Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”
The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.
The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb. This is called epigenetics. It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.
If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated. There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs). This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led). But there may be another reason: in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes. A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants. This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality; that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post. O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior. In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.
So it is in human families. When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero. Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past). But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay. And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.
My own case is unusual, as I am an only child. Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).
I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans). Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”. That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)
As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people. For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media. That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do. I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate. That became normal. Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue; family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought. I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way. When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships. I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation. Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.
O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years. In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will. Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.
Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference). This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice. Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others. That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).
So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship. But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together. Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example). O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group. Biological immutability seems relevant.
On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.
(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)
The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back. Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016. And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.
The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut. More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN. Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet. Perhaps I am in the same space; Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.
I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.
The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”. Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members. They have to go to bat for others. They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”. Journalists can do this only through double lives.
I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game. (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)
But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs. Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.
That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.
Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them. Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg. With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter). I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).
I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group. What I want to do is encourage real problem solving. Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc). But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters). These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.
My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination. I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas. So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse). I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue). But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either. We should solve these problems.
A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them. Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me. I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility. I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.
In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from. I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me. Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.
My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way. I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue). That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example. I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news? That could support a family. (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.” I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them? Some people obviously do.) No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.) Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.
The other aspect is that of subsumed risk. I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”. I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.
A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published. Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump. But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.
There were two developments during my own childhood and adolescence that established “who I am”. They seem intrinsic and deep-rooted, and set up a paradox that affects everything else These evolutions deal with music and sexuality.
I started taking piano in third grade, in February 1952, when we got a Kimball console piano. That’s gone, and now replaced by a (much lighter and more portable) 88-key Casio, which hooks to Sibelius (on the MacBook) for composition and really is pretty good as to tone and dynamics and pedal. In fact, I need to up my skills in using these tools to really make my compositions interesting to professionals.
I don’t remember “why” I wanted to take piano. But once I started, it seems to install my identity. I don’t have a specific past-life recollection, but it seemed to make my existence indefinite, preceding my birth and even conception (in 1942).
I started composing around age 12, leaving to a series of works of increasing complexity as I’ve documented on my “media reviews” blog (here). My esthetic relation to music was one of submission to a certain experience of feeling. I progressed quickly up through high school, winning some awards in festival concerts.
I had an old RCA record player in the basement, that tracked heavy (at 10 grams). Slowly I accumulated some mono records of major works. By 10th grade or so, I became conscious of the “chills and fever” effect of the way some romantic works ended, particularly piano concertos and symphonies. The formula for a big cyclic work in a minor key was to end in the Picardy major with a triumphant “big tune”. I think the first work that introduced this experience to me was Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, Op. 18, in C Minor. (Today, I like the more subtle Third, Op. 30) better.) I learned a few of the Op. 32 Preludes, including the triumphant D-flat Major prelude that concludes the set. The other work that introduced me to this experience at first was Grieg’s A Minor Piano Concerto.
I remember much better my relation to music as a young adult, starting about the time of the William and Mary Expulsion (well documented in my books) in 1961. I attempted a couple large works, including a Third Sonata which I started over the winter 1961-1962 before reentering college at GWU. I more or less have an “acceptable” manuscript in pieces (a lot of it in Sibelius) today, as I have spent more time on it in the past two years (on the Finale).
During that “terrible” hiatus at home after the Expulsion, I did get a recording of Bruno Walter’s performance of the 3-movement form of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. I’ve discussed completion versions, especially Letocart’s, elsewhere, but one interesting detail was that the first side split the Scherzo in the middle of what Letocart calls the “Hallelujah” theme. The record player cartridge and stylus had deteriorated, leading to inner-groove distortion of that theme. I could not earn my own money yet, and my father resisted spending money on music when I couldn’t and needed to pay for college. Nevertheless, it got fixed, and I had a VM stereo in the fall of 1962. Getting used to multiple speakers and then stereo (with all the problems of inferior players and record wear back then) provided a new level or aesthetic “submission”, especially with a few Mahler Symphonies and then Beethoven’s Ninth. Throughout most of my working adult life, I collected records, then cassettes, and then CD’s, and still do buy CD’s of emerging artists. But in recent years, like everyone else, I’ve gotten used to playing classical music on YouTube or from the Cloud. But the conclusion of the Bruckner Ninth would create a personal irony (as demonstrated in a short film that Letocart provides) which I would in outlining the conclusion to my own Sonata.
One aspect of this whole experience was that “aesthetic submission” provided what seemed like access to real feeling, and made relationships (dating, courtship, marriage, parenthood) seem like an afterthought, a totally privatized experience, with “different stroke for different folks”. I can link all this up to the Polarity Theory of Pail Rosenfels and the Ninth Street Center, which, as a “subjective feminine”, I’ve already discussed elsewhere.
But the other big “development” that filled in my identity would be sexuality, particularly homosexuality. I started “noticing” men gradually, but I was quite aware of my sensitivity on these matters of proper male body image probably by age 12 or so. There would be a few small incidents over the years that would reinforce this impression. But at age 18, in August 1961, when I was with a particular companion to whom I felt attracted, I felt extreme arousal. I don’t want to be graphic here (I’ll stay in PG-13 territory) but the event was transformative for me. The other person did not “respond” but I would have gone through with it if he had. I found that experience of “getting excited by …” could happen in certain other situations that ordinarily imply losing or submission Later, as I was in my adult life in the 1973-1975, becoming fully “human” with that “true” first experience became quite a preoccupation but it would happen. I would of course gradually learn about heterosexual passion intellectually, but my father’s prediction that “one day blue eyes will confuse you” seemed irrelevant to defining me, beside the point.
What seems remarkable about the sexuality is that it was stimulated, ironically, by conservative values. I was attracted to young men who “had it all” I saw undisturbed maleness as a “virtue” with almost religious passion. I viewed the prospect of what could happen to young men’s bodies in war, or from disease, or eventual aging, as desecration. I actually viewed with contempt the rare male (in those days who make a spectacle of gender bending or today’s “gender fluidity”. I needed to believe in my idol to be able to experience sexual pleasure at all, even in a fantasy mode. This counteracts the practical need for emotional resilience needed in marriage, where a partner needs to remain intimate even if the other person has a physical calamity, whether from war, terror, crime, disease, or just growing old. This pattern also undermines getting personal satisfaction out of interacting with cognitively distant people in need, as through intense volunteerism.
