PERSONAL AUTONOMY: A NEW ‘DAWN OF MAN’
“The days of big government are over. But we’re not going back to the days of fending for yourself.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
On D-Day, that stormy Tuesday morning about fifty years ago, Western civilization proved that democracy and ordered ,” and the “Folk” would prevail over those “softened” by relative personal freedom. Hitler was wrong. Motivation to serve family, faith, and country, and only then to indulge the self, turned out to exceed “social” order, blind nationalism, mysticism, hero-worship, and consequent unquestioning obedience. World War II had indeed exploded as a conflict between “moral” value-sets that stirred passions far beyond conventional politics conflicts; a modern society had talked itself into countenancing horrifying cruelty. By V-J day, Americans danced in the streets on confetti August snow and looked forward to personal rebirth and to unknowable freedoms and prosperity ahead; in their celebration, they could not imagine how understanding of morality, justice, and freedom would evolve in the decades ahead. The American people would witness a full circle on the context of freedom, which had varied from the rugged individualism and autonomy of the frontier, through a growing grasp of community good and social justice during the many wars, back to a modern individualism that would experiment with the form of social constraints. Western civilization’s political dynamics would migrate back towards cultural squabbles, away from “class struggle” or nationalistic racism<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, and from earlier dynastic state-system political conflicts, which themselves had been derived from feudal times when the wealthy had learned how to build the state to suit their own ends.
In grade school, the teacher would show a history film, and then order us to “write it up,” to test how well we had paid attention. As a schoolboy, I could not imagine what the significance of all these trends could be, until I started recognizing what was happening inside me.
Life had been difficult for most Americans during and before the War, and one could wonder indeed exactly what we were fighting for. For four years, there had been nothing to do but win the War. But weren’t servitude (the draft, and, in the last century, slavery) racism, segregation, economic exploitation, and later McCarthyism all fundamental evils in this country? Weren’t young men still required to offer their lives and bodies to protect their country before they led lives of their own? Was the difference between these and Nazism and Communism merely a matter of degree and scale, in that our enemies eventually set up mass death camps?
No, there was fundamental difference. In America, even during difficult times, anyone could, in principle, “make it.” Anyone could be valued as an individual. But in those days, there was a clear mortgage on one’s identity. One enjoyed the “Freedom” to meet obligations to others, usually through the nuclear family and usually through performing conventional gender roles, as well as honoring one’s religious faith. “Freedom” did still subsume a set of obligations that had to be fulfilled first.
To someone like me, this was often “oppressive.” If I ponder life in Germany in the 1930’s with all its right-wing “manifest destiny,” communicated to the public by the government’s misuse of the stirring music of Beethoven and Wagner, I can imagine how I could have gotten caught up in the fantasy of “Aryan” male icons. Ironically, right wing groups such as the Oregon Citizens’ Alliance have tried to justify their proposed official characterization of homosexuality as “abnormal and perverse” by reference to the historical supposition that a few figures in early Nazi Germany (notably Roehm)<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>had been gay, and that even a major figure in the American neo-Nazi movement is homosexual. However, these observations are mere outliers; Nazis turned on people even with apparent homosexual inclinations and thoughts with vindictive ferocity.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Even as the Allies found the concentration camps as Germany surrendered, they kept those “bent’ men with “pink triangles” imprisoned, as homosexuals were despised as criminals even in free societies.
By the Fifties, we had already achieved some distance in our notion of personal freedom. “It’s a free country,” was a common expression in schools and home. My father painted a picture of a communist Russia in which the government would eavesdrop on every private conversation and imprison children (and not just tell Santa Claus) for the most innocuous comments. But it was still a relative, structured freedom, one in which deeper psychological choices would remain hidden.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The duty incurred by freedom seems, foremost, to be to focus on things that really matter, on the real needs of other people. Theodore Reich describes this as Consciousness II<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, where personal identity was enjoyed relative to position in organizational structure (or “corporate state”); yet this “meritocracy” was constructed as a dual derivative of gender roles and “family values.”
From primitive times to the 1950’s, where we had enjoyed evolving technologies in an unstable world with a bureaucratic economy, it is easy to understand why gender roles and accompanying family obligations were unquestioned. Men needed to develop valor and later the practical fungibility needed to support a family, and women had to be protected from “regressive”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> predatory males by a code of virginity and marital fidelity. This is well explained in the writings of George Gilder and, particularly, a recent essay on feminism by Patricia Lanca.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Accordingly, homosexuality was considered unworthy of mention in decent conversation. Perhaps it could be practiced secretly by hairdressers, artists and oddballs outside the mainstream of “normal” society, but entering this unstable lifestyle was regarded as a dangerous undertaking (as my father would have seen my going into music as a “life’s work.”) Otherwise, “the love that not dare speak its name”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> was regarded as an indecent subject, a serious distraction from healthful psychological and character adjustment. My father’s later characterization of homosexuality as an “unnatural condition” evades admission of even intellectual discomfort of challenges to traditional gender-associated obligations. Expansion of sexual choices was seen as “sexual suicide,” incompatible with, as recently expressed by the president of pro-natalist Singapore, a societal “good order and discipline.” Given that men have a biological motive to seed their genes as widely as possible and supposedly need to be tamed or sublimated by women for social rewards (call it a substitute, if artificial, “power”), the willingness for young men to define their lives in terms of becoming stable parents would be at risk. Allowing homosexuals a full place in society would be like excusing ten percent of our otherwise able-bodies men from the draft, or from ever paying income taxes. Perhaps, there really did exist genuine “inverts,” or even trans-gendered people, but they were already so handicapped that their stories did not even count. Indeed, there had been a tolerated gay sub-culture before the depression, in the larger cities, with its stereotyped roles for nellies and drag queens; but in the days of slower communications, real people didn’t find out about it. Compromised authorities in the psychiatric fields called for such measures as the creation of a “National Center for Sexual Rehabilitation” (Charles Socarides) and even the use of heterosexual pornography to “cure” male homosexuals!
