Editorial: Liking People and Liking Principles
In the early stages of my therapy in the early 1960s after my William and Mary expulsion, the psychiatrists would complain that I don’t see “people as people.” Instead, I saw them as foils or as “objects,” to be counted or graded in some kind of aesthetic scheme, an outer psychic matrix that could generate emotion when ordinary interaction with ordinary people did not. This desired kind of openness was supposed to make heterosexual growth and passion (particularly the kind you see in soap operas today – “Days of our Lives” is the worst offender) possible. That, to be honest, was a chicken and egg problem, though: women tame men, and draw them away from competitive obsessions to real responsibility for family and people. The purpose of all of this was socialization: channeling one’s energies into providing for other people, and into being provided for when necessary. The process of training anyone to conform with outer expectations is part of the socialization process, and it seems to be both oppressive and necessary, varying with the circumstances.
This is a particularly sharp point today. Modern psychology believes that a young adult should have his act together in life first (education, career, some kind of personal creative expression or talent) before attempting a permanent relationship with another person—but that idea became popular in the gay world after Stonewall and gradually migrated to the mainstream world as men and women wanted to “have it all.” It’s a good antidote to jealousy. Psychological surplus became the order of the day, and ordinary family life came to be viewed as just “adaptive.” Family, however, is the ultimate insurance policy. The freedom to be “self first” is predicated today on an advanced technological society that offers physical and communicative mobility. It’s possible for external catastrophe (whether terrorism, pandemic, or even an asteroid) to destroy all of that for a long time, leaving family relationships (and faith) all that there is left to live for, whatever were one’s abilities before.
Why did I reject this, and why do so many young men reject heterosexual family values the whole rubric around it? Whatever all the biological research studies, it’s a lot more than they way some of us were “born” or even “who we are.” I was simply not a competitive male in the normal sense. The world tried to say, “but you can find a nice girl, a virgin, to be dedicated to you and your family will still be yours.” I would have said, the family won’t be good enough unless I do something myself first to be more competitive. That left me with every reason to adopt a psychology of upward affiliation. More commonly, men will say that they don’t want to depend on marriage (or to put “family first”) because they see the family as a corrupt institution for the transmission of unearned wealth and privilege and the maintenance of social injustice among various classes of people – tribalism. Social conservatism, and particularly some of the “homophobic” writings of the Vatican seem to be trying sincerely to address all of this, by saying that it is the possibility that people can cheat the system so easily is what makes it hard for a marginal male like me to find any credible meaning in his own blood family. The Catholic Church (even with all of its problems with the priesthood) has a point here. Celibacy and abstinence, if they could be lived up to, might make the world kinder for a lot of other people—so more people can actually enjoy a “real life” of active monogamous sexual commitment, with all of the socially supportive trappings that follow. Then we have the unfortunate resultant need that for some people to have the courage to play the game other, more able people have to restrain themselves and accept some loss of freedom. Or do we? Accepting the moral validity of “lifestyles” rooted on aesthetic fantasies before real people and the freedom to pursue them (perhaps sidestepping disquieting questions about fundamental character flaws), and accepting that one can not always be his brother’s keeper (despite the New Testament) seems to depend on letting people remaining totally accountable for themselves when necessary. Perhaps a "moral compromise" comes if everyone is expected to develop the emotional empathy for others in a family or community setting (regardless of one's own hard-wired emotional makeup, as with artistic ability), even if one never has one's own family or children. Yet there is a paradox there, if, as the saying goes, "women tame men." (They say on "Days of our Lives": "Family conquers all." No. "Love conquers all." Really? Does everyone have to learn to be romantic?)
Individualism broke open all of the familial and class-based corruption and gave people opportunities based on their own activities, regardless of family affiliation (and especially race). In the 1990s, individualism, objectivism and gay equality became curious bedfellows as various issues like gays in the military and gay marriage and adoption came to be debated. But there were problems with individualism were that it could leave less capable people (even within any given family) out in the cold, and that it was vulnerable to external pressures. Freedom cannot be taken for granted, and that observation seemed to generate so much political debate, especially as terrorism and other external threats lived with us all of the time.
