Does Christianity demand communism or at least socialism?

Here’s an arresting opinion in the Sunday New York Times, Review, Nov. 4, p. 4, “Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?”, by David Bentley Hart, a Notre Dame fellow (Richard Harmon’s fighting Irish) and author of “The New Testament: A Translation”.

Pastor David Ensign at the Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA has in the past talked about the hyper-socialism of early Christianity. It was not a political mass movement in the sense of more modern history, as this was not possible then.  It was more a refuge, a passage from one trying circumstance to the next world.  It was like living on a spaceship. One wonders if this comports with the idea of a science fiction writer describing an advanced civilization without the presence of currency or money (a strictly human invention as far as we know, most of all block chains and bitcoin, which might indeed be “universal”).  At the end, Hart admits that modern civilization is impossible without the idea of property, at least personal property.

Hart discusses the idea “koinon”, or common, and one’s life in koinonia, literally expected to become a koinonikoi, a member of a hive.  Accumulated wealth is viewed as having been stolen from the labor of others, the ultimate surrender to the ideology of some sort of Marxism, and maybe the whole ide of the “New Man”, as recently explored by the Cato Institute Oct. 16 in the forum, “Terror, Propaganda, and the Birth of the ‘New Man’; Experiences from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union.”

I’ve seen a little of this by visiting a couple of intentional communities, especially “Twin Oaks” in central Virginia in early April 2012  (report).

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

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)

North Korea is changing the state of play

My own perception of the greatest external threats to “my world” seems fickle and to change over time, sometimes suddenly.

When I was writing and editing my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book in the mid 1990s (July 11, 2011 will be the 20th anniversary of publication) and building my arguments about how to lift the ban on gays in the military, I perceived another war in Korea as the most likely threat.  At the time, I was not really aware of the potentially grave threat to the homeland that radical Islam (then in the form of Al Qaeda) could pose, as 9/11 was still several years out.  I had been aware of the economic consequences of oil embargos since the 1970s, but that threat had receded with the oil gluts of the late 80s (with a real estate recession in Texas, where I had been living).

Indeed, until 9/11, I still believed Communism, or post-Communism (which North Korea exemplifies, although with a bizarre royal history) the biggest threat.  And, indeed, where the biggest threat within Communism lay had changed with time.  I remember a day at the Reception Station in US Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson SC in early 1968 where soldiers were saying it was much safer to go to Korea than to Vietnam.  At that time, it was.  It would not be now, as Korea is a flash point (with the whole of South Korea held hostage), whereas Vietnam is a more or less acceptable country. (I wouldn’t move there, but Anthony Bourdain had a good time there on his “Parts Unknown”.)  And although the Vietnam War got discredited with time, in the middle 1960s the “Domino Theory” to which President Johnson subscribed (and which Nixon had to solve by a fractured “peace with honor”) seemed credible enough to many of us, leading to the 1965 documentary “The War Game”.  Much of the argumentation in my first book regarding the military gay ban (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) referred back to earlier controversies over the male-only military draft and the possibility of “getting out of things” (as my own mother’s moral language put it) with student deferments.  It turned out, over time, that this unusual argument would be more effective than many people (who had forgotten the draft) expected  Discussions of resuming the draft (partly at the instigation of Charles Moskos) ignited again after 9/11.  They still go on, with a recent proposal to include women in Selective Service registration.

How serious is the threat to “average Americans”?  I’ve put together a few links in mainstream sources that analyze the risks and policy choices.

A few general observations are in order. One is that there is still some residual controversy over whether the July 4 test represented a true ICBM or an intermediate range device. But the best intelligence suggests that the missile comprised two stages, with the upper stage a new design.  ICBM’s have two to four stages.  Another observation is that North Korea is making much faster progress with missile technology than had been expected even a yea ago.  Still, DPRK would face tremendous challenges guiding a missile all the way to the continental US (as Tom Foreman has explained on CNN). And the DPRK does have nuclear weapons, but miniaturizing them to fit on ICBM’s will still be a major feat.  Still, the acceleration of DPRK’s progress is alarming.  It sounds conceivable that an ICBM nuclear threat to the US west coast could exist as early as 2019.  It’s not clear from media reports (and from classification of information) just how effective NORAD would be at stopping a missile, although there have been successful defensive tests recently.

