Monday, January 11, 2016

"What other people want", in three phases

Soon, I plan to post a paper (maybe on Wordpress) about a particular view of things that concerns me:  what are the moral expectations of someone “different” like me?  That question presumes living in a relatively free “liberal” western society where there is a legitimate hope that, in the long run, free markets reward “moral” behavior.  The answer to the question would ultimately lead to assertions about what not only I should do, but also “must”.

Morality means more than just the surface libertarian idea of “harmlessness” and “keeping promises”.  Common good, in various layers, does matter.  It is personal, and not just about policy. When I ponder this, I come up with a number of interrelated areas, like interdependence, “patriotism”, addressing inequality, resilience, supporting sustainability, and reverence for human or comparable life.  There is a tendency to run into contradictions (not suitable for “Atlas Shrugged”).  People tend to turn to scripture and authority of others (or to faith) to resolve these tensions.  I want to use reason.  One of the biggest ethical weaknesses of hyper-individualism (whether from objectivism or libertarianism) is that no one accomplishes anything completely on his own without hidden sacrifices from others that he or she never sees (it's rather like relativity and entropy in physics).

One way to look at this is to categorize the various pressures brought to bear on me at different periods of my life (since I am 72 now).  I’m particularly concerned about things that I did not necessarily “choose”, but came at me with the idea that if I didn’t do them, someone else would have to bear the risk of sacrifice instead of me.

Since I grew up in the 1950s and into young adulthood in the 60s, I was faced with demands for gender role conformity (the "first phase").  But the expectations were geared toward meeting the needs of immediate family and surrounding community (or “fellowship”, as it is often called in Christian churches).  This was partly geared to the idea of living in close proximity to others when necessary, but also to the idea that men should defend women and children.  That meant that men need to develop “manly” skills.  I grew up at a time when there was a male-only military draft, which had seemed necessary during WWII (with great sacrifices) but which was coming into question during the Vietnam war, over the deferment question and even whether the war had been “necessary”.  Men made sacrifices before even having a chance to have their own families, so there is some contradiction to “family values” and “respect for life”. One of the ideas, though, was “unit cohesion” and obedience to the aims to the group when men are together (with less female presence).  Another was the idea that the extreme cleanliness of military regimentation supports the ability of people to live together in forced intimacy when external conditions force them to.

The development of gender-appropriate skills was supposed to facilitate courtship of the opposite sex, and the idea of limiting sexuality to marriage and taking up the responsibility of rearing another generation and carrying on the family, even when that meant some sacrifice of “self”. Indeed, had I been “better” at these things, I probably would have become more interested in conventional “dating” and eventually becoming a father in a family my own.  But that observation does not seem to carry through consistently with gay men in general, despite the older stereotypes that I often encountered.

Once homosexuality became an issue (with my expulsion from William and Mary in the fall of 1961), the hostile reaction to it took over as a "phase 1-1/2".

The record of my “treatment” at NIH in the later part of 1962 (overlapping the Cuban Missile Crisis) is interesting and disturbing.  Therapists were concerned about my apparent “schizoid” nature and indifference to “normal” desire for intimacy with (probably dependent) females (leading to intercourse and having children, to be raised in new families).  They were also concerned about the “meaning” that could be attributed to my “upward affiliation” with certain other males, and its equation with my own idea of virtue.  If this pattern of thinking were allowed to be OK, it could become socially and politically disruptive, even dangerous.  What had we fought WWII over 17 years before?  Of course, at 19 I really didn’t quite get all of this.

I don't know what "caused" me to fall behind physically.  Was it autism setting up a vicious cycle?  Was it a semi-intentional, and according to the circumstances of the times, morally suspect attempt to save room and space for my own self-expressive purposes, a kind of malingering or physical laziness?  This reminds me of  Gunter Grass and "The Tin Drum".  If so, it isn't necessarily predictable or typical. Other men have pursued art without compromising competence in more mundane everyday hings of real life. It is relevant that at age 24, in "Special Training" at Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, SC (spring 1968) I did approach more closely the physical strength and competence expected in those days of males of my age.

The concern with gender conformity and “social graces” would concern when I was finally “drafted” and went through Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson in 1968.

A second main phase of “what other people want” developed in the mid 1970s when I was living in New York City and finally able to live a somewhat semi-open (in the chess opening sense) gay life. I had used “The Ninth Street Center” as a place to try to “meet people”.  I found that my attitude to “cherry pick” got rebuffed by some people, who wanted me to be more part of the “group” even if it meant a certain “subservience” (particularly in performing practical domestic skills in conjunction with the “real needs” of others) and “femininization”.   My tendency to bring up external political issues, as if they could become threats to everyone, disturbed some people, who saw this as a ruse hiding unwillingness to become intimate with less “attractive” or charismatic people and have “real life” relationships, whatever was going on “on the outside” (although the same idea had even played out at NIH).  Later, when I moved to Dallas before the 80s (probably delaying any potential for getting HIV) I found a parallel attitude at MCC Dallas, where people used religious authority in a way to draw me into “faith” and accept a certain submissiveness to the good of the group.  The same attitude is probably found in many rural “intentional communities” (with income-sharing) today. (Look at the discussion of the Virginia community “Twin Oaks” on the Issues blog, April 7, 2012.)

The third phase came after I became a “self-published” author and (particularly a decade or more ago) leveraged the effectiveness of search engines on the Internet.  It was “don’t ask don’t tell” that got me into the game of writing.  But I found that it never made sense to remain loyal to one group’s interest, at the expense of awareness of what was going on in the “global world”, which can present “threats” at any time.  So started creating large volumes of content online about many concentric subjects, which I see as interconnected, like paths on a board game.

The reaction of others somewhat surprised me.  “They” would challenge me to take on social responsibilities (partisan to their needs) in situations where before I might have been unwelcome.  It seemed as though others believe one should not be heard (at least in gratuitous fashion) unless one has taken responsibility for others.  That might normally have been marrying and having kids, or it might be something today more radical like adopting children (as a single person) or sheltering refugees.  (This crosses into areas like inherited or unearned wealth, even “spare bedrooms”.)

“They” would challenge me to see if I was willing to compete in a normal social hierarchy where I needed to show assertiveness and ability to manipulate others (to “sell” others things, or to “sell” “their agendas” rather than mine).  They wanted me off my high horse of pretense of objectivity.

There was another disturbing question.  Did I "care" enough about my "readers" that I got satisfaction from meeting more basic needs (even if this meant "partisanship")?  Does it have to get "personal" at some point?

This expectation of socialization from me even came into play with my unexpectedly long period of eldercare with my mother, who passed at the end of 2010. A side effect was the use of underpaid labor of full time caregivers.

Sometimes others seem to challenge me to see if I thought enough of “them” to want a more normal life of “relationships”.  But I’ve actually played that game from the other side at least once recently, however unintentionally.

As far as the use of social media for “self-broadcast” goes, I’ll offer a link in “entrepreneur”, “Will ‘Being Wasted’ on Facebook hurt your small business loan chances?”  Yup, people who take on real responsibility for real families have to limit the scope of their public speech.  One can also check Peter Rudegeair on the Wall Street Journal, "Silicon Valley: We don't trust FICO scores".

If you value individual freedom from the designs of other men (and authoritarian politicians), and also accept the idea that interdependence with and on others in unavoidable in civilized living, logic (almost as in proving a mathematical theorem) implies you have to be open to some personal or intimate relationships that you could not have chosen just from your own head. 

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