As they try to change their worlds, pt I

25 08 2013

I may have been a bit brusque in stating “nobody cares about you”.

I did add the qualifier that “nobody” means “those who don’t know you”, but even with that dilution, it was too strong a statement: there are people who do genuinely care about strangers, and that there may exist a widespread (if minimal) sympathy amongst the members of our species suggests that, yes, many of us do care—however minimally—about one another.

The real problem with that statement, however, was that it bundled together too many dynamics, not all of which go together. So, to haul out that nifty word-tool of my grad school years, let’s unpack those bundled dynamics, shall we?

1. Changes are not conspiracies. I’d guessed that “the fear of incipient repression could be found among any group which sees its superior status threatened”—that is, that changes in society which are meant to benefit an out-group can be seen by some in the in-group as primarily an attack on the in-group. Thus, those in favor of queer rights and same-sex marriage are seen as less interested in preserving themselves than in destroying others.

I read the blogs at The American Conservative (Rod Dreher regularly and others semi-regularly) and pop over to Christianity Today a couple of times a week, and it is common for some bloggers and commenters alike to see legal and cultural changes as either harbingers of complete societal collapse and/or portents of a future in which all “true” Christians are targeted for oppression; some see the extension of anti-discrimination laws (e.g., no business may refuse to serve a same-sex couple simply because they are gay) or the enforcement of laws of general applicability (e.g., secular businesses run by religious people are not exempt from the contraception provisions of the Affordable Care Act) as evidence of anti-Christian oppression today.

Someone like me sees changes in the structure of the law and shifts in cultural perceptions of minorities (of whatever sort) as part of a by-no-means-straightforward amalgam of overt and organized political action, artistic presentations, elite intellectual debates, media representations, everyday experiences, and, of course, material conditions and economic forces. As such, while changes can have intensely personal meanings, they are not personal per se, but are instead changes in the rules which affect everyone.

Consider the 1965 Supreme Court ruling, Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned a state law prohibiting contraceptive use for married couple. State attacks on contraception went back decades, although by the time the pill was developed (in the 1950s), contraception was not only legal but embraced in many states. Griswold (and later, Eisenstadt v. Baird), simply toppled an opposition which had long since dwindled. Contraceptive use became the norm.

Were Griswold and Eisenstadt an attack on Catholicism? Anti-Catholic sentiment, however much it had dwindled since the 19th century, was still prevalent in this country, and that the Catholic Church was officially against contraception was known; to strike down bans on contraception could be seen as evidence of contempt for Catholicism—as, indeed some have seen and continue to see it today.

The Court rulings, however, depended upon a (still-contested) finding of a right to privacy in the Constitution. There was nothing which required the Church to change its own doctrine; these cases simply took away a series of state-sponsored supports* for that doctrine. The Church would be free to inveigh against barrier and chemical  methods of birth control, but they could no longer rely on state law to help them to enforce their opposition.

(*That a state happened to have anti-contraception laws didn’t mean that they passed them to support Catholicism; regardless of intent, however, they had the effect of doing so.)

Due to these rulings as well as to other cultural changes, the Church clearly lost, not only authority but also status. Catholics were not prevented from believing that artificial birth control was bad nor were they required to use it, but their anti-contraceptive position was taken to apply only to Catholics themselves (and not all of them accepted the official position) and was otherwise accorded no greater weight than any other position on the matter. The ground shifted, and in a way which put Catholics authorities on the same level as any other authority: they no longer had special status.

To those who lose such status, the loss is almost certainly personally felt, but that one feels it personally does not mean it was meant personally. The ground underneath everyone’s feet shifted, not just those officials and members of the Catholic Church. and that the Church was unhappy with the quake does not mean the quake was directed at them.


There’s more than this, of course, but let’s take it slow: haste did me in, last time.


But now, God knows, anything goes (pt II)

24 06 2010

I don’t much like bosses, orders, obedience, rule-for-rules sake, cheerleading, team-building, hand-holding, attitude-adjusting, and doing something because ‘this is how it’s always been done’.

I may have mentioned on one or two occasions previously my anarchical streak.

But this isn’t just reaction against authority. I’ve had good bosses (as I do now) and have followed reasonable rules (and snarked about unreasonable rules and have almost never been sincere when obeying orders), and am not opposed to structure. I just don’t think that the structure of a phenomenon matters more than the phenomenon itself.

I likes me some liberty.

I have also, it pains me to say, not done terribly well with the liberty I do have. I may likes me some liberty, but I needs me some structure within that liberty—not to overwhelm it, but to support it.

I noted in the last post that I have been depolarized, and to no good effect. Both GeekHiker and Sorn argue in favor of moderation, and it’s not that I disagree with them so much as I need those poles in order to find the middle. I don’t know what that middle is without checking out the edges.

I may admire Aristotle’s golden mean in theory, but I am Goldilocks in practice.

(Not in everything, of course, only in the things which really matter.)

Hence my dilemma.

Those poles provide a kind of existential structure for me, so lacking a set of positive (as in articulated or existent as opposed to negated) opposites leaves me uncertain of where I should stand, of how I could find out who I am (becoming).

Economically, the issue is less one of dichotomies than of having a set of expectations; structure, in a job, comes in the purpose of the job itself, tho’ often as defined by someone else. Thus, even a bullshit retail job is manageable insofar as there are tasks to be performed, results to be measured. It may be a soul-suck, but I can at least see what I’m doing.

That it’s a soul-suck, however, means that it’s not something I care to do for long. I’ve done it because I needed the money or the benefits, but, given a choice, I’d rather not. (That there’s rarely much money or great benefits praaaabably enters into the equation, as well.)

So, given a choice, what?

I like teaching, and want to continue doing that. There’s some structure, but as most of it is internal to the process itself, I’m able to use my autonomy as a professor to shape that structure in service to the purpose of the class itself. I’m not always successful in doing so, but every semester I have the chance to get it right.

Unfortunately, I don’t make enough money teaching to rely upon that as a means of support. I’d thought that I might try to find some kind of suitable corporate work, but, ye gods, even as low-key a job as I have now is damned near unbearable. Nine-to-five for the rest of my life—just because nine-to-five is expected? Yeesh.

So, too much and too extraneous a structure.

I like work, hell, I need work, but I don’t necessarily know how to go about creating work that others will pay for.

In other words, I’d like to freelance in some form or another (I have a few ideas), but am undone at the thought of how to do so. Once I get the work, the need to meet the expectations of my clients will provide sufficient sinew actually to do the work, but jesusmary&joseph how to get that work?

That—a big enough barrier—is not even the main one; no, that, unfortunately, is the very basic one of saying ‘I can do this.’

‘I can do this.’ I know I can do the work, I know that what I have to offer is valuable, and that someone or some organization would pay for it.

Yes, I’m being vague about that ‘it’, but the problem is less with the success or failure of that ‘it’ than my inability even to try.

I know I can do the work (itself), but I don’t know that I can do the work (of approaching and persuading others of the worth of that work).

I know and I don’t know. Two poles—ha! I should be fine! But I’m not. I’m shrinking away from my own possibilities because I lack those infuriating, banal, and soul-sucking externalities.

I have to set my own markers and convince others of the purpose and value of those markers.

Too bad I have no fucking clue how.