In the meantime, North Korea can hold civilians in South Korea and even Japan hostage with its current weaponry.

North Korea’s motive is said to provide a deterrent from American attempts to upend the regime of Kim Song Un, who (like his father) is well aware of what happened to Qadaffi and Saddam Hussein.  Fox News may well call North Korea a mob state (“mobocracy”) that will do anything to survive as a mob family. But Un seems particularly sensitive to personal insults (as is Donald Trump, ironically).  There is evidence of the DPRK’s engagement of computer hackers (sending its own prime to school for this) even to punish western private companies like Sony Pictures (“The Interview”).  Could this extend to western private citizens?  Could he throw a tantrum and release a missile over an insult, despite his desire to “survive” obvious retaliation?

There is still another disturbing wrinkle.  Wednesday night, July 5, former CIA director James Woolsey appeared on Don Lemon’s show on CNN at 10 PM EDT and reiterated his claim that North Korea can launch an EMP attack against the US now from a satellite and has been able to do so since 2013.  Woolsey said that Trump is naïve about the real threat at that the ICBM issue really is superfluous.   I had covered this grim possibility in a posting here March 7.  Many other authorities consider this claim largely discredited, however.

Anthony Cordesman, however, this morning suggested on CNN that Trump could consider a limited military strike including an EMP attack on North Korea (which does not require nuclear weapons for more local effects).  But if North Korea has EMP attack capabilities from a satellite now, wouldn’t that invite an EMP attack on the U.S., as catastrophic retaliation (“One Second After”).  DPRK could even retaliate this way to a private insult (the Warmbier tragedy is indeed a dire warning).  I have no idea whether NORAD can disable or remove a hostile foreign satellite.

Of course, all of this brings up the question of civilian disaster preparedness and even “radical hospitality”.  I see a lot of material from doomsday preppers on Facebook all the time, on topics ranging from “bug-out” locations to sewing skills (especially from “Survival Mom”).  I’m personally an existentialist when it comes to these matters, and I won’t get further into the personal moralizing today.  I do think an issue like this calls into question a kind of “rich young ruler problem”, about putting all of one’s own life into orderly civilization and depending on it.

But another question comes up, why does an amateur blogger like me even dare to touch a subject like this.  Blogs are supposed to help people with specifics, so says Blogtyrant.  A lot of people see this kind of posting as rude, because most people believe they can’t do anything about external global catastrophes anyway (although they will march in climate change demonstrations, before returning to their identity politics).  My own life as an individual, however, has always been on the precipice of being affected by major events.  True, it may be related to my aversion to unwelcome personal interdependence.  More about that later.

I do think there are a few issues where the media has totally missed the boat, and not out of desire to spread fake news or support political correctness.  Power grid security is one of the biggest of the issues, and the conservative media companies (like Sinclair Broadcasting) seem closer to covering it right.

New York Times:  Surgical strike; Tough action; Five blunt truths

CNN

Vox:  Missile test explainedFive ways to spin out of control; North Korea history

CSIS Cordesman

(There are more links on March 7 posting and comments.)

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

To “make America great again” we may have to learn to respect salesmanship (again)

Have we forgotten how to sell to each other?

I sometimes wonder that as I refuse to answer robocalls, mark email as spam, and post no solicitations on the front door.  I don’t like to be interrupted when “working”.

I don’t need more auto warranties (they’re more dependable from your dealer), and I don’t need sudden travel deals (although I could imagine that some week I might).  I don’t need SEO services, and I don’t need Windows drivers from third parties advertising on YouTube.  I don’t need to replace my Medicare (and AARP supplemental) with Medicare Advantage, although I do wonder if TrumpCare or RyanCare could change that.

Yet, for 14 months while living in Minneapolis, after my career had its cardiac arrest at the end o 2001, I worked for the Minnesota Orchestra, calling for contributions to the Young People’s Concerts.  This was slightly post 9/11, but people would answer the phone then, do pledges, and even “blue money on credit”.  The non-profit word for this activity was “development”.

After coming back to DC, I worked for a company selling National Symphony subscriptions, but suddenly quit when a call recipient threatened me with arrest for calling after the 9:00 PM statutory curfew.  I will not tolerate employers’ expecting me to break the law. I could afford to enforce that then and now.

