EDITORIAL – Does My Personal Freedom Compromise Others?

AND – Am I My Brother’s Keeper?    (Archive from Spring 2005)

 

My thirty-two-year remunerative information technology career tanked on Dec. 13, 2001—with an early retirement settlement that left me better off than a lot of other middle-aged casualties of the recession following the Internet bubble bust, 9-11, and financial accounting scandals—but with a financial wad that will not last forever. I began soon to take interim jobs – low pay, sometimes commission, no benefits – in the real world that a lot of people try to raise families on. The experience provided a sobering OJT education.  Trying to raise guaranty money for a symphony orchestra, I encountered many donors who were financially strapped because of the sudden hard times.  As a debt collector working on a telecommunications account, I dunned a multiplicity of debtors who had just gone on disability, or, several months unemployed, were about to become homeless—imagine impressing such persons without checking accounts on the “urgency” of their situations that would demand paying a premium to send their money by Western Union quick collection money order services. Then I became a substitute teacher, expecting the job to emphasize academics. Instead, a third of the calls, regardless of my profile, would involve special education students, often physiologically impaired because of (besides unlucky genetics) parental neglect (drug, tobacco or alcohol abuse during the mother’s pregnancy, or overexposure to television at very young ages without other forms of parental attention, often in a single-parent household). Imagine the “challenge” of communicating with a student (often a minority member) who cannot express himself with straightforward conversation or understand intellectual abstraction, after spending thirty years left to crawl off into a corner and pound away at a computer terminal, the perfect paycheck cash cow for an introvert (and a pseudo-career that is easy to offshore because it doesn’t involve people as much).  At one assignment, I was asked if I could help with the swimsuit changing in the locker room and then guard the deep end of the swimming pool; as a publicly known gay man, I had to decline such intimate duties as a legal risk, and I don’t swim; the teacher was surprised someone would reach the age if 60 without giving child care or learning to swim.

 

I get to one point really quickly. We have an individualistic, competitive society (Donald Trump’s Apprentice is the ultimate expression or perhaps caricature, and TheWB’s Starlet is a newer one) in which some people make it, but a lot of people fail, and some young people never get a chance. And, in the second Bush era, it is getting politically and socially easier to blame people for their own personal failures. We have achieved a brutal, consistent and self-enforcing personal meritocracy.

 

When I was growing up, I did not perform well some of the tasks normally expected of young men, such as playing many sports or performing mechanical chores. I felt smug about my physically non-pugnacious nature. I was talented in piano and music, and could do well in school. My father pressured me to learn to do the basic things expected of everyone. I resented being expected to compete in areas in which I was not good, and I wondered why I was not to be left “free” to be myself and stress the things that I was good at. The partial answer seemed to be that the world was a dangerous place, that I could not count on an advanced, technological world to protect me all the time, and there was an implied duty to family. I was an only child, and I think that my parents feared that I would not carry the family on. But the fatherly moral point remains: one does not have the right to get through life taking freedom for granted or assuming that the outside world will always be stable, or to make all of one’s choices even as an adult, and to evade making personal sacrifices for others. If one belongs (and to some extent conforms to social expectations), things are supposed to balance out in the long run. Sometimes, though, it also seemed that being a “man” had come to mean being prepared to do anything to protect one’s own blood, even when one’s own kind was not in the right. I resented that “loyalty to blood” notion, even if I had benefited from it as an overprotected child. Competing with other men to “protect” my own blood (the women and children) was not something I would ever be good at, and would relegate me to an inferior station in life.

 

Later in life, in fact, I have wondered what my attitude toward sexuality would have been had I pursued piano. With a commitment to piano (rather like the character Ephram in TheWB show “Everwood” – a sequence that does not turn out well) I could have “competed” in a world that is more socially acceptable, even if on the edge of the mainstream. With music one can “say” things in a way that is less confrontational to some people than with words (expressionistic composer Arnold Schoenberg used to say that). With that capability, maybe I would have wanted to date women, marry, and continue the biological family with children. Success on one’s own terms is a prerequisite to healthful personal relationships; but unfortunately such luxury is not available to most people, who often come to view the world as a hostile place, filled with enemies, and demanding loyalty to family of origin as a prerequisite for everyone’s survival.  The conventional world would expect me to compete in superficial (often sales related) activities for the benefit of “family”, and that is just not me.  A good word for this might be “local morality.” But let us move on.

