“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”: thorough history of gay psychological culture (2nd edition)

I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017.  The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.

The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.

The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.

Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.

Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.

He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).

The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).

He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.

He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.

My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.

Mentioned In the book:

Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link)   (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).

Author: Loren A. Olson, MD
Title, Subtitle: Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight
publication date 2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9979614-3
Publication: Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Link: Publisher, author

(Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“No More Heroes”: Jordan Flaherty argues for mass movements and against individual right-sizing; saviors think they are better than the people they help

Remember how all the episodes of “Smallville” on WB started with Remy Zero’s song “save Me?”, back starting around 2001? (just before 9/11).  For years we were treated a cleancut extraterrestrial-born and alien but very attractively human teenager Clark Kent using his “powers” (manipulating space-time around himself as if he were an Alcubierre drive) to save people.  And except when influenced by red kryptonite, he was always a great person, almost Christ-like, an angel.  And he is European-white (although one of his best friends, in whom he first confided that he is an alien, as if he were “coming out”, is black).

Or, more recently, in 2012, I watch a short film video at a local church of teenager running a mission at Double Head Cabbage in Belize.  A tall blond high school teen, who looks like he could toss no-hitters now for the Washington Nationals, lets kids, mostly of color, climb all over him.  This is an experience in bonding with people who look “different’ from you and are maybe less fortunate, at least economically and with infrastructure.  The intimacy in the film is rather unprecedented.  It belongs in DC Shorts (a short film festival), I tell them.

Or, in September 2015, at a National Book Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian at the Washington DC Convention Center, journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn present their books “A Path Appears” (also a video series) about how to help people, both in rural Appalachia and in Africa.  Kirtof also promotes a video, KONY, about a Ugandan warlord.

So now we have this book by Jordan Flaherty, “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”, challenging the whole premise of global do-goodism, that you can make your karma better by volunteering to help others, on your terms, when you get to look good and impress the people you help that you’re really better than them:  you’re richer (like Trump, or Zuckerberg, or Bill and Melinda Gates), whiter, taller, bigger, stronger, smarter, have a higher IQ, more gifted, more desirable.  You get to rule the world.  “They” do as you say.  Of course, you’ll be benevolent.  You’ll take care of everybody.  As Trump says now, everybody can buy insurance again, because I say so.  (I don’t think Trump had better try to deport real aliens.)

Flaherty loads up his book, especially the first eight chapters, with examples of self-serving “generosity”, going back to European colonialism and US manifest destiny, even the “we are the world” globalism of the 80s. He quickly gets to the topic of nearly mandatory volunteerism, as when (p. 25) he mentions George W. Bush’s call for every American to commit to two years, or 4000 clock hours during the rest of your life, to community service.  (I also remember Bush’s saying at Ohio State about that time, a person without responsibility for others is truly alone).   Some of his most telling examples center around New Orleans after Katrina (and even New York after Sandy), both with the ineffectiveness of hit-or-miss volunteer trips, and with the pretentiousness of Teach for America.  I was rather shocked at the degree to which teachers had to deal with the most intimate aspects of kids’ lives.

We tend to talk about “giving back” as something to get our karma right, become right-sized, and go back to feeling we individually “deserve” what we have.  It’s as if life was about getting a grade or accumulating non-monetary “life points” (a term killer James Holmes actually used).  Authoritarian politicians can easily take advantage of this idea.

In fact, consider Maoism in the 1960s. where Communist China forced intellectuals to “take their turns” becoming peasants.  I can remember those on the Left in the early 1970s (like the People’s Party of New Jersey) who used this example to argue that Chinese Communism was ideologically purer than Soviet style.

Flaherty wants us to realize that, as pastor Rick Warren argues in “The Purpose-Driven Life”, that it “isn’t about you.”  (He doesn’t mention Warren, but he should.)  It’s about your tribe, your team, well, no, its about the people, your mass movement.  He wants people to join up, become like Eric Hoffer’s True Believers. The mass movements will make things right for your group, especially if you’re among “people of color” or, less often, LGBTQ (or maybe both).

