Is there a connection between meritocracy and authoritarianism?

So, how did the Russians pull it off and dupe American voters with fake Facebook accounts, fake news and fake ads?  They still seem to be doing it.

After all, what happened to my own theory and practice of passive influence, putting my own version of the “truth” out there to be found by search engines, playing devil’s advocates, gumming up traditional activism with its identity politics and exaggeration of victimhood?

Is it my own insularity, my own bubble, the likelihood that most of my pieces are read mainly by my own choirs?

Is it that I don’t “care” enough about “average Joe’s” to bother with whether my own messages reach them?  Think about how I get prodded to “sell books”.

The Russians, the enemies, sensed that a lot of the “elites”, the people who insist on seeing others through meritocratic scoping, would never pay attention to what the “proles” thought because the “proles” didn’t “merit” attention as real people from the elites.

That reminds me of my own father’s reporting of what psychiatrists had said of me in early 1962, after my William and Mary expulsion after I attracted homophobic ridicule from other boys in the dorm (aka barracks), especially the fatties and the “deplorables”.  “You have to worry about what everyone thinks”, my father would retort.

A few links are in order.  Look at David Brooks, “The Abby Hoffman of the Right: Donald Trump”.  The protests of the late 60s (probably accelerated by reaction to student deferments from the military draft, which I took advantage of) led to a settling in of individualistic meritocracy by the late 70s, going into the Reagan years, which would really accelerate the notion.

Look also at chess champion Garry Kasparov and Thor Halvorssen, “Why the rise of authoritarianism is a global catastrophe”.  There’s another reason.  Over emphasis on meritocracy makes it OK to leave people behind, almost as part of one’s own psychic strategy.  Soon, it’s OK to keep people “in their place”, which dictators (on both the right and left) do very well.

Remember the displacement of meritocracy in Charles A. Reich’s book “The Greening of America” in 1970 (given to me as a going-away present with a job change), somewhere between Consciousness II and III.

Look at these two rebuffs that I got back around 2006 (pre-Blogger days).

(Posted: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

Yes, I could have become radicalized: my take on how it can happen

I just want to walk through a process that I experienced growing up in the 50s and 60s.

I came to perceive the world, even the U.S., as competitive place, where some people were better than others, and where people fit into a “rightful” station. I remember quarreling with my father on household chores about what is “low work”. To a large extent, good grades in school were the only currency (non fiat) that I knew. But I sensed that (as in Connell’s story and film “The Most Dangerous Game”) that the world tended to evolve toward “brains over brawn”. Yet, I thought, to be virtuous, a man needed both. You had to be both “manly” (and look “manly” and ahead of schedule biologically) and smart. That became my “idol” (as I confessed in a “religion” class after school in third grade). I suppose Jesus was presented that way in Sunday school, but the way “He” was to be “Followed” seemed like a moral paradox. I tended toward upward affiliation, but clinging to “better men” socially was generally not appreciated and tended to trap me. So as an antidote, as an adult, I developed fierce independence.

A rightful station in life implied the possibility of shame and the need to accept it. Through imprinting, I came to perceive upward affiliation to the edge of actual shame as sexually exciting, so, as I’ve explained in my books, I (by age 18) had called myself a “latent homosexual”. That led to my William and Mary narrative.

Shame” (the name of a Fassebender 2011 film for Fox) required my accepting my own. Since I was physically behind my contemporaries, I did not see myself as competitive enough to have or enjoy sex with a woman. I did not view procreation or having children as important, and tended to see it as an “afterthought” behind public cultural achievements; but in the back of my mind, in those NIH days (1962, overlapping the Cuban Missile Crisis) I also thought my genes should not be propagated. They could lead to a greater or enhanced risk of disabled children (as lineage). I was personally buying into a previous generation’s acceptance of eugenics. Ironically, I needed to believe in shame to experience (gay) sexual fantasies that could become personally satisfying. In a curious way, I get what Trump was getting at in those remarks to Billy Bush on Access Hollywood (about “Days of our Lives”) in Oct. 2016 about his own sexual attractions, but as upside-down cake.

At this point, I’ll link to a couple of essays by Milo Yiannopoulos again on Breitbart, “Sexodus: The men giving up on women and checking out on society”, Part 1, and Part 2. True, fewer men today want to get married and have their own nuclear families. Milo attributes this to aggressive feminism, with the end result that marriage is a bad deal for men (and it often is, as I began to notice in the 1980s with the increasing heterosexual divorce rate in Dallas where I lived). Milo maintains some men are intimidated into believing that the slightest mistake of misplaced assertiveness (“masculinity” in the Rosenfels sense) will get them thrown into jail (or at least lead to enormous guilt), and he may be right. But my own experience was the inverse of all this. I did not have enough physical confidences so I could eroticize shame instead, (Shame and guilt are feminine and masculine counterparts in Rosenfels terminology.)  So I built my own world, and managed to be stable and productive, without normal offerings of intimacy.  You can talk about having children as a “choice” with obvious responsibilities that follow, but family responsibility can happen anyway — eldercare and filial piety, as well as the “Raising Helen” scenario of raising relatives’ kids after family tragedies.  Childlessness could leave “you” as the insurance policy for other people with kids (second-class status, as in Elinor Burkett’s 2000 book “The Baby Boon“). The ability to offer personal warmth based on need in a family setting — building into community social capital beyond the expressive self — becomes its own moral issue.

So, in previous pieces here, I’ve talked about my soapboxes, how they maintain my independence, give me political influence (I understand Trump actually reads some of my stuff)  They can be taken away, by coercion, in a variety of ways. And I would be left with the question, what’s wrong with raising someone else up instead?