 

The postwar world of the 50s and early 60s assumed that one was not a real grown-up until one married and had children. Heterosexual courtship, marriage and family were thought to provide the most transparent way to socialize people (beyond their own personal self-interest and accomplishment) into taking care of others, especially children but also other blood dependent family members. If you didn’t marry you stayed home and provided backup for people who did. The mechanism worked in such a way that most people did not have to think about it. The system seemed moral but might be seriously flawed in that it perpetuated prejudice and inherited injustices, like racial segregation. The system seemed vulnerable to asymmetric challenges from even a small minority of creative people (“queers” or “fags”). The family system (hardly as oppressive as the Roman paterfamilia) would indeed weaken as government credibility failed (from Vietnam to Watergate), as the civil rights movement encouraged gays to see themselves as a genuine minority, but moreover as technology gave individuals (especially women at first) more ways to define themselves outside the traditional family role. “Women’s liberation,” and feminism, as conceived in the 60s (after Betty Friedan), helped me: if women became more economically independent, then men would feel less pressure to compete sexually for the “privilege” of providing for them, and sexuality could become an experience more geared toward self-satisfaction.

 

My double-dip at coming out as gay is documented in detail in my books and elsewhere on my websites. But, after military service ended in 1970, I was able to spend over thirty years living alone as I wanted to.  I had a series of “relationships” (as I experience them), and despite all the bumps in the road, my own life, built around people that I chose and “selected,” was in the end very satisfying to me. An urban, technological society gave me promise of and (once the Internet came along) real outlets for self-expression and self-actualization. I did not need “family” the way other people usually experience it. But there was one big negative: I had to put a lot of effort into “coming out” and taking care of my own needs, and this did not leave a lot of surplus to be responsible for others—a point that would become morally significant only years later.

 

In the mid 1990s I began my projects of writing my “Do Ask Do Tell” books, well documented elsewhere. Much of my motive started with my own college expulsion from William and Mary in 1961, which gave me the incentive to become active in the military gay ban and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy when it surfaced during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s.

 

Much of my thinking in the 1990s centered around the libertarian (or classically liberal) notion that an adult individual ought to be able to choose a consenting adult significant other (or partner, domestic or marital) without discrimination, legal or not, from society. This seems logical, rational, and objectivistic. A corollary would be that an individual must always be able to account for his own personal actions. Morally simple.

 

The logical corollary of my idea of sexual and relational freedom for adults is that adults may use sexuality to advance their own adult happiness. Having children and raising a family is a deliberate choice that every adult makes for himself or herself, but if he or she does have children, they must “come first” and they ought to be raised in a two-parent, legally married family. Barbara Bush said as much in the 1992 presidential campaign. At the time, this did not sound controversial. The Ninth Street Center in New York City (founded in large part by Paul Rosenfels), which I frequented in the 1970s, advanced the idea of responsible adult sexual freedom in conjunction with a theory of psychological polarity.

 

The real world, of course, is not simple, and not always “rational” as the sum of individual actions.  Consider, in an inside-out manner, the complications that come when I live my life “as I want to.”

 

In the 1970s we heard a lot about the fragility of our energy infrastructure (with the oil shocks)—something I would need if I were to have the physical mobility I need to live my own life as I choose. Now, in these days of global warming and terrorism, we hear it again. Americans are accused (explicitly by Osama bin Laden) of “stealing” oil from Muslims. Americans occupy Muslim lands, to tell the truth, to protect oil supplies. There is more, as history compels America to support Israel. Now, I support the idea of Israel, too, but not the stealing without compensation of land from Palestinians that has been going on since 1917. I don’t like it if my “freedom” depends on that. I’ll move on from this international debate here, however.

 

In the 1980s the brutal shock was, of course, AIDS. A few hysterical voices on the far right (like Paul Cameron and Gene Antonio) warned that male homosexual practices could amplify diseases, perhaps now unknown, that would mutate and threaten to wipe out the world, where “everybody’s dead.” A few states, especially Texas where I lived in the 80s, threatened draconian legislation to shut down the gay community as we know it. However, AIDS and HIV became perceived as a manageable problem among gay men as the tornado moved on through other communities. Curiously, public health has never been mentioned by the Supreme Court as an issue in either sodomy decision (Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) or Lawrence v. Texas (2003)). Also, it seems that during the past thirty years the epidemic of breast cancer in relatively younger women is associated with not having children or at least postponing having children for career or any other reasons of personal priorities.