He traces the history of the Occupy movement (which Steven Bannon trashed in a 2012 film, reviewed here Jan. 9, “Occupy Unmasked”). He builds up Black Lives Matter (without mentioning the factual problems particularly with Michael Brown’s narrative that led to Ferguson) and takes the usual offense at “all lives matter” which is actually more demanding than it sounds.

Flaherty, when describing how to “change” (and shake off the moral liability if inherited privilege) says, “Instead of shaming people for their mistakes .. .appreciate and lift up principled action when you see it.” (Catalyst Poject).  Then, “This transformation demands moving from individual focus to collective action. Instead of asking ‘How can I be the single best white antiracist activist with the sharpest critique, most specialized language and busiest schedule?’ ask ‘How can I find ways to bring more and more people to social justice work, from lots of entry points, to grow vibrant mass movements?’” In other words, win converts, not just win arguments.  In fact, recruit people.  Pester them until the sign up. Well, there’s a contradiction in that, because that sounds like trying to save them.

I do recall a time at an MCC campfire in June 1979 in Texas when a particular guy into saving souls put his arm around me in a prayer and considered me one less able than others as someone special who needed saving.  Wow.

Clark Kent, in Smallville, used to say, I’m not special, I’m just different.  But Clark didn’t try to create a mass movement. But he didn’t need to.

Curiously, Flaherty poohs traditional efforts at gay equality, like gay marriage and the “right” to serve openly in the military (e.g. oppose “don’t ask don’t tell”) as accommodating “neoliberal violence”, by emphasizing individual station in life as the most important political objective.

But once the “people” get control with their mass movement, what kind of a world do they forge?  Without individual egos and meritocracy, people don’t accomplish much.  Flahety would have people surrendering all and living in moneyless or shared income intentional communities, maybe after a period of revolution, expropriation and collective moral purification.  It’s true that people who have the most to lose will take the fewest or smallest risks for changes that benefit others, but they may also take the least risks in stepping up in individual circumstances (as in Chapter 6 of my DADT-III book).  That’s the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”.

Author: Jordan Flaherty
Title, Subtitle: “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”
publication date: 2016
ISBN 978-1-84935-266-6
Publication: AK Press, Baltimore; 248 pages, paper (e), 11 Chapters, endnotes, indexed
Link:  author site

(Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

“Grounded”, by Diana Butler Bass, looks at faith that is becoming less personal in a modern world

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Author: Diana Butler Bass
Title, Subtitle: Grounded
publication date 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-232854-0
Publication: Harper Collins, 2 parts, 7 chapters, 322 pages, hardcover
Link: author

I bought “Grounded: Finding God in the World; A Spiritual Revolution” at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in February 2016 when the author, Diana Butler Bass, gave a guest sermon.

Before the service, there was a QA where I asked how she felt about expectations of social conformity and growing up being expected to meet certain obligations imposed by others.  She sounded confounded by the question, as if she were unfamiliar with a world of a few decades ago when young men were drafted to fight “other people’s wars”, so to speak.

The author (who had written “Christianity After Religion”) has lived in various locations around the country, especially Maryland’s eastern shore, and then Arizona.  The title of the book suggests looking for spiritual roots and “grounding” in a world where social values are changing all too rapidly.

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Teenagers know the word “grounded” to mean, being kept at home, from going out (dating) and exploring the world on your own as an emerging adult.

It seems that people of most faiths are trying to look for a way to “ground” their own personal interface with God.

The book is in two parts.  Part 1 is “Natural Habitat” and comprises three chapters: Dirt, Water, and Sky.  Needless to say, there is plenty of progressive advocacy concerning reducing pollution and controlling climate change.  There is also the idea of going back to the woods (in spiritual retreats like Lama in New Mexico, which I visited in 1980 and 1984 – the Ram Dass “Be Here Now”).

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The second part is “Human Geography”, which sounds like an evocative idea.  Dolphins, by comparison to us, don’t seem to live in a world with much delineative geography despite their superior capacities for distributed consciousness.  Humans need place and grounding. The five chapters are Roots, Home, Neighborhood, Commons, and Revelation.