Therefore, I tended to look at people very critically. An close connection with someone who had “issues” could not be emotionally important to me. This seems to bear on areas that Milo Yiannopoulos, in particular, has taken up in his tirades about, for example. “fat shaming” Complicating the picture is that I grew up in (in practical terms) a racially segregated society. My ideas of “desirability” for erotic “upward affiliation” pertained much more readily to white males than any other (“people of color”).
This has a bearing on any sense of belonging today. It’s much easier to find real meaning in helping others if you “belong” to groups, and it’s easier to “belong” if you go through the socialization of courtship and conventional marriage and becoming a biological parent first. Becoming a parent upends upward affiliation, and makes the experience of having others depend on you real and valuable,, But you have to be open to intimacy (“the family bed”) under mutable circumstances and sometimes externally imposed hardships. I was not. It sounds a little cowardly of me. One eternal consequence is that I have no lineage, and, as an only child, neither do my parents; it dead-ends with me.
There were other factors that indeed rounded out my sense of identity. I had a certain fascination with “abstract geography” and a sense of elevation and place (as when I took up hiking later in my teen years) as a grounding in science. I also relished the mathematical abstractions of competitive chess, as if that were an oxymoron; chess games seemed to map to “real” team sports. (The map is probably cleaner to American football than to baseball or even European soccer, because in NFL football, the defense can score points.) That led me to one experience of group affiliation, rooting for a baseball team, who were the various incarnations of the Washington Senators (Twins, Rangers, Expos, Nats), with that horrible 18-game losing streak in the summer of 1959 (and that blown 7-run lead in the bottom of the ninth in Boston in `1961, right after high school graduation). I would skip out on Tribunals but “take one for the team” a little bit when I was finally drafted, after graduate school, in 1968. I would make a sacrifice, incurring slight hearing loss and tinnitus in the right ear from my experience on the rifle range at Fort Jackson. Even today, as shown on a recent Sinclair News Channel 8 discussion (“Government Matters”) it’s not clear that the “need” for conscription (probably gender neutral) can’t come back (and in my mind this always had a bearing on “don’t ask don’t tell”).
The whole conscription and student deferment issue was the moral issue of my own coming of age. In my own mind, it connected to the idea of “station in life” (as intrinsic and not necessarily equal to everyone else’s) and “right-sizing”. Grades were my currency during my youth, which was actually an eventful, rich time. But I had to succeed in school to have a legitimate and honorable place in the world and not simply become a fungible sacrifice for someone else’s tribal agenda.
Alyssa Rosenberg today, in the Washington Post, relates how overt “submission” to art and sexual imagery attracts terrorists as “idol worship” and apostasy, in her column “Why terrorists attack concert halls” concerning the Manchester attack on May 22 (and earlier attacks, especially Paris). Ii think you could add comments about alienation of certain young men who feel wired into brotherhood and tribal behavior. Along these lines, look at a recent columnby David Brooks on how democratic capitalism (so good for me) has failed “them” and made me seem like an enemy to them.
On Vox, Sean Illing takes up these issues with an interview with Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Worst and Best”.
There are a couple of wrinkles in the debate over workplace benefits, not only health insurance but paid sick leave and now paid family leave. And many people are finding that their jobs, as independent contractors, offer no such benefits.
Often there is some overtime (there is an hourly formula) and often there are per diems for travel. But clients (very often state and local governments as well as the federal government) need the work to be done. It’s much harder to make a practical case for paid family leave in this environment. This is the job market I became familiar with throughout the 2000’s after my “layoff” at the end of 2001.
Today the Washington Post also has a story by Danielle Paqeutte reporting that Donald Trump may be considering the idea that parental leave should be gender neutral after all. Previously, he had wanted to make only maternity leave mandatory, up to six weeks, paid for by unemployment benefits. Now his advisers are more sensitive to gender discrimination and want to offer it to fathers, and conceivably to adoptive parents. Paying for it may be more difficult.
I’m left personally with pondering the way that parenthood and having children became an “afterthought” in my own thinking. That meant, for example, I was totally unprepared for the eldercare episode that would happen in my own life. It’s really an important life activity, but the way we go about it, from a moral perspective, is disconnected from everything else. Parenthood is a good way to become connected to meeting the “real needs of other people” in a more continuous manner.
Americans are living longer than ever, which means retirement could last 20 to 30 years for some people – maybe even longer.
That’s great for those who remain in reasonably good health and retire with plenty of financial stability.
But lengthy life spans also increase the odds that many seniors will deplete their savings, face debilitating health problems and need to turn to their children for financial help or caregiving.
That’s a far cry from the kind of retirement they dreamt of over the years.
“I’ve done focus groups where one of the chief concerns that comes up is people don’t want to become a burden on their kids,” says Jeannette Bajalia, a retirement-income planner, president of Woman’s Worth® (www.womans-worth.com) and author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women.
It’s really too late to do much, though, when you’re 80 and your life starts unraveling.
That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to get your finances and health in the best shape possible, she says. Among some of the points worth thinking about:
• Unanticipated health care costs. It’s estimated that the average married couple will need to pay up to $250,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare during their retirement, beyond what Medicare and most Medicare Supplements will pay. “We’re beginning to see a lot of cost shifting out of both Medicare programs and private health plans, which means more out-of-pocket healthcare costs,” Bajalia says. “It’s entirely possible that the savings you thought would allow you to travel or to at least pay all the bills could be gobbled up by medical expenses. As you plan for retirement, you should make it a priority to discuss this concern with your adviser so the two of you can look at what options you might have to try to keep that from happening.”
• Long-term care planning. When it comes to aging, consider the possibility you might have to receive home healthcare or live in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. The costs of such care can be daunting. For example, studies have shown that home healthcare can cost $50,000 or more per year, and nursing home care can run as high as 90,000 per year. “You don’t want your kids to have to pay for that,” Bajalia says. There are ways to prepare, such as buying a long-term care insurance policy or checking with a financial professional to help you develop a strategy for protecting your assets from nursing-home claims, she says.
• Self-care. Not every financial professional may do this, but Bajalia says she believes it’s important to integrate health education and a lot of self-care into a retirement plan. Spending money on preventive health routines to take care of yourself now can help you avoid significant health problems that lead to even costlier expenses later on, she says. Research is now telling us that longevity is over 70 percent lifestyle.
“I know it’s important to older people that they be able to remain independent as long as possible and not have to turn to their children to help,” Bajalia says. “They just need to remember that careful planning is the route to accomplishing that.”
And one of the planning tools would be to help fund long term care insurance for your aging parents to keep assets in their estates, she says, so long term care is not simply for yourself but for your aging parents.
