Humans belong to groups (more the way dogs do, than cats); the paradox of distributed consciousness and mandatory competition

Okay, one of the moral imperatives I get bombarded with is to join a cause larger than myself.

And, I can’t claim to be part of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation (but neither can many young adults in the not so wild West today).

In fact, as an “unbalanced personality” in the world of the Paul Rosenfels Community (or the Ninth Street Center of the 1970s through 1991) it’s very important to me to follow goals that I choose and develop myself.

That’s one reason why I don’t sign up to brand myself with “other people’s causes” or to enter contests, say selling pies for Food and Friends (instead I buy more than one and use the extras for potlucks).

And I could say I wish I had accomplished more in my life in individual sport – chess, which deteriorated for me somewhat once I became a self-published author and blogger.  (I do admire Magnus Carlsen, but so does Donald Trump, from what I hear.)   In chess, only your own mistakes can beat you.  Giving away the opposition in an endgame isn’t the same thing as hanging a slider as a MLB pitcher.

But, we always belong to something (as Martin Fowler maintained in his 2014 book (“You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging”).  Some of these we don’t have a lot of choice about.  For example the family you are born into, or religion, or nationality, or tribe.

As we become adults we hopefully make progress in choosing our own connections, but we often find that once we do, we need to respect to “social hierarchy” of our new allegiances, however benevolent their intentions at the outset. That’s often hard for me to accept.

But “groups” serve a purpose.  They give individuals support and backup, so they don’t remain accidents waiting to happen. (Marriage does that, of course, which is one reason, as Jonathan Rauch argued in the 1990s, gay marriage became important to LGBTQ people.)  And they give us purposes larger than ourselves.  But, these purposes come at the partial cost of loss of some independence in fine tuning our own beliefs or over-analyzing the logical inconsistences in positions taken by groups to benefit their members.  An expectation that singleton individuals with some privilege (like me) will report to some sort of structured community engagement might be viewed as a major “eusocial” tool against inequality.

In practice, individuals share some of the moral responsibility and consequences, sometimes very personally, of the actions of the groups to which they belong, whether by complete free will or not.

Yet, individuals seem to find some relief in the prospect of a little “distributed consciousness”.  We know this happens in other animals (even dolphins), although the modern idea of IIT or “integrated information theory” may make this hard to see.

Before (like on June 6), I’ve noted that, in the larger space-time sense of modern physics and string theory, after passing of an individual’s life, the information set produced by that life still exists indefinitely.  Is that the basis for a “soul”?  But if there is some sort of distributed consciousness at the group level (even family lineage), does it have access to this information set?

Music may provide a clue to “cosmic consciousness”, more so than visual art (even images of danganonpa dolls) because it requires the brain to span time.  Music seems to provide an alternative outlet for the “emotional body” when it engages the brain in its own logical progressions, from Back to Beethoven to the romantics and moderns.  The controversy over how to end Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony (which of two competing concepts did Bruckner intend for his coda for all his composition?) seems to engage the heart as well as mind.  What, then, to make of the group experience in music like, say, hip-hop on the disco floor, or songs of praise in church, particularly singing the same verse in unison over and over again to get some sort of religious experience.  There are other ways to caste the experience of sound and music, like hemi-sync at the Monroe Institute, which I have not really experienced yet.

There’s one other ancillary point here:  the Paradox of Involuntary Competition. That is, once you join a group, you compete with others in the group for status, even if your purpose was “functionably” communal (Nov. 6)    That could lead the powers-that-be in a group to want to keep it small and exclusive (like those “closed talk groups” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, an interview for which led to a major personal confrontation in October 1974, so shortly soon after I had moved into the Village).  But it’s just as often that the leadership wants the group to be so valuable that everyone else must try to get in and play – the whole “no spectators” problem like in the movie “Rebirth”).  That ultimately can compare to the model particularly for left-wing authoritarianism. There’s a curious analogy to the problems I had in the dorms at William and Mary that fall of 1961. I would have thought at other boys – most of all my roommate – would be relieved that I wouldn’t provide any romantic competition for girl friends .  That general expectation may have been diluted by the fact that at the time the male student body was about twice the female. But the real point was that the less secure boys (about their own “maleness” which does not always equate to masculinity, even in the eyes of Milo Yiannopoulos) wanted me to provide the reassurance that there really is someone (female, of the opposite sex) for everyone, that everyone can have a family linage and live forever however vicariously.

(Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

The shame of speaking only through a heckling mob, if limited to that

Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.