Maybe that would be what I would want if it resulted from my own “content”. Yet my own writings and scripts tend to emulate the angels, the para-Jesus figures, and at least hint that people with “average Joe” cognition would become the “Leftovers” But, if I actually did work on the right project with someone else, maybe I would elevate someone even on my own social media pages in some creative way. That would have to start by working with someone I know,

But generally, I’ve resisted making someone “below” become “all right”, or at least doing so publicly as part of my own message or brand. That would undermine my own ability to enjoy Shame (think Trump, again). I’ve also resisted attempts by others espousing some sort of systematic oppression to get me to “join in” and subordinate my own work to their messages, especially when their messages are “narrow” and tend to let people “off the hook” for their own personal inadequacies. Again, that would subvert my own pattern of “upward affiliation”.

I think you can see that this can become a dangerous pattern of thinking. Given incidents around the country reported by others, this sounds like a pattern that slips from schizoid personality sometimes into outright nihilism. (“Schizoid” refers to social behavior – or particularly, avoidance of unwanted social contact and extreme narrowness and pickiness in intimate partners, where as “Aspergers” refers to developmental arrest in social capacity; some of this can be a good thing, as with Alan Turing.) I had my worst taste of this in 1964, after the Kennedy assassination.   I rebounded from all that (it could have gone dark indeed) and managed to create my own world, in my own world, and become a stable individual contributor in I.T. before I switched to a largely unpaid second career in “provocateurship”, less flashy than Milo’s – but I’m four decades older.

For “shame” is related to meaning of everything around me. I think many people of my parents’ generation felt they could function actively in marriage if they knew everyone else had to. That gave it meaning, but implied that everyone has a “rightsize” or station in life. Marital initiative by men could be carried out if there was a consistent belief that masculinity meant something, even in terms of external trappings. In the days long before attention to public Olympic events in cycling and swimming, it was usually seen as girlish if men shaved their bodies; the belief seemed to be necessary then. Drag queens were OK if they really stayed just on the fringes. But, on an everyday basis, you wanted to see men look like, well, men. That was a little easier in a segregated society.

You can see how this can lay the foundations for authoritarianism, particularly on the right wing side (fascism, or perhaps some of the ideas of the alt-right, could link back to personal “body fascism”). If people love only when their visual expectations are satisfied, and resent connection to others beneath them, it’s easier to set up a system where some people are subjugated if they don’t make it. Yes, that sounds like Nazism. It doesn’t necessary get that far, but it can.

It’s also well to remember that many people who seem “weak” may be so because they have not have the benefit of political and economic stability that I have leveraged. No wonder the prepper mentality appeals to some people.

All of this is to say, them, if people want to sustain freedom, they need to learn to reach out of their own bubbles, in creative interpersonal ways, sometimes, outside the usual boundaries in a “mind your own business” society, with all its “do not track”. Commercially, it means you need to be willing to take calls from salesmen. They have to make a living, too. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to rationalize an order of “merit” maintained by a dictator. Maybe you get a “people’s republic of capitalism”.

Devin Foley has a somewhat different perspective in Intellectual Takeout. “Antifa and Neo-Nazi Propaganda: Are You Suscpetible?” You could add radical Islam to the title. The writer talks about not being willing to grow out of dependency. That’s interesting, but I think it’s also about a need to see consistent meaning.

(Posted: Tuesday, Aug, 29, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

Is my own skin in the game?

So, why am I so paranoid that some new era of censorship or regulation or some sort of national calamity could force me to give up my own ungated soap box (mostly Internet and self-published books)?

“Why don’t you just volunteer or work for a non-profit or for gay or trans rights?”  (I’m cis.)  It’s true, that in more recent months people have come knocking and sometimes border on becoming confrontational.

I think anyone would resent an outside party’s walking in the door and bargaining with him about his own self-determined goals in life.  There’s a parallel to how we felt in the workplace in the 80s and 90s when we thought our jobs could be bargained away for someone else’s shareholder value (call it rentier capitalism).

So here I am, on the other side, as the “capitalist” in a sense, partially (and perhaps unhealthfully) dependent on inherited wealth (the “heiristocracy” of Heather Boushey’s “After Piketty”). I get chased about actually making my hardcopy books sell so that people in stores have jobs (and people at publishing companies), or about ideas like running my own personalized “gofundme” for some group or cause.  Or perhaps hounded for donations by some online publication, usually Leftist, that claims only they can be my voice.

It seems that if you speak out for yourself and don’t have a specific challenge to deal with or a specific dependent needing you and then remain neutral, you’re seen as an aggressor.  I get the point about the (Confederate) statues now, but removing them would never be “my” mission.  But that doesn’t seem to be good enough for some of the angrier activists.

I’ve always viewed morality as an individualized issue:  what a person does, regardless of external circumstances, is of moral concern, and yet a person can bear personal accountability for what a (privileged) group that she depends on does (the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem).  I’ve never viewed personal morality as relative to belonging to an oppressed group.  So (at least since the early post-Stonewall days) I’ve paid little attention to group-oppression-centered activism, which can anger some people. Yet, I may sound snarky to say “shouting in a demonstration is beneath me”.  But that is how I fee;.  It’s the “watcher” problem of the movie “Rebirth”.  Indeed, activists on “both” sides often hate “journalists” including citizen journalists who don’t join up.

There does seem to be an informal expectation in social media that you’re open to personally assisting others whom you didn’t already know.  This kind of moral ecology seems to have accelerated since the second Obama term started.  And it’s often linked to identity politics: someone should be assisted specifically because he/she/”they” belongs to a marginalized group.   There’s also a willingness to display a disadvantaged person as a dependent or best friend.  That isn’t something I would do.  Until maybe five years ago, it wouldn’t have been expected.

There seems to be a break in the moral continuity of my thought.  If I comment critically on what politicians want to do about the various issues, do I really “care” personally about the people affected?  I could certainly say that I did when I got publicly involved with some of the more controversial aspects of the HIV crisis in the 1980s.  I did become a “buddy” (although a “baby buddy”) at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas where I lived.  Likewise, there is some integrity to that when I dealt with the gays in the military issue as I started by books in the 1990s.  It does seem much less true today.  I don’t automatically “care” about someone just because “they” claim to be in a marginalized group.  So, an activist or “privilege challenger” can ask, why are you even talking about this on your own if you don’t have your own skin in the game?  You have no kids, you have no standing, you have no stake.  Join up or else.  I can retort, “you” know some of your own history, but only for your own narrow interest.  I’ve commented about military conscription a lot because I went through it (1968-1970), but today’s protesters seem to have no idea that it even happened. Nor do they care – it’s only about the particular oppression of the moment.

