U.S. needs a missile defense against North Korea or rogue states that would approach 100% reliability; nothing less will be acceptable

One of the fundamental issues in personal ethics has to do with facing singularities in life.  We will all die someday, and face something at the end, which could be sudden and random or predictable and prolonged.  But facing sudden violence from an enemy, especially fed by resentment, is especially problematical; for me, pimping victimization just won’t get it.

We generally think about appropriateness of behavior and bearing in terms of playing by the rules of the system, of “democratic capitalism” as it is in the West, given a narrow focus on personal responsibility and transparent consequences, with the expectation that the legal and physical infrastructures will always function with stability as they do now.  People who do well in life legitimately (from any Western or reasonably stable country) generally deal with this personalized moral paradigm well.  But a sizable minority of people (at least in my own social media feeds) talk as if they believe everyone has an obligation that they could start out with nothing and start over in a post-technology world – the doomsday preppers.

While there were scattered kooky publications predicting financial ruin throughout the nineties, most of us suddenly felt we had to deal with the idea of sudden apocalypse after 9/11.  Many asymmetric threats, including small nuclear bombs and dirty bombs, as well as biological weapons, became the subject of widespread speculation.  The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 contributed.  An online preview of a chapter on terrorism in my DADT II book got hacked on April Fools Day, 2002, at exactly the point where I was talking about small nuclear weapons.

Like Dr. Strangelove, we’ve learned to live with all this, and the fear, from my perspective, has receded.  But the scare has returned with the increasing threats from North Korea.  There are two main threats.  The most obvious would be North Korea’s long range ICBM’s actually being able to deliver thermonuclear weapons on US cities.  Off hand, it sounds like this may be more difficult for North Korea to achieve than most reports (and Kim Jong Un’s bravado) suggest but by mid 2019 it would probably be a realistic threat.  But in the meantime, based on scattered reports (including James Woolsey’s) it sounds like North Korea might well be able to detonate an EMP weapon at fairly high altitude, from either a satellite or missile;  this may be easier to do.  Such an event would much more likely be an E1 (from a fission device) than an E3 (fusion, or Carrington solar storms) but it could severely damage the US technological infrastructure and home devices, unless they were shielded. That’s why I disagree with some speculations that North Korea would only use nuclear blasts.

While North Korea has said it would use the weapons only if it felt threatened, it has recently said that all of its nukes are pointed at the US only. (That’s absurd; only the medium or long range ones can reach US territory.)  Since most of North Korea’s people as individuals have almost nothing, Kim Jong Un can play the card of targeting US civilians for personal loss, having everything to lose personally.  This was a common tactic of revolutionary communism in the 60s and 70s (consider the Khmer Rouge, and Patty Hearst, for that matter), long before Al Qaeda brought its own horror to American civilians. I think of this as the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem, in the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, where Scarlet first contemplates that her privileged life could be taken away from her by force during war.  But she gets it back (“I’ll never be hungry again”).  But maybe the rest of us would not be so personally resilient. (Think about a similar scene in the middle of “Cold Mountain”—“I can embroider but I can’t darn!”)

The concern about EMP has been known a long time (a Popular Mechanics magazine issue called attention it a week before 9/11) but concern increased somewhat in 2009 with the publication of Fortschen’s novel “One Second After”, which has yet to make it to film. Ted Koppel’s 2015 “Lights Out” book has reinforced the concern, as has perhaps NBC’s series “Revolution” (which really offers a different explanation for the blackout).  The US has an EMP commission, which was reportedly defunded in October.  As I’ve noted, it’s mostly conservative media outlets which have been willing to talk about this, some of them reporting explicit EMP threats from Kim and reporting that Trump recently has said he understands the threat.  So far, Huffington Post is the only major “liberal” publication to deal with it in detail.

That brings us to the subject of US missile defense.  If in fact NORAD and similar systems could knock down 100% of missiles that North Korea or any future rogue state could fire, the US citizens would not have to take the nuclear threat from Kim personally, as aimed at them out of vengeance.

