I want to talk a bit about my own personal agency, how I constructed it earlier in my life, before we had the Internet and today’s moral quandaries over “freedom of reach”, as I talked about in the Aug. 3 post. Yes, it raises some kinds of moral issues that pertain to current global existential threats.
What was in my world as a young adult? At a more abstract level, it was some more dispersed interests in chess, classical music (the record/CD collections), writing, and touchdown-style travel. I was not fully a jack of all trades and maybe I was a master of none. Getting far in the chess world, for example, requires extreme concentration.
But underneath that was finding human intimacy on my own terms. To say that I was (am) a “marginally cis” gay man skims across the waves. But in a sense it drove the other provinces of my adult activity.
I have to stay within the bounds of acceptable taste in talking about this. By maybe age 11 or so, before the end of grade school (we started “junior high” with grade 7) I was aware of my need to idealize (and then “idolize”) young men who “had it all”. There was a background conception that girls were better at school than boys (partly because at grade school ages girls mature about a year earlier – it’s all biology, whatever today’s radical Left thinks) and more verbal, and got better grades. And were less likely to get into trouble (though not always). Later, into high school, boys catch up, and may exceed in some areas like abstraction, math and science, as opposed to verbal skills. It was hard for English teachers to explain why some female authors had to take on men’s names, and for music or piano teachers to explain why, before WWII at least, there weren’t more female composers of renown. It all sounds a little contradictory.
I developed a mental fixation on the idea that one could be physically masculine and a good student at the same time. I won’t get into lurid details; but, yes, this affects how one “gets hard”. By the time I was ready to go away from home to college at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, this was all very clear to me.
I’ve covered the story in my books and previous blogposts, but here is a refresher course summary.
In the period of 1961-1973, before my “second coming”, as I call it in the books, there certainly was pressure on me to get married and accept the “best I could do”. After I “came out” a second time, the same idea persisted in the gay community (largely in NYC at the time) as, having waited until age 29 and having some physical problems, I was not particularly “competitive”.
I sort of reached a peaceful truce with this whole idea (the blowback against what George Gilder calls “upward affiliation”, in his 1986 book “Men and Marriage”, as well as “Sexual Suicide” in 1973 – the “do not idolize” from The Ten Commandments) with individual activities, mentioned above. I lived alone, usually in a 1 or 2 bedroom unit, so that’s efficient, but I drove to places alone, which is inefficient, particularly in today’s need to reduce carbon output. In the earlier years, I needed geographical mobility just to find “people”; after I got moved into NYC, I needed is as another vehicle for self-affirmation, pre-Internet (that would take until like 1996 or so). I saw this pretty much as a paradigm for my “personal agency”.
This leaves me with two or three problems.
One of them would have to be personal mobility itself. I need to move around alone a lot. That’s an “indulgence” that might be forbidden in the future as part of climate change policy. Imagine in the future (if electric cars don’t really solve the problem) if people were required to be in pods or groups (families) before they travel. Or even operate as individuals at all. Some (especially on the Left) might think this is perfectly OK. People should have solidarity and belong to groups, they say. This could particularly be used to abuse the elderly. Imagine what might have happened to “protect the elderly” during the Covid pandemic, for example (Aug. 1).
Another would be to question why I resist relationships that would seem “good for me” or “good for others” – being “assigned” to someone. That was particularly an issue in the background when I was at NIH in 1962. On the extremes, the Left has criticized people who refuse to date trans or non-binary people, for example, of “hateful” conduct. (Matt Walsh has talked about this.)
But this desistance on my part can become perceived as hateful because of my “freedom of reach” and ability to have influence on the outcomes of issues without actual personal accountability for others or for these outcomes (posting Aug. 3) Avoiding people personally with special needs, or pleas to become involved with them personally to elevate their social status, can itself be perceived as hateful, and that is some of the blowback I see,
But it is true, I tend to remain distant and not be emotionally tied to groups or families as much as others (even though I at least hypothetically have the “power” to affect what happens to them). That, in my experience, is partly related to never having procreated, and never having been able to experience the peak physical experience (in a Maslow sense) of doing that. I could be more crude in the way I saw this. Use your imagination.
But I also have to take account for how my personal choices in young adulthood could have turned out much worse.
Again, I mentioned it before, think how much worse the public health consequences for the “amplification” which can happen among gay men might have turned out than they did.
It may well be that my decision to move to Dallas (from NYC) at the start of 1979 after a paradoxical personal situation that I haven’t completely disclosed, may have saved my life. My getting through the COVID crisis today presents another paradox.
A couple distantly related videos:
George Gilder (books, “Men and Marriage” (1986) and “Sexual Suicide” (1973)):
The 1954 classic movie “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille (a story that takes 3 hours and 36 minutes to tell, at least at the RKO Keith’s theater in downtown Washington when I saw it as a child.)
Update (Aug. 7): On Saturday morning, Aug. 6 Smerconish got into the problem of weak social capital among Americans as exacerbating to polarization. Society is resegregating, not so much by race or ethnicity but by educational or cultural achievement and status. That leads to a lot of asymmetry in the effects of Internet speech or “reach”, even without the algorithms. One guest suggested teenagers should do more in having real part-time jobs rather than extracurricular activities at school (although some teenagers make money with their own YT channels and online businesses – something that is more possible in a world without an operating military draft or “required” service, which forces people to mix. The cultural right now expects people to learn “aesthetic realism” in relationships and down-to-earth work value within the extended family unit, and sees sexual morality as something that works only when everyone follows it (so it rewards to faithful). The cultural left makes up new intersectional groups of the globally “oppressed” and demands neo-tribal loyalty. One of the aspects of “religious” sexual morality is that it does channel men into being able to take care of others in need by staying with partners in hard times and remaining interested. This is a lot to swallow.
(Posted: Friday, August 5, 2022 at 3 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)