Furthermore, my tendency to cherry pick and use upward affiliation in approaching more intimate personal relationships would make some people wonder if I “can care about people” (Ninth Street Center talk indeed).  Would I stay in a relationship if something “happened” to a partner to make him less attractive?  I’ve never been tested in that way directly, but I’ve moved away from situations where I sense this could happen in the future (in a way prescient, in the late 1970s, of the coming AIDS crisis).

This is all very sobering. I can say that I am open to personal involvement when it comes out of something I am doing.  I’ve written about the asylum seeker issue for the past year, and I did consider hosting.  But it always seem to break down when I asked for more detailed discussions about the legal liability risks I was taking.  I would remain “Outside Man”, like in the Army on KP.  I say, let’s have more transparency on the risks we expect the more “privileged” people to take.  (Remember the student deferment issue?)

I can understand, for example, the stake of a filmmaker who has filmed the story of a disabled person in in special Olympics.  But would I choose to make such a person the hero of my own narrative?  Probably not.  Indeed, there’s something disturbing about some of my own fiction projects that center around a hero character more or less like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent, without any real attempt at diversity.  If my “angels” make their Earth evacuation and leave everyone else behind (“The Leftovers”) what message does that send?  Five years ago that would have seemed mainstream sci-fi.  Now I wonder if it would be perceived as “hate speech”.

I’ll note a story in the Washington Post today , on p. A12, “From conservatives: a call for regulation of Internet firms: These Silicon Valley players are seeking government insistence on free-speech rights at tech-giants, which they say are ‘enforcers’ or a liberal point of view”.  Online the title is “In Silicon Valley, the Right sounds a surprising battle cry: Regulate tech giants”.

Well, conservatives particularly want tech giants to put more of their own skin (downstream liability) into fighting sex trafficking (at least the way they would fight child pornography), in kicking off terrorist recruiters, in stopping piracy, and in stopping cyberbullying and in  protecting children with filters (remember COPA?  VidAngel has taken this on and its own troubles).

And tech giants, in return, have shown they have a much greater awareness of fake news and “hate speech” on their platforms than they have previously admitted.

(Posted: Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 at 2:45 PM EDT)

Coercion from others: how we deal with it is an important component of character

I won’t keep up with the counter volleying of rhetoric over Trump and his apparent deferral to his base. It seems like the alt-right “started it” fully intending to become combative in Charlottesville (we need not re-enumerate all the groups) and the “Left” (just some of it) believed it needed to become combative to defend itself.

I don’t join other people’s mass movements, or become combative myself to protect other people – and yes, I don’t have my own kids so I very much resent it when others expect this of me. Part of me sees simply joining up in claiming group systemic oppression as a sign of personal weakness. If I was “better” I wouldn’t need to.

We all grow up with coercion, and how we deal with becomes a character issue.

Our parents apply coercion as we grow up, until we gradually become mature enough to accept responsibility for our own choices. At an individual level, accepting responsibility for the direct consequences of personal choices certainly form the libertarian idea of personal morality. But in a real world, it’s important to take one’s part as a member of the group – family, community, religious affiliation, cultural affinity, or country. That means sharing some of the “chores” of the group (work for which usually monetary compensation is of little or no importance), common risks, and particularly the consequences of group hostility (warfare) against the group. The plot of “Romeo and Juliet” lives at several levels.

There is tension between individualized personal responsibility, and accountability to a group. A very good example is that an individual level, we don’t want people to have children until they are ready to raise them (which usually means in a legally recognized marriage, which today could be same-sex). With some people, that will tend to result in never having children. That can be bad for the future of some groups or countries, which fear being underpopulated. This tension, over procreation, as far as I am concerned, has always been at the heart of coercive behavior by many religions and many governments (now days, generally non-Western) against homosexuals and transgender. Part of the issue is that until more recent times, most cultures perceived it was important that most people perform according to their biological genders, including the capacity of males, becoming combative and fungible when necessary, to protect the women and children in the tribe – its genetic future. Consider how this plays out with our history with the military draft and controversy today over whether women should be required to register for Selective Service (or whether there should be conscription at all.)  In those days, personal “cowardice” (a somewhat dying concept) had a distinctly physical aspect. Today, childless people still have to take care of aging parents (even more so as people live longer with falling birthrates), and often wind up raising siblings’ children.

All of this winds up being experienced as coercion – what you have to do, because if you don’t, someone else will have to take the risk and possibly make the sacrifice. So rather than dividing people into subgroups according to various abilities, we tend to judge everyone on one continuum, or at least I did.  I would say that in “Gone with the Wind“, Scarlet O’Hara has to deal with coercion, but “you” can be offended because her slaves had needed to deal with so much more, as indeed they had.

But as I moved into adulthood, I moved into different groups. In the mid 1970s, as I entered my thirties in New York City, that group was the Ninth Street Center in New York City (the East Village), now the Paul Rosenfels Community. I would tend to cherry pick the people I met for those who satisfied my need for “upward affiliation”. That would irritate or disappoint some others. In fact, the whole idea of personal growth seemed to revolve around an existential challenge that we called “creativity”, which in turn meant learning new ways to care about and provide for other people (including, sometimes, of other races, or those who were much less glamorous or even much less intact) without the obvious catalyst of conventional sexual excitement and then sexual intercourse leading to having one’s own children, who would become “the” dependents. It was caring without an obvious personal lineage. Yet, what I sometimes experienced in the group was “coercion”.   In any group, there are those in charge. There is volunteer work to be done (like washing dishes after those Saturday night potluck suppers, in the days when there was no escape from the smoke), in order to share one’s portion of the physical labor of the group.

