On a humid Wednesday morning, July 29, 1959, about a month before I was to start my junior year in Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA (with that American history class from the world’s greatest social studies teacher of all time, Simon Korczowski ) and compose my big D Minor piano sonata (on snow days 6 months later), I rode over with my father to the barber shop (still there) in Westover in Arlington VA. This was the first morning back after we had ridden home from Kipton, Ohio on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (four tunnels then) and the Washington Post newspaper delivery hadn’t been restarted yet. Right outside the barber shop, I saw a news stand with the morning Post, and a sports banner on top, “A’s Hop on Pascual, too, 6-1” (game )
The Washington Senators, who had started out the baseball season decently, had just lost their tenth game in a row. The Kansas City Athletics had won their ninth. This had been a “late” game in the Midwest (and at the time, KCMO didn’t have DST), but somehow the Post edition at the barber shop was late enough to have all the scores. Less than ten years later I would complete graduate school in that area. Camilo Pascual had been the Nats one ace (comparable to Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer this year). The Senators would lose every game on a western trip (in those days, the West comprised Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland), for the first time ever. The streak would end at 18 at home a week later with a second game twi-night 9-0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians, tossed by Tex Clevenger.
How well I remember baseball then – us kids even had, at one time, run a “league” in our own backyards (previous post). OK, the point of this sermon – I could “feel” I was part of something “bigger than myself.” From my earliest beginnings of hating sports, I rooted for the doomed Senators, in a representing a Nation’s capital city polarized by racial divisions that nobody would talk about, a city seriously compromised by the lack of democracy (call it “home rule”. From a self-interest viewpoint, rooting for losers like the Senators made no sense. (The Redskins didn’t do well then, either.) The Senators would do much better in the 1960 season, then suddenly move to Minnesota (where I would live 1997-2003 – funny how what goes around returns).
I recall that I didn’t even understand how baseball worked until third grade – that balls are batted and caught or fielded. The physics (watching batted balls ricochet off the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston) was tantalizing. My third grade teacher and reported about my demanding too much attention and not having any feeling of affinity for my team or “group”. How often today in MLB do we hear about “team” wins when a key star player had been injured?
Let me jump to another scenario, a sermon a few weeks ago at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, by Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, where she spoke of “scruffy hospitality”. She’s referring just being prepared to welcome guests in your home at any time without the necessity for ritual cleaning to perfection for company. That follows on a sermon from Oct. 27, 2012 when she talked about “radical hospitality” one day before Hurricane Sandy was due. (We had been through the power outages from the June 29 derecho). As it would happen, there was little damage or inconvenience from Sandy here – the brief period of sudden low barometric pressure (and brief high winds) actually cleared up some hip arthritis I was having – nature’s cure. I’ve heard the hospitality thing before – once being asked if I would consider using my home for a partisan fundraiser – oh, where was this coming from? Of course, the hospitality thing comes up with so many real disasters – wildfires in the west, floods in West Virginia and recently Ellicott City, MD, but we’ll come back to that.
As for incidental hospitality, most of the social gatherings I attend are in public venues, often bars and restaurants (or, depending on the group, church gyms ready for “Godly play”, or even major league sports stadiums). Not many are in private homes any more. They were a lot more common when I was growing up (and, yes, my mother cleaned for them – I remember those shrimp creole dinner parties on winter Saturday nights.)
But “scruffy hospitality” goes along with another idea, something like “Lotsa Helping Hands”. Churches (synagogues, and mosques) typically set this community up among their own fellowships. Here’s were “socialization” comes down. “You” are a member of a group before you express yourself as an individual. Your content has no meaning until others benefit from it. Others need to matter to you in a way that’s up close and personal.
The “helping hands” mentality is at odds with an individualistic “mind your own business” culture, to be sure. When someone like me “returns” to a mainstream church – no matter how liberally politically (and today more and more mainstream churches support ideas like marriage equality, whatever the fringes are trying to do with “religious freedom” and the “bathroom bills”). It is very difficult for me to step into a world like this and feel very welcome, because, for one thing, I never had my own kids. I would be difficult for me to accept the idea of a “free ride” at work for a “new mom” (paid maternity leave) without wondering if I were being compelled to “sacrifice” for someone else’s benefit that I would never use.
So here we get to the heart of socialization – you have to start by belonging somewhere. That was the point of Martin Fowler’s book on the subject. If you “belong” you will feel natural empathy and willingness to chip in, even (to quote Judith) “when it costs you something”. There’s been a lot written about this the past few days – in reaction to the aggressive hyper individualism of Donald Trump.
For example, David Brooks invokes Sebastian Junger’s new booklet “Tribe” in his piece “The Great Affluence Fallacy”; and then there’s a dual between Robert Putnam and libertarian Charles Murray over communitarianism, as implied in this book review invoking “I v. We” on Vox of Putman’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”. Then an effective LTE (“Loners can’t be fixers” ) slams Kathleen Parker’s libertarian interpretation of conservatism in the Washington Post , Parker curiously had invoked Russell Kirk’s “10 Conservative Principles”, rather moralistic and proto-communitarian, where Kirk writes (in point 9) that power is, in political terms, “the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows”.