The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men).  The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.

There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany.  The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.

By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism.  The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style).  But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).

You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books.  I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation).  I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified.  In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.

A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back.  Sound familiar?  Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group?  (How about Mike Pence?)

Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech   The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology.  They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality?  I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men)   I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”.  But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race.  Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).

That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion.  The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials.  All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn.  The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).

You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel?  Maybe.  Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel.  But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic).  That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.

A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech.  That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.

In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.

That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way.  I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.

I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s.  I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy).   I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism.  Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat.  The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess.  I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me.  (Short selling?)

But you see where this is heading.  In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised.  I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship.  I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself.  I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example.  (Do the math first.)

Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”.  Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010).  My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be.  But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here.  But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)

I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them.  Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”).  My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now.  They’re my goals;  they don’t need to be anyone else’s.  I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”.  But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.

Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join.  Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left).  Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about).  It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful.  Other’s will tell me, get over it.  Well, you get over it only if you’re on the  “right” (sic) side?  I won’t bargain away my own purposes.

To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice.  They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all.  It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead.  And then there is no funeral.

But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged.  Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me?  Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids).  It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.

(Posted: Monday, October 9, 2017, at 2:30 PM EDT)

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)

Sexual orientation, altruism, and epigenetics: Is this a ruse for “second class citizenship”?

Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”

The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.

The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb.  This is called epigenetics.  It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.

If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated.  There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs).  This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led).  But there may be another reason:  in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes.  A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants.  This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality;  that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post.   O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior.  In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.

So it is in human families.  When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero.  Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past).  But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay.  And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.

My own case is unusual, as I am an only child.  Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).

I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans).  Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”.  That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)

As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people.  For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media.  That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do.  I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate.  That became normal.  Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue;  family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought.  I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way.  When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships.  I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation.  Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.

O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years.  In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.

Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference).  This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice.   Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others.  That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).

So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship.  But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together.  Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example).  O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group.  Biological immutability seems relevant.

On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)

“Stability” really matters, for people who already have capital (earned or inherited)

OK, I am “retired”, and I “depend” on past accumulated wealth, much earned but some inherited, to keep these blogs going because they don’t pay for themselves.  They don’t require much money (or Piketty-style capital) to run in the grand scheme of things, but they depend on stable infrastructure, security, and stable economic and personal circumstances for me.

Yes, stability.  And judging from the “outside world” events of recent weeks, it doesn’t sound like something I can count on as much as I have.

For most of my adult working life, I was very much in command of the possibility for my own mistakes to undo me and possibly end my stable I.T. career (as with bad elevations into production).

But early in my life I was forced to be much more aware of eternal demands by the community I was brought in.  Gender conformity had to do with that.  Then came the military draft and Vietnam.  There was an expectation of eventually having a family even if running a gauntlet that could expose me to some personal fair share of community hazards.  This had much more to do with my own “mental health” problems in the age 19-21 range than I probably realized (including a brush with nihilism in 1964).

It is true, of course, that my employment could be affected by outside business events like mergers and takeovers, but in my case these actually worked out in my favor.  And earlier in my work life I was concerned about staying near a large city (New York) where it would be easier for me to “come out”;  the energy crisis was actually a threat to my mobility, as was potentially NYC’s “drop dead” financial meltdown when I was (finally) living there.

So it is, in retirement.  If you have accumulated wealth, you want the world to be stable so you don’t have to watch your back, and face sudden expropriation because of political deterioration (maybe combined with a natural catastrophe).  You want to believe if you pay your bills, make good choices, and play by the “rules” you will be OK.  And you find people knocking for attention your life, and you have to deal with the knowledge that they didn’t have the situational stability that “you” did.

It’s possible to find one’s life suddenly becomes a political bargaining chip. For example, Congress could try to means-test Social Security recipients (even current one) as part of its debt (and debt ceiling) issue.

I have to say I do have a gut reaction from “extremists”, whether associated with Communism (North Korea) or radical Islam, who make threats that sound personal, as if they saw someone like me as a personal enemy.  I do understand the racial contact, that some people will take statements (hate speech) made on the alt-right that way, also. But combativeness has become a problem that I had not anticipated throughout most of my working life.

