Community engagement v. individualism, with authoritarians watching

I have a friend in the Virginia libertarian circles, Rick Sincere, who recently has run some interesting guests posts on his blog, like this recent one on Masterpiece Cakeshop.

I do have a few guest posts on my two newer WordPress blogs (“Blogtyrant” really encourages the practice) but this one will be a pseudo-guest post, a Smerconish-like compendium of some feedback from a friend in the past twenty four hours after a typical social in the “gay establishment” with all the usual abstract trappings about equality.

He shared with me the parable of Rebekah Mercer (think, Mercer County New Jersey, where I lived for my first job with RCA, in Princeton, starting in 1970), daughter of the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, conveyed in this Washington Post article January 5 by Kyle Swenson.  My friend’s narrative focused on the role of pollster and political operative Patrick Cladell in convincing the family that Donald Trump needed to become their Mr. Smith who would go to Washington and wreck the establishment.

The article focuses on the resentment of the elites by just part of the far right.  True, the Left had carried opposition to pipelines and drilling too far, if the nation really needs to go to autarky on energy. True, foreign competition had destroyed a lot of manufacturing jobs – and the hedge fund managers didn’t recognize the irony of their opposing seeing the middle class follow them into the world of hucksterism (as I found out in many job interviews in the 2000’s) when we didn’t make enough of our own stuff.  Indeed, that’s a legitimate national security concern.  Up to some point, the nationalism of Steve Bannon had to make sense to them.  And, true enough, the meddlesomeness of Obamacare hurt a lot of young adults, who were forced to pay higher premiums to take care of “other people’s problems” (like opioid) that they might be unlikely to encounter themselves.

The Mercers probably didn’t care so much about the social issues:  they just resented the idea of people fighting for different treatment for different groups instead of fighting for themselves as individuals. (Maybe that means it’s OK to be a charismatic superhero-like cis gay man [even a comic book space alien] but not a sissy  and not an earthly immigrant.)  But Robert, like Donald, shared a personal revulsion for personal involvement with “losers”. A man’s real worth was his financial network, like a grade for one’s life.

But then something else happened. Trump carried his authoritarian streak (and need for control and self-gratification as the leader) much further than the Mercers probably wanted.  But he was the best “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (Frank Capra’s 1939 film for Columbia, legacy review) that they could find.

But what happened, as we know, that Trump played to a base who see things more in terms of a strong politician taking care of them than in terms of actual policy fixes.  And as Michael Moore pointed out, a lot of people just wanted a “Blow Up”, a revolution – to disrupt the lives of the elites, even if you destroyed the country in the process.

All of this indeed leads to a county in increased danger, particularly from one particular enemy, and detracts from orderly solutions to all of our inequality problems.

Yes, it puts me on the spot.  While I leverage asymmetry online to establish myself as an individual, apart for the group, I probably ask for new dangers, from combative enemies could can also leverage the same asymmetry.

There are many existential threats out there to my continuing my own style of free speech, as I’ve covered before (the gratuitousness problem).  I’ll be coming back to some of the details (probably the Section 230 issues are more important than network neutrality) soon, but I wanted to revisit the idea of “the privilege of being listened to” as in my DADT III book.  One idea is that, before someone is “heard” as an individual he (or she or “they”) needs to show some kind of community engagement.

That sounds like almost “forced” volunteerism, a step down from national service, supervised by the bureaucracy of charities and nonprofits.

Now, there are two kinds of volunteerism to start.  One is really volunteering for political activism.  A friend suggested volunteering a little a HRC or some similar group (NLGTF) to learn what “group identity” sensitivity is all about (given all my criticism of “trigger warnings”, “microaggressions”, and “intersectionality”).  Now, like in the movie “Rebirth”, I think there is something wrong with volunteering to “look” or “spectate”.  I wouldn’t do that unless I was completely with the goals of the group (as opposed to the liberty interests of individuals in the group, which Rick Sincere’s blog above deals with).  My own father used to deploy the phrase “as a group” when he talked about race (unfortunately quoting the Bible wrong). Bill Clinton had to deny that lifting the military ban would be about “group rights”.

That said, I do engage of activism of sorts with my blogs – these days, mostly on sustainability for our civilization, where, yes, I’ve focused on the EMP issue as possibly posing a singularity-type threat.  Along the lines of the work I have done (I don’t mean with a therapist), I would love to work for a news organization and have a press pass.  Then, yes, I might be able to cover HRC activism with some objectivity.  But I can see covering events regarding, for example, net neutrality or Section 230. I don’t see marching on picket lines over these issues, however.

The other kinds of volunteerism is to help people – with real needs.  But that forks in a few direction.

I did this in the 1980s and less in the 1990s with the AIDS crisis, because it had reared up in my own life (although I didn’t get infected because of reverse Darwinism – “The Normal Heart”).  I was a “baby buddy” for a time in 1986-87 at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas.  I was also the pain that questioned the gay politicians for wanting to get out of some of the “extended personal responsibility” issues, which got dangerous  (the “don’t take the test” crowd).  In the 1990s, I volunteered one night a month for a while at Food and Friends counting donations when it was located in the Navy Yard-Waterfront (Washington).

I have spot-volunteered, like at a local church’s monthly “community assistance” dinners and handout sessions, but not found it terribly meaningful.  Some volunteer activities ask for more help than they need because they may or may not need the bodies for a short time.

Now, as with the examples I gave, you can focus volunteerism on “groups” to which you have “belonged” (whether or not you “chose to”).  You can focus on whether giving goes to that group, or to any individuals in need.  And I can’t blow off the group idea completely.  Consider Trump’s joke about Pence’s past attitude toward “LGBT people” (as a group”), “Oh, he wants to hang ‘em all”. (I remember the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie “Hang ‘em High”).  It sounds funny even on the “gay right”.  But there’s a point where it isn’t.  You can be in the wrong group whether you chose to or not.  Imagine living in Germany in the 1930s. That does help grasp the sensitivities surrounding Charlottesville.

The effectiveness of volunteerism depends on the skills you have. I could imagine directing chess tournaments in underprivileged areas – but it would be desirable to be as effective a chess player as possible first. I can imagine helping people not fall for phishing scams.

But a lot of times charities want volunteers to go out of their own boxes.  The Red Cross, for example, wants volunteers to install smoke detectors in low income homes.  That would make more sense if I had kept the trust house.

There is another direction that “real needs” can fork to — actually taking responsibility for supporting or hosting someone.

So, the bottom line is, I have to finish my own work, on my issues as I have laid them out, before I’m much good on “somebody else’s” problems and supervision.  I have my own goals and path and self-direction and strategy. It takes time and freedom from disruption to carry out. I can’t let it be negotiable.  Yet I realize that if I didn’t have this, I’d have to be more amenable to “groups” to “survive”. Maybe that is better for a lot of other people.

I’ve had some discussion with the friend telling me he cannot be open online about controversial topics. This gets back to what I’ve called “conflict of interest” over publicly available speech. I’ve covered this before with links, but it’s good to reiterate a couple things.  If someone has direct reports on the job or the ability to pass “underwriting” judgments on others, then off-the-job policy opinions that can easily be found by others (as by search engines or by public social media pages) put the relationship between the associate and stakeholders at potential risk, even legally (like hostile workplace). One way to handle this is for an employer to insist that the person’s only public social media presence be the official work one, and that all private social media communications be under full privacy settings. If you have certain kinds of jobs, you relinquish the right of “self-publication” (or self-distribution).

(Posted: Saturday, Jan. 6, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

My own existentialism

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)

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)