Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" turns into a personal moral litmus test for at least one civilian (Me)


Since my mainline “information technology” career experienced its cardiac arrest in December 2001 and I “retired”, I have sometimes been approached about getting into job situations where I would “function” as a role model for other disadvantaged male youths, or pretend to be a “family man” to be a professional and, I’m afraid, social checkpoint for other families needing some sort of crutch. This has occurred in several ways. In many cases, I’m not giving the details on this post, but I want to state for the record again how I feel about this sort of thing.

As I’ve detailed before, when I grew up I had difficulty “competing” with other boys in pursuits expected of males, and my father made a lot of my disinclination to perform chores mechanically the right way. Although we would suspect that some of this has a biological or “brain wiring” basis, at the time (in the 1950s) it took on a “moral” aspect. Young men had to “pay their dues” to earn the future freedom as adults. And, in some ways, frankly I did not. I have a feeling, in hindsight, that I could have tried harder to overcome what seemed then like a moral deficit.

When the issue of “gays in the military” exploded in 1992-1993, I saw this problem as one that indirectly affected all gays. Remember, I had been expelled from a civilian college in 1961 over homosexuality, and some of the “rationale” seemed to be similar to reasons being given to justify the ban then –- although there is more to it than just “privacy in the dorms (and barracks).” I had come of age (in a Cold War, Vietnam, and “Dominoes Theory” era) when men were drafted and “sacrificed” and when all kinds of almost eugenic rationalizations were invented to “morally” justify student deferments. This was one of the leading “moral issues” of my day, and it seems that the public today has largely lost sight of it, although it does come up with discussions of national service and the Bush “back door draft” for the war in Iraq. Ironically, despite my civilian expulsion based partly on military-style rationale, I actually got drafted and “served “in the Army 1968-1970, but was “sheltered” from combat “risk” and remained stateside.

The issue, for men, was whether “unconventional men” (to invent a generic, if colorless term) “did their part” in a manner necessary to justify their continued freedom--and their own individual place in a competitive world that must accept unequal outcomes as to wealth and "station in life". I did not grow up with the idea that personal freedom was guaranteed. It is spelled out, in theory, in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (and various other Amendments, especially the 14th) . But freedom, or at least “life, liberty and property” could be taken away by force from those who either have the capability to use force, or who feel so aggrieved by “the system” that they act with violence, often asymmetrically, in an environment where law and government are not able to maintain stability. As a “moral debate” item, this whole phenomenon, apparent since 9/11, has become more important. It is important, then, to be able to participate in sharing the responsibility for the defense of freedom. Remember, right after 9/11, both military sociologist Charles Moskos and Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin were quick to propose reinstating the draft.

The “old ban” (before “don’t ask don’t tell”) effectively meant that homosexuals (open or not) did not have the ability to serve in the military legally. In a moral climate where burdens must be shared as I personally experienced in the 1950s and 60s, then homosexuals do not have equal rights and sometimes their resources might be expropriated to meet the needs of others. This, in a nutshell, is why the “Ban” became so important to me. At first, I actually thought a “kinder and gentler” kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” would “work” (this is something in the spirit of what Rand Corporation proposed in 1993 in a million dollar study). We know that in many parts of the Armed Forces the “new” 1993 DADT policy actually increased the incidence of witchhunts, at least until the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq post 9/11. The overall concept, of keeping personal matters quiet, tended to spread to other ideas of society, where now there is a controversy over how teachers behave on the Internet.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve noticed a relatively undiscussed but growing tension among those who have and those who do not have children. Part of the tension gets expressed as a moral question about how responsibilities are shared, and sometimes leads to unequal duties for the same pay in the workplace. A certain segment of the “interventionist” crowd quietly prepares to exploit this tension, proposing the “village” model for raising children and suggesting that “other people’s children” (“OPC”) is everyone’s responsibility. (This crosses liberal and conservative lines for various reasons.)

As far as I’m concerned, from a moral perspective, all this ups the ante on “equal rights” along with “equal responsibilities”. You got it, that’s how the whole gay marriage argument unfolds, and then gay adoption and custody behind it. I understand the principled (if “ideological”) argument that maintains that full marriage rights, even in and are equal, and that domestic partnership or civil union is not enough. (That calls to mind Chris Crain’s famous “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” Washington Blade editorial on March 12, 2004; I’ve never bothered to give the link, so here it is.

Nevertheless, it is the military ban problem that I relate to personally, because of the incidents during my own “coming of age” period. To me, it all marches across my imagination and unfolds like an Oliver Stone movie. And it brings me back to some of the personal challenges in recent years that others have posed for me. While I don’t want to detail them right here, others (reflecting a kind of Confucian ethic even in western society) propose to me the notion that I should drop my public insertion of myself into all of these political matters, and simply change course and devote myself to pretending I can “be a man” in front of other families and especially OPC (“other people’s children”). That’s the best I can settle for. Maybe I could even be an “economic hit man” along the way. I would have to live publicly (that is, "live the life") for the purposes and moral direction defined by others. Since I did not “pay my dues” properly as a youngster, I lost the right to do that for myself, so the moral groupthink goes.

Of course, I have to say no to this. It’s not funny to be asked, at the age of 60 or so, to be asked to parade on the deep end of a swimming pool in front of special ed kids. (I’ll be explicit about that incident.) I’ve said, on my websites and blogs, that in this political climate, with DADT on the books and with the air of hostility in a lot of right wing literature, no, I don’t want to be exposed to the possibility of giving custodial care to other people’s kids. I think there’s an indirect legal risk, although I know that even SLDN has acknowledged that the DADT was worded to keep itself limited to the military. I said that online while I was substitute teaching and, yes, it did cause a “big problem”. Furthermore, I don’t want to “play family” to appease other people’s sensibilities. The fact is, I didn’t make myself “competitive” when I was a teenager, and if I had, yes, I might have decided that I wanted a biological progeny and been willing to invest in the emotion and particular constant intimacy that it took to have one. Furthermore, had I done so, I could have wound up like former New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevy (“The Confession”). Who can say what would have been right?

Were “don’t ask don’t tell” to be lifted – and that goal looks like it on the horizon, well within this planet’s curvature – I might well change how I feel about these matters. Were there no such policy, or if the matter had not become politicized and moralized, perhaps I would have been able to make the career switch to teaching after “retirement.” I could have gotten back into the math. Who knows, maybe I could have been teaching calculus to the next generation of young people who will have to solve the global warming problems. (I’ve written about Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology) in northern Virginia on my Issues Blog. But, as things stand now, the state of the legal system says to me, “you didn’t pay your dues properly as a young man. You really aren’t suitable as a role model.” Then I can’t pretend to be. Right now, that’s how I have to see it, as far as my own plans go. Immutability has nothing to do with it. There are consequences for these things. Society has to change its mind about these matters through the democratic process. Even for a 65 year old “civilian,” overturning “don’t ask don’t tell” becomes a personal moral litmus test.

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