About Jeannette Bajalia
Jeannette Bajalia, author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women, is president and principal advisor of Petros Estate & Retirement Planning, where she has designed and implemented innovate estate-planning solutions for clients and their families. She also is founder and president of Woman’s Worth® , which specializes in the unique needs facing women as they plan for their retirement.
People say I’m dangerous. I can make right-wing ideas seem reasonable, sensible, justifiable. I can keep someone like Donald Trump (that is “(t)Rump”)on point if I write his speeches for him and design his policies. I’m even called the Elder Milo.
If I were hired to help Donald Trump write his inauguration speech, or State if the Union address, or something composite of the two, here is what I would come up. Let me be the dangerous faggot #2.
Is America Great now? I think it is. Was it Great before? I’m glad that I didn’t make the personal sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, or serve in a segregated Army against a common enemy, or endure the racism suffocating in the 60s. I did catch the “homophobia of resentment”. But if we want America to be Great, here is what we have to keep in mind.
Area 1: We must protect, preserve and sustain our way of life, and build on it: Infrastructure.
That starts with national security. I personally believe what I thought when I was writing the notorious Chapter 4 of my DADT-1 book, that North Korea is our most dangerous enemy. The threats vary, from rogue states of extreme communism – the Cold War is not over – to the asymmetric actors of radical Islam. And some enemies want to treat ordinary citizens as combatants, as if they could target anyone and make an example of him. This sounds like what we associate with ISIS, but it is rhetoric I heard from some sectors of the extreme Left in the early 1970s when I was coming of age myself as a young adult.
In fact, I recognize that there is a significant subculture in our own country today, the prepper community, which believes that no civilization is permanent, and that every person has a responsibility to learn to survive on his own without technology in a decentralized, primitive environment. How these remarks will affect individual people, myself included, I will come back to. But it is clear that our dependence on technology is unprecedented, and it does make us vulnerable to sudden catastrophe. That is no longer a fantasy of the extreme right or alt-right.
But I want to counter with the idea that we can “work smart” We can do a lot more to protect and preserve our technological infrastructure. First, let me mention what we should be doing overseas: we should continue finding and securing all caches of nuclear material that may be lost around the world. We don’t hear much about this. But Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative are right. There are unusual materials that terrorists could get their hands on. We have to do much better at pursuing this. Now let me move to what we should do at home. Our power grids and other infrastructure systems are vulnerable. There is a lot more we need to start doing to protect them.
We need to make sure that our infrastructure grids are kept as separated from the public Internet and hackers as we keep the Pentagon and our own NSA. There simply should no way someone could get to a power station from this computer, period.
But we also have to be smarter about the way we manage power itself. I know this because much of my own family’s investment wealth, some of which I inherited, came from oil and gas and particularly utilities. I get to see oil and utility company materials. Shareholders put pressure on utilities to maximize profits from the ability to share loads quickly. But that capacity also makes us dependent on large transformers, which can be overloaded by deliberate sabotage. And we don’t make enough our own transformers at home. We can’t replace them. We can’t get them from overseas quickly or move them around. So we need both to move much of our infrastructure component manufacturing back home, and we need to build smaller stations and make individual nodes more self-reliant. This can be done with modern natural gas plants and even small underground fission plants, as Taylor Wilson has proposed. But this would take tremendous private and public investment.
The possible threats to the grids are multiple: extreme solar storms (we barely dodged one in 2012), cyberterror, physical attacks, and some kinds of nuclear and even non-nuclear flux detonations.
Note that fixing this problem adds well-paying, high-skilled jobs at home. It also favors cleaner technology. It even encourages people to have their own power sources, including solar panels, at home. This sounds like a win-win.
The dependability of infrastructure and utilities does affect the standard of living and the capability of less fortunate people to lift themselves up.
Area 2: Sustainability and climate change
Most religious heritages believe the people living today have a moral responsibility for future generations, at least what our kids and grandkids, considered collectively, will face as adults. The fact that human activity has added carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere and that ice caps are melting is undeniable.
But what is less clear is how many incidents today are directly the result of climate change. Tornadoes and hurricanes and extreme storms have happened in the distant past. The droughts and wildfires seem to be the most likely results of climate changes, as well as the loss of high latitude communities to warming, which is much more noticeable near polar areas than in temperate zones.
What also is not completely clear is how other forces will play out. While sudden escalations of warming are possible, as with methane release, so is sudden cooling, as with volcanic eruptions, or certain features of the way the Gulf Stream works.
But we must take the science on this problem seriously and not run from it.
Area 3: Sustainability and public health
We do face the possibility of novel pandemics. HIV-AIDS seemed unprecedented in its diabolical nature when it broke out in the 1980s, but we now know that it may have been here long before igniting. Today, however, the biggest threats come from conventionally contagious diseases, not from sexually transmitted ones. These include super-influenzas and respiratory diseases, and possibly exotic tropical blood disease like Ebola, and some of these might be insect-born.
The science tells us that vaccines work. We can be more active in staying ahead of the curve in developing vaccines for “bird flu” for example. We can protect college students from sudden and shocking amputations associated with meningitis with vaccines. We may eventually have a vaccine for HIV.
People continue to question whether they are placing their kids at theoretical risk of autism by giving them vaccines. The science tells us that this risk is extremely miniscule and theoretical if it exists at all. There are herd effects. If there is a risk at all, parents who refuse to “take the risk” are riding on the willingness of others to do so to maintain a population immunity to preventing any possibility of a pandemic breaking out.
Area 4: Trade
American consumers should not take advantage of products made with slave-labor overseas. In the long run, America will benefit if more products are made at home. In many circumstances, companies can be convinced to keep jobs here. Innovation is making it profitable to keep jobs at home.
At the same time, the sudden imposition of tariffs would be harmful to the economy. And particularly in Mexico and Central America, the growth of jobs there would tend to reduce the need for emigration to the US
But many of the terms of some proposed agreements, such as TPP, have terms that are potentially harmful to many American businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.
Area 5: Immigration
It is true that uncontrolled immigration presents some security problems for America. It is true that in some areas, the “Wall” or the “Fenway Park Green Monster” needs to be strengthened. But a Wall is not a fix-all for all our problems with jobs. Many studies show that as a whole, immigrants commit fewer crimes than domestics, and that immigrants add to the economy. Many immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want or couldn’t even do.