Mainstream journalistic reports on current capacity are not too encouraging. A Washington Post article Nov. 29 by Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg talk about a GMD system that right now could handle “only” 44 missiles.  (I thought, that’s the maximum number of characters in an IBM mainframe dataset name!)  But the New York Times on Nov. 16 has an article about layered defense by David Sanger and William Broad. PBS News Hour after Thanksgiving gave a more pessimistic assessment.

What, we may ask, happened to Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)  proposal of 1983?  SDI would not have defended against all kinds of threats, but one of the issues was that the very concept contradicted MAD (mutually assured destruction) so it was seen as inappropriate for the traditional Cold War with the Soviet Union and China. But it makes a lot more sense in defending against rogue nations, who also could hire clandestine terrorists (as from Al Qaeda or ISIS).

An effective defense system would have to anticipate submarine launches or possibly from rogue hijacked ships (as seems to happen in “One Second After” and is speculated in Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”).

This brings up my own background.  Early in my career, my background seemed to point to defense, and my second full time job was working coding missile intercept subroutines in FORTRAN (later assembler) at the Naval Command System Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC, from 1971-1972, about nineteen months.  I worked in a four-story building near the river and Water Street which surely has been renovated by now, beyond recognition; but there were no windows inside. One of the systems was called “COMINT” and the results of the simulations were to be used in the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). Perhaps the result of these talks was a scaling back of defensive systems.  But I know from having worked there that the mathematics and theory of how to do everything was quite advanced at the time, 45 years ago.

One reason for my leaving this job and going to Univac in New Jersey in 1972 was the issue of my getting a Top Secret Clearance (I had Secret only) given my pseudo-psychiatric history after my expulsion from William and Mary in the Fall of 1961 (for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean covertly). I would have my programs keypunched (or would punch them myself) and turn in compiles and test shots upstairs at a “production control center”.  Eventually the modules and results would be taken to an “inner sanctum” of other programmers with top secret clearances.  We surely are way beyond all this now.

While in the Army (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 1968), I spent a summer in the Pentagon.  I do remember conversations to the effect that the draft, enhancing conventional capability, were seen as part of psychological nuclear deterrent by enemies (i.e., we could demand some sacrifice by individuals if we had to).  I’ll get more into the “McNamara’s Morons” issue in a book review soon.  But the issue of exposure of civilians to involuntary risk and inequitable sacrifice (the Battle of Britain issue in 1940) was on people’s minds.  We see that today the way we refer to Vietnam-era draft dodging (both Clinton and Trump) by politicians today. I would go to the library and read articles on the impacts of nuclear strikes on various cities (I remember one about St. Louis, and in 1983 the TV movie “The Day After” would show Kansas City in such a situation; or later, “Testament“, showing northern  California residents awaiting radiation sickness after San Francisco gets it). Even then, though, the ability of the US to defend itself with missiles was said to be considerable, following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had unfolded suddenly while I was a pseudo-patient at NIH, and with my daytime student passes, the only one on the ward who understood what was going on.

I also worked three summers (1965 through 1967) at David Taylor Model Basin (near Washington) while finishing graduate work at KU; similarly, it seemed that weapons systems detection systems were really quite advanced then. Although computing has become personalized in a revolutionary way since then (the Internet and social media), the basic command and control hardware and software were intact in the 1960s, when we put a man on the Moon.

So, coming back to where we are with missile defense today, in short, it is not politically controversial to expect missile defense approaching 100%.  Having that capability would take Kim Jong Un’s direct threats to individual Americans (I take them personally) off the table.  Nothing less than that should be acceptable.

It would be necessary to take down missiles even before they enter continental US air space.  Missile tests that result in missiles go beyond Japan out into the Pacific should be shot down.

But, there are those in the world who want to see everyone brought equally low, to start over. That is radicalism 101.  It also relates to nihilism. (The extreme Left wants this to happen to almost everyone, like in North Korea;  the extreme Right wants to waste those whom it deems unfit to live – that’s what Nazism was all about.)  Right now, we have to wonder if we’ll have the world as we know it eighteen months from now.   There are plenty of moralizers on social media who will preach mandatory prepping for everyone;  you don’t know if thirty minutes from now, the lights go out forever.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We need to do the least controversial thing to protect ourselves, and make our missile defense solid.  Maybe then I could personally pay more attention to more localized “identity politics” which seems pretty meaningless right now.