 

In the 1990s, the debates over gays in the military and then gay marriage and gay parents (continuing into today) put forth the idea that gays and lesbians need no longer be second class citizens, who could not share civic responsibilities. And, especially during the gay marriage (as well as sodomy law) debates, the real boogey man comes out of the wordwork: the threat to the cultural meaning of the nuclear family as a socializing influence on most people.

 

Before the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, Senator Richard Santorum (R-PA) expressed this sentiment as follows: “You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

 

Is this just word salad? The center of his thought seems to be over the change in the way individuals appropriate their own sexuality. It used to be that most of middle America really believed in the half-myth that sex was for procreation, making babies and raising children in the nuclear family. Abstinence until marriage (even if it admitted a covert double standard for men) was another way to solidify this idea. Now, sexuality, even for many heterosexuals, is seen as a private choice and designed to support the happiness and expressive fulfillment of the individual adult. Homosexuals, especially men, probably led the way into this change after Stonewall.

 

Particularly in the 1970s (before the explosion of the AIDS crisis) we went through a transformation where we began to see sexuality more in terms of privacy and personal choice. This comported with decisions about contraception (Griwsold v. Connecticut, 1962, which pretty much established personal sexual privacy as a right even outside of the context of procreation) and even Roe v. Wade (1973), as well as a decision by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 not to view homosexuality as a mental illness or other disorder. (The Vatican would strongly disagree.) Truth to tell, however, even back in the 1940s and 1950s (and in some communities even into the 1980s) homosexuals who visited gay bars risked “exposure” (as with police raids and “naming names” in newspapers) and “privacy” was never a very convincing paradigm in practice. But with the opening up of society and the rise of the Internet, encouraging unprecedented self-expression, homosexuality became a public cultural force, providing some competition for the older notions about the family.

 

Consider, however, how many people who are not competitive in an open, interconnected society function. To them, old fashioned ideas of blood kinship, lineage, and family membership are an important source of happiness and personal motivation. They see the new freedoms by people like me not just as competitive but as major distractions, real threats, and potentially destructive. They also see family responsibility and family leadership position, often viewed as unearned and patriarchal by the political Left, as the one legitimate way to ensure lifelong public status.  For me, personal expression is everything, and the “family” is just an abstraction. When I have the public freedom to live in my own world with my own significant others, I do not really “need” it.

 

Or do I? After all, the family is a major way to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. Of course, this starts with raising children, but it also means taking care of the elderly, whose lives can be extended by medicine.  However, families break apart, adult children move away and may not even have children of their own, and custodial care becomes increasingly difficult to hire and pay for. As an only child, this is particularly telling for me.  Eldercare potentialities have affected where I live, and my own ability to maintain adult relationships that I form with my own “adult world.”  And, in our culture, if I do not have children (and I didn’t), who would take care of me if something happens? I can see how my modern permissive self-promotion and public expression about what I feel is sexually attractive can make it harder for some couples to stay mutually sexually committed and together during medical misfortunes; this is more about shared values than specific acts. Many people see the whole “abstinence except for marriage” paradigm and the whole ceremonial ritual of marriage, consummation and resulting parenthood as the fundamental source of meaning in lives that, compared to mine, may offer little opportunity for personal self-expression. 

 

European and other western societies outside of the United States have experienced some practical success in socializing the cost or “burden” of caring for the needy, and especially the elderly, and removing the burden from families. In a huge society with a history like ours, it is difficult to see how far socializing family responsibility can go without political barter and having to look at difficult questions, like, should childless or unmarried adults be coerced by public policy to stay near their aging parents? We could face that question in the future. Remember, a couple generations ago the “non-marrying kind” was expected to stay home and take care of aging relatives, although medicine then could not prolong life like it can now. Throughout history, societies have often forbad people from leaving their biological families, or, as in some Roman times, from even taking on new occupations.

