Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Keep on writing -- despite the taunts of the Doomsday Prepper crowd
Back a dozen or so years ago, a friend from the Libertarian Party of Minnesota, by then a graduate student, emailed me back with “Keep on writing”.
And I would like to take a moment to account for what I accomplish with this mass of blog postings, literature and other content that I put out in public.
I remember being asked in a job interview at an oil company in Dallas in 1983, “What are your goals?” I think that question goes back to high school years, in my first “life”. I got pleasure and felt purpose in finding and extolling “good”. It could start with aesthetics, finding it in music. Later, I could find it in the discovery of novel consequences of chess openings. Winning a chess game “correctly” seemed to prove something. Looking up to good people, or “upward affiliation” seemed to support virtue. I liked moral consistency, so it shouldn't have surprised me later in life others wanted to see it, too.
Over the years, people often barged in and interfered with my purposes. At least, according to today’s ideas of appropriate behavior in an individualistic society (honoring free choice and “harmlessness” in a libertarian sense) they did. It’s true, appropriate pressure need to be put on me, as on everyone, to learn work ethic and be able to support himself as a future adult. But the pressures went beyond that, and seemed related to the needs of the family, tribe or group, or the need to have a power structure (sometimes driven by religious notions of righteousness). So I wanted people to come clean with what they wanted from me. I can go through my life chronologically and account for what people wanted in many separate and disparate incidents. But they don’t add up. There are lots of contradictions. So I wrote to make sense of it. But there's no question, that cultural "conservatives" want to reduce the reliance on government by demanding more of "people like me" in very personal ways, and drag us out of our childless, fantasy worlds.
Then there was “my side”. People would play victim, or take absolutist positions on individual rights or equality, regardless of context. It was important to me to make sufficient arguments. On sexual orientation, of course I wondered why others, early in my life, made it their business. But answering it with “immutability” is hardly satisfying. It leaves one wondering why private behavior, even if “chosen”, is so troubling to others.
To be frank, it was coercion from others that did force me to consider the downstream implications not so much of just my actions, but of my values. (The Vietnam military draft, against a backdrop of privileged deferments from the risk of sacrifice, provides an obvious starting reference point.) I was vocal about my “difference” because I could not compete socially in a normal manner. In the early 1960’s, therapists made a lot of the way I seemed to want to step on the toes of others who appeared “uncompetitive” and remind them that they could “lose” like me, rather than fit into the social expectations of others and try to marry and provide the family children (a future) anyway. I led a “different” life and found a way to make it work. But it took some luck, some strategic aloofness, and a lot of fantasy. It also took a modern, finally tolerant, and technological society that allowed more appearance of self-sufficiency. But the needs of distant others can suddenly trump.
The claims of the “Doomsday Prepper” crowd deserve some recognition (Oct. 11 posting). Indeed, we have a society where a majority of people, myself very much included, are dependent on technology and could not survive if put back into a 19th century world like that of NBC’s “Revolution” or NatGeo’s “American Blackout” (or the novel “One Second After”). The “family values” of this crowd does indeed show why social capital and cohesion can suddenly become necessary, and why life is not always a “libertarian” choice of what you want to do, followed by narrow idea of “personal responsibility” in the modern sense. In sum, there are just too many undeserved inequalities and too little empathy, so there is bound to be instability. I would have nothing to offer others in the world after a major apocalypse or “purification” (whether natural or created by asymmetric warfare), and that is not a good place to be in. I would be seen as a distraction in a world where "reproduction rules" and people look at biological lineage as there only fallback opportunity for meaning. Indeed, the unpreparedness of people for something like this makes it more likely to tempt enemies to bring it about. On the other hand, if the world really does remain stable, there is much more reason to trust the modern ideas of personal accountability and less reason to be concerned about social connectedness.
Are there ways that I can help people more personally than I do? In the current environment, using my strengths (in music, chess, IT, etc) there are ways I can approach it. As I noted, it is very difficult to “volunteer” to fit obediently into someone else’s agenda (Aug. 25 post). And a radical change in my world would make these overtures meager (although you don’t need electricity to play chess or piano). But I have to admit, I don’t enjoy “helping people” for its own sake, unless I think well of the person(s) involved, by whatever my values are, despite the existential contradictions that this implies. On the other hand, I didn’t have the same chance as others earlier in life to be “valued” in a relationship partly because of obstacles created by others. In a world of global hardship, my unwillingness to try new "relationshiips" based on need becomes much more problematic. I may climb on the train but let the next straggler fall off.
I ultimately have to look at my own life in moral terms, but I seem to be in a gray sliver of a transition zone. Typically, we fold “disability” into diversity and don’t challenge people today who may be viewed as indirectly letting some burden of protecting them be borne by others. I didn’t have that luxury, and I was capable enough of dealing with the world around me that I could actually appreciate moral challenges.