Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why we "factionless" watch our backs, and need to become more responsive

Let me share what is going on right now.  Recently, I published the third in the series of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (see Book Review blog, Feb. 27, 2014).  I am going through a number of my fiction manuscripts, starting with “The Proles” (1969), then several tries in the 1980s (the most important one is called “Tribunal and Rapture”, 1988) and 1990s, leading to a manuscript “Angel’s Brother” which I would like to publish.  I have several screenplay and nonfiction ideas for film based on the books, at least one or two of which I would like to “agent”.  And I have a couple of piano composition projects (one in particular) that I would like to produce and get out into circulation.  And I am 70 years old.

All of this means, of course, doing my homework. I work alone, and like the freedom.  I don’t need income from the material right away.  But I do need timely customer service from vendors, and the absence of disruption.  When you’re on your own, small failures by others (particularly in the service area) can have major consequences.  Some of my dependence on others – the idea that everything can be bought – can be dangerous.

It’s natural to ask, what is all of this content good for?  (A math professor use to ask this about matrices back in my undergraduate days at GWU.)  A short answer to this question  could be encapsulated by the movie “Divergent”.   My father used to say “The majority has some rights, too”, but the “majority” makes demands on those who are different.  The “majority” needs to understand (way beyond the edicts of religious scripture through the voice of others) what it really wants with some intellectual basis, and those who are “different” need to face that some of the things demanded of them (or “us”) are morally compelling.  It was interesting to me (the review is on the Movies blog March 24) that the society was willing to let the members of “Dauntless”, whose behaviors could indeed seem brutal or at least boorish, take all the risks for everybody else.  On the other hand, the “Erudite” and the “Abnegated” both wanted to believe they were better than everybody else.

Musicians (as Arnold Schoenberg once pointed out) may have it easier than others.  They can say what they want under the table and hide behind ambiguity. Writers don’t have the same luxury once they place themselves in public.  I really found that out when I was a substitute teacher and crashed in 2005. Online reputation really matters.

And who will receive my messages?  I do expect fellow “divergents” (or “factionless”) to benefit from it.  But there’s a problem right away, extracted from the movie.  Why should some other “factioned” person, on whom I depend,  consume content from me designed to make him feel, well, bad, or less “good” than someone else?  What is the point of producing content if “you” don’t really care enough about the people “as people” who use it?  You have to interact with them.  And healthful personal interaction goes along with forming and having families and a personal stake in the future.

My perspective comes from having to react to demands from the outside world.  I get all kinds of pressures, go join other people’s causes, to spend time on them, to show preference, to answer personal pleas, get into things that I wouldn’t have thought my business.  The game certainly changed when I “retired” and had self-published by omniscient world view. 

Some of this “interruption” comes from telemarketing and robo calls.  I could say things have changed since I grew up, but the picture is complicated.  Hyperindividualism has made ordinary sales culture, well accepted in the past, seem like unwelcome hucksterism (no doubt partly because of the multiple Internet and phone scams).  Individualism has developed at the same time while public awareness of needs of others has grown and the capacity to do things about these needs (especially in medicine) has increased.  That means that people need more interaction with others, to justify new efforts to help them, not less. 

So, the phone calls come.  The appeals are not just for money but for time.  People are hurting in this difficult economy and they will barge in.  They demand my emotion, attention and even playing favorites.  That’s something I took myself out of when I published the kind of book I did and took on the idea of journaling everything.  I can’t drop everything and become just one interest’s advocate.  Maybe I could endorse causes if I was a “true” celebrity, but I’m not there (yet).  

So I ignore almost all of them.  There are just too many. I do my giving through an automated mechanism at a bank, requiring no interaction with people.  And yet I worked as a “telefunder” (for the Minnesota Orchestra) after my 2001 layoff and barged in on people myself just a little more than a decade ago.  (People would say that phone bank work was the only kind of job some people could get. Play fair?)  Or, as I enter a theater, almost late for a showing that I have already paid for, a ghost intercepts me at the door and asks me to “help him out”.  I really have no idea how to respond.

We can talk about sacrifice, and even love.  We can say you show love only when doing something for someone costs you something – means you don’t make your own goals that make you independent.  But of course to make your goals you have to depend on others (at least to do their jobs).  It’s an endless circle.  If it breaks, it becomes class warfare, Noam Chomsky style. 
But this “cost in purpose” has something to do with how “you” value other people.  (I wish the English language had an impersonal form of “you” the way French does.)  If all human life is sacred and to be valued, then “you” have to let others, who may have been simply more vulnerable because of lack of “service” (or because inequality tends to promote bad choices), mean something to “you”.  That is the hardest part of all.  

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