As I move further into adult life, I became, somewhat, the Pharisee, the watcher, and recorder, being effective politically without having to run for anything or ask for money – ironically that sometimes seems as “Dangerous” (Milo-speak) as conventional partisan bickering. Yes, the capability to do this could be yanked away from me by extreme legislation or perhaps direct hostility. I see that as coercion.  People have hinted, with some breath of a threat, “Why don’t you shut up and shut down online, and then volunteer for us?”  Well, if I didn’t have my own mission and own message (other than letting a group be my voice) I wouldn’t be effective as a volunteer (particularly to remedy claimed systemic group oppression and victimization).  But, I could be forced to, unexpectedly and unforeseeably, perhaps. Then maybe I have no choice to work for “you” in order to “live”.  That kind of bargaining with my life, starting perhaps with a knock on the door, is coercion.

So then we come back to some of the more dangerous issues today for the whole country – nuclear weapons, safety of the power grid. Also, civil disorder (which, yes, was most recently perpetrated by the radical right) and terrorism from various sources, by no means always Islamist. The end result is that anyone can be placed into a situation of subservience and helplessness by the “coercion” of another or others. Anyone can wind up housed in a shelter by the Red Cross or other charity. Anyone can experience expropriation and be forced to learn how “the others” have to live, suddenly. The fact is, it is the individuals in a country who bear the ultimate consequences (and therefore “responsibility”) of what their politicians do, even if those consequences are delivered by ISIS or by Kim Jong Un.  In that sense, anyone is a potential conscript or combatant. That’s why I see “victimhood” as so ugly (nothing to be proud of) and I call it “casualty-hood” and yet to survive it and rise again, from whatever station in life events place you, seems so essential to resilience and to future generations, if we are to have a future at all.

And, yet, I believe in civilization. I believe in law and order. But there are a few grave threats (like the power grid issue, which I have covered here before) that we must solve (without partisanship) if we are not to leave the world to the doomsday preppers. I would have nothing to contribute to the world depicted in NBC’s series “Revolution”. Don’t ask me to stick around for it.

(Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 9:45 PM EDT)

 

 

 

On social media profiles, who you take your selfies with sends a message about your values

This posting, more than any others, needs art-work with no people in it.  Just plant blossoms, which are indicative enough of subject matter.

Recently, I’ve notice a trend in social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, where an attractive person (in some specific cases, a young adult man) presents himself in selfie photos with a disabled person and then, perhaps, claims the other person is some sort of “best friend”.  This may even happen for a while in a profile photo.

I just wonder how this is to be interpreted.  Does the presenter really value his connection to the person visibly more in need?  Or does the presenter reinforce his own impression of physical superiority. I’m almost reminded of the way animals react to people, as their “superiors” sometimes, but other times as their servants. (Thinks about cats who invite themselves in.)

This is not something I would be comfortable doing myself.  Yes, I can be photographed with almost anyone (like in a bar or social) for a Facebook page or blog, but I wouldn’t make my temporal connection to the person the primary point of what I do.

I remember watching some video at a church youth mission in Central America where a particularly commanding looking white teen boy is shown carrying kids (of color) who look much “smaller”.  The intimacy and connection between youths of different cultures and abilities is said to be a good thing. But how does this come across when shown publicly.

(Posted: Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 2:15 PM EDT)

Hawking’s warning about elitism v. populism rings true for me

Stephen Hawking authored an op-ed in December, 2016, shortly after Trump’s win, in which we warned about the existential dangers from inequality, especially wealth inequality as well as income, as well as cognition inequality.  The original article is in the Guardian, here.

We have the ability to destroy the planet, whether with nuclear weapons or by allowing runaway climate change.  But we don’t have the ability to escape it (as with the “space ark” in the NatGeo film “Evacuate Earth”) and won’t for at least a century.  Hawking has previously warned, in fact, that we have about another century to find a new home.

Indeed, that undertaking would be no picnic. Imagine pre-selecting those to be “saved” or literally “raptured” onto a spacecraft, having to reproduce for generations, maybe even to reach an exoplanet near Proxima Centauri, which may well be tidally locked.   (This problem is related to a set-up in my novel “Angel’s Brother”).

Hawking talks about the dangers of elitism, and in one paragraph seems to characterize himself as one of the elites drawing the indignation of populists on both the far Left and the alt-Right.  Without his superior intellect and communication skills and considerable support, he would have become “just another pitifully dependent disabled person. “The Theory of Everything” (2014) did document how his disability came on to him quickly as a young man, although he was able to marry and have a family.  In a distant way, his self-commentary perhaps parallels mine, especially in my 2014 DADT-III book. I’ll take this further in future posts.   I know what he is saying.  If you take advantage of the system and avoid the “people” (like on the lower deck of the “Titanic”) and something happens, your end can get ugly indeed.

Along these lines, I’ll share a friend’s link on the different styles of thinking (elites, the “Democrats are capitalists” crowd of Nancy Pelosi) vs. real people, where Berkeley’s George Lakoff warns, “Don’t count out Trump”.  I tend to think about policies and winning arguments rather than “selling” or “conversions”  My mother used to talk about “real life”.

I’ll share Lindy West’s op-ed “Save the First Amendment” (or “Save Free Speech from Trolls”, in the New York Times Sunday Review July 2, somewhat convoluted by pertinent to elitism.   I’m remined of a 2005 Washington Times editorial “Suffocating the First Amendment”, which had figured into a major incident in my life.

The Guardian, by the way, is pimping for donations.  (So does Truthout many other sites.)  I find it unacceptable indeed to let others speak for me.  There goes false pride again.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

Duty, risk-taking, helping others, and self-promotion

It’s a vague and general principle in the insurance business that some activities are more readily underwritten when there is outside, third-party supervision of the endeavors.

That gets to be testy when the aim is to help others.

I wrote my three books and developed my websites and blogs without supervision. The lack of peer supervision was actually an issue back in the Summer of 2001 when I was turned down for a renewal of a “media perils” individual policy that National Writers Union was selling as an intermediary.