In the chapter on Roots she talks a lot about ancestry and lineage, bringing to mind another Army buddy in the barracks at Fort Eustis in 1969 doing genealogy charts.  In fact, some of the “ancestry.com” commercials are just plain silly – does nationality matter that much?  Maybe to Donald Trump.

But on p. 154 she talks about Ubuntu and quotes Desmond Tutu, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate framework of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation.”  Later, she recounts how 9/11 changed her perspective on the “grounding” of a personalized God.  But so can a lot of things – cancer, birth defects, crime, auto accidents – the “bad things happen to good people” problem.

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Her concept of home is interesting.  I like the analogy (to go into Dusty Baker’s world today) that in baseball, your team gets to bat last – if behind, it knows how many runs it has to score, so that’s why home field advantage matters particularly in baseball.  Ever heard of “play for a tie on the road and a win at home”. (The Kansas City Royals, of all teams, are masters of this.)  Sounds like trying to draw with Black and win with White in competitive chess.   Actually, she gets pretty well into the changing concept of family, now to include same-sex marriage, to the chagrin of people who feel that the old-fashioned “grounded” complementarity of traditional marriage has been rendered officially moot. Around family is community and nation, and the whole problem of whether you “take care of your own first”, a problem that moralist David Brooks recently took up.

But the biggest problem seems to be how “personal” one’s relationship with God is.  I feel put off by people who join in groupthink exercises of faith and give up their own individuality in mindless praise (“old time religion”) to hide from the fact that they are often not doing very well in their own lives.  I’ve seen this all my adult life and tended to observe people from a distance, almost as if an alien anthropologist, not as talented as Mark Zuckerberg.

On an intellectual level, God does fine (remember the Lady in the Radiator in David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”). It makes sense that a supreme being designed the constants of physics to be just right for consciousness.  (I’ll leave aside the anthropic idea that we are living in just the right universe of statistically infinity). Entropy means that the universe will decay, so God set things up so that conscious beings would evolve to keep the Universe alive forever.  Reproduction is necessary because entropy demands that individual beings decay with time.  Are plants conscious?  I wonder, when I see a wild grape vine attaching itself to my cable line for “grounding”.  But it’s clear that higher mammals can make morally calculable choices (like the tabby cat who decides at a particular person is kind enough to approach for a place to have her babies.)   Animals can think, and are aware of things about us that we wouldn’t imagine (dogs and cats like to feel the electromagnetic chances of an owning human’s heartbeat, and they know before we do if something is wrong).  Whales and dolphins, most of all orcas, experience distributed consciousness, of which for humans the idea of “referred pain” is neurological primitive. Ever been befriended by a wild crow or mockingbird who watches you every day?

Let’s add that physics and math could predict that the need for a “savior” at rare intervals could be necessary because of entropy and mathematics is logically incomplete, so it is impossible for a conscious being not to “sin”. Someone who actually lived at the time of the Resurrection and Ascension and who “saw it” (“Doubting Thomas”) would think this was all there is in terms of miracles or explanation of the Universe.

Individual lives are fungible and finite but consciousness is not.  I think the idea of a hollow heaven – living with your family in a garden condo for trillions of years is a little naïve.  While God needs to allow an infinity of lives to be born and develop, it may be that in the afterlife the individual expressions of consciousness consolidate into what Monroe Institute calls “soul families”, and these might be more finite.  Maybe it does matter if you have children – among orcas, distributed consciousness follows matriarchal lineage (“roots”).  We don’t know if that’s true of the afterlife.

Finding an alien civilization could certainly blow our idea of a grounded God.  Want to stay in a luxury hotel room in a space station on the Dyson’s Sphere of an alien civilization around Tabby’s Star, 1450 light years away?  Do they take American Express? Maybe have Facebook and Twitter too there (if we can get around the speed of light).  Mathematics and music will work the same there as here, at “home”.  Even God can’t change the theorems of topology.

