WHAT'S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PERSONAL GROWTH AND POLITICS?
Get a life, people tell me. I pontificate because I don't have an intimate partner of my own, and especially kids to raise. If I did, I wouldn't expect to find a perfect world. I'd be pragmatic.
Personal growth is "getting a life." It's about being more important to other people. That means, knowing what's unique about me, that only I can give to others. That means knowing what's mine.
If you have a loyal family and circle of friends or some kind of protective community, who cares about the Outside, as long as it doesn't implode completely? Focus on the things you can see, that make a visible difference to other people.
What's wrong with this insular view? Within any relatively closed group of people, little power struggles will develop. People will compete for "power" - that is, status and recognition, a sense of control over others. That's just human nature, no matter how good the people. And that's politics. It happens among chimps and dolphins, too.
In a modern democracy ("people rule"), politics has evolved from macro conflicts between dynasties and nation states to a somewhat more personal battle in which people define boundaries among themselves, which meander as they compete for their personal consideration within the common good. Even though a lot of politics revolves around distant special economic interests, it is the cultural battles over values where the correspondence appears between national issues and the dynamics within an insular group. Both in reconciling interests of competing groups and in circumscribing particular individual behaviors and incentives, the underlying question is always, "what is fair?"
For when I speak of politics, I'm not stopping with voting or offering money or support to political candidates and parties or pressure groups that speak collectively. I'm talking about all forms of personal expression - writing, novels, acting, music - and daily personal choices - that project personal values.
The fulcrum of the cultural war is the libertarian idea of "self-ownership." At its best, self-ownership emphasizes self-actualization, not libertine self-indulgence and gratification. Still, both "liberals" and "conservatives" balk at allowing the individual too much choice about his own direction.
The left points out even this "psychological capitalism" depends upon exploitation and ignores the accumulated injustices suffered by oppressed classes in past generations: these must be righted by the "people" before individual liberty really makes sense. The right points out that excessive individualism undermines the nuclear family, especially important in socializing the underprivileged. "Family values" - so essential to raising children and to providing a personal safety net for adults, contradicts somewhat optimum psychological health when viewed at an individual level, because individual psychological attachments often work out better (even within traditional marriages) when both partners maintain a certain amount of self-sufficiency. Both political "sides" point out that survival of ordered liberty may be jeopardized if individuals are unable to sacrifice (even "ultimately") for the common good in meeting external threats. Both point out that some personal choices - especially in such matters as pornography and drug use - have influences on others beyond immediate consequences to individuals. Both sides seem appropriately concerned with how much a person's community can afford of that person's discretionary choices. Any individual with a real self-concept must care about this, about knowing "what is mine to have?"
It's possible to propose a utopia in which most of these personal "values" are crafted through "democracy" - the state - into a stable moral order. The state redistributes unearned wealth away from those who don't "deserve" it to those in need. The state also heavily supports the nuclear, two-parent (straight) family and forces those who don't participate to subsidize those who do. Personal choices and particularly relationships depend on the approbation and recognition of the surrounding community and ultimately the state.
There is a "moral" principle to which this appeals. That is, that before self-actualization (contrasted with gratification) happens, one must meet the real needs of others, preferably in a totally committed adult partnership, sanctioned by the community and capable of raising children or at least supporting dependents. One seeks and implements truth and right according to the resources available first through family and immediate family, even when this limits one's vision. We call this "family first."
So conventional gay activists come along and say, fine - let's keep this principle of "prior obligation" but expand it to include same-sex couples and parenting. (We could add, let's keep the idea of an obligation to serve the community and allow open gays to serve in the military). This makes many people very uncomfortable. It reminds them they can fail in their own sexuality, so they invent "moral" rationalizations to deny gays the right to serve higher callings than themselves. A man goes through some kind of metamorphosis as he gives up the narcissism and upward affiliation that would keep him from being a good provider, husband and father, they say. Of course, they ignore the fact that a real life-long same-sex partnership makes psychological demands they cannot even imagine. The problem is, winning this kind of argument as long as the state remains involved and the "people" get to resolve it collectively limits gays practically to immutability as their only viable political argument. There's some evidence for biological immutability, but that about Free Will - the choice and accountability for behaviors, that makes us human? To say one the one hand that gays are morally unfit for parenthood or military service and on the other that gays are an oppressed minority that must be protected in all discretionary areas of society (where they can spend their surplus on themselves) is just plain intellectually dishonest (if politically expedient). But without "minority status" and the privileges that would inevitably accompany that, representative government is left with the option of deciding how much personal freedom for homosexuals society can "afford."
It's much better to sit back and accept this individual space-v.-other-people duality. We can accept the tensions between masculinity and femininity, between objectivity and subjectivity - between liking plain just-people and liking art, ideas and intellectual plasma (like Beethoven themes and their tension-evolving developments) that seem to take upon a subspace consciousness of their own. Thinking through the cultural wars for the political arena brings us back to the idea we need to work these out ourselves, and not let them be voted upon by the "people." But it also gives us a chance to teach the message of personal growth and empowerment to others. Most of all, it requires every one of us to look at our own exercise of personal responsibility.