Yes, I took some risks, and I probably knew what I was doing better than a lot of amateur writers, with regard to areas like copyright and defamation. I did become infatuated with the implications of my own narrative, which are considerable.  I did look forward to the fame, or at least notoriety. But was I helping anyone?

Well, the central topic of the first book was “gays in the military,” and in fact I knew a number of the servicemembers fighting the ban (and the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy) well, at least by correspondence.  I would not have desired a romantic relationship with any or many of them, but I did feel legitimately connected in some personal way. I think I helped, although indirectly.  My staying in the debate for so many years in the search engines did help make the final repeal in 2010-2011 more likely.

But I also had made some unusual arguments.  They were based in part on accepting the idea of duty, of the necessity for shared sacrifice and resilience.  Specifically, I talked about the Vietnam era military draft and my own experience with it, and about the idea that it was still possible to reinstate it.  I recalled all too well the controversy over student deferments, implied cowardice, and the connection between risk and vulnerability.

I’ve thought about the “duty” concept in connection to the need for refugees and asylum seekers for assistance, sometimes very personalized.  One idea that comes through in discussions, especially with lawyers, that anyone offering hosting or major support should have some third-party supervision.  That usually would come from a social services agency, or possibly a faith-based group, as well sometimes local or state agencies.  Of course, the capacity of individuals to offer this has become muddled by Donald Trump and all his flailing and failing travel bans.  The desirable supervision is much better established in Canada (and some European countries) where sponsorship comes with some legally-driven responsibilities comparable, say, to foster care.  In the United States, given the political climate, the volume of people assisted is lower, and the risk or cost, whatever that is, gets spread out among more people.  The situation is even murkier for asylum seekers than for refugees, since their access to benefits and work permission is less, as has been explained here before.

I don’t yet know how this will turn out for me, but I agree that any adherence to “duty” would require some supervision.  So, I am fussier with this than I was with the risk management for my own writing.  But what about the people?  True, I don’t feel personally as connected to the people in this situation as I was with the military issue.  I have to admit that I have led a somewhat sheltered life.  For most of my adult life, the “system” has actually worked for me, and I have been associated with others who more or less play by the rules and benefit from doing so.  Since retiring, I’ve seen that the interpersonal aspects of need do bring on a certain culture shock. The system simply does not work for a lot of poorer people, who sometimes find that they have no reason to play by the same rules, but who do tie into social capital.  The system also fails “different” people, some not as well off as “Smallville‘s” teen Clark Kent. I can understand duty (accompanying “privilege”), but the meaning expected to be attached to helping others in a much more personal way is rather alien to me.

The whole question of housing refugees and asylum seekers (and I’ll even limit the scope of this remark to assuming “legal” presence in the U.S.) fits into a bigger idea about social resilience and radical hospitality, most of all for those (like me) with “accidentally” inherited property.  I do recall that after Hurricane Katrina there was a call for helping to house people in other states (sometimes in homes, sometimes with relatives).  Even though most people want to be near their homes to rebuild after disaster, this sort of need (a kind of “emergency bnb” lower-case) could come back again after earthquakes or major terror strikes or even a hostile attack (North Korea is starting to look really dangerous).  In the worst cases, the nation’s survival could depend on it.

(Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

It’s all too easy to act like a bigot, even without a lot of group-based prejudice

We often hear the word “bigot” to characterize persons of public influence whom we want to go away or don’t want to have to pay heed to.

Wikipedia treats the concept of “bigotry” as pretty much synonymous with “prejudice”.  But Merriam-Wesbter’s definition mentions intolerant or obstinate “devotion” to one’s own “opinions” and only then refers to the idea of prejudice against members of an identifiable group.

Typically, we’re used to thinking about “bigotry” more in terms of groups, particularly when we look at history.  For the United States, the most glaring example comes with the racism that followed the ending of slavery and, almost a century later, segregation and the evolution of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  At the outset, bigotry by whites was first motivated by economic loss:  “property”, ill-obtained, was going to be expropriated from them by force.  This is the “Gone with the Wind” worldview of Reconstruction.

One problem was that it was possible to find “rationalization” for slavery or subordination of others int the Bible, with right away reminds us that you can justify almost anything with carefully framed “scripture” (Ephesians 6:5).  The idea that information could be passed to the “ordinary people” from those in power (as propaganda) was part of the problem.  Over time, people could use the Bible to maintain the convenient comfort and “security” of segregation, an idea my parents somewhat believed even though at the church I grew up in the 1950s (First Baptist of the City of Washington DC), Dr.Edward Pruden was one of the most progressive of the time (as in his 1951 Judson Press book “Interpreters Needed“).  Huffington takes this up in a piece about Bob Jones University; also see Lewis).

The other great “group” marker for prejudice has been , of course, religion.  Anti-Semitism in Europe leading to WWII and the Holocaust in part resulted from the idea that fascism could portray the Jews as “elitist” and against “the common people” or “folk”  and could scapegoat them for the economic difficulties after WWI.

And anti-Islam sentiment has become the most obvious example of religious prejudice in the past decades, as a predictable result of terrorism.  It’s clear that intolerant passages can be found in the scriptures of all religions (and get used by political demagogues), but the concentration of certain passages in the Koran does seem troubling.

And particularly with radical Islam, the focus on focus and violence seems to be related to the idea that modernism and individualism has created a world of abstraction and self-focus that doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, and that leaves a lot of “ordinary people” behind.  But that attitude is often found in some evangelical Christianity.

History is typically concerned with “vertical” groups of people, classified by nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and race.  What’s more difficult is how any group deals with those in its midst who are “different”, especially with regards to gender expression and sexuality.

I’ve tended to regard affinity groups related to gender and sexuality issues as “horizontal”, as they are spread out among all vertical groups.  It’s rather like comparing the sprawling office buildings over land plots in Washington to the skyscrapers in New York.