 

Furthermore, family life normally entails risks and commitments that people like me only read about in the media. Any couple would like to bear or adopt the most gifted child possible, but bearing or adopting children means sharing unpredictable karma-fulfilling risks. (A particular 2004 Seventh Heaven [Brenda Hampton] show comes to mind – the episode with the interviews of perspective adoptive parents.) Any family, whatever the genetic counseling available, can have a disabled child, needing special education and resulting in tremendous costs to the family and sacrifices from siblings. In many families, the event of pregnancy and childbirth is enormously taxing to both marital partners, especially when there are complications like bed rest for the mother. Any marriage must survive the risk that something bad happens to one of the marriage partners (“till death do us part”).  Marital sexual interest must survive the treatments for breast cancer and prostate cancer, for example.  This is not easy in a competitive society with a lot of public visual distractions. Singletons like me have little practical experience with such psychological and permanent challenges. 

 

That is why some of the “family responsibility” sacrifice eventually spills over to those without their own families (those who do not marry or have or adopt children). In the workplace, for example, I have sometimes been expected to take more of the on-call duties without compensation. It seems as though the real social issue ought to be sharing family responsibility equitably. The call for differential sacrifice may only grow if some of society’s external problems, like global warming or energy shortages, increase.

 

Elsewhere on this site I’ve run all the arguments about gay marriage and gay parenting against this basic problem. In fact the political platitudes (such as President Bush’s “sanctity of marriage”) seem like excuses to avoid discussing the deeper underlying problems of family responsibility, so familiar in the past and so well established in history. Other societies, like China, are really feeling the same pressures as they modernize and young adults want more freedom away from the Confucian family. And some countries, like the city-state Singapore, already recognize the future problems that can come from childlessness and low birth rates; in fact, the socially progressive societies in Europe now have to deal with low birth rates and lack of interest among many younger adults in having children.  Now, the practical problem with gay marriage, besides the naïve religious belief that “it isn’t meant to be,” seems to remain with the idea that sex has still been disconnected from procreation and child rearing. People in less fortunate circumstances with less access to a “technological life” may feel that this demoralizes or subverts their own sexual commitments (or distracts them—especially men--from being able to “perform”), and children in poorer families may develop the idea that they don’t matter as much because adults seem less committed to sacrificing for them or nurturing them.  Hence, the enormous behavior problems. But, then, doesn’t this seem like a lot of whining, or looking for scapegoats? Where do people really have to take responsibility for their own family-related choices, and where may they expect deference or restraint from others who make more personally expressive choices? I must admit, however, I sometimes enjoy using my insights to step on toes of people I feel some contempt for, even if this seems a bit sadistic. So I get the scapegoating.

 

My own personal “narcissistic” psychology figures in here. Given my background, I rather sensed as a teen that it made more “sense” to affiliate with men who were “better” than take the competitive “risk” of dating, marrying, and having a (weaker) family of my own. One can say, if I feel that way, why should anyone listen to me? Or, isn’t the experience as a 60-year-old of enjoying and gawking at the sight or company of attractive younger men (watching them break dance and strip each other on the dance floors of places like The Saloon or The Cobalt) unwelcome or creepy? If I had “chosen” and accepted the responsibility for creating and sustaining my own family, I could not “indulge” in such “voyeurism.”  My actions and inactions, in combination, would seem to send a public message that only “attractive” or “exciting” people are to be personally valued; yet I have rationalized this value system by imagining that I am supporting people or values that are “good.”  There is sometimes the potential in male homosexuality to celebrate the personal “superiority” of someone for its own sake, and to enjoy one’s own progressive abasement. Taken too far, we know from history where this kind of attitude can lead. After all, we fought World War II and a had a Holocaust. Yes, this is troubling, just by the weight of its own logic.  We can get back to Biblical passages that decry claiming to know personally “good” and “evil.”    

 

The other main area where my freedom seems to create a conflict with the well-being of others is my First Amendment freedom of unsupervised speech. The Internet has given me a low-cost way to become known publicly for my ideas without any real accountability to others. I do not even have to make a profit or report financial results if I use my own money, which is minimal. Some persons feel that it is unfair that I can do this—place myself (and, indirectly, perhaps others associated with me such as family) in the limelight by delving into controversial social issues without first demonstrating that I can be accountable to and fight for a family, without having the partially mandatory family responsibilities that many or most people experience. I do not seem to have the incentive for solidarity that others may have.

 

The purpose of my writing and websites has been to put everything on the table, with as much intellectual objectivity as possible. You can’t do this without getting into adult areas. My motives started with the military gay ban, which became a pivot point for leveraging may other issues since the ban seems so intertwined with the idea that you can’t take freedom for granted!  But this means that I put my material out in a public space where immature minors can find them without parental supervision. This sounds like self-promotion in front of children, until you dissect all of the legal arguments. That became a major point in the COPA (Child Online Protection Act) litigation, discussed at great length elsewhere on this site.

