The Privilege of Being Listened To

 

I have circulated a large amount of social and political analysis on my websites and in up to three self-published or cooperatively published books since 1997, for eight years now. Whatever my own personal lifestyle history, I have always presented all points of view about any issue and I have maintained a tone of objectivity throughout the writings. They have been easily found on search engines, and I believe that they have become somewhat well known in legislative, judicial and even some media and entertainment circles. My basic concern has been balancing individual freedom with accountability to others, and the body of my work has developed in a linked, concentric fashion that started with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military and “infected” other areas. I try to make my presentations complete, and therefore my material and underlying subject matter with its "gray areas" tend to require a lot of cognitive maturity to understand fully.

 

Most commercially successful writing today is targeted to appeal to specific audiences. Much of the time, when people are paid for writing, they are compensated for representing the interests of a certain constituency or at least maintaining a certain loyalty to some particular point of view. Furthermore, writers are often paid to simplify various materials for particular audiences. This happens with all kinds of literature, ranging from screenplays for kids’ movies to articles on politically sensitive topics in textbooks.

 

If one expands from writing to the business and work world in general, one finds that people are paid to sell in an adversarial manner all the time. Think if the examples: trial lawyer, life insurance agent. In at least one job interview (that thankfully failed) I was told, “We give you the words.” 

 

Now, I got my high school and college social studies and humanities education in the late 1950s and early 1960s in a progressive area (northern Virginia). Despite the conservatism of the times (at least to the early 1960s), I had been taught the value of careful research and independent, objective thought and writing (especially by one terrific high school history teacher).  As I got into the real world, sometimes even in college, I found out that intellectual honesty, at least in what one says in public, was often not only ignored but somewhat frowned upon. Sometimes people would defer to religion as an unquestionable source of absolute truth, beyond the reach of Socratic examination.

 

The explanation for all this is rather glib. People have families to support. Taking sides when motivated by the needs of family members is well accepted. Then, of course, one has genuinely unjust disparities between different groups in society. So interest and lobbying organizations (and unions) represent the adversarial interests of these groups. Most speaking, both in publications and in legislatures or in court, is done by these organizations, supported by membership fees and donations from constituents who expect to have their interests represented as they go about their own business, often raising families.

 

Although I belong to some organizations, I generally avoid public partisanship and public demonstrations in support of specific causes. I generally avoid public fundraising. (There are some exceptions, particularly with the issue of gays in the military, which got me started in this.) Instead, I have a passive but I think effective strategy predicated on being found by search engines, and in showing how many problems are deeply interconnected. I “connect the dots.”

 

There are some problems with this. I use an unregulated, unsupervised medium that attracts bad actors; further future regulation could well curtail my activities. One problem in particular is that there is no practical way yet to screen out visitors who may be too young or immature to be appropriate recipients for my material. It would take big time money and resources and outside support to do this. You can see that eventually I must find a way to sell all of this. One area, for example, would be television and motion pictures. Now, movie agents have always followed a “third party” rule in receiving new submissions from agents, for legal protection; this is a practice that obviously will change somewhat in the age of the Internet. My way of working could be perceived as a threat to the jobs of others, but technology always forces businesses to develop more efficient ways to find and deploy new products and services, and this changes the skills required by employees.

 

More important would be to change the level of “consciousness” in the public so that it would “want” more substantive reading materials, movies, shows, and other content. Media companies would then have more incentive to look for new ideas and less reason to repeat old formulas that appear to add quickly to the bottom line.

 

But I have run into another attitude issue with some people, that I am involving myself publicly with some controversial issues and, by drawing attention to myself with this new “passive marketing” technique, possibly drawing unfavorable attention to them (they could be family members or perhaps coworkers).  Some people are particularly concerned that I would do this when I do not seem to share their level of responsibility for family, and may have little incentive to maintain solidarity with them in their own political battles to address grievances. I have not, in their view, earned the privilege (not right) of being listened to by anyone. I have not paid my dues. Further, I appear to be drawn to writing because I do not have satisfying relationships with other people in an “aesthetically real” or fair sense.  English teachers often encourage their high school students to handwrite brief journals every day (as classwork), but typically not to make them public on the Internet because of the risks that public attention could attract.

 

I do not share the level of emotion that many people do over blood family. That is partly because, as a gay man, I do not participate in the “courtship and marriage” game that leads to parental commitments.  I tend to care about people on my own terms, by my own selection criteria. This works for me when I am allowed to pursue my own life my own way, but at some points in my life I have not had the freedom to do so.