In fact, it’s likely that, at least in our area of the Milky Way, our civilization is one of the first to evolve.  Given 4 billion years of history for our Earth, we’ve had a technological civilization for about a century.  We survived the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Can we survive asymmetric terror?  Can we survive climate change?  How about solar storms or asteroids?  We have to work smart to get through these things.  But the trick is to survive hundreds of millions of years.  In time, more civilizations would evolve and persist within a few thousand light years and eventually contact would happen.  But if we are to survive indefinitely, we have to learn to live on places other than Earth, and eventually to travel to other solar systems.  We’ll need to have selected remnants of civilization able to travel and reproduce for decades or centuries on journeys to other worlds, living in “rama-like” worlds envisioned by Arthur C. Clarke.  We’ll have to decide who gets to go.  And like it or not, procreation and birth rate really will be critical again to survival.

There’s also the idea (reflected indirectly in the recent Facebook posts of “Survival Mom”) that whole civilizations can have massive setbacks and failures, and go through cycles where technology is lost after cataclysm or war, and that such multiple iterations could occur several times before a civilization is permanent enough to make contact with other advanced cultures in the Milky Way.  Individuals living through such downdrafts could still bear the moral responsibility to produce future generations that could gradually recover.

Even so, we’ll always want to have a sense of “home”.

I would add as a postscript, Bass discusses the virgin birth and the controversy over whether Joseph, as “betrothed”, was actually married (as Catholics say, like here), or “had some explaining to do”, as James Somerville (former FBC pastor, now in Richmond) one preached.

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(Published: Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016 at 6 PM EDT)

“Century of Growth”: New epistolary book from the Paul Rosenfels Community

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Authors: Dean Hannotte, Ann Agranoff
Title, Subtitle: Century of Growth: A Conversation Between Childhood Friends
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1533-16387-5
Publication: Amazon Create Space, paper, 232 pages, indexed
Link: authors

Century of Growth: A Conversation Between Childhood Friends” is set up as dialogue of letters between two friends, unfolding two (actually three) life stories as if a novel, rather set up like an English epistolary novel.

The childhood friends are the letter authors Dean Hannotte and Ann Agranoff.  I know Dean, from my own days of involvement with the Ninth Street Center in the East Village in New York City in the 1970s, as I detail in Chapter 3 of my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book.  Dean, at the time, was the partner of therapist and philosopher Paul Rofenfels, who had developed his theory of human polarities in a series of books and monographs, the best known of which is “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (see blog Index).  I gave a thorough discussion of my own take on this concept in all three of my DADT books.

Ann, starting out with architecture, became an English professor at CUNY, active in meeting climate change, and, with her husband, wrote an iconoclastic book “Ice Palaces”  (1983).

Dean’s life narrative comes through the letters in the book.  The Center continued operating until about 1991 (I last visited it in 1986), but an informal group of people online remains as the Paul Rosenfels Community.

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There is an irony in this history of the NSC.  Despite its reputation as a place offering “a new way to be gay” back then, and despite Dean’s relationship with Paul at the time, Dean is and was largely heterosexual.  In fact, Dean says that when the Center opened it was expected that a lot of straight people would come, but in time it came to attract almost exclusively gay men (and not transgender).  I was never fully aware pf that history.  Sometime in the 80s or 90s, he met Rachel Bartlett, who had grown up in Communist East Germany (before the Wall fell in 1989).  Gradually they would develop a relationship.  From 2004-2008, the Rosenfels Community ran a monthly chat on Sunday afternoons that I sometimes participated in.  At the time, I can recall Bartlett’s saying that the unification of Germany under capitalism had not been a good thing (or I found that on her own blogs).  This book reports she had been quite militant in support of communism younger.  I remember meeting young women with this sort of outlook in the early 1970s at the “People’s Party of New Jersey”.

Dean goes on to relate some of his health problems, and Rachel’s support of him, probably extending his life.