 

Furthermore, if one promotes oneself on the Internet, one is taking advantage of an unregulated mechanism that, while offering enormous unsupervised exposure in a very public space, seems to encourage some bad things, like spam, child pornography, viruses and worms, scams, and get-rich schemes—or even hijacking by criminals or even terrorists with possible downstream liability. Of course, my own content has none of these things. Do I share some of the responsibility for others who do just by taking advantage of their same lack of supervision? Likewise, I never (as far as I know) became infected with HIV, but I participated moderately (but “promiscuously” by heterosexual standards) in a community culture that at one time facilitated the spread of a novel virus with its chain-letter paradigm; so do I bear a share of collective responsibility for this now historical catastrophe? Some would say so.

 

Self-promotion on the Internet does seem like a natural “simple machine” to amplify technology, where individuals follow what companies do to grow and save money. It does run the “risk” of destroying old jobs in agenting (especially in the motion picture industry, that has old-fashioned agenting practices designed to prevent intellectual property liability) or degrading the idea of “writing” as a profession where one writes the content paid for and expressing the message defined by others. But isn’t that a natural progression in a free society resulting from technology and productivity?

 

I feel that I have created a good thing, a network of reasonably objective information about all kinds of interrelated social issues (with the gay responsibility issues as a fulcrum).  If I were paid to speak for others, or to make supervisory judgments about others, then I could no longer claim objectivity and would have to stop out of ethical and legal conflict of interest concerns. 

 

But the biggest concern in the eyes of most people would be that I draw attention to myself (and to others connected to me—in extreme situations this could even attract a security threat to them) when I do not share the same level of responsibility for others. The popular view of self-expression is that the right to it is earned by “paying your dues.” You raise a family, and if you have problems, you side with others who have similar problems and work in an adversarial way to improve your family and others like you. Objectivity is a luxury for the rich, the decadent, the dilettante, or for those with no responsibility. But that’s a gut perception, and it has nothing to do with the legal provisions and liberty protections of the First Amendment.

 

Admittedly, I experienced my productive adulthood during an unusual (late 20th Century) period, where technology and (as it turned out, surprisingly) stability afforded “different” individuals like me the freedom and capacity to forge our own lives regardless of the opinions of others, even family. Generally, though, men have been expected to define themselves by carrying out their gender roles (including their sexual energies) in “man’s work” to suit the aims of their biological families, including protecting women and children. Less aggressive men (like me) would be expected to remain socialized by the family and to avoid competitive distractions and remain mutually supportive of family aims. Such arrangements did provide people with a lot of security in a hostile world, at the expense of more conformity and continued social injustice among groups of people rather than just individuals.

 

This trend toward individualism is more a spiritual or even religious concern than a legal one, indeed. Christianity, after all, offers salvation and eternal life to anyone through Grace, not through personal accomplishments in a competitive, winner-take-all world. (“Analyze this” however—Grace has more to do with forgiveness of actual sin or wrongdoing; it does not stop one from “losing” or from not making more money in the vineyards.) The informal religious Catch seems to be that you get changed, “born again,” and don’t get to be the person you wanted to be or thought you were once you are accepted into a communal eternal life and shown the secrets of the Universe. Another twist concerns “family values” again, particularly relevant at Christmas. Mary could not have given birth to Jesus, logically, if she were not a virgin, and also not if Joseph had not understood his special responsibility during his betrothal and held off consummation of the marriage (so this goes even beyond the usual notion of abstinence until marriage in modern culture). Early Christianity was communal in nature and even accepted political oppression, necessitating family and group solidarity, as an immutable fact over which the individual had no reach, and Jesus may have been something like a young Clark Kent (without red kryptonite), yet all of this generated a culture that offers what we call individual freedom, and private property used at individual discretion.