After Sputnik, and through the Cold War, Viet Nam, and Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s, the process of self-perception started to evolve. Central to this was the debate over the male-only draft and the student deferments, a curious contraposition to the debate over the military gay ban 30 years later. The deferments implied rather publicly that the old gender-role imperatives no longer had to apply to everybody. Some young men were too “valuable” to give up their lives for their country and, implicitly, for women and children. The controversy over the supposed privileged status of college students, especially the “bum” war protesters slandered by President Nixon, began to fold over as escape from the Faustian bargain with “the system” in order to enjoy a high standard of living, began to take a moral high ground. Three decades later, some gay men and women would perceive the same high ground in “coming out” while in the military.
In the summer of 1969, amazingly enough during the Nixon Administration, two events, four weeks apart, would provide a watershed for the progress of our sense of individual liberty. First, the Stonewall rebellion in New York City would start the rapid, if not explosive improvement in general society’s willingness to at least tolerate homosexuals. Quickly, for instance, most reputable employers began to realize they should not concern themselves with their workers’ private lives as they once had. Second, Man walked on another planet, the Moon.
The effect of these two events was a both a willingness to look more deeply at our inner natures, and at the same time to develop an appreciation of the possibilities the “consciousness” out there in the rest of the Universe might, in relatively short time, cause us all to re-think who we really are. Both events had, in fact, been related to a change in technology that made us freer to do things on own than we had ever been before, and also to explore things together as a society.
Superficially, Stonewall seemed to extend to gays the civil rights struggle already well underway with regard to African Americans. I can’t trivialize race as an issue today; most African Americans I have met in the workplace insist that there is subtle, nepotous and parasitic discrimination today which is beyond the reach of law, and they readily point out to me that I can “pass.” In The Winds of War, Byron Henry passes an “autographed” New Testament Bible to a Jew so that the Jew can “pass” as a “morally upright” Christian as he secures passage out of the Blitzkrieg zone. But, to any thinking person, sexual orientation seemed to be a more profound “characteristic,” a quasi-personality trait that grows deep from within a person’s motivational substance and which certainly influences behavior, even what one values in other people. As Colin Powell writes, “skin color is a benign, nonbehavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid argument.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Even if homosexuality were just “behavior,” it seemed like a legitimate question, should society protect consensual private adult sexual expression just as it would protect practice of religion?
On the surface, much of this liberation was seen through the “sexual revolution.” The notions of “open marriage,” and the monetizing of sexual intercourse - that is, discarding the notion that the ecstasy of sex would be available only to those who could commit themselves to one lifetime partner in a union open to producing children, arguably undermined the credibility of courtship and marriage as a motivator, particularly on young men. The loosening of seemingly contrived social mores regarding sex was welcomed by some as a prelude to a new opening up between people.
Young adults began to live “for themselves” in with a deliberation that they hadn’t considered before. Suddenly, people sensed that the old sexual restrictions had inhibited individual happiness and self-expression for the “community” benefit of only the more vulnerable members of society, who were at most indirectly affected by examples set before them. Now, as in Consciousness III, “the individual self is the only true reality.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> For the first time, the “privacy” around a personal life became visible as a public expression. Homosexuality sits at the center of this new psychological independence, where people appropriated a surplus to living their lives on their own terms, in a process of “psychological growth” before and then as they paired off with others. “There is no better half,” became good advice; get your own act together in life - and discover who you are - before losing yourself in relationships. In this spirit, gay counseling services and “talk groups” like the Ninth Street Center in New York’s East Village began to publish articles characterizing homosexuality as “civilization’s secret.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Stonewall sequence marked the cultural Continental Divide, where a formal and increasing tension had to be recognized between those adults motivated by their own inner selves and those driven by fulfilling conventional parental and spousal roles in raising families.
A few years later, the draft was eliminated. Although the military was not as determined during the Viet Nam years to keep out gays as it is today, the elimination of the draft further weakened the hold that the military owned on the values of the general population, and, in the eyes of many people, the effect of its stated contempt for gay people. The elimination of conscription also forced the military to provide more opportunities for women, undermined the official requirement that men sacrifice themselves for women and children, and made the idea of living for self” more credible even within the volunteer military, which created incentive pay schemes and had to focus more on individual excellence at some expense to group values. This trend would help set up a climate in the 1990’s when men and women like Meinhold, Thorne, and Cammermeyer would “call the question” on the pernicious judgmental exclusion of homosexuals from the military, justified by group values and “unit cohesion.”
The gay movement is viewed as counter-family, and gays say instead that same-sex love can actually broaden the family. Community standards based on the notion of “family first” would insist that a culture make child-friendliness its highest priority, even with the limit on the expressive individual rights of adults not directly involved with children. But Stonewall, as well as the rapid technological developments, reminds us that collectively, we all have other purposes besides just raising the next generation. Even religion must concede that. My own experience with “homophobia,” even my own, comes down to its fear that one can become a grownup without a family to support.
Shortly, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (more progressive than the Catholic Church) would withdraw its designation of homosexuality as “mental illness.” So I was vindicated. Maybe I really had nothing to be ashamed of. Conservatives would criticize this measure as political arm-wrestling. But the APA really simply disconnected homosexuality from something deeper: an unwillingness to commit to others in place of just advancing oneself.
The size and “significance”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> of the gay community would remain controversial, with estimates ranging from 1% to 10% of the population. I think about 4% is about right, and this is enough to be noticed.
This “me generation” consciousness would dabble in dangerous stuff. New sex practices, and, more pointedly, cocaine and various designer drugs were supposed to enable to individual to heighten awareness and to transcend reality. The highs produced by chemicals, while they could kill and wreck lives by short-circuiting circuits in the brain for temporary pleasure, would soon be seen as counterproductive even for fundamental self-awareness. After all person, a person who stays off of the stuff can still learn from his rem-sleep dreams. Even so, the culture now emphasized taking care of Number One first; your proficiency would trickle down to the kids. The real prize of the culture was psychological: the discovery of ways to be important to other people, and to express one’s deepest values about what matters in other people. Nothing can be more personal (or more private) than that.