It was eye-opening to me, that someone could major in music, and then come down from Toronto to teach us how to sell music subscriptions to the masses.  I feel it’s a great honor to be recognized as a content creator.  I feel “peddling” is second-class citizenship.

From 1972-1973, living in northern New Jersey, I worked for Sperry Univac, when it was trying to compete with IBM.  My job was “site support”, providing technical interface for processors (FORTRAN, COBOL, etc) and I made beaucoup trips to St. Paul MN for benchmarks.  The whole idea was to sell more computers.  I did get the feedback that I “didn’t have a marketing profile” and would be better off in “real” development.

Indeed I spent probably twenty-six years or so largely as an individual contributor in developing, implementing, and supporting business applications, batch and online, mostly mainframe.  I was not a life that encouraged a lot of socialization for its own sake, or being part of other people’s social capital.  After I “retired”, I found out how the real world of “Lotsa Helping Hands” can work.

My father was a salesman, of sorts – actually, a “manufacturer’s agent”, for Imperial Glass, until 1971.  I remember his travel to glass shows all over the East Coast, his filling orders manually and doing the accounting with adding machines.  Mother helped him.  But he worked wholesale.  Selling for him was mostly about customer service.  It was never about cold calling or pimping.

But when I “retired” (I was well provided for by ING with the final layoff and forced retirement), I was rather shocked at the corporate culture I found with some interviews.  One of the sessions occurred in 2002 and would have involved contacting people to get them to convert whole life policies to term.  Later, I would be approached by two companies (unsolicited) to become a life insurance agent or financial planner.  Getting “leads” in that business means trolling people on the Internet to find out who to make cold calls to.  I would also be approached to become a tax preparer (unsolicited), and a non-profit mall canvasser.

One of the more provocative screening questions (in 2005 at New York Life) was, “do you every buy anything from a salesman?”  I answered yes, because I wanted to continue the interview.  But I flashed a mental image of encyclopedia salesmen (we had bought a World Book set with its great state relief maps in 1950), and even music course salesmen (Sherwood Music courses for piano, from Chicago) – again, musicians need real incomes from selling.

The term life interviewer even said “We give you the words”, and yet became defensive in front of me as a I probed whether this idea really works or is best for consumers.  (Whole life conversion will be a good idea for many people, probably.)  He (who seemed to run a franchise office with his wife) exerted the authoritarian attitude that we now recognize with Donald Trump – that you can “create facts” (or use “alternative facts”) and convince people of your vision mainly by believing it and getting others to believe it –which makes it come true (whether that’s getting a casino to make money or living forever in a hallow heaven).  That sounds like ministry, proselytizing.   Some of the tall tales about Trump University (getting people to max out heir credit cards against future real estate income) remind me of the 2008 crisis (which drove Stephen Bannon’s ideology).  I did get a couple calls about jobs selling subprime mortgages when I already realized they would crash together when then introductory (ARM)  rates went up.

I’m reminded of how LDS missions work – young adults (as in the movie “God’s Army” and then “Latter Days”) are supposed to recruit others to their faith (Mitt Romney even did this) and they even pay for the opportunity.

I’m also recalling the comedy movie “100 Mile Rule” (let alone Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”), where the salesman mantra was “Always Be Closing.”  I see those YouTube ads, “Become a marketer” and just laugh.

When I was working, “coders” thought of management as not smart enough to deal with the nitty-gritty of tracing registers in assembler language.  But we really thought of salesmen as not smart enough to code.  It was an attitude that we could hardly afford.

And now days, I get hounded as to why I don’t sell more hardcopies of my own books, and do more to support bookstores, or kids’ reading programs.  I get it.  Salesmanship (sometimes even hucksterism) is important to other people’s jobs.  But now we have an “It’s free” culture, and a “do it yourself” world of taking care of yourself online.  Donald Trump himself said he doesn’t like computers much, because the online world (including his favorite Twitter) dilutes the importance of social capital that does help people sell.  Oh, yes, remember the good old days of being invited to Amway presentations.

People (like me) have good reasons not to want to be bothered by hucksters.  But we’ve also created a world where it’s very hard for many people to make a living doing anything else.  Donald Trump is right in saying we have to do a lot more of our manufacturing at home again (“Make America Great Again”, or “MAGA”) but not just for the parochial needs of his specialized voting base.  National security would say we ought to make more of our own transformers, batteries, communications hardware components. We need to have a reasonable percentage of working-age adults actually making goods to remain economically and socially healthy — and safe.

