Essay, "The Demands of Others"

Part 1, Friday, March 4, 2022

I wrote my previous post on “personal agency” earlier on the first day Russia’s big invasion, not knowing it would happen (coincidence).

But the question comes up, when does a world-wide emergency and massive suffering by others place moral or even practical demands that someone in my course respond and change plans.  Personally, I see it as 'The Demands of Others' Problem.  You can’t play Ayn Rand forever.

I have seen tweets, from individuals I like and correspond with on this question, about staying on course, because there is really zero one can do about it anyway.

Let me first just reiterate my current course. I, for reasons I have discussed earlier and with changes that started late last year (but especially January 3, 2022) paring down my sites so there will be just two sites, a personal one based on my legal name with this blog, and a business one that retains “doaskdotell” as a name.  By late in June (at the very latest) 2022 there should be only this one Wordpress blog, and all new posts will go on it, grouped by carefully chosen labels.  I will also work on the screenwriting opportunities (tied to the books and a pitch-fest in NYC in April, and to participating in a Facebook group). The work on the large novel 'Angel’s Brother' is halted for now because actual events (the Covid pandemic and at least indirectly Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) hamper the integrity of the storyline.

Let me reiterate than in a practical sense, there are limits on what I, or probably most Americans in my situation, might feel obligated or inclined to personally respond to. Generally, we don’t feel we need to respond to terrible events in authoritarian countries around the world. These might include a long list, starting with North Korea (the Warmbier incident was horrible), Myanmar, various communist countries (like Venezuela) or countries where many conditions are primitive, and this includes much of central Asia and Africa and where horrible and brutal stuff for ordinary civilians happens (like Nigeria). With Afghanistan (more so than there was a few years ago with Iraq and Syria) there seems to be considerable interest in helping refugees, as there has been (with controversy) with the Mexican border issue throughout the Trump years. I am protestant, and I have not become personally involved with the religious violence that occurs in the Middle East, or between Israel and Palestinians (and the settlements), for example.

There is also a constant churning about which enemies are most dangerous to our way of life (and this is outside the debate on climate change and some other threats like solar storms that we could all face).  After 9/11, it was radical Islam, and it stayed that way until the Trump candidacy.  Then it was North Korea, maybe with China’s help; then it was the far Right and white Supremacy in the United States and maybe parts of Europe and some other smaller nations, leading to January 6 (Antifa does pretty bad stuff to small businesses and some property owners and even the stability of some cities, but it is not quite the existential threat Trump became at the end).  Now quite suddenly (although we have had plenty of warning, if we think back about it, particularly to 2014) it is Vladimir Putin.  I won’t elaborate further the crisis if Putin does move on to NATO allies (which include the three Baltic states, former Soviet republics).  To rephrase a friend. I have no '30 point plan'.

But it is true that the current crisis, as is, still lies within a part of the world I have perceived as authoritarian (essentially Communist) until recently, and not generally regarded as a personal concern.

But it does seem that in Europe right now, ordinary people are encouraged to house sudden refugees (or asylum seekers – the status is unclear) in their homes (especially in Poland, Germany, perhaps Romania).  If the crisis lasts, it would sound likely that some families (but that is normally only women and children) would come to the US and Canada.  Biden is likely to try to make it easier, and Canada already does (with advanced private sponsorship programs).  There would be a question as to whether the wives and children would return to Ukraine quickly if somehow peace is settled (no, again, no 30 point plan).  There are risks involved to the hosts now, including Covid (especially new strains).

Back in 2016-2017 considering the possibility of housing one or more LGBT asylum seekers.  The necessary discissions never quite happened.  I wound up selling the house in late 2017 and now live in a one bedroom condo, and I would not normally offer housing.

But if there were a push to house a large number of temporary 'refugees' from Ukraine in North America, I could see supporting rental for them in apartments or housing units, not living with me.  This has already happened with Afghanistan (although I have not participated in that specific effort). 

A sizable portion of my assets were inherited (I discuss this monthly on my “DADTnotesblog” but that will end in April.  Moral logic would say I do have some responsibility to respond to sudden crises. In fact, I have made regular monthly organizations to a number of non-profits, some of which are legal beneficiaries of the trust and which participate in efforts to respond to crises. I try to make these steady and ample so I don’t have to make major changes in priorities when something happens, and respond to a flood of email and snail-mail requests.  With the Trust (especially the part with my mother's name on it), there may be an opportunity to help, but it would require building a ("sponsorship") bond with a specific refugee family (ies) who hopefully would be able to return home eventually. Trust disbursement is predicated on existing relationships, not abstract social causes.

I do like to speak with my own voice, as followers know.  I do not like to allow organizations to speak for me.  But that kind of attitude can sometimes interfere or dilute necessary social justice activism that others have started. 