We have to be extremely careful about admitting people from some parts of the world. That is true. One question, when it comes to Syrian refugees, is why we don’t pressure the wealthy Muslim countries to do more of their parts in providing areas for them to move to. Dubai, Qatar, UAE, even Saudi Arabia, should step up to the plate.
Broad-based bans of certain religions or countries are not likely to be effective. In fact, some domestic attacks have come from people who have been here legally for a long time, or from their second-generation kids.
It is not reasonable to reverse all of the previous president’s policies. In fact, president Obama was aggressive with deportations of those with criminal records or who entered the country illegally and don’t have credible asylum claims. I would continue this policy. I think the adult kids covered under DACA should stay and be given paths to legal residency and citizenship as long as they don’t have criminal records.
Area 6: Health care and services:
An underlying problem with health care and other benefits is “moral hazard”. People will tend to use services that they can get other people to pay for. We can propose benefits and policies, such as paid workplace family leave, but we must consider how we will pay for them.
With health care, whatever one can say about escalating premiums and various breakdowns of Obamacare. It’s clear that to replace it we should solve two big problems: One is handling pre-existing conditions. There is no question that pre-existing condition create a tremendous anti-selection issue for privately run insurance companies. I think we have to admit that pre-existing condition need so be handled largely by public funds. The claims related to pre-existing conditions could be reimbursed through a private-public reinsurance agency. These reinsurance companies could be set up in each state, possibly managed by Blue plans. People will not have premiums jacked up for ordinary care to cover those with pre-existing illnesses. We could have a nasty debate, however, on what counts as pre-existing. Does something related to behavior – drug use, smoking, obesity, or STD, count as pre-existing? How we handle end stage renal disease (with Medicare today) could serve as a philosophical model.
The other (second) part of this health issue is covering people with low incomes, where tax credits aren’t useful. We need to continue Medicaid mechanisms to cover these, and probably do this through block grants to states (which is what the GOP always wants). (Writer’s note: my own work resume includes a lot of experience with Medicaid, Medicare, life insurance, and similar issues.)
When it comes to paid family leave, well, we must pay for it. I like the idea of small payroll deductions, which could be waived for lower income jobs. I like the idea that it is gender neutral: that new fathers get it as well as mothers, and that it covers adoption. That is the policy of most high-tech employers today. But it costs more to expand it beyond maternity leave. The deduction would make childless people stop and think, that they need to become involved in family and raising children at some point if they are going to use it otherwise they are paying for other people’s lives (moral hazard again). It’s pretty clear that responsibility for others doesn’t just stop with deciding to have the act that can produce a child.
Area 7: Identity politics.
I look at people as individuals, not as members of groups who get their rights by consideration of the special issues of their groups from the past. Of course, we have to be careful about monitoring police behavior, but we run the risk that nobody will want to become a police officer. We should use the facts, not mob emotion, in evaluating incidents. Every identity issue has its own special concerns. Most of these don’t have big impact on policy. But we need to have a proper understanding of the history behind all these issues. On LGBTQ rights, I think a lot of people in the past have seen this as (besides religion) a proxy for refusal to participate in procreation and raising another generation, and history has shown this perception to be largely misleading.
Area 8: Second amendment:
European countries have much stronger gun control than the United States, but this, while reducing local crime, may make them even more vulnerable to asymmetric terror cells who circumvent the laws. Gun control is a careful balance. Yes, we need to close the loopholes and tighten the background checks and police procedures with seized weapons. But in some situations, self-defense is a good skill to have.
Area 9: Service:
I did deal with the Vietnam era male-only military draft, serving 1968-1970, and with the socially divisive deferment system I’ve had to deal with the idea of my life as being a fungible bargaining chip for my country’s foreign policy, however well intended. The modern volunteer system sometimes seems like a backdoor draft, with the stop-loss policies during deployments. I think we have a moral issue in that we don’t share the risks of participating in a complex modern society equitably, and many of the risks are not very transparent. All of this figured into how I argued for the end of the military gay ban an “don’t ask don’t tell” over the years 1993-2011.
Talk of reinstating a draft did pop up after 9/11, but today we should ask, if we don’t want one, why do we need a Selective Service System and registration for young men?
Outside of the military armed forces and the Peace Corps, I have some doubts over how effective nationally run service can be, given the bureaucracy. Even the large private volunteer organizations need more transparency as to what people are getting into. But service does help communicate the idea that the playing field can become more level and more meaningful. But then it has to get personal.
Area 10: First Amendment
This gets to be an area that leads us to consider personal values and personal impact.
But first, let me mention one rather straightforward area in the speech area: tort reform. We need to reign in on frivolous lawsuits, which includes those filed by so-called “patent trolls”. For SLAPP suits, we should consider a federal law, and we should give judges the power to order “loser pays” to discourage abusive litigation intended to silence critics.
But a bigger problem, and one that is murky and seems ambiguous, comes from the permissive climate centered on user-generated content on the Internet. And this issue has grown in tandem with our dependence on technology as I mentioned at the outset.
The growth of user-generated content certain helps supplement the flow of news information and interpretation in a way that places all the nuances of current events on the table and forces politicians and leadership to think again before acting. But some material is intentionally deceptive or untruthful, and many people are unwilling or unable to process information that doesn’t already fit into their world views. Furthermore, many people have used the open Internet for harmful purposes. These include cyberbullying, terror recruiting, and even sex trafficking.
The modern Internet would not be possible without laws that limit service provider liability for what users post online, in a way that follows the way utility immunity from liability worked with traditional phone companies and mail. These laws include Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many people point out that service providers and social media companies, and certain online bulletin trading companies, become profitable from illicit and activity of their users, mainly from advertising-driven business models, and that out of general concerns for public safety, companies must take more responsibility for what they seem to be empowering their users to do. It’s also true that while some users and bloggers can make a living online, many more use the services as a form of ego-boost and sense of importance, and participate in a form of communication that shields them from unwelcome contact with people that would have been necessary in the past. In short, the Internet has enabled a kind of vanity self-publishing that eliminates the need to be aware of how one meets the needs of others or sells to others. But this sort of vanity publishing depends on a certain permissiveness that encourages the placing of other people in danger.
The courts have been very supportive of the enhanced free speech on the Internet and web, in litigation involving such laws as the Communications Decency Act, and later the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The courts have enforced Section 230 vigorously. But it is not completely clear that the right to self-distribute one’s speech without supervision or market accountability is as fundamental to the First Amendment as the freedom to keep the government out of meddling with the actual content of the speech itself. Self-distribution was not possible until the 1990s with the Web, and we lived without it before.