It is true, also, that the most extreme scenarios from foreign enemies could reduce me personally to nothing.  The conservative Weekly Standard, after 9/11, liked to use the term, being “brought low” because of the resentment of others.  In the North Korean threat, there are many nuances.  The right wing talks about EMP, and the major media refuses to mention it.  It could become a real threat, but my own probing of the utility world suggests it is making some progress in making transformers less vulnerable (to “E3” threats, also posed by extreme solar storms).  (The power companies won’t say exactly what they are doing, for good security reasons.)  Personal electronics, cars, and data can face threats from a different mechanism (“E1”) which actually might be easier for an enemy (including retaliation by the DPRK) to pull off.  This is a developing topic that the major media just doesn’t want to cover yet (outside of cyberwar, which is better known, as with the psychological warfare implications of the Sony hack).

I have to say, too, that for one’s life to come to an end out of political expropriation or violence is particularly ugly.  I was privileged enough to avoid Vietnam combat, and I was “safe” enough not to get HIV, which previously could have been the most dangerous threats I faced.  I was economically stable for my entire work career, which sometime after 9/11.  I did have some family cushion.

The basic reaction from most people is to “belong” to something bigger than the self.  I think all this relates to “the afterlife” and I won’t get into that further right here. In retirement, I’ve had to deal with constant reminders of how narrow my capacity for personal intimacy can be, even if it can be intense in the right circumstances.  Yes, now I have to throw the “psychological defenses” (Rosenfels) to maintain my personal independence and stop being dragged into the causes as others.  Solidarity alone seems rather alien to me, even if I can’t count on affording that kind of attitude forever.

Again, as to the “belonging” idea, throughout history, individuals have suffered because of the actions of their leadership.  In Biblical times, it was considered morally appropriate that all members of a tribe be punished together for “disobedience” (to “Jehovah”).  In modern times, it’s the “everybody gets detention for the sins of one in middle school” problem,

I want to reemphasize my intention so see all my own media initiatives through.  That includes getting a novel out in early 2018, trying to market a screenplay, getting some of my music (written over 50 years, some of it embedded in two big sonatas) performed.  The best chance to make some of this pay for itself would be to get some (perhaps conservative) news outlets interested in some of my blog content, especially in undercovered areas (power grid security, filial responsibility laws, downstream liability protections in online speech scenarios including copyright, defamation, and implicit content (which can include criminal misuse like trafficking).  The intention is to help solve problems in non-partisan manners away from the bundled demands common with “identity politics”.

I tend not to respond to demands for mass “solidarity” with so many other causes, and I usually am not willing to “pimp” someone else’s causes as my own.  But I realize I could be riding on partially unearned privilege, which can become dangerous.  Indeed, having inherited wealth subsumes a responsibility to address needs as they arise;  to ignore them would be tantamount to stealing. I tend to think that helping others is easier if you are in a relationship or have had kids (that became an issue when I was working as a substitute teacher).  I think there can be situations where one has to be prepared to accept others as dependents and “play family” (and this often happens in estate and inheritance situations anyway, although it did not specifically in my own situation). We saw this idea in films like “Raising Helen” and in the TV series “Summerland”.

I’ll mention that it looks like I’m selling the estate house and moving out in October. That would remove the hosting opportunities for now; but, after downsizing, it could make other volunteering much easier and even open up the possibility of volunteer travel (although I need to stay “connected” at all times when traveling as it is now).

I have to add that taking on dependents grates against complacency. It means more willingness to sell other people’s messages rather than on sticking to your own.  Our culture has developed a certain split personality: resistance to sales people or middlemen and to being contacted by cold calls (the robocall and cold call problem), yet an expectation of voluntary personal generosity and inclusivity online.

The sudden announcement of the intended termination of DACA is a good example of how instability affects those less fortunate. Although I really believe Congress will fix it in the required six months, today “dreamers” would have to deal with employers or schools who are uncertain as to what their legal status might be in less than a year.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017, at 7 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)

 

 

 

Is it “morally” wrong to exercise racial or other physical preferences in your own personal life when seeking intimate partners? Political correctness in dating? It’s not just about apps

OK, as a 70+ year old man, I don’t use dating apps anyway.  But recently I’ve seen some articles online equating limiting race when using apps for personal dating as “racism”.  Really it goes way beyond just race.  For example, it used to be common to see “no fats, no fems” in print ads for dating.

One article I saw a couple months ago by Samantha Allen on the Daily Beast, “’No Blacks’ is not a sexual preference; It’s racism”.   And very recently, Donovan Trott opined “An Open Letter to Gay, White Men: No, You’e not allowed to have a racial preference”.    Milo Yiannopolous would dive right into this one on his new site here.

