Throughout much of my I.T. career, especially the last fifteen years or so, I was often preoccupied with the possible consequences of any mistakes by me as an individual contributor. I did have to get used to it. But in retirement, the idea that one can fall by making enemies or being on the wrong side, has made a troubling comeback, sometimes with ironic recalls of pressures earlier in my life to fit in vertically to social structures set up by others, to value other people in these communities more than my own head.
There is a lot more attention to asymmetry today, and to the randomness of “bad luck” and misfortune. I’ve never been OK with playing up victimization, especially when enhanced by belonging to an oppressed group. I go to memorial services, too; but I don’t brand myself by going to bat publicly for everyone out there on social media who is losing out because of disadvantage.
One idea that seems very critical to me is that, when something happens to “you”, especially because of someone else’s wrongdoing, recovering from it still starts with “you” before anyone else. That’s not politics or social values; that’s just plain logic. Otherwise, life will go on without you. Of course, the full weight of the law or other agency (like military force) can be brought against perpetrators, terrorists, or ordinary bullies. But, I’ve never seen “sacrifice” as particularly honorable. That kind of thinking played out bigtime in the days of the Vietnam era draft, when people with less privilege wound up making more of the sacrifices in combat. Likewise, it has, even with a volunteer army but a “backdoor” stop-loss draft, followed suit in more recent wars, like Iraq. You still see this today with risky civilian volunteerism, where overseas or in local volunteer fire departments.
So, then, we come to the inequality debate, which I covered today again in reviewing Robert Reich’s movie “Saving Capitalism”. Much of the traditional debate has to do with classes of people, groups, and the way power structures reinforce themselves. Yet, I still feel this all traces back to what we expect of every individual.
The unpredictability of personal tragedy plays out in many possibilities. Besides the usual risks of drunk drivers and some older street crime, we have to deal today with ideologically driven terrorism, as if reaches those who have fallen behind in a hyperindividualistic society. That plays into the immigration debate. It’s still true, that in the US, the risk of dying from a lone wolf terror act is much lower than most other accidental perils, and such observations are used to justify a kinder policy on immigration (including asylum) than Trump will allow (or promised his base). But it also underscores the idea that those who resent our “elitism” are sometimes turning our free speech, especially on the Internet (with ungated speech) against us, with the terror recruiting, and the ease of finding destructive information online. (But, remember, it wasn’t that hard in print before the Internet. Remember Paladin Press?)
I say I don’t like to get into intersectionality or helping people leverage their collective oppression. Yet, everyone belongs to something, to various groups, often starting with family of origin. Hostility happens to groups as well as individuals, so people wind up as individuals pay the price for what their groups are perceived (often wrongly) to others.
That gets us back to the grim possibility of a real national catastrophe promulgated by a determined enemy, most recently by North Korea, as in recent posts.
That is what drives the moralizing of the doomsday preppers (like The Survival Mom on Facebook), who want everyone to have local, vertical value to others in very personal ways working with their hands, before they get any traction in a more global and abstract experience. This is not a good thing for the dilettantes of the world, although it is possible that sometimes a self-absorbed “austistic” person like “Shaun Murphy” has such indispensable talents in some area that still fits in. For the rest of those people “like me”, it very much becomes a matter of “pay your dues” and “right-sizing”. A lot of people believe that, before you are heard or listened to, you need to fit in to community engagement, as defined by the needs of others. In the future this idea of “no spectators” and putting “your own skin in the game” before you speak, could get formalized. Morality finally gets allocated down to the individual from all his groups (my “DADT-IV” sequence).
All of that means that there is a great deal of moral premium in an individual’s adapting to whatever circumstances he or she must live in, because others can be affected or targeted, or have to take risks in “your” stead. That was certainly the case when I was growing up (when “cowardice” was a real crime against the group). Many protest movements turn out to be manipulative or based on overblown or frivolous interpretations of policy changes, where activists try to shame others into joining and become belligerent on their own. On the other hand, once in a while, you do have to “enlist”. You have to figure out when it’s for real. Dealing, as an individual, with the collective combativeness of others has indeed become a real problem.
These are ominous times for individualistic speakers who map out the flaws of everyone else without any particular commitment. Is that what my own “do ask do tell” and “connecting the dots” have come to? Despite perceptions to the contrary (and the illusion provided by some court wins as with COPA in 2007). Although the issue is protracted and complicated, issues like the revoking of net neutrality and of Section 230 downstream liability protections, could seriously erode the continuation of independent speech, without the tribal influences of organizations on one side of another, constantly wanting to take over my voice with their partisan pimping. Yet, “tribalism” at least raises the questions of how much people really matter (to me), both horizontally (minorities) and vertically (“taking care of your own first”). Why speak if you don’t care about the people (personally) whose lives you purport to affect? This is, at least, a “puzzlement” as in “The King and I”. Well, if they aren’t “good enough” for me (absorbed by my own world), then why will I never show up in my shorts? And it – addiction to the leverage of one’s own past shame — can become life threatening. But for many “victims”, it is already too late.
(Posted: 10:45 PM EST Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017)