In early April 2005, I drove down (dodging a tornado on I-95) to Richmond (from Arlington) for an Equality Virginia dinner, My mother, who was still quite intact at 91, warned, “don’t let yourself show up on television.”
I had returned from Minnesota in late 2003, and was “living at home” again. She had read my first book and somewhat vaguely understood my long term involvement with the issue of gays in the military, and the gradual effort to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell”. That phrase seems to map what this post is about as a meta-moniker. Mother had sometimes said I should never mention “William and Mary” (my 1961 expulsion for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean, as I cover in my books and other posts), as if it would only become a source of tension and discomfort for others (not so much the political controversy itself). I can understand her practical concerns, as I was working as a substitute teacher already, and I’ve already covered how that could blow up. (see July 19 piece).
At one point in conversation surrounding this Richmond trip, she asked, why people should get bad news about national issues from me? I’ve gotten that sentiment before on social media, from people who says they want Facebook now to be a “politics free zone” and they don’t need to learn of the latest danger they face from international enemies from someone like me.
Ironically, my mother did not fully understand what I was doing in her own basement on my Dell computer on that little aluminum table. That is, making lots of posts to my legacy “doaskdotell” site (essentially blogging) and being found passively by search engines, needing no employees and needing no capital to keep publishing. Google took care of everything. “It’s free.”
What have I “accomplished”? I started this process, in modern times, on the way I argued the issue of gays in the military. But other issues concerning hyperindividualism (the necessity and dangers of ego) circulated around this one kernel until I was opining on almost everything. It was a superstorm Sandy of argumentation, an accretion disk. I attracted visitors for what I was saying, with very simple technology, only getting around to make it look better (on blogging platforms) around 2006. My arguments became known and I think influenced debate (especially on DADT, even helping lead to the 2010 repeal act) even if my name did not (which might have been a good thing). I tended to focus on moral arguments centered on personal karma, and obstructed more traditional thinking based on victimization and identity politics.
But, one asks, who was I, of all people, to be in a position to influence others, when I did not have my own “skin in the game”? I did not have children. I had arguably some subtle disability as a boy but I, compared to other people, had been sheltered somewhat by the relative prosperity and stability of my generation (even as it was threatened by issues by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and Vietnam war). I come back at you, and say, you need to know the history. You need to know the dangers ahead by looking at what happened in the past, from a very personal, street level which my narrative provide. An unusually important part of this history has to do with conscription and sharing of mandatory risk taking, and the social and personal resilience needed with it.
So, in the books and blog postings, I did accumulate a treasure trove of history that is often overlooked, that today’s and future generations really need to get.
This could be called “amateur speech” or “gratuitous speech”. But continuing it became my “second career”, as it had started in the mid 1990s with my developing my first book, and then took over after my (post 9/11) “layoff” at the end of 2001.
It became difficult to pursue anything else while I was “living at home” again. My “best” job was substitute teacher, but there were potential conflicts (link ). The jobs available could be menial and regimented, and perhaps dangerous (convenience store clerks are exposed to crime), invoking questions about cowardice (as the idea used to be understood), or they could involve hucksterism. Most of the better paying jobs involved “marketeering”, aggressively trolling other people to go get them to buy things (whether life insurance, or tax preparation). Suddenly, having become the “alien observer” and cataloger – something more honorable than just “spectator” or “watcher” – traditional selling was no longer acceptable. (This fits into the material in the book “Men Without Work” by Nicholas Eberstadt, which I will review soon.)
Now, we have a president elect Trump, taking office January 20, who seems hostile to dependence on individualized communications technology, to exactly the kind of thing I did. I’ve covered this before in various posts, but I would add that Trump could reasonably ask, does this kind of activity support families or put people to work? Does it carry it’s own weight? Could it be underwritten for liability insurance? (I have to add another complaint I get from unwanted solicitations: something like, “How dare you give your stuff away for free and not try to sell your books aggressively, and help people in bookstores keep their jobs?”) Because use of such an open communications infrastructure does open the world up to dangers from abusers, ranging from cyberbullies to sex traffickers to terror (ISIS) recruiting. And American civilians, he could argue, have become targets of foreign enemies as a result. (Pulse-Orlando is the most egregious example.) So this kind of activity could be dialed down or shut down, based on some idea that we are “at war” when domestic civilians can become targets. It’s unclear how First Amendment arguments would apply once it got into court.
