Friday, November 28, 2014

"Service" and "shark tanks"

David Ignatius has an op-ed on p. A21 of the Washington Post this Black Friday (or “Brown Friday”), “The healing power of service”, or simply and bluntly “The case for national service” online, link here.  (He could call it "the equalizing power of service", as below.)  I’ve covered Stanley McChrystal’s call for national service in the 18-28 age range before, and the Franklin Project, on the Issues blog Sept. 13. 2014.  Needless to say, it could pose issues for the plans of young people in college now, including some whom I know.  The idea of some help with tuition or eliminating some student debt in return would make sense, prospectively (as part of a “service year exchange”, perhaps).  Others will say they have to get right to work, and some are already “independently employed” adults even as undergraduates if talented and industrious enough.

The idea of service has always been spotty and mixed.  The “unfairness” of the Vietnam era draft, with the system of student deferments and then the idea that better educated men were less exposed to combat, is an important theme in all of my three DADT books (especially Chapter 2 of DADT 1, and the first “fiction” piece of DADT 3).  The male-only aspect, while ruled constitutional in 1981, says something about the values my generation grew up with and that today’s more privileged young men seem unaware of.  The Iraq war effectively implemented a “back door” draft with the stop-loss provisions.  The issue was more significant in ending “don’t ask don’t tell” than most people realize. 
The willingness of medical people (Doctors Without Borders) to serve in Africa and risk their own lives with exposure to Ebola (and other diseases in the future), and deal at least with the mandatory isolation or sometimes quarantine says something to.  Overseas service in undeveloped countries will always be challenging, particularly for LGBT people because many authoritarian countries see LGBT values as culturally or religiously disruptive (to say the least).

For retired people, it pretty obviously poses questions, too.  The Peace Corps actually has taken people as old as 80. It’s easy to imagine rhetoric that gives seniors living on retirement (and on social security which some conservatives say we should means test now – as in the debt ceiling debate) “something to do”, and since I’ve already set myself up with my own goals, that can become rather threatening.

There are two components to all this in my own mind.  First, service can attract customers and be “good business”, in the thinking style of “Shark Tank”.  Many of Donald Trump’s “Apprentice” tasks were charity drives.  In this mode, one’s efforts at service would be in areas of one’s own interests and talents.  That’s why I participated in two “Chess4Charity” events (Tuesday, Nov. 25 here, and Oct. 20 on Issue blog).  Music is the other area.  I don’t know how far efforts have gotten to use music to help patients with dementia (in eldercare environments) or even autism have gotten, and whether startup companies are getting into this – I will find out.  (The film is “Alive Inside”, reviewed on the Movies Blog July 26, 2014).  Another area is whether more musicians, who may need income, would perform more at senior centers – I am somewhat familiar with how that works from the eldercare period I dealt with for my mother.  I can look into these more.

The other component, though, is about coercion.  It’s about responding to needs as they appear.  That is what I find disruptive and challenging.  But I understand where it comes from.  My mother used to have a phrase, “getting out of things”.  It is easier to do what you should in life if you believe that others will, too.  This kind of thinking sounds a but Maoist, but it has a point:  society is more stability if everybody learns to walk in the shoes of others at least sometimes, and shares the common risks (as with the military draft of the past).  One does not always get to deploy one’s  own talents, and one may wind up experiencing subservience in a bureaucracy (as I talked about Sept. 30).  Of course, one is supposed to connect into a virtuous circle that brings one into more contact with others. Retired people may be more in a position where “radical hospitality” could naturally be expected. 
Somewhere in between these poles are other ploys.  Religious groups are very good with service, but (as with the LDS two year missions) often turn this into proselytizing (or “evangelism”).  Companies that cajole people into “selling” have a point in saying that you should like people enough to want to sell to them, or have enough real responsibility for others that you really have to sell, not just pontificate. 

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