But all this sets up the moral tone of the letters.  Dean describes himself as a “realist”, and skeptical of any philosophies that give automatic answers to questions.  He questions whether it is practical for an individual to concern himself or herself with the big issues of the outside world (as I do, and as Ann does too – and it seems that Ann and I have similar views about sustainability of our way of life – we can protect it if we take it seriously and “work smart” – and other know I’ve taken up the issue of the security of the power grids in a similar way. Ann is skeptical about libertarianism, as she feels it blames the unfortunate their poor station in life — but communism (especially Maoism) was determined to make “almost” everyone share proletarianism.

The letters refer to many other “good books” (Dean attended St. John’s College, right abreast of the Naval Academy – in Annapolis MD in youth to become a quiet-life scholar), and many other systems of psychological categorization, especially the Enneagram of Personality.  I would probably be a mixture of 3-4-5 on his chart, but I am viewed as a “subjective feminine” (unbalanced personality) in Paul’s system of polarities.  The letters often refer particularly to the writings of Ron Gold, whom I recall from the Center.

Ann, at one point, discusses the connections between polarity, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity – all separate concepts – and offers that transgenderism is increasing in frequency because of pollution, processed foods, and similar concerns.  Dean seems to feel that biological gender just doesn’t matter all that much anyway – it is character specialization (polarity) that does.

The  book constantly prods on moral dilemmas, and brings them down from policy to individual actions.  On p. 109 Dean makes a particularly acute observation about a masculine’s being “good” and a feminine’s being “dutiful” as demanded by external society – noting that duty may become a moral imperative but doesn’t add to growth unless accompanied by genuine openness of feel and love in new ways – that is, love people who may seem unappealing to the outside world, even in stressful circumstances, like an infrastructure breakdown.  Dean also summarizes the polarity-typical behavior of some men at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, with masculines ordering feminines around who in turn tell the masculines to “shut up”.  But it’s the feminines who, after being barged in on with demands to get with somebody else’s program even if the “community” goals are imperfect, sometimes get to told so silence their own self-indulgent prattle or (to mention Ravel) “G Major clatter”.

Dean’s last letter, long and intricate, from July 2015, gets into interesting stuff, like the (cosmological) links between mind, brain, and individualized consciousness (amenable to polarity), ending with an odd reference to the evil villain in the film “Hostage” (to be reviewed soon).  Other films (and books) get mentioned along the way, like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” in a discussion of atavism.

On my legacy book reviews blog, I covered number of other books on growth, including Dean’s “It’s Simple” from 2012.   In 1990, Dean also published a set of essays “We Knew Paul”, and there is a reference to people who probably tried to use the Center (in the 1970s) for personal cherry-picking.  I was “guilty” of that.

(Posted: Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016 at 5 PM EDT)

Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe”: how modern civilization can subvert man’s social nature

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Author: Sebastian Junger
Title, Subtitle: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Publication date 2016
ISBN 978-1-4555-6638-9
Publication: TwelveBooks, 168 pages hardcover, four chapters
Link: Amazon

I met Sebastian Junger at his book-signing party at a Barnes and Noble in downtown Minneapolis in 1998 for his non-fiction epic “A Perfect Storm”.  I remember the book well, most of all the harrowing description of death by drowning.  I would see the film by Wolfgang Petersen (with George Clooney and “Marky” Mark Wahlberg) in 2000, and write a review on AOL’s Moviegrille (at the time, a real innovation, pre social media) that would cause a squabble online over “class warfare”.  I describe the details on my legacy site here.

Junger has definitely led a swashbuckling life, and “paid his dues”, living in war zones (like to make “Restrepo” and “Korengal”) and doing dangerous work (as an arborist, where he was injured, maybe helping to inspire the book “Fire”.  Later he talks about our dependence of people who do manual labor (but my own father used to harp about this in the 1950s).

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” is brief, in fact it could have been published as another extended Vanity Fair article.  The publisher, “TwelveBooks”, a division of Hatchette, says it picks out just one book a month to publish, the opposite of self-publishing indeed.  Junger’s “Author’s Note” makes some comments about the meticulous fact checking that should be expected of all those who call themselves journalists.

