protection”, however indirect, of Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor).  Indeed, the speed with which the Web and its personal enablement grew precluded too much moral cogitation.  One could, instead, say to “someone like me”, something like this, “We don’t want to hear from you until you are responsible for other people”.
I have to come back to look at my purposes, and attitude toward others.  I’ve tended to take the “personal responsibility” idea (like the Ron Paul banners in this year’s GOP debates) rather literally. True, people (often their “whole families”) who got into underwater mortgages at one time tried to get something for nothing (but so did the banks and their minions of hucksterizing middlemen).  They sinned. They bear some moral responsibility for their own predicaments. But that shouldn’t mean that I find practically zero emotional value in helping them; but that is the way, without a viable way of “personal social competition” for myself, my own attitudes toward others who “stumble” has evolved. 
There’s a general paradox in Christianity, especially, about how personal responsibility plays out.  The Gospels don’t pretend that the world can be “fair” as we understand it today and seem to recognize that inequality and poverty are inevitable, and that some sort of political order and authority is necessary, even if wrongheaded.  So it says that, along with individual self-fulfillment, expressiveness, or “peak experience” , people must always be willing to share themselves with a “neighborhood” (almost in a mathematical or physics sense) of others, regardless of larger political or environmental circumstances beyond one’s control. (The paradox is that one is responsible only for the evil that one can “see”, even given the speed of light.)  That leads to some of the comments that sustainability will require locality of living (although that can be challenged – look at the public health hazards with southeast Asian” neighborhood” poultry practices).   It also requires locality and immediacy of attachment, in contradiction to the idea of becoming a Global Netizen.  (Indeed, Facebook represents a kind of intermediation, encouraging expression through concentric circles of “friends” rather than passively waiting for interaction after global self-broadcast, which in my case really worked in the late 90s.)
What this has meant for me, sometimes in recent years, is resistance to the idea of my drawing attention to myself, and indirectly others, through unsupervised broadcast, when I don’t accept “immediate responsibility” for others.   (After all, I never made a baby and procreated the responsibility, right?)  That is what led to the idea that I wrote about before, “The Privilege of Being Listened To”.  My mother, a few years ago, after I had come back (but before her final decline) used to beg me to “keep a low profile”  (about William and Mary and gay matters) and once scraped an SLDN sticker off my car.  But she never understood how I was using search engines (in the old Web 1.0 way) to keep my audience. And I “didn’t tell”. 
Imagine, back in the time of developing the Constitution, what politics could have been like if voting power had depended not on property, but on the number of dependents (that is, need).  Maybe on other planets that really happens.
Hence, one can tie together all my parents’ values about personal and work “habits”.  This wasn’t just about making a living for myself (which I did for decades in a very stable and lawful fashion, compared to the experience of many people); it was about being prepared to allow others to depend on me, not just financially, but in “up close and personal” circumstances that, in an unpredictable world (“on the outside”) might not always result from personal “choice” (might not follow the kernel of “personal responsibility” as libertarians explain it today).  You still had “to live”, and you still had to be prepared to accept the presence of others, and be of use to them.  "Tribes" had to look after their own survival "collectively".  This was about a lot more than not having unwanted or “stupid” conception.  And “salvation” depended on “neighborly” behavior, not on the goodness or evil of the rest of the world (hence the real lesson of “Sodom”).  You would become your brother’s keeper.  My mother used to be concerned about the effect of my publicity on “my family” when I hadn’t created one.

This sort of thinking could apply in a world that accepts same-sex marriage and parenting. Would someone whose main source of pleasure comes through fantasy accept and standby a lifelong partner with inevitable problems of aging, and be able to be "lived with"?  On the other hand, "upward affiliation" occurs in the heterosexual world, too, Masters and Johnson notwithstanding.
Of course, how this came across to me, was that my parents (my father) seemed to be supporting an authoritarian world, like today’s China.  I used to have a phrase, “just for authority”.  But others could turn on me and ask, what did I want to use my “freedom” for?  To express my own personal contempt for the “unworthy” or the “fallen”?   They could make the case, that if I wanted an audience for my music (in the 50s and 60s) or writings (today), I should have a personal stake, or “my own skin”, in the lives of others around me, even if I still had to “mind my own business” (another ethical paradox).  To allow otherwise, to move to hyper-individualism, was to provide a backdoor for the re-emergence of fascism.  (Hitler, after all, had once been a social outcast an unappreciated “artist”.) All of this comports with general Vatican ideas (indeed, Santorum’s comments and “subsidiarity”) about how “things are supposed to me” (even my Mother used to remark on “what was meant to be”), including an openness from everyone to complementarity and intergenerational responsibility (including tending to new life). With some issues (such as the "demographic winter" debate), there is some natural tension (and potential for conflicting priorities) between a narrow idea of "personal responsibility" and "the greater good".

There is a conservative "principle" that government will be less intrusive if people take care of one another personally, within families and surrounding but neighboring communities. A corollary is that people sometimes must accept responsibility for others under local circumstances other than those of their chosing, and that they, in a real world, can experience need themselves and sometimes must allow others to be responsible for them.  People can't "reject" others forever just to suit their own agendas.  Some interdependence must follow from freedom. 
Although “they say” you shouldn’t give away your screenplay ideas on the web, I will say something here about my “Do Ask Do Tell: The Manifesto” script.   The film (it needs to be shot 2.35:1) opens in black and white with the protagonist’s (me) own script “The Sub” about how he gets in trouble as a substitute teacher when a charismatic student shows a personal interest in him after the student has saved his life after a cardiac arrest at school.  It switches to sepia color where “I” am in some sort of institution which I cannot identify.  It may be a hospital, jail, or the afterlife, or dream (“Inception”).  To get out of my situation ( with the help of a slightly modified Guide from my “own life” whom I suspect may be an angel, although that leads to another twist) I must perform certain tasks that involve showing mastery of work-related skills necessary in some time zones of history (going back to the Colonial Williamsburg era), and also show interpersonal skills helping children master them.  Eventually, I receive (with minimal cosmetic damage) some surgery I need (the “grey’s anatomy” part) and can attend the “Tribunals” that I missed earlier in life, with others from my life some of whom (because of their apparent ages) have apparently already been through it.  The Tribunals allow me to experience being and (temporarily) young again and to go back to earlier “time zones”, leading back to re-experiencing the 1961 Tribunals which I had “skipped”.  In the course of all this, I make telepathic contact with a particular character, also a musician, who enables everyone to replay the “historical” highlights of what really had happened “behind the scenes” with my Life on Earth.  Finally, I learn how I got there, and what the implications will be for “everyone” when I “go back”.

Just one more incidental item this President’s Day “pseudo-Holiday”.  On the area of online reputation, which can be mediated by others, here’s ("eHow") how to “unGoogle yourself”, link

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