Given the seriousness of certain kinds of issues, like terrorism promotion and sex trafficking, the public is certainly going to demand that government look at regulating service providers and even users somewhat. We need to ask questions: how dependent on these downstream liability protections are companies like Google and Facebook in operating as they do now? We need to quantify this. Of course, we know, for example, that some of these services are not allowed at all in some authoritarian countries like China and user behavior is severely curtailed in more moderate countries like Turkey, so we know that this matters. On the other hand, these companies seem to do well in western Europe, where downstream liability protections are less pronounced than in the United States – they have to deal with, for example, “the right to be forgotten.” We need to ask whether some automated filtering tools can be effective. We know, for example, that digital watermarks for some child pornography images can be detected when they are stored or even before they are posted. We need to see whether a narrowly drawn limitation on liability protection is reasonable.
Candidate Trump had talked about living “locally” in an earlier speech, which I discussed here January 2. That seems to fit into the concerns over our dependence on globalization, technology, and loss of local community, too. Trump talks about our working “together“, based on local engagement first. But one needs to have some specifics laid out, or else it sounds like a call for unpredictable sacrifice and coercion.
(Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)
“Moral hazard”, as an economic concept, really has little to do with everyday notions of “moral compass” or “deservedness”. Rather, it refers to a situation where one party (often an individual person) uses more of a particular resource than he/she/it normally would because another party will pay for part of the cost, without that paying party’s direct knowledge or consent.
At the outset, however, the term seems related to our ideas about personal morality in the context of wealth and/or income inequality, because people often benefit from the unseen sacrifices (unelected costs) born by others. Politically, the issue does get mixed into Marxist-related ideas about “to each according to his needs”, but also “from each according to his ability” must somehow be compelled. It gets to be anti-libertarian.
The most obvious area where moral hazard will come up is in health insurance. Some people will use more health care resources than others because they are inclined to be sicker. Over a lifetime, age is less of an issue because we will all eventually die and all face increased risk of illness as we get older, so a “morally” appropriate strategy to deal with this problem can be imagined (whether Medicare achieves this is another debate).
Employer-based health insurance, as became common after WWII, tended to use moral hazard because some people in a company used it more than others. The same is true when you try to regulate the individual market, and especially when you try to compel purchase of insurance, as with the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”).
As an economic principle, when someone with a pre-existing condition uses medical services covered by insurance (without any surcharges) then that person is leveraging moral hazard, whether or not the condition is strictly inherited (genetic), or whether it involves the person’s behavioral “choices”. As a “moral” (in the other sense) matter, probably most Americans think that genetic pre-existing conditions (like Type 1 diabetes or many childhood cancers) should be covered by the public in some way. I have suggested that any health care rewrite under a Trump presidency would envision setting un a reinsurance company (public and private) to pay the additional health care expenses attributable to pre-existing conditions, so this issue doesn’t affect ordinary peoples’ premiums (and help lead to the escalation reported in the news shortly before the 2016 presidential election, which may be a bigger reason for Hillary Clinton’s electoral college loss than “the Russians”, fake news, or Comey and email-gate). But it most be noted that right now, that even with the premium increases, it seems that insurance companies are getting stiffed by the federal government on the pre-existing condition issue (story).
But it is likely that there would be political (and culture-based) disputes on how to cover illness or injury related to behaviors. The list is long: cigarette smoking, drug-use, obesity (to the extent that it is perceived as overeating), for openers. The last two of these behaviors (at least) probably have genetic influences as well as personal choices (the “thrifty gene” in native peoples and obesity and Type II diabetes). You could add sexual behaviors, such as the “chain-letter” problem in the male homosexual community and HIV. That aspect is today Themuch less than it was in the 1980s and early 90s, but still, modern successful clinical management of HIV can with protease inhibitors can cost about $60000 a year, or maybe $3 million in the lifetime of a young adult male. You can also add sporting behaviors that have general social approval, like playing football and concussion risks.
Then, there is gender. In purely economic terms, gender is the ultimate pre-existing condition. Women have childbirth expenses and men, literally do not. Women live longer than men, and their eldercare is likely to cost more (although today custodial care in old age is not normally covered by Medicare but may be covered by long term care insurance, which women are more likely to “use” than men). Within families, generally husband and wife regard pregnancy as a joint experience and cost. But in a total insurance pool, childless people would contribute premiums to pay for “other people’s children” (“OPC”).
The next place where “moral hazard” comes into play is workplace benefits, especially the push for paid family leave. I’ve noted before that it is more “egalitarian” to offer parental leave to both parents than only maternity leave (which is all Trump wants to offer). Most tech companies offer parental. It is even more “egalitarian” to include adoption leave, and eldercare leave for caring for parents. All of this costs a lot (I like charging another insurance premium deduction and making it at least contributory, so workers have to understand what it going on – rather than making employers (or “shareholders”) foot the entire bill out of anti-capitalist sentiment). A benefit that most workers would eventually use becomes less a “moral hazard” situation. But part of the paid leave problem is that when someone is out, other workers often do their jobs (even being on call for production problems in the I.T. world) without any more pay, often incurring personal sacrifices and expenses themselves. Obama has been trying to fix this with new rules about overtime pay for salaried workers, but Trump is likely to roll that back. But in the worst situation, a single or childless person bears personally some of the cost for a married co-worker’s sexual passion (as in “the Song of Solomon”).
There are other examples of moral hazard, as in finance, with the “securitization” of so many financial instruments (like mortgages), leading to the hiding of downstream risks and unsustainabilities, contributing to the subprime mortgage meltdown and then the financial crisis in 2008. The bailouts amounted to the processing of moral hazard.
Although not usually viewed in an economic sense, we can relate other issues, like past military conscription (and the deferment history) as “real” moral hazard. Like it or not, one’s own life (and assets) become behind-the-back bargaining chips for politicians to play. Likewise, calls for volunteer work often involve a spontaneity that resists examination of the serious risks one is called upon to take to benefit others, and this brings us around from traditional economics to social capital.