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The media has described the work in terms of the psychological needs of returning combat veterans, who miss the unit cohesion and belonging of combat and military service.  But the book is much broader, in its implications for social stability, and, ultimate, “the ethics of identity” (Appiah, May 27). The title of the second chapter, “War Makes You an Animal”, is indicative of the tone of the book.

Junger’s thesis is that man has evolved wired to live collectively in small groups, or “tribes”, with self-concept and “identity” tied to the group, larger than the self.  The best example of this lifestyle probably was native American tribes before European settlers came.  During the French and Indian Wars (James Fenimore Cooper’s world that gave me a high school term paper), and sometimes other conflicts, Euorpean settlers would “defect” and choose to live in the relative “freedom” of native tribes.  But natives did not want to live in hierarchal European society, so the converse did not happen.

Tribal society was, Junger claims, quite egalitarian.  People accumulated few possessions and money was of little consequence. People slept together in yurts, and Junger makes a point that sleeping alone, in one’s own room, is a European and American invention, facilitated by material wealth and then smaller families.  Forced intimacy was the norm, and the modern concept of “privacy” was unknown until relatively recently (well into the 20th Century), as this panel, “The Birth and Death of Privacy” by Greg Ferenstein shows.

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A question occurs, what about the moochers?  Yes, tribes had ways of chasing out their freeloaders (and in individual cases were capable of great brutality).  There had to be patriarchal elders in charge (often with religious authority).  But, because people usually didn’t have the opportunity to interact with others outside of their tribes, political life was simple, so there was a sense of freedom that supplemented the “belonging”.

As society became more organized (as with the European system of sovereign states, or even entities like Mayan and Inca empires) political life became more complicated, and classes developed.  So someone living in “the commons” could well wonder about his or her assigned station in life, in a way that wouldn’t develop in simpler tribes.  Often, politicians became authoritarian and indeed abused minorities, leading to more modern ideas of struggles over class, race, and gender roles.

Junger spends a lot of attention of the importance of war and conflict in shaping social mores.  Most tribal societies have to deal with external enemies, as well as natural disasters.  Hardship and the need for individual sacrifice is a given.  So it is the long term future of the group that has the highest moral (in Appiah’s terminology) value.  He talks about the eusociality and caring for strangers that the British people developed during the London bombings in 1940, for example.  In this environment, physical cowardice is a moral evil and capital crime.  People have to give up their individualized sense-of-self during conflict, so they often feel less stress personally.  But the stress returns with peace when the standard of living returns and economic inequality (and excessive attachments to private assets) also come back.  But, in the minds of many, modern infrastructure and even “law and order” cannot be counted on forever (that is, is not inherently “sustainable”).  The modern “doomsday prepper” crowd, often associated with supporting the Second Amendment, views self-sufficiency “off the grid” within family groups as a prerequisite for living by anybody.

Family life in tribal societies is certainly embedded deeply in tribal purpose.  Marriage and procreation is viewed as a community matter as well as a private one.  Gender roles are important in more survival-challenged cultures, and the paradox of male warrior culture (and “unit cohesion”) is reinforced. Junger says that simpler cultures generally do make room for less assertive men and more assertive women, which would obviously affect LGBT persons (whom Junger doesn’t directly address).  But we know that the tribal societies of the Islamic world and of much of sub-Saharan Africa are still often very hostile to homosexuals (usually with religious teachings providing the necessary canards).  Russia seems to be trying to reinstall tribal values to rebuild its population and settle its emptied out Siberian lands.

Tribes often require warrior initiation rituals, which modern men might see as humiliating (“hazing”), like the chest work he describes in p. 119.  But “hazing” (like the “tribunals” at William and Mary which I so dangerously skipped in 1961) might be seen as a way for getting young men to accept self-sacrifice when necessary and still perform as fathers later.  I think a curious parallel could be drawn to people allowing themselves to be shaved in public in benefit events showing solidarity with cancer patients on chemotherapy.