So I do think the future poses real “threats” to the curtailment of Internet expression as we have become used to it. The ways this could happen are numerous, each one of them like a screenplay script. A lot of it has to do with Section 230, which works in different ways for different providers (telecom companies, publication service providers, social networks, forums, and shared web hosting companies, and even shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, and even advertising bulletin boards like Craigslist and Backpage). But a lot of it has to do, more indirectly (even with issues like ending net neutrality), with the business models of major publicly held telecom and Internet companies today. Many of these models are based on end-users clicking on and buying products online from ads. Because of security concerns, many users are much less willing to do this than a decade ago, myself included. I do notice ads sometimes on sites but rarely click on them; if I’m interested, I go to the original site of the company. I tend to buy a lot from Amazon and use physical stores much less than I did. So my own behavior is an example of the “business model” problem. I don’t play ball, with or through “groups” that I naturally should belong to.
So, it’s fair to ask, “What if?….” I know that was a phrase du jour during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. But what if the right to post online or self-publish “without gatekeepers” was indeed taken away? (even out of emergency concerns over national security, as after a major terror incident).
What else have I got? I’ve got an engaging novel project, screenplay based on the three DADT books and music composition . But in this older world of needing third parties, I would need to raise real money. Maybe Kickstarter or Indiegogo could go somewhere, but I don’t have the material that’s obviously “popular”, even with minorities, at the get-go. As it stands now, I need the visibility of unsupervised self-publishing to make my work known. I still think that’s reasonably effective. One little bit of feedback I’ve discovered in the music area: established composers (of which I am not) have to make a living off of commissions. Conceivably my activity could disrupt that expectation, although that seems a little far-fetched.
So then there would be the constructive idea of working for or with a legitimate news outlet. One immediate problem is that Trump seems to dislike conventional media companies (except Fox and Breitbart and probably OAN) even more than amateurs who criticize. In fact, it’s even imaginable that he would “protect” amateurs (like me or even “Milo”) out of his dislike of traditional media. So it’s very hard to predict what the environment could be like for smaller media companies after a shakeout. But I can definitely imagine working with a company like Vox or OAN (ranging from progressive and somewhat liberal to somewhat conservative). As I look at Breitbart right now, I don’t find it objectionable. Most of the stuff I see there looks like it needs to be reported and said, and it looks credible (now – I can’t speak for the past).
Recently, Bill Moyers, of PBS, listed “10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow”, including BuzzFeed. Yes, I would be glad to look at any of these. Let me add that I worked for NBC (on the general ledger system as a computer programmer at 30 Rock from 1974-1977) and I would work there again. I know some folks at NBCWashington and at WJLA-7 (ABC).
So then, we ask, what about my old career as an individual contributor in information technology. That somewhat died with disuse after 2001. The IT career resume is here. One observation that seems relevant is that the exit from the job markets of older IT professionals from established pre-Internet mainframe “culture” (systems development life cycle) denied contracting companies hiring to design and implement “Obamacare” the talent it needed. That’s one reasons for there being so many problems. Maybe the GOP plans could actually cover everyone and be simpler to run. But it is entirely conceivable that I could come back to work and help “you” build a system that actually works.
But now I’ve got to get back to my concern over personal “right-sizing”. I want to share how I personally process the reactions I get from people. A couple of earlier posts (especially Jan. 4 and Nov. 1) explain how people reacted to the perceived endpoint of my homosexuality. I think I can work through what others think of my “self-broadcast” model in a similar well.
One point at the outset is that a lot of time, personal life plans are flawed but seem right (even for decades at a stretch) until some external pressure makes one reassess. Sometimes actual coercion and force, as objectionable as it seems to libertarians, is a good thing. Sometimes authoritarians do us a favor by making us face things. But we may not be able to make others face things in turn. But “revolutionary thought” or “purification” does have its points. It’s also true that we can think that we our captains of our own ships for a long time, following the narrower individualistic ideas of “personal responsibility” — and find out how horrible it feels when we have made combative enemies determined to shut us down.
The most noticeable reaction from others during the 2003-2010 period, and even since, has been that others try to get me to sell things. I want to see myself as “above” having to do that, troll people to contact them. But others can say, that is exactly the problem. Salesmanship, for its own sake, has gotten a bad rap because too many people like me have been artificially sheltered from having to do it. My own father was a salesman, but worked “only” as a wholesaler (manufacturer’s representative) with bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, in a world that Trump misses. All of his income (which was substantial) came from commissions. Many of my parents’ social friends worked in this circle, for example, as life insurance agents. My father believed in salesmanship for its own sake and exuded some authoritarian values. Because I said it, I can make it true.
Think, then, about the aggressive attitude from my own cooperative book publishers since early 2012. I get pestered about why I don’t sell hardcopy books and try to go on tours and do hotel seminars. My reaction is, I’m a journalist, I’m not trying to fix your “f—ing” life or make you all right. (Well, Milo Yiannopoulos says that.)