Despite the crisis brought on by STD’s and drugs, the emphasis on self did lead to an awareness of the potential for longer, more healthful living. Cigarette smoking, our high fat diets, and sun exposure - behaviors not an issue when we were preoccupied with war - are now seen as leading to premature aging and death, particularly for men. Yet these behaviors were associated with a rough male culture necessary in the past to survive. The high fat and protein diet is controversial because it does make young men bigger and stronger, and then die earlier. So do steroids.
Because it was masked by the antiwar and anti-racist social activism of the 1960’s, and later by Roe vs. Wade in 1973, resistance to greater toleration of homosexuality, “open” lifestyles, and even elective activism of the 60’s and later by abortion, was inconsistent. Just as the political left saw homosexuality as a welcome challenge to “the family” as a preserver of the bounds of transmitted wealth, a new, more objectivist element welcomed the psychological freedom and personal choice that went with homosexuality. Gradually, people would become uneasy as they saw that their previously unchallenged routes to personal identity through family ties and “tribal” loyalty came into question at a much more personal level than they ever had with race and religion.
But the systems that provided the adaptive stability needed to sustain these personally freer lifestyles came into question at times. In the 1970’s, political crises (Watergate) and then oil shocks (however contrived) and municipal financial crises at times tempted government to further divide people according to “need” or lifestyle with such measures as gasoline rationing (President Nixon warned Americans would just have to “stay home” a little more) or, conceivably, even martial law. Foreign cultures, especially Islamic as well as Communist, could criticize American individualism as a consumerism achieved only at the expense to others - and to religious or “moral” values. I saw the limits on individual mobility as imposed from without a much bigger threat to my own “lifestyle self-fulfillment” than the superficially presented view of gay “oppression.” We were supposed to feel guilty about our metropolitan, mobile lifestyles, and indeed there developed a certain familial self-righteousness in the new survivalist movement. Companies, wanting a more homogeneous workplace of conformist, sheltered families (by the “best” school districts) were moving more good jobs to the exurbs, a trend that further threatened my self-discovery in urban ghettos. The 1980’s seemed much more free-wheeling and prosperous, except that the politically radioactive fallout from the AIDS crisis threatened, for a time, to cast homosexuality (for men, at least) back into a dragnet with condemned drug abusers. “Liberty doesn’t do us any good if everybody’s dead,” Paul Cameron used to whine on his talk shows. But the information supernova of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, along with the relief of lower oil prices and the collapse of the Soviet empire, has countered this moralism by providing new ways for us to live our own lives and stay sufficiently out of each other’s way. A side effect has been the wave of mergers and downsizings, and the evolution of a more individually competitive workplace. Ironically, even as individuals have more autonomy, they are bumping up against the limits of their own personal bests. The capricious changes in the economy led to some strange days, as when I sold two South African gold krugerands in a pickup truck in what seemed like a drug deal.
The 1980’s saw an increase in gay “conservatism,” both as a self-protective call for personal responsibility in the face of AIDS, and as a support for economic policies that seemed to reward individual initiative. Gay Reagan supporters (and even closeted Administration members) would be accused to selling out to the “system” and even profiting from their own oppression, or at least the oppression of their less self-sufficient cultural siblings.
The controversies resulting from Bill Clinton’s more progressive initiatives, leading off with gays in the military in his first inning, have brought into focus the deep moral debates in our society over the license many people apparently take with ordered liberty.
We have come to call the question, whether, with our democratic processes, we are prepared to vote in confidence for this new level of individual freedom and autonomy, buttressed by a nearly absolute accountability of every individual person for the self. Gay and lesbian issues take center stage since, in our modern culture, they speak to the question of everyone’s access to personal psychological surplus, like no other controversy. The end point ought to be that society legally recognizes the right of any adult to intimate private association with a chosen, consenting, adult “significant other.” This is not so different politically from recognizing the right to practice one’s own religion (or atheism) with some presence in public spaces.
This is something that ought to be achievable through democracy - public persuasion of the “commoner” and political process. Dependence on the courts, as we learn in tours of colonial Williamsburg, is like depending on the aristocracy. Yet the paradigms previously available for political action, providing absolutely equal rights for each “group,” or, when that fails, making certain groups “suspect classes,” seem, when applied to issues of intimate association, intellectually dishonest. Ultimately it leads the government back into confiscation. Democratic, even “majoritarian” political process will produce much fairer results if government is expected to do less of umpiring, and if people will take more personal initiative to understand the changes emerging around them.
We do need to bear in mind the objections people maintain against homosexuality, which vary from simply keeping it in the closet to wanting to root it out. Besides public health, they feed on the notion that gays are cherry-picking at the resources and recognition that would naturally go to providers of families with children, as if persons could not increase the cultural and economic pot for everybody with hard work centered on their own personal best of beliefs and goals. Anti-gay rhetoric panders to personal sexual insecurity by criticizing the gay community for establishing an economically credible (even advantageous) “alternative lifestyle” which overwrites the nexus between marriage, procreative sexual intercourse, and personal identity.
What is wrong with the objective, predicating pragmatic (rather than merely virtual) equality and “normality” and, particularly, inclusion for gays on responsible individualism?
The problem derives from the me-generation paradigm itself. We have to be honest, that we don't trust people to take care of themselves. We presume most people get what they have at the expense of others, and, unfettered, will destroy the planet itself with their own self-indulgence and sin.
Liberalism (that is, the “liberalism” associated today with the political left and not “classical liberalism”) assumes that government, through the will of the people, is generally capable of evenhandedly planning the welfare of the human race (for such issues as health insurance, eldercare, social safety nets, permanently reliable energy sources, and keeping the carbon dioxide from cars from melting Greenland); further it trusts the courts to stand up for the morally right when the majority loses itself in hang-ups and prejudice. In the Liberal world, people are all immutably different; only government can keep some “animal people” from becoming “more equal” than others. Liberal opinion may move from guarded endorsement of “affirmative action” in race to endorsement of full professional equality for women in all workplaces, including the military. Then, law schools present convincing rationales for legal constructs of privacy and intimate association, of legal protections against discrimination against gays and lesbians and of gay marriage. Similarly, the right of a woman to control her own body during pregnancy is defended. Other “private” behaviors such as drug use may be somewhat condemned because of their sequelae. Liberalism, though, feeds on itself; soon, rather than protecting rights, liberalism (and its self-perpetuating bureaucracy) becomes obsessed with protecting people from themselves (whether sex, speeding, cigarette smoking, guns), often in the politically expedient language of protecting children. Liberals contributed to the debacle of the “Communications Decency Act.”