Part of the freedom that came with individualism was the ability to speak for oneself and to publish efficiently with free entry. In a sense Martin Luther recognized this a few hundred years ago, but today it is the Internet that made this possible for many people. Although schools are supposed to teach intellectual objectivity, in practice most social policy debate has been carried out in partisan, adversarial fashion with various speakers paid to stake out positions for the benefit of their clients. However, with the Internet came additional opportunities to present political and social thought with great objectivity. One would see how policy issues are interconnected: problems like marriage, military service, equal opportunity, reverence for human life, and filial responsibility all effect each other, in both ideological and practical ways, including rapid evolution of the law. There are countless wrinkles in all of these matters, and to speak credibly one must face some very disquieting demons. But someone who becomes a celebrity dealing with these can easily be seen as speaking out of turn, or disloyalty, or stepping on others’ turf or jeopardizing jobs predicated on old paradigms, and most of all with insensitivity to the feelings (unfortunately often associated with irrational prejudices) of others.
The culture war, it seems, really does come down to the significance people want to give to the blood relationships and lineage of a family. Many people have grown up believing that they are entitled to deferential loyalty from their own flesh and blood, regardless of the moral views of any person in the family when viewed from a “global” perspective. Even if this seems old-fashioned or “dishonest” it is understandable. Social stratification, adversaries and enemies are part of the real world, even if they have often seemed less so than in past generations (the recent war on terror would remind us of that). Older generations--particularly driven by religious writings--accepted the idea that some social inequalities among families and classes are immutable and don't provide a moral justification for individual desertion. So people feel that the very meaning of the deepest part of their lives has been ripped from them by the freedom of their children to go their own ways and then become very public about it. And there is a fairness issue, too: family loyalty raises children and gets a lot of caretaking done.
All of this puts me on the hot seat. I have collected and published a variety of material in one place that purports to “connect the dots” – link all the issues, and I think it does. In doing so, it may seem like I want to avoid real emotions or co-dependency or even God. Any issue is fair game for me to address, because it can affect any other issue, regardless of my own immediate (adversarial) circumstances. This emphasis on objectivity sounds like the classic “knowledge of good and evil” problem. It sounds like a parabola that does not cross the x-axis (that is, y = x**2 + 1) and has only imaginary solutions not available to the real practical world. But it is not so much a resolution as it is an enumeration and correlation of everything that can affect our freedom, our ability to speak about our freedoms, and out capacity to defend our freedoms. I remember an eleventh grade history teacher who took points off on essay equations for leaving relevant points out. That is what is wrong with debate today; most “professionals” intentionally leave a lot of other things out. I want to do something about that, and this has become a goal.
The only thing I know to do, then, is to press forward. At this point, I cannot credibly, having “retired”, try to make myself or others more comfortable by peddling things for a living, or by advancing in some hierarchy set up to advance some specific interest’s goals. It is difficult to be an authority figure or role model, for example, as a teacher without full equal public and contingent rights even given my considerable psychological differences. It is difficult to engage in any public activity that just purports to make or let others be comfortable, whatever the truths about what is going on the outside. I realize that there is a paradigm issue: the Internet allows me to attract attention passively and debate effectively without direct accountability to provide for others. Besides the goals I have developed for getting some of these materials into film, I would like to be able to help sort the process of how we can have free speech on the Internet and in other public forums without the level of danger we have today. That would be a major goal. Even so, I am caught in a certain paradox. I need to adhere to my own principles to be any good for people. Yet these principles make it very difficult for many people to get a fair shake without a lot of emotional deference from others, including me.
Even so, I can see real substance to old religious conservative principles regarding the self and others. New Testament gospel interpretation would reasonably imply that one should learn to connect to people "as people" first, and that both lifelong committed monogamous sexuality and a proper sense of personal accomplishment can develop as a corollary. Many serious problems today occur with this failure of socialization (and a collective lack of confidence in just socialization) that religion would suggest starts with the individual's reaching out and which supersedes conventional political activism regarding social justice.
Social value positions (both liberal and conservative) have one irreducible aspect: an appeal to faith, feelings, emotion and intuition, beyond what can be discerned by objective thought or as absolute truth. Sometimes one is just left with faith. Yet to decide what is true and right -- and fair -- we need cold-blooded objectivity and principles, and this can take us away from people.
Associated essay: “The Privilege of Being Listened To.”
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©Copyright 2006 by Bill Boushka. All rights reserved, subject to fair use