On a humid Wednesday morning, July 29, 1959, about a month before I was to start my junior year in Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA (with that American history class from the world’s greatest social studies teacher of all time, Simon Korczowski ) and compose my big D Minor piano sonata (on snow days 6 months later), I rode over with my father to the barber shop (still there) in Westover in Arlington VA. This was the first morning back after we had ridden home from Kipton, Ohio on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (four tunnels then) and the Washington Post newspaper delivery hadn’t been restarted yet. Right outside the barber shop, I saw a news stand with the morning Post, and a sports banner on top, “A’s Hop on Pascual, too, 6-1” (game )
The Washington Senators, who had started out the baseball season decently, had just lost their tenth game in a row. The Kansas City Athletics had won their ninth. This had been a “late” game in the Midwest (and at the time, KCMO didn’t have DST), but somehow the Post edition at the barber shop was late enough to have all the scores. Less than ten years later I would complete graduate school in that area. Camilo Pascual had been the Nats one ace (comparable to Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer this year). The Senators would lose every game on a western trip (in those days, the West comprised Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland), for the first time ever. The streak would end at 18 at home a week later with a second game twi-night 9-0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians, tossed by Tex Clevenger.
How well I remember baseball then – us kids even had, at one time, run a “league” in our own backyards (previous post). OK, the point of this sermon – I could “feel” I was part of something “bigger than myself.” From my earliest beginnings of hating sports, I rooted for the doomed Senators, in a representing a Nation’s capital city polarized by racial divisions that nobody would talk about, a city seriously compromised by the lack of democracy (call it “home rule”. From a self-interest viewpoint, rooting for losers like the Senators made no sense. (The Redskins didn’t do well then, either.) The Senators would do much better in the 1960 season, then suddenly move to Minnesota (where I would live 1997-2003 – funny how what goes around returns).
I recall that I didn’t even understand how baseball worked until third grade – that balls are batted and caught or fielded. The physics (watching batted balls ricochet off the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston) was tantalizing. My third grade teacher and reported about my demanding too much attention and not having any feeling of affinity for my team or “group”. How often today in MLB do we hear about “team” wins when a key star player had been injured?
Let me jump to another scenario, a sermon a few weeks ago at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, by Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, where she spoke of “scruffy hospitality”. She’s referring just being prepared to welcome guests in your home at any time without the necessity for ritual cleaning to perfection for company. That follows on a sermon from Oct. 27, 2012 when she talked about “radical hospitality” one day before Hurricane Sandy was due. (We had been through the power outages from the June 29 derecho). As it would happen, there was little damage or inconvenience from Sandy here – the brief period of sudden low barometric pressure (and brief high winds) actually cleared up some hip arthritis I was having – nature’s cure. I’ve heard the hospitality thing before – once being asked if I would consider using my home for a partisan fundraiser – oh, where was this coming from? Of course, the hospitality thing comes up with so many real disasters – wildfires in the west, floods in West Virginia and recently Ellicott City, MD, but we’ll come back to that.
As for incidental hospitality, most of the social gatherings I attend are in public venues, often bars and restaurants (or, depending on the group, church gyms ready for “Godly play”, or even major league sports stadiums). Not many are in private homes any more. They were a lot more common when I was growing up (and, yes, my mother cleaned for them – I remember those shrimp creole dinner parties on winter Saturday nights.)
But “scruffy hospitality” goes along with another idea, something like “Lotsa Helping Hands”. Churches (synagogues, and mosques) typically set this community up among their own fellowships. Here’s were “socialization” comes down. “You” are a member of a group before you express yourself as an individual. Your content has no meaning until others benefit from it. Others need to matter to you in a way that’s up close and personal.
The “helping hands” mentality is at odds with an individualistic “mind your own business” culture, to be sure. When someone like me “returns” to a mainstream church – no matter how liberally politically (and today more and more mainstream churches support ideas like marriage equality, whatever the fringes are trying to do with “religious freedom” and the “bathroom bills”). It is very difficult for me to step into a world like this and feel very welcome, because, for one thing, I never had my own kids. I would be difficult for me to accept the idea of a “free ride” at work for a “new mom” (paid maternity leave) without wondering if I were being compelled to “sacrifice” for someone else’s benefit that I would never use.
So here we get to the heart of socialization – you have to start by belonging somewhere. That was the point of Martin Fowler’s book on the subject. If you “belong” you will feel natural empathy and willingness to chip in, even (to quote Judith) “when it costs you something”. There’s been a lot written about this the past few days – in reaction to the aggressive hyper individualism of Donald Trump.
For example, David Brooks invokes Sebastian Junger’s new booklet “Tribe” in his piece “The Great Affluence Fallacy”; and then there’s a dual between Robert Putnam and libertarian Charles Murray over communitarianism, as implied in this book review invoking “I v. We” on Vox of Putman’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”. Then an effective LTE (“Loners can’t be fixers” ) slams Kathleen Parker’s libertarian interpretation of conservatism in the Washington Post , Parker curiously had invoked Russell Kirk’s “10 Conservative Principles”, rather moralistic and proto-communitarian, where Kirk writes (in point 9) that power is, in political terms, “the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows”.
The place where most people develop socialization is supposed to be the “natural family”, to borrow a term from a 2009 “manifesto” by Carlson and Mero. (Sounds like saying “Most people walk in the direction they’re heading” – Shane’s famous admonition to Danny in “Judas Kiss”.) Particularly, older kids are likely to learn to take care of younger siblings. (I remember a mother’s saying that to me when I was working a Census survey in 2011 – like this was an off-the-wall moral imperative.) That means that older kids in a family may have more opportunity to learn the personal value of “family” in relation to personalized achievement goals. That may be one reason why younger kids may be less conventional or more “liberal” or rebellious, and insistent on their own paths. Younger sons may be more likely to be gay for biological reasons having to do with epigenetics, but they also may have less opportunity to learn the “value” of becoming a future father and provider. This all gets blown out – in reviewinga silly mainstream Hollywood comedy film on July 28 I noted David Skinner’s old-fashioned take on a supposed duty of men to become providers and protectors. And without the “reward” of having a family of one’s own (which in my generation required procreative sexual intercourse in most cases) it’s hard to fit in to a community centered around caring for other generations. Family is the first place you learn to “love” people in a closed space unconditionally, regardless of “ability” (to borrow from Marx); it’s the first community where you learn to have each other’s backs. In practice, that’s a big reason to need “relationships”. If you really want to learn more about “family values”, study the “distributed consciousness” of the (non-human person) orca (story). Cetaceans know no geography (or “Global Pursuit”).
Of course, that’s changing – with acceptance of gay marriage and of same-sex couples as parents. That doesn’t “help” me “fit in” all that much. I have to run on the record I have, and on what was possible earlier in my life in setting myself up.