The “conservatives” just don’t get it, at first. They have their point when they insist that private interests can certain enforce their own views of morality, even if this includes cracking down on gays, on their own legally-controlled turf. But, we must challenge them with what really bothers them. They see the entropy, the danger to their kids, the failure to socialize young men after families, under economic pressure in a free-form workplace and simple psychological temptation from the swinging singles around them, simply crash and bleed out. People don’t just fail to account for their actions, they claim; people won’t recognize their limits, which ought to follow from the conventional gender roles in courtship, marriage, and parenthood. In the recesses of their minds, they accuse gays of freeloading, of pulling high incomes they don’t deserve, at the expense to families. The role-model examples set today by some younger gays (especially in the military) is not only unappreciated; it is seen as subversive. The upward affiliation of male homosexuality translates into Darwinian and parasitic behavior in the larger society, or it threatens public health. The hyper-competitiveness of the economy and the job market encourages a dilettante attitude of hanging loose, instead of planning for families. So the liberals and the social conservatives talk past each other, about social justice vs. social results, and both meet in “cultural protectionism,” which can quickly turn into totalitarianism.
Liberalism has assumed that wealth, left uncontrolled, will augment itself at the expense of the masses. Conservatives properly recognize that it is the state that, when bought off, facilitates discrimination (even slavery) and oppression. Conservatives recognize “family” as nature’s intended equalizer; liberals tend to see “family” as a vehicle for maintaining class oppression. Perhaps many elements of the New Deal, Civil Rights Act, and “Great Society” were borne as pragmatic necessities to stabilize the economy and remedy egregious social injustice. Libertarians may well argue these really didn’t work.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But government must cede its power to redistribute wealth and privilege originally licensed under the pretense of “morality”; the resulting dishonesty and corruption eventually leads to more injustice and economic declines, even in “progressive” countries such as in northern Europe. Yet, even as government withdraws from monetizing morality, the need for the culture to debate “moral issues,” especially such subtle areas as personal commitment and personal limits, becomes more acute. Markets will learn to enforce moral judgments.
Recent controversial research on possible genetic origins of homosexuality will highlight the flaws of our current political polarization. According to some accounts<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, homosexuality in men, however complex their behaviors, could well relate to one or a very few genes, whereas “race” is constructed from a complex of many. Liberals would appear to jump on a biological explanation for homosexuality, finding in it an excuse to bring the full power, apparatus, and bureaucracy of government to bear in enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with respect to homosexuals; and it would seem to underline their sloppy, derogatory thinking that people can’t help being “who they are.” Conservatives would first shrink in horror, as their claims that society (and even government) must try to “change” homosexuals (even with the religious “ex-gay” movement) as part of a larger societal mandate to tame and harness men. Then, the conservatives, and particularly the libertarians, would rejoice in the finding that there is simply nothing to do about this but accept human diversity, and let people be responsible for themselves. Maybe, gay men really don’t so much need to be tamed!
Ultimately, both “parties” cut short on personal accountability. The liberals assume that self-interest won’t be good for the planet, whether that is train travel or the rain forests. The conservatives charge that, beyond the family nest, personal responsibility burns out in a short half-life indeed. The military, after all, talks about “good order and discipline,” as if it already concede that most people can’t answer for their actions if their own sense of moral propriety is distracted.
In the late 1970’s, I became involved with a “new age” group in Arizona which, as part of a philosophy the group’s somewhat kooky founder had been given to him by extraterrestrials, described a methodology of social consensus which it called “The Area of Mutual Agreement.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> While this grassroots process was supposed to deal with global issues dealing all the way from poverty to pollution and the Cold War, it would seem to apply today to the issue of how deeply involved should be the government in propagating moral values and in setting personal priorities, as was energetically debated in the January, 1996 “Issues Convention” on PBS. When it gets down to these more subtle, psychological policy questions, the more earthy mainstreamers - the two-earner families in the suburbs with the long commutes and slug lines - are too wrapped up in father-mother-son to notice the debate now going on in newsletters, graduate schools, and think tanks. They think they “tolerate” well with their “live and let live” attitudes; they say, “get a life.” Senator Lugar drew psychology and practicality together when he pointed out that, in family and community life, people take chances with their own money all the time for the benefit of others. Still, with gay issues, consensus might get far enough to recognize the idea of “toleration,” or as Defense Secretary Cheney (under Bush) had offered, that sexual orientation was personal and private and (outside of the military) “none of your business,” and still not get far enough to see the substance of inner identity, as something constructive and not just an excuse to slide into the nothingness of the hyper-alcoholic anti-hero of Leaving Las Vegas.
We come down to having to make the case that a more libertarian solution to policy issues, to really give individual people the freedom, the power, and the obligation to answer for themselves, can work. Gay issues lap over the historical assumptions of both liberals and conservatives concerning adversarial groups and individual conduct. It is just as wrong for conservatives to compare being gay to alcoholism, drug abuse or pedophilia as it is for liberals to compare discrimination against gays to discrimination against blacks. The “libertarian” paradigm for government policy logically combines the limited government of “conservatives” with individual liberties traditionally associated with liberalism, to form a potentially third political block, ironically what many Americans really want, even though they are dismayed by the breakdown of morals and values they see around them.