Superficially, if a dating app were a “public accommodation”, this would make sense.  I am reminded how things were around 1970, when I was living in Princeton NJ (having started my first job) and contemplated joining a singles social club (before my “second coming”).  One club had no shame in saying it was for “Whites only” because “Blacks have their own clubs”, like on “Amos ‘n’ Andy”.  (Loving had already come from the Supreme Court.)

Trott’s article does indeed become a head trip. The heart of his argument seems to be “If your preference for  partner supports an existing racial hierarchy which marginalizes minorities, then your preferences are racist.”

I can rationalize my own actions somewhat by saying, I don’t even state preferences on a commercial site, perhaps; but I do go to gay bars and discos, although less than I used to. Consider Peter Laarman’s essay in the LA Progressive, “When a Pride march means owning the shame of racial and economic justice”.   There is discussion of the idea that some gay bars and discos seem to cater to white cis gay men.

As a practical matter, the gay bars I have visited recently in Washington, New York, and Rehoboth seem to have plenty of women, plenty of non-white men, and plenty of older people who don’t fit anyone’s   stereotype of perfection.   Some establishments do have a higher non-white clientele than others, and some have specific events and shows intended to attract sub-minorities, other have these less often.

I’ve even noticed a behavioral change. I may be standing “watching” (or “spectating” which can mean mentally “criticizing”) certain men who may be closer to my own tastes dancing.  Often, a minority person, especially a female, will notice and ask me to dance.  Sometimes I don’t want to be distracted, and the other person becomes angry.

Now I’ve explained “what makes me tick” in my books (especially DADT III, Chapter 2) and other sites as here (also June 25, 2014; the WordPress category “upward affiliation and complementarity” explains this whole psychological area).  One important idea was that, when I was growing up, women were encouraged to be valued for external beauty and men were not.  Another biological observation, where race matters, is that among Caucasian men, the relative amount and distribution of body hair can “distinguish” men from one another (when visible to women, as a part-object of symbolic marker for reproductive fitness and likelihood of more children), but that is not so very much among non-white races.  Like it or not, environment (that is, evolving in colder and less sunny climates) has led to genetic adaptations that eventually mediate sexual attractiveness within certain populations.  On the other hand, intermarriage and having mixed-race children probably means fewer genetic diseases and quicker evolution of the strongest traits (indeed an argument against “erotic racism”).  But personal tastes in potential partners becomes a very personal matter indeed.  Even so, in today’s world, there is “no double life” anymore, and when someone like me makes himself visible online, then his behavior regarding potential dates and partners (even at a fantasy level, as I had to deal with a NIH in 1962 after my William and Mary expulsion) might be viewed as having an effect on others.  In DADT III, I called all this “my alien’s view of anthropology”.

All of this has a bearing on the salability of my novel draft (“Alien’s Brother”) and DADT screenplay (“Epiphany”). In both there are major gay male characters, and how well certain characters fit into a preconceived idea of being “Desirable” (to quote a buzzword from my days at Fort Eustis in 1969) does affect how they turn out.  It does seem that the cis males win out in the end.  (Were a movie to be made, I can imagine questions about “casting diversity”, because interchangeability doesn’t work for a few characters.)   In more recent years, I’ve gotten subtle (or not so subtle) suggestions about joining the parade of pimping gender fluidity because it would make me popular and sell books, but I cannot bring myself to do that. That is simply not what I believe.  Twenty years ago (when DAT-1 came out, in 1997), nobody would have challenged me this way, as far as my own creative output is concerned.  Indeed, there is no double life anymore, not even in make-believe.

(Posted: Monday, June 26, 2017 at 5:45 PM EDT)

Does distributed consciousness really exist with humans? If so, that matters

We often hear loose allegations in the literature about “distributed consciousness” among some animals. In different contexts, we may hear the term used about social insects (bee and ant colonies), siphonophores (like the Portuguese Man-o-War), all the way to mammals who live in social groups.  Orcas (the film “Blackfish“) are said to experience a “distributed sense of self”.

I wonder about the same idea for human society.  Is an extended family, a tribe, a clan, or small nation in some sense conscious?  Authoritarian leaders (whether religious, as in the Islamic world, or secular, as with Vladimir Putin) sometimes talk this way.