So, then, what about all the other “communities” I “joined” during my adult life. The most important may have been the Ninth Street Center in New York in the 1970s. Various others included the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas and then Whitman Walker in Washington, to volunteer for PWA’s, and social groups like Chrysalis and Adventuring, and there are others. And of course there are political groups. But in a couple of cases there have been incidents where I believe I did an “OK thing” and someone else thought something I did was wrong because I somehow didn’t “belong” enough to the group to know what was really going on behind the lines.
That leads to another place – whether knowledge should really be acquired in the “It’s Free” mode – the debate about open access, and even kicked off by Reid Ewing’s little short film about a public library. A lot of people think that knowledge should come down through a family or social structure. The Rosicrucian Order teaches that mystical knowledge is acquired as one moves through various levels of initiation (but then, so does Scientology). Then, there is the “no spectators” mentality so well acted in the recent sci-fi film “Rebirth” (indeed, no “alien anthropologists” like me or Mark Zuckerberg).
There is a practical reality that today many people may not have total freedom to join other communities (for “socialization”) beyond their original family. Of course, that’s the case in authoritarian societies, but even in democratic cultures, aging populations tend to keep people tethered. The hard reality is that people need to take care of others outside of their own scope of choice sometimes, and find meaning in doing so. We find this a hard thing to say.
Families do indeed have a problem letting go. “Family” is supposed to be the place people learn to belong to a community, but some families never allow their members to move on beyond “taking care of their own”. (See the David Brookspiece, July 15; Murray had explained this in terms of social capital types, like “bridge capital” which grows out of “bonding capital”, but not always reliably.)
Many churches actually do reach out abroad, sending youth or college-age groups overseas, to Central America or sometimes even Africa, for missions or service — setting up a process where young adults learn to bond with others from cultures very different (and much less individualistic) than theirs. The church mentioned above has a summer mission trip to Belize, and has even made a short film showing the bonding, worthy of festival submission (like DC Shorts), in my view, at least.
As for me, I find it hard to stomach the idea of wearing somebody else’s uniform in public, or someone else’s protest flag. Yes, earlier in my life, some of “identity politics” made sense (I marched in my first “Christopher Street Liberation Say” in New York City in 1973). Individualism, and the narrow idea of personal responsibility (focused most of visible consequences for deliberate personal choices) has actually served me well in most of my adult life (for example, avoiding HIV). I’ve gotten away with viewing most people through the lens of “upward affiliation”, not from the meaning that would come from actually being needed in more down-to-earth ways by them. But I’ve been lucky. Yet, I do hold to the belief that no matter what happens to someone or what someone is born into, some of the responsibility for that person’s karma stays with that person, isn’t the automatic obligation of social policy.
As for baseball: Yes, Richard Harmon wants to pitch one game for his favorite San Francisco Giants, and thanks to Max Scherzer’s wife for helping set up Pride Night at Nationals Park. One day, MLB will have a transgender pitcher; it’s sure to happen.
It’s a given that gender itself is biologically immutable. I’ve never been a fan of depending on classifying people by “born this way” groups. But it’s pretty clear that a lot of other characteristics associated with gender are at least largely biological, maybe epigenetic. That would include sexual orientation and gender identity, which gives you “2**3” or 8 combinations. If you add the personality specifications developed by Paul Rosenfels (the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s), that is polarity (psychologically feminine or masculine – again different from all the others) and action bias (subjective or objective), you get “2**5” or 32 combinations. No language could come close to having 32 pronouns or case endings for all possible gender-related personality combinations. Maybe an alien civilization 1400 light years away (Tabby’s Star, which might have a Dyson’s Sphere around it) could have done this with digital languages and reproductive robotics. “I will accept nothing less.”
Most societies develop expectations about how people with various kinds of dispositions fit in.
A critical question will be, does the society value all “human” or “personhood” life within the group? If so, it will develop expectations for the way everyone is socialized. Now some societies (like Nazi Germany in the past) did not value even all of “their own”. (Sparta in ancient Greece sounds like a good comparison.) Others, like hyper-communist societies (Maoism during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and later groups like the Khmer Rouge (of Pol Pot) or today’s North Korea) pretend to achieve “equality” by bringing almost everybody equally low and poor, and then often eliminate the weakest members in Nazi style anyway. (We could get into a discussion of whether Stalin was worse than Hitler.)
Societies may actually be fairly egalitarian with their own people, but very brutal with any other groups that they perceive as “enemies”. That could be said of ISIL, where cult-like religion identifies the group. (ISIL actually has programs for the disabled among their own “believers”.)
For an individual living in any of many cultures in the world today, he or she (up to 32 pronouns, again) is faced with carrying his/her own weight as a member of the group – which can extend concentrically, from nuclear family to extended family, to community, to country, maybe to religious affiliation, maybe to some adult-chosen activist identification. Ultimately, the ability of the individual to relate well to people in the rest of the world depends both on the politics of the group he/she grew up in – the enemies issue – but also this his/her own personal outreach (becoming a “doctor without borders” being one of the best possible outcomes personally).
But it’s important to understand that most cultures need to expect people to grow up learning to take care of their own first. That expectation goes along with the historical fact that personal privacy is relatively new (coming with wealth and increasing standard of living) and most families have had to deal with shared family beds and restricted living space, that is, forced intimacy. In western cultures, some people (like me) will place more emphasis on personally defined accomplishment (and having it recognized) and less on meeting the immediate adaptive needs of others in the family group. (This gets in to Rosenfels’s ideas about “adaptiveness” v. “creativity” which becomes a digression in itself.) I behave this way partly because of my own biologically mediate temperament (male, gay, male, feminine, subjective). But there is a risk that I will take undue advantage of the sacrifices of others in the group who participate more conventionally in building the group’s social capital, and my doing so, while publicly visible with my own agenda (as an “unbalanced” personality) could undermine the social development and relationship building and reslience of others around me.. This brings up the whole idea of “right-sizing“, sometimes mentioned in Christian service settings, but itself almost a moral oxymoron.
The last years of my mother’s life, along with other incidents (documented in my books) showed that intimate engagement with others and providing for them is often expected even without having one’s own children. The idea that this capacity doesn’t happen until one “chooses” to have children is an over simplification of moral responsibility, and means that “family values” (and the place of marriage) is a lot more nuanced than a lot of us would like it to be. But, when a sequence like this happens late in adult life, it is much “easier” to deal with for someone who has had and raised his/her own children.