It is well to list the standards of behavior that individuals must follow for successful conversion of the political direction to libertarianism, or at least “market liberalism” and the emancipation from soulcraft<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> by the state, to work. In the past, economists like Milton Friedman would claim, it’s the system that makes things work. Yet, I think it’s the people themselves. It may be only a handful, as when a child opens his interlocked crossed hands when playing “church.” The biblical story of “Sodom” might be important, not for its conventional interpretation but mainly because this mini-civilization would be spared if there were only “A Few Good Men.” So, yes, we need to debate, who are these Good Men and Good Women.
Again, a fundamental lemma is that people can be responsible for themselves, for who they are. When parents don’t go a good job with their children, then the children won’t be. “Who they are” will be less than fully human, and they won’t be able to belong to “the league.”
The cornerstone of this behavioral standard is, of course, honor. Previous chapters have already developed it in the historical context of the military gay ban.
Yes, “personal honor is an absolute...”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>. Honor makes some irreducible demands.
First, one must be upfront with others about personal motives. Sometimes one must “tell.” That doesn’t mean barging in with personal interpretations of the subjecthood of one’s peers when inappropriate. It does mean being able to communicate “who you are.” It does mean not hiding, concealing one’s life a protected witness or like Wagner’s hero Lohengrin, or having to lie. It does mean sharing enough so that others want to trust, and so that one can enter into mutually beneficial adaptive arrangements (as in the workplace) that mutually benefit everyone. In like manner, it means not trying to force others to live one’s own insecurity, the process that feeds hatreds and, particularly, homophobia. It means not oppressing yourself, like Britten’s Peter Grimes. Honor can mean challenging the prejudices of others, even at personal risk. Many times, other people just want to be comfortable, just don’t want to “know,” because they would then be confronted with their lack of independence, their vulnerability to the opinions of others and to approbation’s of the state. Likewise, businesses may sometimes not like recognizing their exposure to the whims of favors from the state.
Second, one must keep one’s promises, even when personally inconvenient or even difficult. In the workplace, this means staying on a job one has promised to do, even overtime, in a professional environment. In family life, it means staying in a marriage and raising the children one has sired; indeed, reforming welfare so that people don’t get a handout for having more kids out of wedlock is now a rather convenient political sell in both major parties. In contractual matters, fidelity to promise means paying back debts on time.
It’s easy for us to blame our lax attitude toward borrowing and living beyond our means at others expense, when the Federal government sets such a bad example. Ultimately, this is our fault, as individuals. It’s not nobody’s fault. When borrowed money isn’t repaid, somebody has to “suffer.” Perhaps it will be our children.
Some people like to gamble, and then blame others or bill “the government,” when things don’t work out. A great example is home mortgages, which let us gamble easily with other people’s money. Just like the job market, what goes up comes down once the foundation underneath cracks in typical Texas soil. When people lose their houses to foreclosure and owe deficiencies (even on mortgages “simply” assumed by others), they should be forced to pay up, even if it means starting all over with nothing. No exceptions. Government ought to get out of the business of insuring mortgages against borrowers’ default, and it ought to reduce its guarantees of deposit insurance to a small sum per person. People should pay attention to their own investments.
Employers needing people to work with money or sensitive materials ought to expect associates and even contractors to maintain a record of personal creditworthiness, as an indication that they do what they promise. In a climate so conditioned by “affirmative action,” enforcing such standards may not always be easy against some people who will threaten lawsuits based on minority status.
Tort reform, including (in many circumstances), “loser pays,” would actually, in the long run, improve the ability of people to hold others who harm them really responsible for their actions.
People convicted of crimes (even juveniles) should be punished with certainty, regardless of the identity of the victims. On the other hand, people who can be trusted to behave properly in public ought to be able to defend themselves as needed.
Personal integrity becomes more subtle when it invokes the corollary that one must not predicate one’s success on the demise or coerced exploitation of others. The political left used to condemn “capitalism” because it supposedly allowed the lazy bourgeoisie, indeed the fat, decadent middle class to live off “the proles.” Today, corporations talk as if their old-fashioned, plateaued middle managers are the parasites.
People should get used to being paid directly for the value of the results they get through their work, either individually or in small self-managed teams. People should realize that when they accept “free” perks on a job, the money is no longer available to employ someone else, so indeed they are sponging on others with fewer benefits. In order to make more money, people should expect to invest more of their own personal resources into a career path. These measures would give people more control over their own livelihoods. All of this requires weighing priorities, deciding where one fits, recognizing one’s limits and what is really one’s to have. It also means maintaining basic personal competence, from computer literacy to changing tires. (Yes, if my car wouldn’t start I would have to look for the nearest lesbian to jump my battery. So I keep my car in good condition.)
Correspondingly, people should get used to saving enough at least to get through cash flow problems, and for some of their own “social security” and medical care, starting as young adults. Lifelong savings would relieve the problems of restricted employment opportunities in later years, from jobs that require physical endurance or stamina or perfect health. Finally, people should get used to paying more for their own medical care when their problems are related to their own behavior, whether it is sexually transmitted diseases, lung cancer, or heart disease. Careless sexual activity and cigarette smoking are really on the same plane.
It would take several books to explain the public policy strategies that would encourage this kind of behavior; Cato policy bulletins are a good place to start.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In general, government tax policies, besides balancing the budget, ought to encourage long term savings and investment in long-term projects. The controversial “flat tax” (which is not truly flat because of its per-dependent exemptions) would seem to stop the punishment of success, while it does not address the real complexity in defining “income.” Catastrophic health coverage should be mandatory and become readily available outside the workplace (through insurance pools), even though that would mean some subsidy from government as well as “managed care.” Social Security and Medicare should be tackled for what it really is, a government transfer of wealth; portions of these could gradually be converted to privately managed annuities and medical savings accounts (which would encourage price competition among providers of routine medical care and make it easier for small employers to offer insurance) as actuarially supported, and the remainders could be folded into income (or, in the future, sales) taxes and subject to the same political scrutiny and debate. (Yes, since I’m not running for President yet, I can get away with touching the LIRR’s “third rail”). But, no change in political direction can work without a change in culture, a desire for more people to empower themselves. Government should help people insulate themselves from damage from external sources they cannot control.