The place where most people develop socialization is supposed to be the “natural family”, to borrow a term from a 2009 “manifesto” by Carlson and Mero. (Sounds like saying “Most people walk in the direction they’re heading” – Shane’s famous admonition to Danny in “Judas Kiss”.) Particularly, older kids are likely to learn to take care of younger siblings. (I remember a mother’s saying that to me when I was working a Census survey in 2011 – like this was an off-the-wall moral imperative.) That means that older kids in a family may have more opportunity to learn the personal value of “family” in relation to personalized achievement goals. That may be one reason why younger kids may be less conventional or more “liberal” or rebellious, and insistent on their own paths. Younger sons may be more likely to be gay for biological reasons having to do with epigenetics, but they also may have less opportunity to learn the “value” of becoming a future father and provider. This all gets blown out – in reviewing a silly mainstream Hollywood comedy film on July 28 I noted David Skinner’s old-fashioned take on a supposed duty of men to become providers and protectors. And without the “reward” of having a family of one’s own (which in my generation required procreative sexual intercourse in most cases) it’s hard to fit in to a community centered around caring for other generations. Family is the first place you learn to “love” people in a closed space unconditionally, regardless of “ability” (to borrow from Marx); it’s the first community where you learn to have each other’s backs. In practice, that’s a big reason to need “relationships”. If you really want to learn more about “family values”, study the “distributed consciousness” of the (non-human person) orca (story). Cetaceans know no geography (or “Global Pursuit”).
Of course, that’s changing – with acceptance of gay marriage and of same-sex couples as parents. That doesn’t “help” me “fit in” all that much. I have to run on the record I have, and on what was possible earlier in my life in setting myself up.
So, then, what about all the other “communities” I “joined” during my adult life. The most important may have been the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 1970s. Various others included the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas and then Whitman Walker in Washington, to volunteer for PWA’s, and social groups like Chrysalis and Adventuring, and there are others. And of course there are political groups. But in a couple of cases there have been incidents where I believe I did an “OK thing” and someone else thought something I did was wrong because I somehow didn’t “belong” enough to the group to know what was really going on behind the lines.
That leads to another place – whether knowledge should really be acquired in the “It’s Free” mode – the debate about open access, and even kicked off by Reid Ewing’s little short film about a public library. A lot of people think that knowledge should come down through a family or social structure. The Rosicrucian Order teaches that mystical knowledge is acquired as one moves through various levels of initiation (but then, so does Scientology). Then, there is the “no spectators” mentality so well acted in the recent sci-fi film “Rebirth” (indeed, no “alien anthropologists” like me or Mark Zuckerberg).
There is a practical reality that today many people may not have total freedom to join other communities (for “socialization”) beyond their original family. Of course, that’s the case in authoritarian societies, but even in democratic cultures, aging populations tend to keep people tethered. The hard reality is that people need to take care of others outside of their own scope of choice sometimes, and find meaning in doing so. We find this a hard thing to say.
Families do indeed have a problem letting go. “Family” is supposed to be the place people learn to belong to a community, but some families never allow their members to move on beyond “taking care of their own”. (See the David Brooks piece, July 15; Murray had explained this in terms of social capital types, like “bridge capital” which grows out of “bonding capital”, but not always reliably.)
Many churches actually do reach out abroad, sending youth or college-age groups overseas, to Central America or sometimes even Africa, for missions or service — setting up a process where young adults learn to bond with others from cultures very different (and much less individualistic) than theirs. The church mentioned above has a summer mission trip to Belize, and has even made a short film showing the bonding, worthy of festival submission (like DC Shorts), in my view, at least.
As for me, I find it hard to stomach the idea of wearing somebody else’s uniform in public, or someone else’s protest flag. Yes, earlier in my life, some of “identity politics” made sense (I marched in my first “Christopher Street Liberation Say” in New York City in 1973). Individualism, and the narrow idea of personal responsibility (focused most of visible consequences for deliberate personal choices) has actually served me well in most of my adult life (for example, avoiding HIV). I’ve gotten away with viewing most people through the lens of “upward affiliation”, not from the meaning that would come from actually being needed in more down-to-earth ways by them. But I’ve been lucky. Yet, I do hold to the belief that no matter what happens to someone or what someone is born into, some of the responsibility for that person’s karma stays with that person, isn’t the automatic obligation of social policy.
As for baseball: Yes, Richard Harmon wants to pitch one game for his favorite San Francisco Giants, and thanks to Max Scherzer’s wife for helping set up Pride Night at Nationals Park. One day, MLB will have a transgender pitcher; it’s sure to happen.
(Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)