(Posted: March 22, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)

 

Donald Trump turns his news conference into a combination of SNL, halftime, and real-indie film

Donald Trump’s 80-minute news conference today seemed like an SNL spoof.  Or maybe a Netflix instant play “indie film” from Breitbart Studios with Milo Yiannopoulos as the director?

CNN’s has a running text at the top, and a text transcript.

Trump repeatedly went back into entertaining ad-libs justifying his own persona.  He would back into silly issues like Hillary Clinton’s being told debate questions in advance, like cheating on a test.  He got called down for claiming the greatest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan, even for a GOP president.

Trump repeatedly blamed the media for our relations with Russia, and joked about shooting at the spy ship off the US East Coast.  (What if it had an EMP scud?)   He joked about nuclear war once (like the last movement of Vaughn Williams’s Sixth Symphony).

At one point he said “We had a smooth rollout of the travel ban, but we had a bad court.”  Did he mean “thmooth”?   (Remember, Milo likes only real men.)

When asked about the new EO due next week, he sounded like he would need to make few changes to the existing one.  He did admit that some of the DACA adult kids were good people and ought to stay.

Trey Yingst of OANN asked a question about pre-election contacts with the Russians (about the middle of the transcript) and Trump retorted with his usual “fake news” mantra.

While all this was going on,  I was on Capitol Hill, in the Library of Congress, watching a screening of “Upstairs Inferno”, reviewed today on my “Media Commentary” blog.

But at lunch afterward at the Tortilla Coast, across 1st St SE from the Capitol South Metro, as people filed in from the news conferences, stunned that a president would turn a news conference into a comedy hour.   The so-called immigrant general strike today (“day without immigrants protest”) had no effect on this restaurant.

There is plenty of material surfacing, advocating that the GOP intervene and get Trump to resign (Pence is bad for gay rights), as if that had been the GOP plan all along.  And the Left is already talking about impeachment (as with Michael Moore’s Facebook demands).

I have covered the issues of concern to those who would like to help refugees and asylum seekers.  The latest information suggests that asylum seekers (who have applied properly) have due process rights while in the country.  Future EO’s might well tighten the vetting required and perception of what immigration officers should consider credible threats of persecution in home countries.  The Asylumist has an important post from November 2015 on that point.  One important question would be, if an asylum seeker loses a case, may he or she remain legally for a while?

(Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 11:30 PM EST)

Trump’s immigration crackdown seems off the mark, but I see where it is coming from

How to react to the controversy and disruption following Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders late Friday?  I could be tongue-tied on this one.  I have a lot of separate reactions, and it’s hard to draw a single conclusion.

My focus on all these pages is on how the individual should behave, and what does he or she need to step up to, as was the focus of my DADT-III book.  Yet individuals need to belong to families, groups, countries, and share the outcomes for their supersets.

I’ll go back into my own history and recall that around 1:30 AM CDT on September 11, 2001 I woke up from a dream where a nuclear device had detonated somewhere around the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington.  The dream had been unusually lucid and I remember saying to myself I was glad this was only a dream.  I was living in a Minneapolis apartment at the time.  I would shut off the TV and home computer just before the attacks started, and learn about them about 8:25 AM CDT in my cubicle from a co-worker, and walk downstairs to the computer room and see the Pentagon attack aftermath unfold on the Jumbotron.

I even recall getting an email the previous Labor Day weekend (while in Canada) with a headline warning about “911” and some others had gotten it.  I never opened it.  We thought it was spam, maybe malware for a DDOS.  Then on Sept. 4 Popular Mechanics had run a now-forgotten article on EMP flux devices (non nuclear) and how terrorists could deploy them.

After my “career-ending” layoff at the end of 2001, I gave a sermon on the implications of 9/11 at the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemont MN in February 2002 (38 mn), with material that would become Chapter 3 of my DADT-2 book.  I had considered particularly Charles Moskos’s call to bring back the draft and end the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy at the same time.  I had even exchanged emails with Moskos about this in November 2001.