This is hardly a call for anarchy. Government will have legitimate functions to complement its first role of representing the interests of the people to the outside world (and defending the people when necessary). Health care and disability in particular, as well as race and gender, presents problems (in insurance policy and in meeting discrimination) where it is difficult to imagine maintenance or social justice and freedom without government taking some leadership roles and drawing some lines. However strong a family and the morals of its members, there are some catastrophes beyond its control. Imagine a world in which people with genetic diseases are prospectively denied health care or employment, or where women with certain genetic backgrounds must undergo mastectomies to remain places in society. Imagine even the frightening “moral” insinuation that certain people, because of their genes, should not bear children (or must abort them). The gay community’s experience with AIDS sets and example than can be repeated again with other groups affected by diseases or natural catastrophes. But we need to discover principles, when government may intervene without dividing people, playing Robin Hood, regulating employers into laying people off, or politicizing disease or lifestyles. Some of these principles include straightforward enforcement and compliance, and a consensus that the individuals, families, and communities affected have made every reasonable effort to help themselves When government starts picking up the tab and playing politics with discrimination regardless of the behavior of people affected, the “moral” arguments to criminalize vice comes back, and we backslide from freedom.
The responsibility that accompanies personal freedom constitutes a kind of stewardship. It goes even deeper than answering for one’s own actions. It leads eventually to a confrontation, that one will get nowhere in life without some meaningful centering on service to others. Typically this occurs in the nuclear family for most people; the “creative” challenge to personal surplus and character specialization potentialities inherent in homosexuality is to expand this into modern forums. But just across the street from this altruism is homosexuality’s cutting edge, at least for men: it’s tendency, through a juvenile narcissism, to feed on homosocial bonds that men form in their pioneering, and blow it up into the power struggles that heterosexual men will fight later once they grow their own families, to focus immediately on the icon, the idea of a Mr. Right, the alpha male of the timber wolf. Gender liberation has led to new kinds of role-models, like the X-Files ’s Mulder and Scully: totally decent, competent, and articulate men and women with a picture window view of the outside universe but a relatively detached notion of family commitments.
Compared to other people who have raised children or cared for a rehabilitating adult for months or years and actually dedicated their bodies and souls to so doing, I have not exactly lived up to this mandate for service myself. I see family as a tunnel in which I would loses oneself before I could see through it; I wouldn’t wait to finds a new opening which gives the incentive to discover a new and higher my-self. Rather, I have been a bit of a alien, finding substance in the epic sweep of the civilization that anguishes as it passes by me, mostly in baby steps, but towards new revelations that change our perceptions of who we are. But, as like other homosexuals who have been in the military, I know how the outsider becomes the ultimate insider, and makes those deep connections. I like the right to be myself, even if I live largely in my own world; I don't want my tax dollars spent in any attempt, however well intended, to change me into a Stepford husband as a safe role model for other peoples’ kids.
The commitment that comes with aesthetic objectivity provides a comforting reassurance; it allowed to go free, the best men and women will really want to solve the global problems that can quickly cut off our liberties in coming decades. Imagine the draconian steps that might be taken if “government” has to manage the problem of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from industry and automobiles to save the entire East Coastal Plain below the “Fall Line.” The ration coupons printed during the oil shocks would be replaced by edicts telling people when they can drive and eventually where there can live and with whom, and by the old political barter deciding who is “needy,” and then whose personal, overly autonomous ”lifestyle” burdens the community as a whole. As recently as the Carter years, we imagined this to be our future. But, with freedom, the doers of the world (the “John Galt’s”) will find profit in solving these problems by harnessing renewable energy sources. Already the insurance industry is looking hard at global warming, and the auto industry is finally really trying with the electric car. Beyond the limitation of government to relatively non-controversial areas, personal freedom in the long run will always wait on personal initiative with “enlightened self-interest.” We’re all on a permanent probation. But we always have been, anyway.
The impulse towards altruism, embedded in self-interest, will inevitably lead to confrontations and the need for people to make voluntary arrangements that consider their different levels of responsibilities for significant others. These testy situations might have been evaded were government allowed to take care of the less fortunate and less able. People will need to be honest about who they are, and will need to weigh their interests thoughtfully when they may rightfully subordinate to the more pressing needs of others. Quite frankly, this will mean at times that there may have to be private arrangements (derivatives of the “family wage”), permitted and even facilitated by government, providing deferentially for providers of families with children or other dependents. But all “others” will still be included; family status and sexual orientation will no longer be markers to divide society into politically conflicting camps. There is a curious false privacy that comes when big government, call it socialism, is allowed to attempt to replace “the family” ; but this usually means government eventually interferes with private lives even more than before and just plays off one kind of family against another. Government cannot provide happiness; it simply facilitates pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, social and political support of the family should not go so far as to relieve individuals from understanding “who they are.”
Even more fundamental than pragmatic service to others is “feeling good about yourself,” self-image, the “I’m OK, you’re OK” paradigm. Self-hatred or self-handicapping can indeed grow out of self-indulgence and a desire to draw attention to oneself. Yet, the artificial “morality” or prohibitionism, enforced by government manipulation of presumption without proof, provides an all too convenient rationalization for the closet, the self-handicapping behaviors, the wielding of one’s second-class status as a perverse weapon.