One paper that caught my attention recently was a British paper by Johnathan CW Edwards from University College, London.  The paper proposes that every cell in your body has a “copy” or image of your consciousness (rather like every computer in a network having a copy of everything in a network cloud, and constantly refreshing it, rather like the inverse of a product like Carbonite or iCloud).  But the sentience that you experience as “you” has something to do with the “binding” of all of these copies back.  As individual cells dies, other new cells can download the copies.  He then goes on to a long discussion of “the binding problem”.   (Along these lines, the “consciousness” of cephalopods like the octopus (Atlantic; NY Times) becomes interesting to compare with that of a mammal like me;  there is also research that animals like crows don’t need a cerebral cortex like ours to be very smart and sentient.)  Even plants are said to have cellular consciousness (I once saw how a wild grape vine can attach itself to my own cable line, and PBS Nature has a series “Plants Behaving Badly“.)

Parts of the human body sometimes seem to have their own identities — involuntary muscles, twitches, reflexes, and “muscle memory” of events. That would really be strong in a decentralized animal like the octopus.

There seems to exist a loose idea, that if individuals having consciousness (uploading to sentience) bond together with enough solidarity, the larger group will take on sentience of its own.  This idea has certainly been explored in science fiction, like Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”, a big miniseries at the end of 2015.  It isn’t hard to see that this idea can appeal to collectivistic or authoritarian politicians and theologians.

What could go into such “binding” of a group consciousness?  The most obvious element would be the common DNA (nuclear and even mitochondrial) of extended families.  Do some wild animals sense this?  In a pride, the alpha-male lion sometimes kills the cubs of rival males so his own genes propagate, as if he were competing for his own group-uploaded vicarious immortality.  With a little thought, you can see how this could feed homophobia.  I am an only child.  You can imagine what my parents could have though in the fall of 1961 when they learned from a college dean that I had said I am gay.  The idea of “loyalty to blood” came out in an unusual way in an episode of the 2003 series “Jake 2.0”, about a young man accidentally “infected” with nanobots and getting superpowers.

But people in religious, spiritual or meditation practices often deny that blood lineage matters all that much, saying there are many other ways to develop connections to people, that survive mortality. Much of this practice seems to have to do with the willingness to disband old limitations on the ability to love and perceive people in terms of pre-learned physical standards of appearance.  I do see, sometimes in social media, calls to openness to connections to people in need (or who have had permanent losses, sometimes caused by the violence of others), that would not have been contemplated in the more restrictive and socially conservative culture in which I grew up in the 50s and early 60s.  In my day, there was more an attitude of “it is what it is”, and “what you see is what you get”.

In conjunction with a view of afterlife that I discussed  June 6, it seems that strong connections with others in groups while living may be the only way you own “microverse” can keep up after you’re “gone”.  So there may be something at stake when whole groups or families are destroyed.  The “souls” of those who have gone will no longer have others to keep up with.  Maybe this idea does feed some religious fundamentalism, and the idea that what others do really does matter for your own collective “eternity”.

How do you become “connected” to a group?  I can think of perhaps silly examples.  One is rooting for a professional sports team and feeling let down when the team blows a won game (because of a weak bullpen in baseball – the Washington Nationals).  The only thing I can do about it is to start playing chess more again and hold on to my own endgames.

But more challenging are the calls to give up one’s own internal crutches in personal fantasy(as a legacy of my days at NIH in 1962).  The “Tribunals” that I skipped out on that lost fall semester at William and Mary in the fall of 1961 provides one example.  Sitting in the barber’s chair for “Be Brave and Shave” sessions for cancer patients, rather than just filming other people stepping up to it, could provide another example.  I remember that buzz cut the first morning of Basic Training at Fort Jackson in 1968, and the idea of “unit cohesion” as explored in the film “The Strange History of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’”. It does sound like sometimes one is called upon to suspend the old sense of individual self, with all its external trappings, because not of these are permanent anyway.

Indeed, I do appreciate different senses of myself at different times, in dreams, before getting up in the morning, and once involved with the activities of the day, where the momentum of my established drives and initiatives take over.  Yet, maybe we all have the feeling sometimes, “Why am I still doing this?”  The next little brain fix, whether eusocial (a Nationals win without blowing a lead in the ninth), or individual (a chess win, after your opponent blunders and give you the opposition in a king-and-pawn ending), or fantasy-based (the hidden arousal when an icon from my life shows up in shorts at church on Sunday morning, as if to show off a standard of physical perfection for everyone else to follow – “I’m the ocelot without clay feet”) – all of these invoke variations of the former self that can become blurred or lost by absorption into the consciousness of the group.

I’m left with the question, can I become someone other than who I am?  Stay tuned.

(Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017, at 12 noon EDT)