On April 1, 2002, an online draft of what would become that chapter was hacked (on an old Apache server that had been carelessly left open by the hosting company).  The hack started right at a place where I was talking about “suitcase nukes” and seemed to contain bizarre gibberish references to the Lake Lagoda area of Russia.  I sent the hacked file to the FBI, and easily restored the content myself.  I still have it.  In the early fall of 2002 I got a bizarre email that I could interpret as a warning about a possible disco attack in Indonesia.  I shared that.  Then in November 2002 I got a map (I think I opened the attachment at a Kinkos) that appeared to list locations of nuclear waste all over Russia.

In the summer of 2005 (having come back to my mother’s Drogheda in northern Virginia) I got an email claiming to know where Osama bin Laden had traveled in the US in the 1980s, including aviation training.  I called the FBI, and spent 20 minutes on the phone discussing it with an agent in Philadelphia.

In August 2008 I got a bizarre email from a left wing group threatening oil field attacks in Nigeria.  That one I posted.   Tillerson should read that one.

Let me add here, that in every case, I make a decision to open an email based on full awareness of spam and malware.  I usually will use an old or different computer first to determine credibility.

Since then, the “chatter” to my own unclassified world has settled down.  I am not Wikileaks.  But it seems like you don’t need a security clearance to have dangerous information sent to you.  Too bad about all the homophobia of the world I grew up in, because I would have made a good intelligence analyst during the Cold War.

But I have paid particular attention to the possibility of large scale asymmetric threats that really could have existential character, and end our way of life.  These include nuclear detonations, radiation dispersion devices (dirty bombs), and electromagnetic pulse devices, which, over smaller areas, do not need to be nuclear.  Of course, they may include cyberwar, which could be mitigated by keeping the grid and other infrastructure (like pipelines) completely separated from the public Internet the way the military is supposed to be.   I have often blogged about constructive proposals to strengthen infrastructure against these threats (such as some of Taylor Wilson’s ideas); but these ideas need a lot more “science” and both public and private investment (Peter Thiel may have us started on that).    Much of this investment would encourage clean energy and domestic manufacturing jobs, but require skills that those displaced from legacy industries (Trump’s voter base) don’t have.

So we come back to Trump’s controversial immigration order.  Of course, they need to be considered in combination with other orders.  But they seem to be motivated in large part by Trump’s perception (largely correct) that individual American civilians even at home can become targets of an unusual enemy that does not wear a uniform.  Radical Islam has an ideology that conscripts everyone.  But the suddenness of the order (as a weekend started) is supposedly justified by the “threat” that “bad dudes” could slip through — with the president ignoring the fact that existing vetting processes (shown in the film “Salam Neighbor“) take 18 months or more, and even normal visas take some time.

The Cato Institute has noted that there have been no Americans killed by terrorists from the seven banned countries.  (I compare this statistic to counting chest hairs in a soap opera.)   Fareed Zakaria mentioned this analysis on his “Global Public Square” broadcast on Sunday. Jan. 29.   But the Trump White House claims that the seven countries, because of civil war and very poor governance (“failed states”) are more likely now that larger states (except Iran and Iraq) to breed hidden, undetectable Trojan Horse terrorists, and that Obama had already singled out this list of countries. . The Trump administration claims that this is not a faith-based ban because large Muslim countries are not included.  It also claims that religious exceptions are made only for religious minorities in target countries with which the US has poor diplomatic relations.  They don’t have to be Christian (like Yazidis).  There are some legitimate questions about Trump business interest (and therefore conflict of interest) in some larger, more stable Muslim countries.

It seems that a longer view of history is applicable.  In October 2001, the Sunday that President Bush announced the start of a war in Afghanistan, networks aired a video screed from Osama bin Laden telling individual Americans at home that they had no right to feel safe.  This came from the “established” Al Qaeda, well before the rise of ISIS.  History shows that aggressors (state-based or not) often target civilians, with Nazi Germany as only maybe the most notorious example of all.

Many of the high-profile terror attacks in the US have come from “second generation” adult kids of immigrants whose families turned out to be dysfunctional.  The attacks generally have not come from “saboteurs” who came into the country in the style of an Alfred Hitchcock film.  A number of the 9/11 hijackers were still in the country in legal non-immigrant status.