It is time for people to grow up in their attitudes about what government and other large institutions should do for them. Certainly, government should hold people to their promises and to the provable adverse consequences of their own behaviors; this is not always clear-cut since some people, in pursuing their own profits or pleasures, influence others to do direct harm. Government may rightfully use relatively small public resources to help victims of disasters (medical or natural) who (even including their families) have no reasonable ways of taking care of themselves, and it may readily sometimes protect people from completely irrational discrimination. But when government redistributes wealth to enforce “democratically” evolved moral assessments, whether with coercive measures such as affirmative action quotas or forced bussing or even with as popular and obvious a measure as tax relief specifically for families with children, or when government manipulates values with unenforceable laws, even when dealing with an apparent evil like self-abuse with drugs, people lose a sense of responsibility to exercise their own moral muscles. Then people really do “eat, drink, and be merry,” without regard to consequences. Government neutrality about the deepest aspects of personality (which homosexuality, compared to race and species, must evoke even if it also assembles from the sensory genes) hardly prevents people, through their religions and other cultural activities, from asserting their own moral beliefs and exhaltations. For homosexuals (unlike others such as drug abusers or even necrophiliacs<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> with whom they are compared) the result of government neutrality would be recognition of their accomplishments as individuals, without prejudice. Andrew Sullivan proposes something similar: “that public (as opposed to private) discrimination against homosexuals be ended and that every right and responsibility that heterosexuals enjoy as public citizens be extended to those who grow up and find themselves emotionally different, and that is all.” <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But, this well-intended formulation still assumes that the state will still allocate certain duties and privileges, in such areas as military or national service and in marriage, and the very process of the state’s doing so forces the state to make value judgments that play with people’s lives and that enables the liberals to get away with organizing people into oppressed, special-interest groups. By what right may the state take away substance from one person’s life and give it to another? More brakes are needed, to stop the government from entering into the psychological domain, once and for all.
Government must not exclude and discriminate on the expression of wholly personal values, simply to carry out the superficial self-interest of a majority “referendum.” Government cannot effectively prevent private culture from doing so; it can only prevent wholesale exclusion and gross privacy invasion. Culture may sometimes, by investing private resources according to private “moral” priorities, indeed prefer people whose lives express some values (such as ‘family values”) over others. Then, it is the responsibility of the rest (including gays and lesbians in some cases) to prove themselves on an individual basis. Everyone must try to contribute where he can add value, and within the limits implied by the commitment that goes with a real contribution. Even so, everyone must take responsibility for his own values and choices, and not expect privileges not subsumed by his own concrete contributions.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Melinda Paras often criticizes conservatives and even libertarians for their lack of sense of “fairness” and “compassion.” Fairness may be understood in terms of the appropriateness of a remedy for a situation, such as parking spaces for the handicapped, or equal funeral leave or family sick leave benefits for legally married or for gay domestic partners. Most people would understand these concerns as fair. Likewise, most people would want people with AIDS, Alzheimer’s, or any number of disease, particularly the poor, to be cared for. Conservatives and libertarians should point out that their is no way for government to make things absolutely “fair,” particularly where “lifestyles” are involved, without more privacy invasion and forcible redistribution and barter of privileges; it gets difficult to draw lines of principle. Some of the accountability for compassion and fairness, therefore, must remain within the scope of private initiative, and in a wealthier, more individualized society this is more realistic. Individualism, while it may deteriorate into Darwinism, can produce the rapid gains in wealth that facilitate real compassion. With this balance between individual expression and group loyalty and welfare, virtues such as fairness and compassion may be achieved in time, without government assuming responsibility for sorting moral priorities. Still, in defending the principled emphasis on individual responsibility and government withdrawal (well motivated in the desire to protect adult intimate association), a commentator will have to rationalize difficult private solutions to a number of other vexing “moral” problems where we have gotten used to having the state lay down a few rules for the common interest. Libertarianism has its own lines to draw.
This cornucopia of “private solutions” should compel a gay male like me or a lesbian to ask , if libertarianism could really be implemented, what would be in it for me? Obviously, if I can fend for myself, I want the government off my back. If I can’t, it’s really up to me to build a social and familial network throughout life so that, as part of my human interactions, there is some safety net. If nobody notices after I’m gone, that’s really because I didn’t bind enough with others. It’s also up to me to save for my own hard times. I also am accepting the practical reality that I may sometimes be called upon to produce more for the same effective compensation than will someone with heavy family responsibilities; however, I will not be categorically excluded from anything (even the military) just be cause of my inclinations and associations. For the person with “conventional” family life and values, libertarianism actually offers a similar deal. The family is the social net for all but the most catastrophic events. With less government intervention, private culture may sometimes give such a person a slight “preference” in compensation or job duties, but not to the exclusion of others.
As we reach this century’s endgame, we call the question on whether we have confidence in people to look after their own and their families’ best interests. The real differences among personal skills, talents, and moral compass have become magnified. Many moralists remain preoccupied with the law (or illusion) of large numbers, with how well families and children perform when there is a “pluralism” of moral outlooks and media distraction. Perhaps the enormous cultural breadth of our society creates an impediment to moral progress; people, already satiated by the “fast frames” of entertainment and overwhelmed by everyday adaptive processes, simply cannot absorb what is going on around them and cannot see how the subtle bigotry still pervasive today can come back to affect them. But community moral values and individual liberty are entirely consonant. We should empower ourselves to create more wealth and to reward individual effort and success. Then, we would not let our government, in implementing a community moral consensus, score and then barter our lifestyles as if they were chess pieces being traded down to an opposition and then a draw. “Gay rights” would go away; there would be no confusion about “special rights.” Gays and lesbians will perform without injuring others. Sexual orientation can remain a personal matter with some public influence, but will no longer be politicized. Choice of adult intimate partner will no longer divide society between the “virtuous” and the “self-indulgent.”
Still, there is a bottom line for “gay rights.” If government and “corporate” society are to leave gays alone, much less applaud same-sex couples, then government will have to stop raiding private tills for any group’s special interests, however deserving.