When I was growing up, there was a definite expectation that young men and women needed to learn to develop practical skills in providing for one another at least in part related to gender. These “skills” would make the eventual appropriation of sexuality to marriage and raising children
Ironically, these skills seem more relevant today was the aged live longer and are more likely to have severe disabilities late in life. At the same time, there is more emphasis in providing a sense of “value” to those with individual disadvantages through public measures (social media and “gofundme” campaigns) than there was when I was growing up, when disability and inequality were obviously visible publicly, and the prevailing sentiment was that “the natural family” should provide a sense of value through the family’s own internals social capital.
In western societies, most of all the U.S., we value individual initiative and independence, and personalized critical thinking, sometimes to the point that marriage and family, so privatized (the “License expired” idea), gets viewed, especially by political libertarians, as a cultural afterthought. But the idea that, within a family and concentric groups surrounding it or to which a person belongs, one doesn’t “need” anyone else (because his knowledge makes him/her “better” than those whose lives are more interdependent) can become destructive, and lead the disadvantaged to believe that modern civilization has no moral point (and incite “mass movements” as by Hoffer’s 1951 book “The True Believer“). I saw this angry point from the radical Left way back in the early 1970s, well before the discontent expressed in today’s religious mass movements. On the other hand, the intellectual singleton (or even “schizoid”) is less likely to be seduced by radical ideology or belief for its own sake, just to “belong”.
A supplementary piece from one of my legacy blogs is “What Other People Want” from January 2016. David Brooks covered similar territory in the New York Times with a “process piece” that I discussed April 30 while heading for the PA turnpike tunnels. I guess I have to make sure I don’t go “less bad” myself.
I have an old article from 2005 “Hyperindividualism v. Solidarity” which refers to a Mother Jones article “Are We Better Off? In Search of Common Ground”, current location here. The magazine cover had read “A Nation of Ones.”
Peter Wehner, in a NYT op-ed “The Theology of Donald Trump” does talk about ideas of personal worth (comparing Christ to Nietzche or maybe Ayn Rand), with a reluctance to elevate the “weak”.
Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of hypothetical Dyson Swarm, under CCSA 3.0.
Yes, it is certainly true that the United States seems to look bad compared to almost the entire rest of the developed world when it comes to paid maternity leave, slightly less so for paternity and for other family leave needs like eldercare. “Thinkprogress” has a revealing chart here.
So, as I usually do, I must pour cold water on all these pleas for common sense help for mothers of young children, and say that the United States, more than almost any other country, is an hyperindividualistic culture where people bear the responsibilities for their own chosen behaviors. If so, history is inconsistent, but that’s the direction we’ve been heading. But it’s fair to ask, then, why didn’t we have (and expect) paid maternity leave, at least, back in the 1950s when society was supposedly much more family-centered? A lot of the issue then just had to do with the position of labor.
Paid family leave is certainly a feel-good thing, but it needs to be “paid for”. The political Left assumes capitalists can pay for it out of their “profits”. Businesses say they will have to charge higher prices.
Of course, larger, more progressive companies have started offering paid parental leave on their own, most notably in the tech sector. That is out of self-interest: they need to keep their best talent. Generally, they offer the same leave to new fathers as well as mothers, and often offer it for adoption. (Mark Zuckerberg made a big show of this for Facebook when his pediatrician wife had her first child.) Some may offer it for eldercare.
The question, then, is should states or municipalities (like San Francisco and Washington DC) require employers to offer it?
My own feeling is nuanced. Paid parental leave that covers both fathers and mothers (and covers adoption) is “fairer” by gender than paid maternity leave alone. Leave that covers eldercare is still fairer to the childless, who may wind up with disproportionate share of responsibility (see my post on filial responsibility, May 12). But leave that covers more people (in the name of equality) costs more.
I think that Washington DC is on the right track with this, in proposing the idea of an “insurance premium” payroll deduction to help pay for the benefit. Everyone would pay the same premium, except that it could be made progressive with respect to wage (or waived for the lowest wage workers). Charging a premium makes the worker conscious that there is an issue that doesn’t have an easy solution that is always “fair”. (Indeed, Donald Trump used to say, “Life isn’t fair” on “The Apprentice”). A worker knows that he or she is more likely to use the benefit if he or she does something to deserve it. The idea could encourage more couples, or in some cases single people (and this includes gays, lesbians and transgender) to adopt children, probably a social development that is needed (although that’s another discussion). However, Hillary Clinton was reported by Time as against the use of a “consciousness-raising” payroll tax to help pay for the benefit.
One other problem connected with paid leave is how salaried or exempt employees are treated. In many cases now, if an key employee is out for parental leave, other workers simply do their work, often without being paid extra, even working on their own time. That may change now for lower paid salaried workers, who according to a recent Labor Department rule now must be paid overtime. Fox News called this development a “career killer” . In October 1993, I spent an entire weekend in the office on production problems after end-of-month when the scheduled person was on maternity leave. I did not get paid for the time, nor did I ask to be. I simply “lowballed” workers with heavier family responsibilities. Then I would learn my lesson with my own mother’s situation a few years later.
Some companies try to offer alternatives to parental leave for associates without children. But then, logically, there is no inherent benefit for becoming a parent. You can’t have it both ways, but you can only pretend to.
Many people, aghast at the idea of evaluating mom’s leave benefits through the lens of “moral hazard“, will see this issue of one of social solidarity, about living in a community and sharing some longterm goals rather than in the narrower sense of fairness related to one’s own actions. European countries are used to seeing things this way. It’s interesting to note the response of the public to mothers’ crowdfunding their own maternity leave (NBC Today story).
I’ll share this second video by a young woman who discusses “unintended consequences” of making paying for maternity leave alone mandatory.
Note that she correctly describes the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act as providing for unpaid family leave (which can include eldercare and is gender neutral). She also notes that many employers prefer married men but unmarried women, which can bear on sexual orientation discrimination at least indirectly.
There is another related concept, which social conservatives sometimes discussed in the 1990s (like in Henry Hyde’s “Mom and Pop Manifesto” in Policy), called the family wage, which in theory is enough pay to allow a family with two children or so to live on one income. The far left tried to push this idea in Spokane, WA recently, as in this “Triblive” article by Colin McNickle, Aug. 25, 2015, calling it a “progressive cancer”. The concept is discussed in Chapter 5 of my first DADT book.
Update July 9: David Brooks pens an essay “The Power of Altruism” which would seem to defang the idea that the childless should be so concerned about paying for other people’s children (OPC), or other people’s relationships or sexual intercourse (stripped of community context). Elinor Burlett had gone there were her 2000 book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless“, although she fielded the idea that the willfully childless “cheat the system”.