Junger has indeed described how humans behave.  Humans are primates, he says, generally wired to live collectively, more like wolves than cats (maybe like lions).  I wondered, what about the Bonobo chimps?  It seems that as technology has advanced and society has become more politically complex, individualism (all the way to Ayn Rand) has become “selected”.  Especially among young men in a wired, global society, individual achievement is rewarded, somewhat at the expense of cohesion with others in a group.  This development may be very hard on those “wired” more conventionally  for group life, putting them at a bigger competitive disadvantage, and complicating the issue of “inequality” further.  The popular “X-Men” comic book and movie franchise  might be a metaphor for the effects of allowing some people to stand out so much.

But, given our cultural anthropology lesson, the next question is, how should this affect policy?  Let’s not forget that in some parts of the world, tribal life invokes horrible practices (try female genital mutilation, for example.)  But let’s accept that some tribal life works.  It’s bad news for introverts. But what “moral” (or plain “ethical”) standards should be expected of the little “x-men” among us (that includes “Little Rubio”, maybe). (That is, after all, the theme of my own 2014 “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.)   Junger, for example, talks about the draft, although not calling for its reinstatement. He mentions that the all volunteer military attracts recruits who have experienced sexual or familial abuse, disproportionately. He talks about his own draft card, and his father’s idea that he should keep it but leave the country if he had enough moral objection to Vietnam. My own history, of flunking students (exposing men to the military draft after student deferment loss when an assistant graduate algebra instructor, then entering the Army in 1968 with a graduate degree and escaping all exposure to combat myself, then becomes very troubling, something that should never be buried.  So is the earlier history of my clumsiness with the expectations of the male role, and my disinterest in the social experiences that others expected of me, for their collective benefit rather than “mine”, as a conveyor of the family for its own sake. Rather than engage people emotionally in a world where I would inevitably be perceived as “lesser”, I created my own world and propagated it. My doing so does raise moral-level questions.

As for inequality, it’s well to note that there are about 1200 voluntary income-sharing “intentional communities” (with limited connection to “the grids”) in the U.S. today; most, but not all, are in rural areas.  In central Virginia, Twin Oaks and Acorn provide typical examples.

Junger correctly observes that our idea of victimhood, and pimping it as a virtue, is indeed shallow.  Sometimes “casualty” is the right word, rather than “victim”.

Junger appeared on Memorial Day, 2016 on a PBS Ted Talk (“War and Peace”) with Adam Driver and others .  Junger talked about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among some soldiers once back in civilian life and away from the bonding of the military environment. He also says (as in the book), that civilian PTSD  actually went down after 9/11.  The PBS full link is here. Included is a song by Rufus Wainwright (from his second opera “Hadrian“), and short films “All Roads Point Home” by Linda Singh, “Talk of War“, and “Bionic Soldier“.  Singh talked about why people (especially women) join the military, and about what military values could offer handling race problems like Ferguson and Baltimore. Later, there was a presentation of non-violent resistance in Mosul, as parents refused to send their kids to an ISIS school but home-schooled them instead;  then there as a presentation showing that rich countries profit from selling arms to people in poor countries, where still most of the slaughter happens; guns are cheaper there than is clean water. The program ended with music for cello and piano, unannounced, but I believe it was by Ravel.

I should mention here that I do recall reading a novel “The Tribe” by Bari Wood, around 1987, about golems that bring retribution in modern day Brooklyn for what happened in the Holocaust.

(Published: Monday, May 30, 2016, at 9 PM EDT)

Appiah’s “The Ethics of Identity”

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Author: Kuame Anthony Appiah
Title, Subtitle: The Ethics of Identity
publication date 2005
ISBN 978-0-691-1-13028-6
Publication: Princeton University Press, 358 pages, paper, roman intro 28 pages, six chapters
Link: Amazon


I bought “The Ethics of Identity” (2005) by Kwame Anthony Appiah  on impulse in an independent bookstore (Kammerbooks in Washington DC), as I was trying to judge just what philosophy books really sell in physical stores, especially slightly older ones. I also wanted to find a text that would help me work through the ethics of my own life and second career

The author is a professor of philosophy at New York University, previously Princeton. He was born in London (of mixed race) and raised in Ghana.