 

What is clear, also, from the Bible is that, whatever one thinks of individual passages out of context (some of them used by the religious right to condemn homosexuality), there is an overriding message in the New Testament not to “measure” others (who may appear to have “failed” in a competitive sense) or judge them, and, moreover, to reach out to them affirmatively and personally (and not depend on the government to shield one from having to do this with social programs). If one is willing to “change” to accept Grace, one will naturally reach out. Sin is much omission as commission. And personal freedom and aesthetic expression is supposed to be used in good faith, not to undermine the self-image of others through implication. If I am totally free to express individualistic “gay values” without repercussion, some will feel that I insult those who find meaning through family loyalty, lineage, gender complementarity, and solidarity, including other family members or parents upon whom I once depended. This sounds like so much whining, but family responsibility, child rearing and eldercare have become difficult in today’s competitive culture, to the point that if it is shown continuous contempt, no one will do it anymore.  To be sure, though, the idea that one’s life should start with providing for family first now seems like a “different way of thinking.” 

 

Santorum’s collective family values (and, I think, “brother’s keeper”) argument obviously can apply in other areas. I can enjoy a beer at a gay dance bar once a week, wait an hour until I drive, and never think about alcohol the rest of the week. About 15% or so of people cannot drink at all without becoming alcoholics, for probably biological reasons. Should all of us give up alcohol for that reason? Few people can use tobacco “sparingly” but tobacco has been legal because in the past it was economically so important in many states and countries. The same arguments could be made about illegal drugs (especially marijuana, even more so with medical use), and personally I think that making drugs illegal makes the social fallout worse. Some people, moreover, will not recognize any practical difference between marijuana or drug use and, shall we say, sexuality “abuse,” however legal now after Lawrence v. Texas (that is, the personal expressive use of sexuality outside of the purpose of procreation and family dedication).

 

Down the road, it is likely that we will see more pressure to see “family responsibility” shared by those who choose not to have children—largely as a way to buttress respect for life and invoke more personal responsibility for social justice. This may eventually put the gay marriage debate in its proper perspective. But for heterosexuals, this also invokes debate about genetic counseling and abortion. Having children means taking some grave risks, and there are real moral questions about how this risk should be shared, even personally. It also seems that for many heterosexual couples raising kids, long term active sexual commitment and active marital interest may be tied to the notion that children with ratify the couple’s psychological investment in biological lineage by giving them grandchildren and supporting their insular social structures. A child’s homosexual interest might be interpreted as a rejection of the parents’ lineage and as a sigh of “failure.”

 

My own perspective is that I spent thirty or so adult years in relative freedom (after the college disaster) living my life in semi-open fashion without real responsibility for others. Because of early problems, I spent an inordinate amount of energy on my own needs. I lived thirty or so years in urban exile, expressively in my own way, but without normal family responsibility because I had been driven away from it and because there was no urgent need to address it.  Recently, some of that discretionary freedom has been lost because of touchy family situations. Others are perplexed because they did not live in a society that offered them the same access to self-definition. They are put off by my aloofness and lack of emotion about the practical adaptive needs of others.  Real problematic situations occur, as when I substitute teach and I encounter some less mature students who do not respect me because I did not share their burdens. I think I lived through a very unusual sequence in history that offered me individualistic, extra-familial expressive opportunities not open to most people. It would be difficult for me to share more empathy with others without going through the conventional competitive process of courtship, marriage, and parentage, all the emotional steps carried out with so much melodrama in most soap operas. Rather than this kind of “masculine” performance-based competition, I split my personality and prided myself in my ability to make expressive selection of others. I used my “freedom” explicitly to “discriminate” and “notice differences” in others and make something, even publicly, of this sensitivity. Of course, people will believe that I have no moral claim to be able to do this until I can fight for the interests of family or local community first—until specific people that I should be accountable to benefit.  Had gay marriage and gay parenting been available (in open society fashion—for substitute opportunities were once possible in a closed, local communal environment like the Ninth Street Center) during my early adulthood, I might have participated and become more caring. Instead, I was conveniently excused from all responsibility for others, at least until recently. I’m not sure that this will be an acceptable arrangement for future “different” people in the new century.