Furthermore, most of these horizontal groups are somewhat characterized by attitudes and behaviors, things that are partially chosen, even if underlying drives have biological (epigenetic or genetic) aspects.  Typically people in horizontal groups are not noticed at first sight (so “do ask do tell”).

So this brings me back to “homophobia” or sometimes “transphobia”.  I covered that on Jan. 4.  Particularly significant is that many heterosexual men find the whole panoply of courtship, dating, marriage, and the same family bed for generations quite challenging, as is the economic burden.  That’s easier for a lot of men to handle if they think all other men have to play the same cards.

But there’s also the need, as a gay midwestern district attorney pointed out to me, some people believe they need to feel superior to someone.  One reason for “bigotry” is then the need to have people to boss over.  Procreative potential for some men becomes a convenient proxy for superiority.

In fact, this brings me back to an element of my own therapy in those days of William and Mary and NIH (covered in my books), that in my own mind, I would tend to equate people’s visible trappings as a proxies for moral virtue.  I like to see “perfect” men.  I am uncomfortable with the idea of promoting gender fluidity.  In practice, I generally just ignore it when I see it.  You see things all the time you don’t necessary approve of, say little or nothing, and just move on.  Isn’t that the “harmlessness” of libertarianism?  But I have made myself visible on my own, indeed, self-promoted my own “opinions” without the supervision of gatekeepers.  (Sustaining the capacity to do that can remain challenging).  But these days I get challenged, that I am not willing to be more pro-active, to step up to actively promote those who have less privilege and more need.  Sometimes (as with fluidity) it really is hard to tell what is “chosen” and what is immutable.  But to do less, and still continue to be heard, is seen as bordering on bigotry, even from me.

Indeed, if you think about the most extreme acts of ISIS or some lone wolf terrorists, it seems as though they are making a public stir of what they personally see as non-virtuous.  (You could get into a discussion of impulse control, too.)

You also wonder if unwillingness to consider dating someone (say trans) would be viewed by some people as bigoted. (An example is the episodeLean In” in the ABC series “Mistresses”.)

But the fact that there are different forms of bigotry does not detract from a perpendicular thesis of mine, that “how you should behave if you think you’re different”, and whether “being different” implies “being special”, is a worthy topic on its own and has moral substance.  It’s part of connecting the dots.

It’s also instructive to look up “bully” in the dictionary.

(Posted Monday, April 17, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

I dodge another big storm, and maybe stretch my luck

Today, my inherited Drogheda (e.g., “The Thorn Birds”, 1983  — and, yes, the pastor played by Richard Chamberlain eventually breaks down and cries) dodged another round of violent storms.  But, with time, accumulation of more opportunities for bad luck, and, yes, climate change, I know that disaster can happen to me.  None of us is above the possibility of having to deal with life in a shelter someday.  None of us is above needing others (and I could say, needing God).

This time around, it was particularly scary indeed, as the reports of tornados in the upper Midwest, popping out of nothing, kept coming on.  Even in the relatively safer location of the Mid-Atlantic, luck could eventually run out.

Most of my life, and especially during my boyhood, I’ve experienced physical stability, without a lot of danger from the outside world.  But, throughout history, most communities (all the way to whole nations) have had to deal with disruptions from outside threats.  That reality helps create a moral viewpoint where every “citizen” has to carry his or her own weight, metaphorically speaking. People have to step up to challenges and take responsibilities they did not necessarily choose (in the past, closely tied to gender), for the good of others in their communities, especially their families.  The severe weather scare today reminds me that my luck can run out.

So people “who are different” are pressured to conform to the adaptive needs of their origins.  I grew up in a particularly ambiguous position, where it was not clear whether I was genuinely disabled, or just mooching on the manual labor and risks others have to endure, even in my place.

That’s why I experience “morality” as an individual thing.  The individual ultimately will experience “it is what it is” – for him (or her) as an individual, and in sharing the “karma” of his larger group associations (usually starting with family).  That’s also why I don’t jump to “go to bat for” someone just because he or she belongs to a marginalized group.  But it also helps explain why “upward affiliation” became so tantalizing for me.  Ultimately, I dreamt of becoming someone better than me.  That may be the high point of distributed consciousness.

This whole process obviously leads to an obvious contradiction.  Josh Groban may have it right when he sings “You life me up” and it goes both ways.

My own life narrative threads on this idea, both in my own personal experience in sexuality and in how I handled my own speech later.   The way people reacted provides some pretty good fuel for inductive reasoning.

(Posted: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 9:15 PM EST)

It’s important to know the history of homophobia, and how it was a proxy for much more

There is a lot of apprehension about the effect a Trump administration could have on “LGBTQ” rights (or, depending on your viewpoint, “LGBTQ people”).  The concern is not so much from Trump’s actions (he seemed OK with this issue on his show “The Apprentice” with gay candidates and obviously would have considered them equally), but with some of his proposed appointments to the administration, as well as Vice President Pence.

While the “popular” strategy on the Left, has been the “as a people” approach (remedying discrimination against a group), I’ve always gone at this from the libertarian to conservative issue:  why is one adult’s consensual sex life another adult’s (other than a spouse) business?  Why was it the business, in the past, of governments, churches, schools, employers, landlords, etc?

For indeed, in the distant past, the world very much interfered with my life, with huge consequences shaping the course of a whole adulthood, as it has for many other people. With all the rapid gains, most of all repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” and then marriage equality, and now in transgender areas (begrudgingly at times as with the bathroom bills),  and today’s fights over phony “religious freedom restoration act” bills, it’s very important that younger gay adults and teens understand the history, which even recently was challenging.  In the past, not only were gays “entrapped” in public restrooms; sometimes police raided gay establishments and invented false charges of public lewdness, leading to the concept of the “Mafia bar” in New York in the 1960s (during the 1964-65 World’s Fair, leading to Stonewall in 1969) and police harassment of bar patrons in Dallas in 1980.