I could introduce my own stake in this topic by recounting a day in 2007 when a life insurance agent took me to lunch in Merrifield VA at a Panera Bread. There was no chance I would buy anything.  But I said that my returning to look after her was costing me my “sovereignty”.  Indeed, at age 64 then, my normal “right” to make my own decisions about a lot of normally personal things had been seriously questioned by my circumstances (explained in my DADT III book, Chapter 5).

The book starts with the writings of John Stuart Mill (“On Liberty”) by noting Mill’s statement that “individuality” is “constitutive of the social good.”  The rest of the book revolves around the paradox that an individual’s expression and consciousness is only meaningful relative to a society and social structure in which he or she lives:  by definition, other people must matter.

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The book has a long roman introduction, and six long chapters: “The Ethics of Individuality”; “Autonomy and its Critics”; “The Demands of Identity”; “The Trouble with Culture”; “Soul Making” and “Rooted Cosmipolitanism”.

Appiah gets to the idea of “identity” by exploring the paradox of the life experience of the butler in the novel and film “The Remains of the Day” (novel by Kazuo Ishiguro; 1993 film directed by James Ivory, Columbia Pictures, with Anthony Hopkins as the butler; I recall seeing the film at the Shirlington Theater in Arlington VA that year).  I would say that my own identity is my own universe, which seems very full at any given time;  it has been in retirement that I’ve learned how really “relative” it is.  I could get into the issue of what generates consciousness (“I Am a Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter, 2007).

But, then, individual identity is mediated by “belonging”, to a group which may or may not be sharply delineated with immutability.

Appiah tends to write “from on high”, as if composing a manifesto; he deals in abstractions and principles.  Occasionally, he comes down to earth to deal with what people really have to do, to step right up.  For example, he mentions filial piety (p. 264) and earlier mentions that sometimes reasonably democratic societies do demand contingent sacrifices, as with conscription.  When he talks about the social development of the “soul” on top of identity, I am reminded of George F. Will’s preachy 1983 book “Statecraft as Soulcraft” (Touchstone) which fit in well wit Reagan’s early years.

His last chapter wraps a lot up, even as he explains that the idea of a “global citizen” is offensive to many groups (as is oversized personal autonomy, in Chapter 2).  But then he distinguishes between moral opprobrium (Scalia) which is universal in nature, and ethical behavior, which is circumstantial depending on one’s own ties.  The whole question of being “cosmopolitan” breaks down the normal conservative expectation that people need to “look after their own” first.  But Appiah emphatically says there is a big difference between public discrimination, and the exercise of discretion and choice in noticing differences in private affairs.  I don’t think Appiah would consider it wrong to refuse to date a member of another race (although I know from personal experience that some people do).

Appiah seems to believe that civilizations will make “moral” judgments about major norms and collective goals; given their reasonableness, how a citizen behaves (expressing her own “identity”, especially globally now in a world much less tribal than in the past) becomes an ethical problem.  Civilization (especially “Western”) has to make moral choices on how to interpret the science on climate change, for example (Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” indeed). Individuals make ethical judgments on their own transportation, mobility and living arrangements (at least I did).  But if a civilization is too far off base (like Nazi Germany), then taking orders is itself a moral as well as ethical problem.

Appial notes the tension in classical liberalism among three triangular pillars:  autonomy, loyalty, and “moral equality” which bears indirectly on personal ethics.  Earlier, he has anticipated his discussion of ethics with an explanation of akrasia.

I’ve often written about the expectations of others, who have sometimes challenged my fantasy life and my “drawing attention” without taking more risks to be in a position to care for others – for not having the down to earth skills to do so – for not finding enough meaning in doing so.  Individual identity depends on groups one “belongs to”, but it also must relate to the individual people in these groups, as with my own father’s dictum about being able to “see people as people.”

The book often mentions society’s treatment of homosexuals, but was written largely before gay marriage had become a reality as it is today.

Other books include Martin Fowler’s “You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging” (2014), and Paul Rosenfels, “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (1971).

(Published Thursday, May 26, 2016 at midnight 5/27)