 

All of this is indeed very disturbing. It is hard to say where it will lead me. Family situations have led to the loss of some freedom, and I suppose that if I use a public space in like the World Wide Web in such an unsupervised manner, I invite others to become inquisitive about my motives and purposes.  Let me say right now, that I do not accept that idea that another party (blood family members, a lover, an employer, a civil rights organization) can define for me what my own purposes in life should be.  I insist on retaining independence in my expressive purpose. That is very important to my self-worth. Being forced to live for other’s purpose without choice (and after having freedom and property essentially confiscated) would be a source of shame, somewhat akin to the emotions that drive anger in other parts of the world (although consciousness there is usually much more collective to begin with). Failure is an objective experience, and it can occur because one has to deal with the needs—and illogical prejudices—of others. Explanations do not remove the fact of failure. Neither does faith. Grace is for the forgiveness of sin, not for inability to perform. How can I succeed and still be my brother’s keeper when I have to be? It is true, of course, I do not share family responsibility at the emotional level of many other people, and that a fair society would require me to share some of the sacrifices that it takes to maintain freedom.  I do not agree, however, that family needs to be my preemptive motivation. I am best able to do my own thing in life if create my own works and can bring my work into an adult relationship that may then become supportive of children and the elderly. The catch-22 is, of course, that my own works, because they appear in public, can affect others anyway. That gives me extra incentive to remain sensitive to the way my actions (and sometimes lack of action), in the context of my publications, could be interpreted by others, sometimes as possibly contemptuous of them. These actions include some care in the matter of exposing children to adult-leaning (though definitely not pornographic) materials in media that have unmonitored access, as well as a willingness to do my share of “dirty work” in taking care of others, and finally, in avoiding employment arrangements that, given my writings and personal background, might increase the perception that I am indifferent to the problems of others.  I have sometimes done things to take care of others, outside of family; yet my track record was way insufficient in 2002 when I considered becoming a Peace Corps applicant (at 58) and this to date is not a good reflection on me.

 

I once posed the question, of whether families feel that my freedom, as publicly expressed without formal accountability, really does undermine the meaning of their own family lives, in a mainstream church discussion. The pastor answered, with mild sarcasm, that it didn’t undermine his. But the point is well taken. Secure marriages and families do not feel threatened by the freedom (and maybe unusual accomplishments) of others who are wired differently, but insecure and failing families do feel this way and are easily swayed by demagogues and politicians. Sharing or burdens becomes essential, but this also includes sharing of burdens among families with different levels of problems as well as sharing of family burdens by individuals who do not form their own families.  

 

One thing is certain: freedom means being able to create my own purposes. These need to be reconciled to the needs of others, but it is hard to believe that earthly life is just about following another being’s specific designs.  Sometimes I think that had I followed my original teen intention for a career in piano and music (like the WB Everwood character Ephram), it would have been easier to have a life with more involvement with others. That opportunity was foreclosed by the Cold War pressures of my teen years, even before my college expulsion. Music has the advantage of offering expression without confrontation. Instead, I am left to become a scribe of language, prolific with the pen, and exposed (with others) to the consequences of what I must say. 

 

It’s significant that after William and Mary I had a stint of six months at the National Institutes of Health in a mental health ward dedicated to figuring out college student “mental illness” in the Cold War era. The mildly reparative therapy was partially based on the idea that I did not “see people as people” and instead saw them as aesthetic objects to be mentally manipulated in a kind of imaginary masturbation. Normal heterosexuality, and the ability to have a woman in a relationship of complementarity and have children, stemmed out of an ability to “empathize” with people at some level of “real emotion” or “real life” (later an idea that would be called “aesthetic realism.” I struggled to learn to provide for myself and most of all give myself meaning through expression, but I stopped there; I did not learn to provide for anyone else, and I did not accept protective connection to others as a postulated moral responsibility that seems to jump start everything that becomes the family; I saw it all as an adaptive burden.  People are not as important just as people as what the ideals they can represent as people. This concept has remained troublesome, as some do not like the visibility of my pen when I do not share their emotional attachments. It certainly raises the political question, of whether I should have been forced to become socialized before I became expressive.

 

In living apart “on another planet” (or, in Clive Barker's "Imajica" terminology, a different "unreconciled dominion") for three decades, I may have avoided family responsibility that arguably should be expected of anyone out of a larger sense of personal social justice. (This was particularly clear with some issues that came up when I was a substitute teacher and had no fathering skills.) On the other hand, my freedom and expression make it harder for people oriented around local family than global culture to hide behind their families when they personally do not perform well. Must I become my brother’s keeper? Say, just sometimes.  

 

©Copyright 2004 by Bill Boushka. All rights reserved, subject to fair use

 

More about the Ninth Street Center at my book review of Paul Rosenfels at http://www.doaskdotell.com/books/brosen.htm or at http://www.ninthstreetcenter.org

Return to controversial topics page;  “Pay your dues” essay; draft and national service essay; letter to Rep. Moran on national service ;

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