Tuesday, April 07, 2015

"Equality" doesn't matter until it does (like if you can get drafted)

Recently, there has lived quite a spirited debate about “equality” on the New Republic in comments following an article arguing for paid maternity (perhaps paternity) leave, which I covered on my Issues Blog Feb. 15.  Much of the controversy comes from comments authored by Benjamin David Steele here.    
The comments are all valid within their own context.  Steele says that most people don’t care about “abstract” notions like “equality” but want a society that works for everybody (hence Scandinavian socialism).  Some viewers point out that most people just want policies that better life for them personally.  Some readers see maternity benefits (but not paternity) as actually a way to level the playing field between the two main genders.
After my “second coming”, I didn’t care so much about equality as simply living my own personal life, even with a degree of segregation and urban exile, as a gay man in the Village in the late 1970s.  I wanted to be left alone, and to have the local infrastructure work well enough for me that I could find what I “wanted”.  External threats could derail me, because I was so “picky” even if I wasn’t in a moral position to be.  Then came the move to Dallas, which may have given me enough warning to protect myself against HIV, but also we had new political threats.  Things got much better back in the DC area in the 1990s.  But the “inequality” between the bachelors (often gay) and the married-with-kids was manifest.  I had more disposable income and less debt than most of my “family supporting” coworkers, but sometimes I was “expected” to fill in for them, without direct pay, when family emergencies caused them to miss work (or oncalll duty).  So “equality” mattered when it did!

The political issues grew, too.  First, “gays in the military” (resulting in “don’t ask don’t tell”) and then gay marriage (starting with civil unions then), and a growing public awareness that many more gays were involved in raising kids that people had realized.  And, as the population aged, eldercare became an issue, and it can happen to anyone.  In fact, the whole DADT issue for me was anchored in the idea that everyone needs to be able to step up to sharing come of the common risks and chores of a community.  We no longer had a draft, but as 9/11 (and many other horrors since) has since shown, none of us should take political freedom for granted.

Today, in fact, I revisited the Smithsonian exhibit on military history, on the Second Floor (on the Mall), the visit delayed a bit by a mystery power outage in DC – a reminder that infrastructure matters and that we haven’t been careful with it.  I was particularly interested to revisit more recent history, from WWII, Korea, and most of all Vietnam, as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  There was some material on racial segregation in the military, which Truman eliminated in 1948, but no material on DADT (and its repeal) yet, and I think the Smithsonian should add that material.  There was a display of typical basic training barracks during WWII, but I think the exhibit could use more material about the whole Selective Service system during the Vietnam era (including the whole student deferment system, which I took advantage of indirectly and fed into myself when I worked as a grad student math instructor).  That seems little covered in the media today (except in my own books, and at least one of my movie proposals).

 Last night, I was reviewed some of the medical notes on my stay at NIH in 1962.  I’ll come back to that more soon (especially in videos), but I was struck by just how authoritarian our values were then.  The “therapists” and nursing staff really were concerned about apparent homosexual interest, and implied lack of heterosexual interest (that is, likelihood of never procreating), and about a certain judgmentalim in my attitudes toward others in the unit, which I had inherited from the culture of the times.  Was my physical non-competitiveness just “malingering?  I would undergo the draft myself in just a few years.

As for the "equality" matter, remember back around 1962 that JFK had even proposed that married men be exempt from the draft.  Capacity for marital sexual intercourse would have its privileges, that others would pay for with their lives, or by getting maimed. 
Just on another matter, I sometimes get requests from people to write “guest posts”.  Generally these seem to be attempts to sell something or present a one-sided position on something (maybe even paid family leave).  I do understand the value, for bloggers, of using the guest-post strategy (like here from “Blog Tyrant” in Australia, link ).  I’m not in the mode of doing that right now – so I usually ask the writer to give me a link to something on her own blog or site and I’ll comment on it in my blog.  (But that doesn’t promote reputation the way Blog Tyrant explains.)  I am in the mode of working with one or more of several parties over a long period of time, where we share some commonality of content and purpose.  Those parties could be individuals (like in the film business, or musicians or composers), or news organizations.  But the only way to get there right now is to do my own work!

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