From a libertarian perspective, there really seems to exist a delicious irony.  In the past, LGBTQ people (so to speak) were persecuted not for what they did but for what they didn’t do – which was “play ball: with carrying on families (biologically).  When I was expelled from William and Mary in 1961, the idea that being around me could threaten a roommate’s or dorm resident’s procreative potential was seen a  much bigger threat than would (the opposite risk of) an unwanted pregnancy or becoming a romantic rival for someone’s girlfriend. That sort of idea would get into the debate on gays in the military in the 1990s, and form an irony framing all of my writing. A corollary is that, in dorm life for me, insecure men talked as if seeing someone like me succeed with women would make them feel more secure about their own prospects, as part of herd thinking.

Why were things “the way they were”? One observation stands out:  tribal culture.  Western civilization, for all its politics, developed from Abrahamic religions, all of which comprised tribal groups that had to be concerned with their group survival against enemies, whether religious, political, or natural.  Religious moral codes (the Ten Commandments seem uncontroversial, but not a lot of other passages in the Old Testament)  were developed with respect to risks to the sustainability of groups.  Moral codes, imposing a certain uniformity of culture and behavior on everyone in a group, tend to give group life “meaning” for a lot of people, so a lot of people become “addicted” to looking at others through these moral ideas, especially “outsiders” (read immigrants, or people of other races, today).  Homosexuality, with its obvious potential to detract from procreation, was seen as a proxy behavior for any existential threat to the long term survival of the group.  The capability of looking at the world through libertartian lens is relatively modern, and becomes easier in richer cultures with higher standards of living and with political and infrastructure stability.  But this capacity means less addiction to one’s own perceptions and more openness to interacting with others on terms other than one’s own – a difficult sell for many people.   But this is a necessary context for most of the arguments below;  the freedom to live just according to one’s own expectations from other peoples can, over time, inadvertently invite authoritarianism.

I have to add a caveat: some native societies, in North America and around the world, have been quite tolerant of gender ambiguity, willing to place “queer” people into positions of spiritual authority.

But now ;let’s run through the five big areas. I’ll work inside-out, inductively, and start with the most specific problems first.

Issue 1: Public Health

I had my “second coming” in the 1970s and I knew vaguely that typical “promiscuous” gay male “lifestyles” could increase the risk of traditional venereal diseases, and I often heard people talk about hepatitis (especially B). My last year in New York City, 1978, some things happened that gave me reason to wonder if something else could be going on.  I moved to Dallas for a new job at the start of 1979, and that could have saved my life.

In early 1983, about a year before the CDC announced the discovery of HTLV-III (later known as HIV-I) a conservative state representative from Amarillo introduced a bill (HR 2138) that would have reinforced the Texas sodomy law (2106) and banned homosexuals from most occupations (let alone the military). Prompt activism by the Dallas Gay Alliance kept it from getting out of committee.  A group called the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS” advanced a theory saying that the chain-letter transmission of the then unidentified virus by anal intercourse within the gay male community threatened the general population because it amplified a dangerous virus that could then mutate and change transmissibility. Groups like DDAA jumped on CDC’s observation that the disease did not seem to transmit easily from women to men in “normal” intercourse, so heterosexual chains, well known with conventional venereal diseases or STD’s, would not sustain with AIDS.

We know that this (the speculated increase in contagion) did not happen.  As in the old series “Science Fiction Theory” with Truman Bradley, we could ask, could it happen?  Well, is that like a woman changing into a plant, as in one episode?  I sound sarcastic.  It’s unusual for viruses to change transmissibility, but yet they can cross species.  If a virus got more contagious, it would probably become much less virulent. That would mean that this particular virus would need to infect other kinds of cells (like in the lungs or GI tract).  One possibility was that it could become an arbovirus (and in fact the New York Native, Charles Ortleb’s little newspaper in the 1980s, speculated about an arbovirus, African Swine Fever, or ASFV, being experimented with by the government on Long Island.  That actually could have been very dangerous politically.  One could imagine such arguments being made about Zika now.

The credibility of this argument waned with time, as HIV did not change its basic behavior.  By definition, the opportunistic infections carried by PWA’s were unlikely to affect people with normal immune systems.  Even so, one cannot completely eliminate some other “science fiction movie” scenario that imagination can conjure.  The transmission models for viruses attractive to terrorists (like avian influenza, maybe) are much more aggressive.  Social distance becomes an issue, but that’s not a problem just in the gay community.

The cost of covering insurance for HIV (including PrEP and protease inhibitors) could become a hot button problem as Trump’s minions replace Obamacare (in fact, it’s a problem now).  Pence, back in 2000, wanted to slash AIDS funding and support “conversion therapy”, with shallow but curiously pernicious logic “with no heart”.

Lesbians, it should be remembered, actually have fewer sexually transmitted diseases than straight women.  Gender is not always “fair” in nature.

Issue 2: Procreation

I think that historically, most homophobia is centered on the (not completely correct) idea that homosexuals don’t reproduce and strengthen the population.  Resources (maybe more votes) in this theory should go to people responsible for offspring (or maybe adopting children).

The tacky idea was that “homosexuals don’t recruit, so they must recruit”, at least in the mindset of the Westboro Baptist Church.  It also sounds like the mindset in Russia.

Remember, in Russia, sodomy was made legal in 1993, and the 2013 anti-propaganda law was only about talking about it, or “promoting” it.  Vladimir Putin, have promoted “conception days” for a sparsely populated country losing people and its former greatness, is thinking that speech about homosexuality will give less “secure” males (or “waverers”) the idea that having a family with children isn’t worth it, is too much or a personal encumbrance against other goals, a notion that lives at the heart of the culture wars. Volokh (a law professor) takes us this argument in this post.

This may be the most relevant argument in my own life, since I am an only child.  That’s unusual, as gay men tend not to be first-born males (which adds to biological epigenetic theories).  But arguably, I deprived my parents a “lineage” which, in some religious thought, matters for the afterlife.