Then I get critiques that I don’t really support anybody or my “brothers and sisters”. I don’t attack people (or any group), but I do attack identity politics and pimping victimization. (I’m more civil than Milo.)
One way to make media sell is to promote causes that are popular, or to personally support people that seem to have “need”. It’s unclear in some cases (in the minds of others) whether people are to be supported because they belong to a group (“people of color”, “people with disabilities”, etc) or because of their own narrative circumstances.
This is a sensitive issue with me. I am not comfortable with promoting someone (with whom I otherwise had not personal connection) with an impairment of any kind just to show that I can do it. I could even call it “disability porn”. But it has become not only socially acceptable, it is becoming expected in some areas of social media, and it is viewed as a way to “sell”. This is indeed a culture shift from how things were when I was growing up.
Yet, my saying this betrays a certain underlying character issue. I view people from the lens of “you are what you are.” “Que sera, sera”. My father once said, in December 1961 after “therapy” had started after the William and Mary fiasco (pre-NIH) that the psychiatrist had said “You don’t see people as people” but as symbols or “foils” (especially the character Tovina in one of my scripts, according one friend.) It’s as if people got “grades” in life (or “life points”, or transcendence of an otherwise “assigned station in life”) that uniquely raked them in specific position with respect to everyone else – harking to a day when school grades were legal tender. In a sense, this is just a mathematical idea (called “well-ordered sets” ) and sounds like the individualistic idea of meritocracy, a notion coming under criticism from leftish professors in recent years (as with several book reviews, here ).
I think I would have to face a curious loop of logic, that all this means that “meritocracy” relates to my own desire to experience pleasure and desire in an intimate relationship with someone. It (equating merit to “virtue”) adds “meaning”. This certainly common with the “upward affiliation” in the gay male world, but it really happens a lot in the mainstream straight world, too.
Likewise, my gut reaction to the notion of becoming “victimized” by either enemy (terrorist) or criminal aggression or by some very hostile policy change from the new administration (especially inasmuch as the election results are viewed as the results of the wrongdoing or “sins” of others), is one of revulsion and disgust. I cringe when I see leftist websites beg for money, and claim that I need them to speak for me, as if I were too much of a “loser” to be able to speak for myself. I hate the idea of supporting someone else who I otherwise would disapprove of, in order to get “protection” myself. But I have no right to claim that I am above that. Having spoken out with self-broadcast, I find people come knocking, and when I don’t respond, they see what I call neutrality as actual broad personal contempt or even hatred.
There is, as I said in my DADT-III book, Chapter 6, a moral question about “stepping up” to meet the needs of others when one is able to do so out of more inherited privilege, and a failure to do so when challenged adds to instability. Lately I have been blogging a lot about issues centered on not just refugees, but particularly asylum seekers, particularly in some cases LGBTQ. Because I inherited a house with some room and some capital with it, it seems to me I would have a duty to act on the need for housing if possible. I’m also finding, so far, that assessing the risk involved is difficult because of lack of transparency on the issue, in the legal and social services system. The U.S. does not have a system (compared to Canada, for example) that would encourage individuals to step up to this challenge without possibly existential personal risk, and yet such risks have existed in many other areas (like the draft in the past).
One has to consider how life goes on if he plays “Good Samaritan”, so to speak, and something goes bad. He – or I – winds up paying for the sins of others, but that could be coming to me because of my own karma. Whatever happens, at an individual level, “it Is what it is”, the supreme tautology (Nov. 6 posting). I am told that a “person of faith” can always deal with this (the idea of taking someone else’s bullet, as if in the Secret Service). But one can emulate the “Rich Young Ruler” by simply having too much to lose. What others see as excess becomes part of the self. At the same time, the self does not see intrinsic emotional value if lifting others up, possibly because of spoilage and lack of down-to-earth common sense and skills (or “street smarts”), or perhaps of schizoid emotional aloofness, all tied in to the “upward affiliation” already mentioned. If I were confronted with the possibility of a personal relationship with someone “in need” by external circumstances (that is, not through creating a child in the conventional family), would it “mean” enough to me? “All lives matter”, indeed.
There is a lot of sentiment out there that preoccupation with “being good” (as a David Brooks or a a Malcolm Gladwell would see it) is simply a way to maintain a belief that you are “better” than the people you “help”. That’s particularly expressed in a recent book “No More Heroes” by Jordan Flaherty (see meritocracy link above). The desired moral paradigm is to belong, particularly to a cause beyond oneself (as in Martin Clay Fowler’s book “A Philosophy of Belonging”) and accept that the group is part of you. That extends to belonging to mass movements, as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”. Other animals experience distributed consciousness (such as dolphins and especially orcas ). Maybe the killer whale really gets right-sizing.
(Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 4 PM EST)