Sunday, May 19, 2013
In the 50s world in which I grew up, moral thinking started with "paying your dues"
When I was growing up, it seemed that the most important “moral issue” in the world was whether someone a bit “different” like me would learn to perform “for others” according to gender, even when openness to sacrifice was required and even when it meant giving up any edge in my own abilities.
Everyone shared in common sacrifice. Everyone paid his dues. All men shared in protecting women and children for the survival of the community.
I was in that "transition zone", where I could draw attention to myself in other ways and create a stir. So “re-educating” someone like me was seen as essential to the community, even an national security issue for warding of enemies. It was the “pawns ahead of pieces” theory.
In a few of my drafts of novels, the “me” character gets sent to an “academy” where he learns to “become a man”. In that sheltered environment, he meets and interacts with one of his own “role models”. In the meantime, while he is there, something catastrophic happens to the outside world to make it dystopian. Channeling the "different" individual was seen as essential to security and stability, as so illustrated by the draft in earlier times; now it is related to sustainability, calls for collective commitment, and recognition that the threat from "hidden" inequality of sacrifice can run very deep. The conscription of earlier times translates to an expectation that people "step up" in modern, freer times -- physically and emotionally. Our ideas of fairness -- and lasting relationships -- ultimately link back to this.
The moral theory of the mental health world of the 1950s was that gender conformity would lead to a growth process where permanent marriage and family would happen, and where a healthful and appropriate relationship with others outside family would develop. This was certainly a speculative theory at best, and was pretty easy for those in power to abuse.
Yet, I tended, ironically, to develop the same attitude about others that had been shown about me. I tended to see people as inherently “worthy” or not, partly based on notions or appearance and performance associated with gender. Since real relationships were difficult, I tended to move into an area of fantasy.
The rub, of course, is that if someone has real talents and is able to focus on them and deploy them publicly, especially in a global world, he may wind up able to deal with other people in the world on is own terms. That sounds healthy – to have something to offer first (as in the area of music composition or writing). But it also depends on being “fortunate” and depending on the hidden sacrifices of others.
In the latter part of my life, after retirement, I’ve faced a different kind of “conscription”. That is, in addition to the eldercare that I’ve chronicled, real calls to become involved with the needs of others. Now, I don’t like to be solicited and fight off sales calls . I can’t change course for what I’m doing, even though I understand at a certain intellectual level that others have to make a living, too – sometimes by selling things on commission, including to me. I don’t like to be approached to fight for other people’s causes.
There is something about doing something for other people. When what I do comes out of my own talents, I’m not very concerned with what :”I think of” the person I do it for. That sounds healthy enough. But in real life, that often isn’t good enough. So much in life does depend on “fortune”. A lot of the calls for volunteerism sound unfocused – a willingness to join teams, respond to emergencies, or pledge “hours” as well as money, into bureaucracies controlled by others.
I heard a plea from NBC-Washington’s “Wednesday’s Child” Sunday morning.. A young man was presented who had unusual artistic talents. I won’t even get in to the suspicion people could come up it I expressed interest (in practice, it’s a by downer). But adoption raises a question: would I be willing to nurture talent in someone else rather than put so much emphasis on deploying my own? I used to hear about that kind of question even in adult relationships. (See TV blog entry on the NBC series Nov. 13, 2012; another ethical question would be expecting to be able to hand-pick a child for abilities. . A lifestyle that put's one's own accomplishments is certainly double-edged. But maybe, despite Rick Warren, sometimes " it is about you."
What, according to the old-style "morality" that I grew up with, was supposed to happen to those of us who really "couldn't" do the physical combative stuff? At lest, we were supposed to keep a low profile. Then there wouldn't be too much dissent from those even more disadvantaged? It seems like the 50s-style morality wanted to practice psychological and localized Marxism, with a veneer of economic freedom. (The "natural family" crowd sometimes says this outright.) What you didn't need that much of in a a socially structured environment with less diversified social opportunity was real compassion.