Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Who you are, is often shaped by external catastrophic events or demands, which then you accept as normal later


Here’s a sermon in an op-ed from Mona Hanna-Attisha in
the New York Times, “I’m sick of asking children to be resilient”, with the tagline,
“It’s time for reparations and resources and not to expect kids to ‘rise above’”.I was pondering, as someone whose life is more
privileged than the kids the author is talking about in Michigan (especially

Flint), the idea that two kinds of episodes affect my own perception of “who I
am” and indeed if I could have “changed” irreversibly.

The most obvious are the everyday choices under my control that affect my well being in a more or less straightforward way. Performance in the workplace is an obvious example, including attention to detail, as well as alertness to the idea that the need for some kind of new attention to an aspect of the job could have changed suddenly without being noticed.  Another is behavior in personal relationships to the extent that some things are appropriate or not in the immediate circumstances.  That’s especially true online, but it was always true in the real world. This has to do with sensitivity to social norms and how they may gradually be changing.

There were indeed many issues with this at various points in my youth and particularly in earlier years in my work career.  There was also a troubling situation in 1991 which had to do with my “attentiveness”.  It gradually resolved (by 1992) but it certainly distracted my sense of priorities and being for a few months.

But what strikes me particularly now, is that outside events beyond our control have a lot to do with generating the attitudes which later interfere with our doing what is appropriate with things under our control.

The Covid-19 epidemic is certainly providing an example of that.  Our moral responsibility to not expose others to infection that we may carry and not personally be affected by, has settled upon us suddenly, and is now talked about by (Democratic) politicians as if it had always been with us.  In the past, it was sometimes true, and it is somewhat true in extended families with other diseases, as some people in a tribe are more vulnerable than others.  It is shocking that this has moved outside the family. It could well evolve into a risk for personal legal liability.

Earlier in my life, the demands on young men, to be ready to protect women and children, had been drilled into us.  That was outside the purvey of immediate personal responsibility. This all came to a head with the Vietnam era draft, and the deferment system, which implied that some people were indeed “born better” than others (see the op-ed again).  All of that would distort our (or mine) at least sense of justice; as we went about our lives for years in ignorance of background privilege;  suddenly, a new external shock threatens to become the great equalizer. People are often judged on whether they "stepped up" for an emergency if they really had to;  anything else then falls into cowardice (a word we don't use anymore the way we once did).  And all notions about the afterlife (the ones that are credible) emphasize that how well you deal with stuff that happens "to you" or gets passed on to others, is what it's all about later.  My father used to say, "To obey is better than to sacrifice" (like it is a meme). 

There's one other thing.  I am an individualist, as most of my readers can tell.  But I think we ought to think about bringing the "social contract" down more to the individual level, especially if someone has taken advantage of inherited privilege (like even in java code?), without first classifying people in (intersectional) groups. We can expect people who want to leverage their book smarts to demonstrate street smarts to, and pass the swimming tests. There is natural tension between social competence and behavioral diversity. 

There is a “coordinated post” today on my “IT Job Market” blog (about actually working as a contract tracer from home), which see (through Blogger Profile).


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