The Libertarian Party had stressed missile defense, while avoiding foreign engagements, back in the 1990s, as Harry Browne had explained in his book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“.  I remember his talking about this at a conference in Manassas VA in May 1996.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018. At 9:30 PM EST)

Are libertarians less social (or sociable) and less empathetic than others?

Recently there has been some research on the psychological aspects of people who believe in libertarian political values, compared to those who follow either conservative or liberal values.

The findings are discussed in a 2012 paper by Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter Ditto, and Jonathan Haidt, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians”,  Plus One link.  The paper was more recently summarized on a site called Righteous Mind.

Libertarian morality is based on the idea of personal harmlessness, and that government should not interfere with people’s use of what they already have as long as it was acquired lawfully.  Libertarians tend to be individualists who value setting and achieving their own goals, rather than joining efforts already set up by others and requiring competing inside a “power structure”.

But both conservatives, in the traditional sense, and liberals believe that people are morally obliged to function socially within groups to meet common goods and serve some needs to support others even if these obligations are not personally chosen. But conservatives tend to see the groups as vertical – extended family, often enveloped by church or some community of faith, and often country (indeed “MAGA”),  Liberals believe the groups need to extend horizontally, to reach out to people in groups very different than one’s own, and liberals are often very concerned about inequality and hidden interdependence and exploitation.  Liberals may sometimes believe that people should get reparative attention based on past group oppression, which can not only lead to “expropriation” but limitations on individual “gratuitous” speech (as with “social media tribalism”, which resist revisiting troubling facts from history out of a fear that bringing things up suggests things are unsettled and justifies resuming group oppression).  Some social problems (like sex trafficking recently) can attract demands for solidarity from both liberals and conservatives, whereas libertarians want to focus only on the direct offenders.  There is a useful term for this kind of socialization, which Charles Murray has used (“Coming Apart”), mainly, eusociality.

In the polarity system of Paul Rosenfels (with the Ninth Street Center in New York from the 1970s to 1990s and later the Paul Rosenfels community) libertarians tend to be the unbalanced personalities (masculine objective or feminine subjective), and traditional religious conservatives or activist liberals tend to be balanced.

Libertarians place more emphasis on logical reasoning and consistency of principles or rules with which difficult controversies are managed.  On the other hand, activists on both the right and left tend to place a lot of emphasis on group identity and solidarity and may become combative to protect their own “tribes”.  Libertarians may not feel as much personal empathy for others with serious adaptive problems unless they have the direct skills or interest to intervene productively on their own terms; they will resist pressure to “join in” or enlist.  I resist “joining a resistance” just because a politician (Trump) is perceived by many as an enemy of the people (as others had said about Obama and Clinton).

Libertarians and individualists are often seen as not caring about real people, or feeling tainted if expected to sacrifice their own sanctity for the good of the team.  Sometimes this tendency spurs combativeness in others, who believe that society is protected (or their groups are saved) only by “rightsizing” individuals and getting individuals to heed established authority (whether or the right or left).   This observation helps explains the intolerance of free speech in many societies like Russia, China and Singapore (as well as, obviously, many Muslim countries). China has attracted attention for planning to rate all individuals for “social engagement” by 2020.

Libertarians would say that they care but only when they can do something about a problem in a way they can chose.  This observation tends to go along with mild autism or asperger’s.  In ABC’s “The Good Doctor”, Shaun Murphy seems distant but obviously still cares about his patients because he really can do the right things for them.  But more often hyper-individualists don’t have the skills to really help people with everyday needs or make a real commitment to it.

James Damore actually tweeted the Righteous Mind story above, and says “my mind works differently”. He saw no reason to question corporate comfort with political correctness with the underlying science, which need not interfere with treating individuals according to their potential in the workplace.

(Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017, at 10:30 PM EST)

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)