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)