Tuesday, January 06, 2015
A visit to a "Boyhood" mandatory boot camp site
Yesterday, I did a day trip to the western Chesapeake Bay in winter, trying to find the point where the family used to take the ferry in the 1950s on the way to “the Beach” years before Bay Bridge was built. I visited Beverly Beach, where we once stayed when I was about three, and particularly Camp Letts, a YMCA facility (link) which my parents made me attend as a boy to toughen me, I think. I didn’t like the pressure.
You enter the property off Md 214, itself off Rt 2 south of Annapolis, and pass an estate, before the road turns dirt and potholed. But it goes past an endless trail of outdoor activities: most of all, equestrian, but also paintball, “team building”, and eventually winding up with an extensive camping community with a variety of yurts, huts, tents and dorms. It rather looks like the “boot camp” community on “another planet” in my screenplay (“Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted” – or is that “Abducted”). In the twilight, in winter but without snow (yet) and a purple “perpetual twilight” sunset, it was all quite surreal, indeed seeming like the first day of alien captivity (maybe around a much cooler “Sun”). I could say that it looked a bit like an intentional community (see Issues blog, April 7 2012 discussion of “Twin Oaks”) but much more stark.
The point of my 1952 (estimated) visit was to get me to learn more manly skills. I even recall my own piano teacher saying, when I was about nine, that I needed to grow up to be a “normal boy”.
That’s how it was then. The view was, that for the good of everybody, boys became men who protected women and children, sacrificially if necessary. When push came to shove, the future of your tribe or your family came before your own specific future, however special your talents. Today, tribal societies that perceive themselves (often with justification) to have enemies still follow these values, often masked my religious scripture.
I’ve noted that I will produce a “video” soon that summarizes my books, not assuming you’ve read, say, the first one. A overriding question is, how people who seem themselves as “different” or even “special” should behave in a reasonably democratic society, or perhaps too in an authoritarian one. Coercion often forces us to look at our values. (In “Smallville”, the super-talented alien teen Clark Kent says, “I’m different, not special.”
There are several major observations about my own “different” life that seem unsettling, although it’s not clear how they add up.
One is that I was not as able to “take care” of others physically as expected, and I became finicky. Some might even say sissy or cowardly. The “moral” point is that I left the “risk taking” and “dirty work” to others, if I walked away from my share. This was the mentality that had driven male-only conscription in the days of the Vietnam-era draft (and deferments). I’m not sure if this was real “disability” in the usual sense of genetics (or epigenetics) and congenital hardship. Maybe it was part of autism, in that to develop my “talents” (music, intellect), my brain, not having enough disk space, pruned out the other possible motor skills too soon.
This did affect my values. I did not sense even a latent desire to father my own children, have my own lineage. Since I was an only child, this could be interpreted as “family death”. Therefore, I did not develop a proto-instinctual desire to “have” women (or have intercourse) the way straight boys in college typically talk. On the other hand, I did develop an elitist attitude. I saw some young men, who “had it all”, as possessing more “virtue” than others – yet they could “lose it” in an absolute sense by sacrifice for others, as in the military. I did not develop a sense of compassion for those with less or the “less fortunate”. This led to a sense of indifference or insularity as an adult, in situations that seem to call for solidarity, loyalty, and particularly emotion. But my “Ayn Rand” attitude really did not seem unusual in the world in which I grew up. In earlier generations, there was less that really could be done for people with disabilities, or to prolong lives for those with deadly diseases, especially cancer. There was not a public expectation that they need a lot of support as there is in the media today, although there was support of a different sort in faith-based fellowship. So I wound up in a peculiar situation, like an alien observer, living on the fringes but seeing everything, privileged but precarious.
Socialization in earlier times presented a bit of a paradox. You took care “of your own” first. Ideas of sexual morality – the often religious idea that all sexuality should be reserved strictly for those in intimate committed marriages raising children and (as life spans increased gradually) taking care of the elderly – was seen as a way to make things “locally fair” and get everyone to do what they should. It is easier to find real satisfaction in “family values” if you know everyone else has to. So a public homosexual was a distraction, having less responsibility for others and more disposable income for himself, suddenly difficult to compete with in the workplace because he might work for less, and capable of making “normal men” feel less secure that their own marital sexuality will remain rewarding.
By the 1990s, society had become much more “accommodating” for someone “like me” – more libertarian, less inclined to try to channel those who are “different” to ready themselves for sacrifice sometimes for the good of others. Times were better under Clinton, as the Internet offered new opportunities for self-expression without gatekeepers, for those who did not compete was well socially in a conventional way within a power or authority structure. Controversy over sexual orientation and its indirect influence on everyone else, was shown to be a proxy for something much bigger. One of the biggest concerns was that my "fantasy projection" could undermine the ability of others to make and keep marital relationships that become challenged by hardships, including risk taking and "sacrifice".
But many of the problems since 2000 – most of all 9/11 – showed again that hyperindividualsim could be dangerous, and could bring on the enemies, who suddenly were all too willing to blame ordinary individuals for benefiting from the indulgences that their own governments had facilitated. At the same time, the role of bad luck for some and bad karma for many of the rest of us was becoming apparent, especially with younger people. New openness to volunteering and charity was seen in the media, and sometimes it was supposed to get personal. Suddenly, the lives of others were “your business”. Having made myself a bit of an Internet pundit without the normal personal responsibility for others, I found others constantly knocking on the door, sometimes with a lot of coercion, to drop what I was doing and become more involved with the very immediate needs of others (beyond just joining “other people’s causes), even though I had never procreated my own family. It all came full circle.