It is time that our country explicitly recognize the Right to Privacy and to Intimate Association, and define this right in the Constitution. This Right “to be left alone” by government belongs to all responsible adults, not just to those socialized by the traditional family. We have seen that these rights are not so clearly spelled out by Free Speech (1st Amendment) or Due Process and Equal Protection (14th Amendment), or even the penumbra of the 9th and 10th amendments. The majority today reserves the right to impose its interpretation of subtle areas of personal morality through pining labels and subsuming presumption. Attempts to escape this coerced conformity by distinguishing “status” from “conduct,” or by emphasizing “immutability” of inner drives conveniently associated with discomforting behaviors seems unreliable at best, and tends to just reframe a suspect status as bad “character.” The result of this moralizing process is the exclusion of some non-comforming people (funded by their own taxes), and their subsequent self-oppression, in order to maintain a poorly articulated motivational potential among “ordinary” people. This mislabeling of people happens even when majoritarian democracy believes it has the best intentions, to facilitate economic “justice” and, by largely by supporting link between sexuality and the child-favored traditional family, to constipate the running of individualism and meritocracy into Darwinian entropy. The classification of people by their moral “just desserts” serves, conveniently for politicians, to keep society divided around artificially contrived tribal conflicts. We must restrict this codification of moral notions more narrowly to individual personal accountability for actions; yet, at the same time, we should encourage moral and generous behavior, an impulse towards, as former President Jimmy Carter of Habitat for Humanity puts it simply, “service,” in the culture. We would should not let government intervene unduly in the private assessments people make of each other; indeed, most of us, unlike the objectivists, need at times to become very mindful of “the opinions of others.” All of this requires us to have faith in our confidence in people to be responsible for themselves. When people are empowered to take care of themselves, we will all be better off, and we will have less actual “discrimination” and more prosperity if government keep itself out of both making moral judgments and policing private moral judgments.
Talk of “amending the Constitution” has become faddish. Some proposals are frivolous, like guaranteeing a “job” and “humane minimum wage” <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>(maybe a “family wage”?), or protection of the flag. Some have almost made it, like the ERA. A Human Right to Life Amendment seeks to impose absolute moral values that a sizable and vocal minority of Americans crave. Conservatives will push for a constitutional Federal definition of marriage as between man and woman only, since the current attempts to do this by statute cannot legally ignore an existing clause (Full Faith and Credit) in the Constitution. A Right to Privacy and Intimate Association can garner popular support by simultaneously protecting personal privacy, adult intimacy, religious celebrations, and parental rights and control over their own children’s education, and by proposing a balance between reproductive privacy and a human being’s right to live once he or she is sentient. Such an amendment can, once and for all, stop affectional preferences and their associated expressions from artificially dividing society between the “self-indulgent” and the “family friendly.” Developing and selling such an amendment will show how freedom progresses from personal honor and psychological attachments to outreach in public and civic affairs, even politics. Freedom is not limited to hidden communes in the East Village or the Rocky Mountains.
Government must respect its bounds in invading the private psychological space of the individual person, even when it believes it is justified by democratic mandate to carry out its best intentions to encourage individuals to make and keep commitments to others and to mediate a wholesome culture for children.
We fought and won the Second World War, a great and horrifying adventure, so that people could hold the State accountable and could put their own family lives on a par with patriotism and even politics. We set in motion a Civil Rights movement so that, and for the convenience of the “normal” or privileged establishment, people would not have to “pass,” as “Christians,” as white, or, in modern sense, as straight. The fall, or at least stumble, of Communism shows the failure of the values behind collectivism, even as fundamentalist religious forces try to reinstate an authoritarian, external morality. The gentle winds of a more prosperous future, with more personal freedom, rise upon us as the new millennium approaches, a new “Dawn of Man” as in the film 2001. Yet, we may have neither if do not take away from government its still excessive prerogatives to hollow out from us our own moral commitments. We must recognize the weak points of individualism, such as the skipping of obligations and ignorance of personal limits, but we must not give back to government our own sense of personal honor. Debating this amendment will force us all, and not just the kids, to grow up.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> President Bill Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 22, 1996.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> In a manner similar to Nazism, even the Japanese Empire before World War II had invented theories that Mongoloid peoples were biologically “evolved” at a greater distance from the apes.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hans Johnson, “The ‘Pink’ Nazis,” The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review, Summer 1995, Vol II, No.. 3,p. 1.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Atlantic Monthly, ,Feb. 1996.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming (New York: St, Martin’s Press, 1993), chapter “Thoughtcrimes.” pp. 375-382.
Also, Frank Rector, The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals (New York: Stein and Day, 1981).
Lutz van Dijk, Damned Strong Love (New York: Henry Holt, 1995). Translation from German by Elizabeth Crawford.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Alan Ehrenhalt, “Learning from the Fifties,” The Wilson Quarterly, Summer, 1995, p. 8.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Theodore Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 59-86. Consciousness I had been preoccupied with an almost Luddite survivalist and religious values.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> to borrow a term from Dean Koontz’s horror novel, Midnight (1986).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Patricia Lanca, “Feminism and the Family,” The World and I, Dec., 1995, p. 291.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Today, conservatives complain that it’s “the love that can’t shut up!”
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Colin Powell, My American Journey, (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 547.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Reich, op. cit., p. 225.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Dean Hannotte, The Ninth Street Center Journal, Spring, 1973.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Wally Amos Criswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas during the 1980’s, called us “insignificant” in a Sunday night sermon.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “Although historians at government-supported institutions love to say that Franklin Roosevelt saved the country from economic ruin, few mention that in 1939 unemployment was worse than in 1931, and business still hadn’t recovered from 10-year shocks.” Harry Browne, op. cit., p. 43,
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Chandler Burr, A Separate Creation, to be published by Hyperion in 1996; also lecture notes at Log Cabin Republicans in Washington , D.C., May 13, 1996. There is even a crude, and very expensive, test for this putative gene now! See also Chandler Burr’s contributions in Atlantic, June, 1993, and The Advocate (“The Destiny of You”), December 26, 1995, p. 36. Also, see Scientific American, May, 1994,,p. 43, for the “debate”: “Evidence for a Biological Influence in Male Homosexuality” by Simon LeVay and Dean Hamer; “The Biological Evidence Challenged,” by William Byne.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Dan Fry and various other authors (including me), Understanding, several issues from 1977-79.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> George Will, Statecraft as Soulcraft (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Steffan, op, cit., p. 145.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> David Boaz and Edward Crane, editors, Market Liberalism: A Paradigm for the 21st Century (Washington: Cato, 1993).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Digby Anderson, “Dead Issues,” National Review, Jan. 29, 1996, p. 49.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Andrew Sullivan, Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality (New York: Knopf, 1995), p. 171.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Herbert Gans, Middle American Individualism: The Future of Liberal Democracy (New York: The Free Press, 1988), p. 143.