Sunday, September 01, 2013

"Don't be a coward": That command is a double negative

I wrote a couple of provocative tweets Saturday morning, after waking up from a particularly intractable dream.  One of them was “The aphorism “Don’t be a coward” sounds like a double negative”.  I followed up with “That is, you have to swing at least once when thrown three called strikes, but you shouldn’t swing at balls.”   I didn’t intend a pun.  Sometimes “in life” you get on base by walking, without risk.  Sometimes you get hit by a pitch, get hurt.  You take one for the team (like Troy McClain on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” way back in 2004).  Later I mentioned the accidental beaning of Jayson Heyward of the Atlanta Braves, costing the team one of its leading hitters for the season.  That’s much more relevant that the recent battles between the Braves and Nationals involving Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.

Some people may have taken by tweets as predictive of what would be discussed with respect to Syria later on, in fact all of Saturday afternoon and evening on CNN.  Note, for example, that Charles Rangel (D-NY) brought up the military draft again (Issues blog, Saturday).

The “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book that I hope will be out officially by November, will have a long “appendix” chapter giving almost a day-by-day diary or transcript of my fourteen weeks in Basic Combat Training when I went through it at Fort Jackson, SC in 1968.  It was difficult to edit, as I dealt with how I could use economic advantage and education to reduce the physical risk that others took, a point that is morally relevant even if the Vietnam War turned out to be wrongly based.   My actions there, at age 24, seem offensive now (maybe “cowardly”), but it’s hard to see where that sense of wrongdoing fits into today’s perception of personal morals, where individual rights and personal responsibility, as seen much more narrowly than in the past, rule public perceptions of expected behavior.

I’ve experienced indignation from others at various points in my life, for being “different”, particularly as a tween, as a college freshman at William and Mary, at NIH, in the Army, and then not as much in the IT workplace where I fit in as an “individual contributor”, but then again dealing with my mother’s eldercare, with constant solicitations today from others, and with the unusually personal demands made on me by the post-IT workplace, especially when I worked as a substitute teacher. One particularly relevant conversation from my first job, way back in 1963, pops into mind: my supervisor warned that I had a tendency to make enemies. No one else has ever said it like that.  Maybe times have changed.
Being “different” I am really in that gray transition zone (what they call a “termination zone” on a tidally locked extrasolar planet).  My level of “disability” made it hard to compete socially and to “take care” of people personally in a manner normally expected of young males, and it placed me in a position of some dependence on others who made sacrifices that I could not see.  But, unlike the case of many people in somewhat similar situations, I was able to function well enough as an individual in a technological world that what I do can really affect others.  So, some people express indignation and expect me to stay in my place, maybe more than they would people more obviously disabled.  That is the world of “mild” Asperger’s.
Come back to the baseball analogy.  Sometimes you have to swing.  Actually, if it’s a “suicide squeeze” you have to try to bunt the ball even if it’s out of the strike one.  Sometimes you have to “sacrifice”.  Sometimes you do get hurt. 
That’s a fact of real life, part of street smarts for real people.  I get this feedback from them all the time, when things have gone wrong.   “Courage Under Fire” (the 1995 movie with Matt Damon) can be physical, it can be financial or occur in business, or it can be emotional – the most difficult part.  It can demand openness to intimacy and closeness with people whom one would not have chosen at first.  (Some of that idea drives Vatican moral theories about “openness to procreation” as the automatic responsibility for any access to sexuality at all.)  It can become combinatorial:  physical maiming from military service (or as  volunteer firefighter) can lead one to have to accept emotional attachment when one might feel physical shame – a very sore point for me personally.   It can demand that someone with compromised ability who "got a break" from above pass the willing attentiveness along.  It is the antithesis of “upward affiliation”.  Welcome to the world of George Gilder, that 1980s moralist (“Men and Marriage”).
I do enjoy working alone, writing (and music composing) and publishing exactly what I want, without compromising loyalties to others.  But that depends on a legal and physical infrastructure that can be taken away.  Legally, some of that is the constant tension about Section 230, DMCA, SOPA, COPA, surveillance, trolls, SLAPP, tracking, and similar problems.  Underneath the legal debate there are ideas about sacrifice to help those with real “responsibility” (raising vulnerable kids).  All this affects the business models of companies whose services I depend on.  But it may be the physical world “threat” that matters the most.  That involves concerns about terrorism (EMP, cyberwar – maybe overblown, and various kinds of attacks) motivated in part by a kind of indignation that sees ordinary “privileged” westerners as personally culpable for the sacrifices in other parts of the world.  It also may drive the brazenness of some domestic street crime, which has resulted in horrific events (outside of the usual debate on guns and mental illness as pursued by “liberal” commentators like Piers Morgan).  There are people who want “Revolution”, pretty much as on that NBC show.  It can suddenly and unpredictably make a disconnected person like me into a fool.  I do love our modern civilization with its wonders and freedom; but it can fail suddenly, and if it did, there would be no use for someone like me.  And it gets dangerous to even admit that in front of some people.  
What I “take away” (to use the grade school metaphor for subtraction in arithmetic lessons) from all this is that everyone sometimes has to “step up”, and that if he or she doesn’t, he or she loses the right to be viewed as a “victim” or be commemorated if something goes wrong beyond that person’s control.  The idea that we just have to deal with some things seems to feed much of the complementarity needed in long term relationships raising children and taking care of elders and dependent extended family (even if it need not always be heterosexual).  It’s a bit of a paradox: you can’t have sustainable individualism and “equality” without accepting the quantum nature of life on a personal level.  As Rick Warren writes, it isn’t always “about you” and sometimes real sacrifice will happen. This apparent duplicity is what is behind some New Testament parables like "The Rich Young Ruler" and especially "The Parable of the Talents".  I think that idea drove a lot of my own interchanges with religious establishment in the 70’s ad 80’s.  Beyond that, the “meaning” of personal desire really matters, as it inevitably emerges and becomes more public.  Of course, this observation does invite authoritarianism and abuse of power.   It’s a two-way street.

It's easy enough for me to imagine what people think I should do, or "should'a, could'a, wouldve" done in the past.  More than opening the mail,, perhaps.  But if they are right, what does that say about the "meaning" of marriage and family.  It's more a result than a cause. 
So, there’s more expected than “following the rules”, “not getting caught”, and “paying your bills.”  Call it “paying your dues” if you like.  

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