Issue 3: Relativity and the Observer, or Distraction

One of Einstein’s ideas in his relativity theories was that objects are affected by the observer.  OK, this comes down to the idea that sometimes people don’t like to be stared at, and scoped.  The straight world understands that women don’t like this (maybe Donald Trump doesn’t, judging from his comments to Billy Bush, all that locker room talk).  But men often object to being “evaluated” by other men, too.  I can remember the phrase, back to around 1972, “I don’t notice men’s bods.”  Arguably, straight men who are less than perfect physically don’t like the idea that other men notice how they tack up against potential competition.  If these (heterosexual) men are allowed to keep male physical appearance (compared to female) outside the area of allowable public awareness, weaker men have a better chance of finding female mates.

I documented in DADT-1 that my roommate at William and Mary in 1961  feared he would become impotent if he continued living near me (he put it in more graphic terms).  This sort of thing is what bothered the likes of Sam Nunn and Charles Moskos back in 1993 when Bill Clinton was forced to settle for “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military.

The distraction issue, in less wealthy and less stable societies, is significant because such societies tend to expect men to bond together when necessary to protect women and children in their communities. In recent years, in western countries, this has become less significant socially.  Better educated men generally are not as likely to feel distracted when in an environment in which they know homosexuals are present.  Actually, there was very little or no distraction during the Vietnam era, because of the authoritarian atmosphere, and the fact that when there was draft, people tended to support a double standard, pretending one thing and quietly acknowledging another.  Similarly, the military did not try to discharge gay soldiers once deployed in Iraq because of severe “stop-loss” needs.

So the “distraction” argument tends to wane when there are more pressing problems around.  To an individualist, even an Ayn Rand follower, this sort of argument sounds self-deprecating.  But people who feel this way typically have much more invested in group identity, especially associated with religious beliefs.

There have been films about this kind of problem, like “Rebirth”, which presents a self-help commune that doesn’t allow “spectators” because watchers can criticize people with skin in the game.

Issue 4: Relationism

Traditional marriage (or “complementation”, or even “complementaration”, see comment, Dec. 28 posting) is typically advanced by social conservatives (ranging from Rick Santorum to George Gilder, to the Family Research Council) as involving a certain amount of sacrifice by the man, for access to sexual intercourse (with children), buttressing his identity as a man.  The FRC especially was quick to note that men often show lower testosterone levels when caring for children (although that presumes that the old-fashioned  gender split with stay-at-home moms is breaking down). It used to be a standing joke that men gain weight and develop pot bellies after getting married – become less sexually attractive (go bald, too), having made their one conquest. That doesn’t need to happen, of course, and many times does not.  But it still sets up a curious admission that seems self-deprecating to an individualist.  Indeed, Allan C. Carlson, in “Family Matters” (1989) had written that traditional families would have to deal with or be protected from the “logical implications of radical individualism”.

Indeed, when one has kids, one is “encumbered” in a sense and changes into a new person, and takes on new goals and a new identity.  Well, maybe not always.  Donald Trump didn’t.  But one could be competing with less encumbered childless people who can lowball him in the workplace.

The debate over paid family leave inverts this situation, but so does the fact that childless people can be in a real bind with faced with the demands of eldercare, as I was.

“Relationism” has a lot to do with finding meaning in an intimate or deeply relationship with a dependent, the opposite of “upward affiliation”.  Having a family and becoming a parent the traditional way is the most straightforward way to grow into relational living (that’s Carlson and Mero and “The Natural Family”).  But love within the family needs to branch out, and give the individual the capacity to get beyond his comfort zone in dealing with need interpersonally;  this is an existential change to a sense of identity for a lot of people, myself included.  It does get personal.

Issue 5: Right-sizing

The last issue is the most nebulous, but I had written about this before (Oct. 3).  There is a general understanding that in western culture some inequality is inevitable if people are going to have incentives to innovate, and raise the living standards for everybody.  But there is also an idea that if everybody has to follow the same rules in some sensitive areas (like sexuality), life has more “meaning” for everybody, and wealth and income inequality is more acceptable.  It’s the “everybody else should have to deal with what I have to deal with” idea.  Life isn’t fair, but it’s our best shot.

There is the fear that the elevation of the cultural norm of “husband and father”, for men who otherwise don’t distinguish themselves as individuals, could be diluted.  There’s the idea that gays are “getting out of things” (supporting families) — an idea that the religious right sometimes hijacked early in the AIDS epidemic by calling gays “spoiled sophisticates”. There’s the idea of allowing one’s sexuality to be used for the adaptive needs of the community around you.  There’s the idea that the value of the “less able” can only be ratified within a nuclear “natural” family structure where needs are known on the ground, and where everyone follows the same rules.

It may also have to do with resilience – the idea that a people, if challenged by a serious external calamity, could bounce back, even if individual people in the group accepted the idea of a lot of (otherwise uneven) personal sacrifice.  But this is an odious idea for modern western democracy generally, that we cannot count on our system to be there for us.   This is the moral mindset of much of the doomsday prepper crowd.

Conclusion:

Sexual orientation is not by itself an identity (as much as perhaps gender identity itself is). Male homosexuality, in western culture, is very prone to “upward affiliation” because of the competitive context of individualism (Chapter 7 of DADT-2).  That tends to exacerbate (through a sense of “proxy”) a perception of inequality and unfairness in some contexts and lead to -instability (Chap 6 of DADT-3).  The proxy behavior appearance tempts some authoritarian politicians and religious leaders to focus on homosexuality as some sort of fundamental threat to the long term survival of a group, instead of on personal responsibility in the much narrower sense of liberal culture.  This illusion also contributes to a belief among some traditionally married men that they are doing a good job providing for a family when actually they become vulnerable to loss of emotional investment in their marriages as the couples get older.  And the illusion may cover up some domestic violence by heterosexual men.

If I ponder this along with my own attitudes about the way people become important to me, I can see that a strict moral code, enforced on everyone, can provide an effective “firewall” against obligated to get into personal relationships with people whom you don’t want to make OK, or accepting the idea of having to become dependent on others (not of your choosing) yourself, because of the common hazards we must all share.

I have a correlated post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” blog here.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)