Some commentators view the overstated visa issue as more problematic for security than the actual physical access of undocumented immigrants at the border.  The number of people here in the US illegally is quite large, and statistics show that undocumented immigrants as a whole commit fewer crimes than the general population, and are more likely to be gainfully employed and in stable marriages when possible.  Even so, the crimes committed by some immigrants, legal and illegal, have sometimes been quite spectacular (like the Washington DC Mansion Murders in 2015), and fuel the impression that some of our immigration is dangerous – bringing up the subject of The Wall..  Furthermore, from anecdotal stories (even told to me), the “illegal” problem in some areas along the southern border is quite serious for residents and ranchers in the area.   But no one has seriously entertained the idea that American consumers should foot a 20% tariff on some goods to pay for a Green Monster.  The tariff could destroy many farmers and small businesses.

American civilians, even given lower crime rates overall, rightfully feel fearful of becoming targets in spectacular or bizarre criminal activities – the kind that wind up as Dateline specials – than in the past.  People are not as insulated by neighborhood or self-segregation as in the past.  Social media, and the possibility of recruiting for terror or even framing people (or making people into targets by happenstance association), comes into the picture.  The threat is more one of “quality” than of “quantity”.  National security policies need to be crafted around the real threats that are likely. It stands to reason that the easy available of guns complicated the issue.  But in Europe, by comparison, gun control may, while lowering crime overall, may make it harder for civilians to defend themselves when caught on the sites of unconventional attacks.

One issue left out by the media this weekend is asylum seekers.  It’s unclear if president Trump’s Executive Order could hold up the processing of asylum requests.  But, as covered here before, asylum seekers, by definition (by not being allowed benefits and to work for some extended time) need private help to stay in the country. US law (even before Trump) does not provide a framework for private citizens to assist asylum seekers without some unknown risk, compared to Canada, which supports full private sponsorship of refugees.

Along the lines of an individual’s deciding what is dutiful, Trump’s “America First” idea comes to mind.  It seems that the marching orders are to “take care of your own” first before “the others”, even if that sounds counter-faith.  We are willing to house refugees, but not our own homeless.  Yet, “America First” sounds like a mantra in a declining world, in a zero sum game, an idea that placates a particular voter base that feels left behind and snubbed by a sophist elite.  There are genuine security reasons to bring back manufacturing to the US and many constructive things that can be done, but they don’t lead to motivating a crowd in a mass movement.   To my view, “Black Lives Matter” and “rural whites” are both playing identity politics in ways that attract authoritarian politicians but that don’t help the country prosper and make itself really safer. .

I want to close this impromptu posting again noting that the idea of “stepping up” (as in my DADT III book, Chapter 6) does sometimes put individuals in the path of “other people’s bullets”.  It brings up ideas about not just courage but avoiding cowardice (as in a recent piece by David Brooks).  It tests the balance between individual autonomy and belonging to the group.

In the Washington Post Sunday, Outlook. Andres Miguel Rondon wrote “Venzuela showed us now not to fight a populist president. “What makes you the enemy?  It’s very simple to a populist.  If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit”.  I have that in my own experience with the far Left.  Opposing this mentality seems to be the point of all of Milo Yioannopolous ‘s writings.

The in the Epoch Times recently, Joshua Philipp writes about “The Danger of Political Labels”. where the need to generate ideology externally and divide people into opposing camps comes right from Marxism.

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

More references:

Reference:  Cato Institute, Alex Nowrasteh and Dave Bier: “Terrorism and Immigration: A Rosk Analysis

Pew: “Unauthorized immigrant population trends for states, birth countries, and regions

 http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2015/jul/29/marco-rubio/rubio-says-40-percent-illegal-immigrants-are-overs/

 http://www.factcheck.org/2013/05/911-hijackers-and-student-visas/

http://www.fairus.org/issue/identity-and-immigration-status-of-9-11-terrorists

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/01/19/immigration-visa-overstays-department-of-homeland-security-report/79026708/

 

Right-sizing: free speech, individualism, pitted against mass movements; and “what if? ….”

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)

Authoritarianism and combativeness threaten free speech (mine at least)

Two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, I have to pause for a moment and think about two behaviors that can become existential threats to me:  authoritarianism, and combativeness.

I’m particularly concerned with behavior that is intolerant of the expression of views or beliefs that contradicts those of one’s own tribe (religious or national), or that is somehow critical or somehow mocks authority figures, whether political or religious.

One of the most notorious examples of combative behavior (with respect to speech) was the Jyllands Posten Muhammad Cartoon Controversy, well documented in this wiki  and covered by Flemming Rose in his “Tyranny of Silence” .  This led to a violent incident in Paris and killing of Charlie Hebdo and other journalists in January 2015.