 

My political theory over gay rights is covered in detail in my books and essays on this site. I won’t get too much beyond the way they affect me personally here. In sum, I might say that gay rights and gay responsibility go together, and “responsibility for others” is not something that is easy for me to live up to in our current social climate. I have been allowed for much of my adult life to live as I wanted, to be sure, and that has in at least one case left another family member abandoned for a time.

 

Since I am now a public person, others have more good reason to be concerned about my motives in following my personal habits, even visiting gay bars or events. Most people want to believe that their social connections (and family commitments) matter to others. My tendency to “select” appealing men may, then, be taken as an insult or a form of contempt for others who are less appealing. The corresponding mechanism (for many straight people) is for a head of a family who happens not to have a lot of personally expressive or professional successes outside of the family to want to have his family responsibility respected and valued by others and by the society as a whole. (This observation certainly fits into conservative objections to gay marriage, to the extent that the biological reproductive process, along with biological lineage, needs to be respected.) Up to a point, from the point of view of ethics, this just sounds like a competition between different people for validation from their societies (and a sense of their personal “importance”). Apart from religious precepts, one person’s psychic goals are not clearly superior to another’s.  These intersecting and competing value systems certainly cause people to step on one another. “Success” by anyone’s “measure of people” is getting harder in a competitive world beset with threats and instabilities.  But the “normal” mechanisms of heterosexual marriage and lineage do provide easier access to one essential function: the ability of anyone to reach out to non-intact persons (whether children – even as a “godfather”--, the elderly, some disabled people, or severely economically disadvantaged). It could be postulated that this could be expected of everyone, as a way of repaying a basic debt for being raised oneself if for no other reason.  I have not done particularly well with this. Okay, I wasn’t very good at some of the practical skills that it takes particularly to go to bat for dependents or for family, but I also became suspicious that some of the intentions of other people (that I was supposed to support) weren’t right, so there was some rationalization for demanding more freedom.

 

Elsewhere, I have suggested a step-by-step approach to reconciling family responsibility to individual goals in defining the importance of blood family in modern society. But certainly the ability to reach out is an important part of this. In earlier generations, people accepted family responsibility (and lineage) as a given that often affected their romantic choices. Not so much today.

 

So I return again to one part of this that is so important to me is the objectivity of the way issues are debated. I was taught (especially by one history teacher at Washington-Lee High School back in 1959 or so) to think about all public issues with great objectivity. Yet most issues are debated in an adversarial manner, with people litigating, or going to demonstrations with pickets, or throwing pre-written letters (“we give you the words!”) and money to politicians to get their way at others’ expense. Honesty in public debate requires putting everything on the table and “connecting the dots” (like the draft to “don’t ask don’t tell” or gay marriage to filial responsibility, or right of publicity to Internet censorship issues). Many people have emotional linkages and loyalties that preclude the ability to see things objectively. It is very difficult to do this professionally, as most people are paid to “take sides.” So one has to start this as a personal project and try to make it professional and eventually reach others.

 

Some people are put off by my apparent emotional aloofness and detachment with respect to adaptive, everyday needs of others in some situations. That passion would occur naturally if I accepted the idea of leadership of a family, which I do not, even as I admire that capacity in others, when such upward affiliation would make me look disloyal. I seem to get around this by living in another space and looking at myself and others (and uttering “The Manifesto”[1]) from a special perspective (“on high”) available from asymmetry.   I think that there is a moral question: some advantages were given to me despite or because of my “differences,” and I owe something back of an imaginary (in a mathematical sense) “debt.” But fairness and morality is a matter of what someone does, not of what someone feels (even though feelings and especially sexuality have a big bearing on altruistic motivation). One accepts the obligation to provide help to others without necessarily having to maintain emotional ties or dropping everything to go to bat for them or to make them feel good. The moral claims on me by my family or the families of others cannot be justified by family for its own sake, but they do invoke notions of accountability from me, however convinced I may feel that this new kind of objective public journalism that I have developed is a personal calling and is “purpose driven.”.  The world is still, in some large sense, a meritocracy. That is how I have to see it. I have to live up to it.

 

One could say, so you want to “be” a writer, so why not help your family or serve some particular need with the writing?  Most people are willing to do that.  Why sully one’s reputation and possibly expose those connected to me by delving into risky or troubling material? Because I do not think I can help anyone without putting it all on the table.

 

 

Bill Boushka

 

For one reader’s reply to this piece, visit http://www.doaskdotell.com/readers/rdelusion.htm

 

“Liberty” editorial

“Brother’s Keeper” editorial

“Pay your dues” editorial

Freedom of speech editorial

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[1] A colloquial nickname sometimes given to my 1997 book, Do Ask. Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back.