Then there is the issue of volunteering time.  Yes, that is difficult as I have already set out my own priorities.  I have found that occasional piecemeal volunteering (which I did for a local community assistance at an Arlington church when I was in the 'Drogheda' house) not very effective unless there is a minimum mass of commitment and engagement of other people somewhat personally. I do not see myself as belonging to a 'people' or intersectional group

I often hear revanchist warnings of forceful destruction of our way of life, with the end of individualism, and a particularly shameful end for people with backgrounds like mine which may have been inappropriately privileged'  (I won’t rehearse the details here, or how CRT -- and demands for "proactive anti-racism" distorts them).  No, I am not going to become a doomsday prepper.   But I can think of situations where it would have been easier to volunteer if I also had more capability to defend myself personally than I do. 

A bit related (in my history) is "schizoid personality" (disorder).

Part 2

OK, I have to walk back, or 'walk away' (Dr. Karyln’s phrase) or around a couple of comments yesterday to delve deeper.

First, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy makes 'demands' of the west.  He is reported to be “demanding” that NATO take the nuclear risk of a no-fly zone.  ('You fly, you die.' It worked in 1991 against Saddam Hussein.)  In all honesty, CNN today has pointed out some ways to interpret this “concept” so that it would not be interpreted as actual military engagement by NATO and the US.  But the underlying idea is troubling, especially to those geographically farther from the conflict in stable democracies.  By the way, have we already forgotten already how close we came on January 6. 2021?  If you escalate, you risk nuclear or electromagnetic pulse attacks, and at least the destruction of many “innocent” lives for months or years. We all benefit from “liberal civilization”.  But it presents more risks to other individuals in more exposed parts of the world than we personally want to be accountable for. This is a moral debate that involves critical theory (not race, just in general).  By the way, Putin is saying that the 'sanctions' are a form of warfare, so where does that go? 

Second, I compared the 'relevance' of a 'gray area' country to me like Ukraine to other more primitive countries.  For example, we wouldn't go to war over China’s deprivation of independence to Tibet.  Taiwan (and Hong Kong) present more troubling questions.  And the risks may be other than military – like even more supply chain disruption.  (How about rare earth metals needed by high tech?) We just don’t make enough of our own stuff to 'buy' our lifestyles forever.  There is some point to autarky.

But I then also said I am anti-tribal – I don’t have the feeling of belonging to a 'people' – at least in the sense that this would penetrate my personal life (family life or even sexual commitments in relationships).  That does get into the population demographic winter thing that obsesses the political Right.   Yet, in my mind, there is a difference between, say, Tibet, and Ukraine.  Not morally, but practically.

But the biggest concern I have is the point of a lot of Internet speech, including mine, especially when it is gratuitous – that is, it doesn’t even earn money through algorithms and a hooked commercial audience, but it is simply found by search engines.  This approach was particularly effective with the “gays in the military” issue from the late 1990s well into the 2000’s (with the repeal in 2011 of 'don't ask don't tell').  I did, with the books and websites, focus attention to some aspects of the debate that many conventional activists find disquieting, such as the 'privacy in the barracks' and “unit cohesion” problems, and directed attention away from ideas like intersectionality or minority groups.  I also connected the problem to the moral quandaries associated with a military draft (as in the Vietnam war) in a democratic society.   I have good reason to believe that I did influence the debate over the years, although I can't prove it with analytics.  There is something logically troubling about a claim like this (and it logically contradicts 'anti-tribalism'). I don't have specific people to be accountable to where I have some “skin in the game” as to what the outcome really was.  I think it is good to be non-tribal and own your own work completely (rather than lose access to it, as when you quit a job) but the possibility that it may, in unusual circumstances, lead to unpredictable behavior by others should indeed be troubling.  I know of situations where both good things and where bad things happened because of other unusual connections that I had and perhaps didn’t even  know about.  This risk may be exacerbated when there is warfare and attempted access blackouts in some countries which many users will work around.   That general risk is unpredictable when someone publishes original interpretations of controversial problems without accountability to a group, perhaps due to accumulated or even inherited assets (and it may undermine established activism). One risk, that got discussed in the months after 9/11 and then publicly forgotten, could comprise hacking and steganography. All of this is one reason why I decided, in 2019, that I would eventually have to migrate back to a system where, when expressing my own views on something personally, it would have to be under my own legal name only.

I do want to insist on something however. I cannot speak for a group or let it speak for me, or approach the public trying to raise money for a group (for example) without having my own voice independent voice first. (Consider how the 'anti-racism' debate plays into this.) Facebook has tried to encourage users to run fundraisers for “established” charities, but beyond a small effort, my doing this is problematic.

One other sidekick observation: I've often make jokes about media visible content creator friends of mine running for office, even president (in the US). A few of them could do the job. Well, Ronald Reagan had been a Hollywood star, and so had Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA governor), as well as Jesse Ventura (MN). It's ironic that Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian, has inspired his people to resist under such unprecedented (in modern times) conditions.

But a bit of warning. Yes, in my circumstances, I do take some statements made my representatives of foreign adversaries or sometimes domestic, personally, sometimes. I have no choice.

(Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 6:45 PM EST)