Young adults, especially young men (and fewer but still substantial numbers of women) join radical mass movements often out of a need for “brotherhood” and meaning, when the circumstances of the upbringing don’t afford the capacity of engineering their own lives as individuals the way “Western values” (or “democratic capitalism”, a term the Washington Times uses, but which the Left sees as an oxymoron) now expects.  Religion and faith may be a unifying factor (sometimes with apocalyptic, end-of-days theology), but so can be collective secular political ideology, as with some violent elements of the radical Left (the Symbionese Liberation Army, for example) in the 1970s.

But such persons, when recruited, often feel that tolerating any question of their beliefs is itself giving in to some kind of oppression, often with inter-generational  inherited roots.

Resistance and protest groups often develop their own internal political structures which become authoritarian in a manner psychologically similar to the authoritarian tendencies of national political leaders, even men like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, as well as China’s leadership.

Authoritarian leaders believe that the people they “rule” must face a hostile world with many threats, and that people must remain somewhat cohesive and free from distraction as for certain beliefs.  Authoritarianism fears that the individual who is “different” will view that “difference” as making him or her “special” and will drain the resources from the overall safety of the group without contributing their fair share of the risk-taking.   And leadership also fears that criticism will reduce its credibility with the people, and leadership rationalizes the idea that loss of leadership authority actually attracts enemies.

It is true that in various circumstances, authoritarian and even combative attitudes can give an illusion of prosperity and stability.  This often means persecuting the “others”.  But it is often a long time before the main population understands what is really happening than things start to unravel.  To many Gentile Germans, Nazi Germany seemed stable and prosperous in the late 1930s and it was not to last.  But even the rest of the world was fooled.

This whole area of authoritarianism and combativeness, often relabeled as “activism” and “solidarity”, makes my speech quite troubling for some people.  In several episodes in my life, I have questioned over-simplified, group-think ideas about policy needs, with arguments that potentially can undermine the group’s achieving its goals if the arguments are heard by enough people. Call it playing “devil’s advocate” or deploying “I told you so.”   Back in the 1980s, even before there was an effective public internet, I was a thorn in the side of some activists, who wanted to present people with AIDS simply as “victims” based on being in a disliked group.  I’ve covered this in my books and other posts (like here ).  Regarding gays in the military, I voiced unusual arguments involving shared risk-taking going back to the practices of the Vietnam era draft, and conceded that in the past people were more easily distracted by “cohesion” concerns (like in college dorms) than young adults would be today.  That argument (far afield from the usually politically correct arguments about disliked groups)  seemed to stick and stay in circulation and may have helped contribute to the DADT Repeal in 2010-2011.  In more recent times, with respect to Internet speech issues (COPA for example) I’ve admitted that we could have come up with automated pre-screening tools for some security issues (including child pornography, sex trafficking, and especially terrorist recruitment or cell-plotting) or we could lose out on the right to continue “user generated speech” altogether.  That’s especially true now that we have a president somewhat hostile to globalism, automation, and who will ask if Internet behavior is paying its own way, when compared to the risks of allowing it (even as that president uses Twitter to reach his own audience in an asymmetric way, but he won’t need it for long).

I certainly have attracted criticism from others for putting my stuff out for free (mostly), allowing others to find it, not insisting that it make money on its own (or help other people get and keep their jobs).  Have your skin in the game, they say, before you speak out.  That quickly translates to, have your own family first.  Otherwise, you could endanger others and attract harm to others connected to you, from real enemies.

But I also get flak for not “belonging” to the group, and sometimes for respecting the leadership of the group.  I play “devil’s advocate”, bracing to say “I told you so” later.  Group leadership will think this gives credibility to “enemy” arguments (that otherwise get overlooked) and keeps things from getting done to benefit most of the people in the group (or even country).  Trump is not the first person I’ve encountered to react to having his authority questioned.  My own father could react that way.  And in some job interviews in the past, people would ask why I’m not more assertive and authoritative myself.

I do have a tendency to regard almost any engagement with others (in a relatively private or personal group) as having potential public significance, which can become troubling to others even without names being mentioned.  Any group needs boundaries about what affects the outside world and tends to need people to enforce those borders.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2017, at 2 PM EST)