Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arguing fair "policy" against filling specific needs used to be seen as "rude" speech

When I started self-publishing my “story” through my books and websites in the 90s (with blogs to follow), there wasn’t much question that my “story” (regarding a civilian college expulsion and then getting “drafted” anyway) would be relevant (with some irony) to the debate on gays in the military as it had developed.  I was able to “sell” copies of the book and get speaking engagements in the 1997-1999 time period.  Traffic on my websites grew steadily as Google and other engines indexed everything (even without applying or using meta-tags very much).  There was no need to be particularly aggressive in “selling” my book or content although I did chose strategies for specific and correlated audiences.
Over time, my coverage of things enlarged in “concentric circles” and I indeed became a pundit, with the connection to the original issues (discrimination v. shared risk or responsibility) somewhat forgotten or covered.  It was apparent I had a real “stake” in things when this all started;  that’s not particularly apparent now.  I still live in a separate world from social-emotional closed circuits of most people.  I observe, watch, and report, and comment.  Yet, it seems I don’t have my own skin in the game now, even though I once did.  And while my “giving back” and “paying my dues” seems necessary morally and as a way to help with stability, it’s very hard to dive into the worlds of others (for example, to mentor the disadvantages) without taking orders again.  The “mind your own business” principle becomes very double-edged and inconsistent.  And unsolicited emotional pleas become intrusive, and repetitive.

All of this could twist on a head.  I remember one time, about ten years ago, after I had returned to Virginia, when my mother said I should never mention William and Mary in public again.  Of course, I had to ignore her; the whole business model for the “second half of my life” (post “All-Star Break”) had started with the WM Expulsion-NIH period and what it meant.  She really never understood what was going on while I lived here.

Actually, I had more skin in the game than people saw.  Everyone is emotional about eldercare, but nobody talks about the fact that there are filial responsibility laws, and the ethical and financial (and public policy) conundrum they could cause if they were enforced and taken seriously.  “Everybody” begs for the government to mandate paid paternal leave (or paid family leave), but no one wants to talk about how to pay for it.  (True, in Europe, it seems to work relatively well, but why it does, that deserves a whole “Vox explanation”, not out there yet.)  There were times when I “worked for free” (unpaid overtime as salaried) when others took sudden family leave.  Over the years, there have been many other examples where I have "skin" in the game of an issue, especially with public health.
That brings me to another point.  Sometimes, bringing up “logical” objections to a popular idea is seen as rude.  To object to paid family leave might be seen that way, from someone who “doesn’t have kids” – someone not willing to take the “risk” or “responsibility” to have them but instead remaining a free spirit with disposable time, income and wealth – maybe because he wasn’t sexually competitive enough to have children in the first place.  We’re different, but we do have to sit in the same canoe sometimes.

Some people see monitoring of sensitive issues like this as the function of the “natural family” or of its leadership.  Our world of hyper-individualism is rather exceptional in historical terms.  Most societies have been organized into clans or tribes, where there was great emphasis on family survival.  Having and raising children was a necessity, not a choice.  Homosexuality and marital infidelity (at opposite or separate vertices today) were seen as offenses against the family or tribe, but not against specific people or victims (often translated religiously as disobedience to God or Allah).  Family socialization taught people to live together in close quarters, often under conditions of forced intimacy common with poorer populations (or low-tech).  They had to share risks together against common perils and enemies (which sounds like the Middle East today).  Life was not a matter of choices.  A family patriarch (or sometimes religious leader) was empowered to decide who could afford to make “sacrifices” without insulting others in the group and jeopardizing the tribe.  Speaking out or complaining about a sacrifice, even if not “fair” in modern individualistic thinking centered around narrow ideas of personal responsibility, was seen as rude or even dangerous.  Hence the Internet censorship in many parts of the world, or the comment about WM from my mother.  In this kind of world, social competitiveness was understood as a good in itself, and the ability to get others to take your orders was seen as important (even if the orders were for the wrong “reasons”).  Yes, we call this authoritarian.  Sometimes it does result in stability, even at the cost of individual liberty,  And it does invite corruption. It sounds like Chicago under Daley.

At a local level, tribal culture is indeed communitarian (almost as Marx would have liked).  Family members take care of their own first, under leadership, and that doesn’t always wait for having your own children.  Morally, one place where things break down is in reaching out beyond the family or tribe.  Often religious custom or law determines how that is to happen. 

Social skills acquired within the family should enable reaching out, to those (especially impoverished) in other places or countries who are very “different”.  But often tribalism discourages this (look at how the child migrant crisis is getting debated).  Individualism would encourage outreach with intellectual justification, but sometimes falter at actually doing it. 

Many of the ideas of how people should behave in the family or tribe affect social norms in public, at least informally, as the law becomes less important with succeeding generations wanting a libertarian approach.  
 There is still the nagging question of how the “different” person (like me) interacts with others when he seems to have less personal stake in them and doesn’t find gratuitous interactions or sharing with others rewarding or meaningful.  I’ve been used to seeing the “poor” (etc) as those who failed morally or competitively, but I’ve come to know (especially in recent years, at least intellectually) that a lot of times a lot of luck and fortune is involved.  My personal attitude toward individual others (especially those at a disadvantage) mirrors the attitude peers often had toward me.  That raising disturbing questions in a society that says it values all human life as miraculous and special.  I can’t say that I always feel that way. 


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