Tuesday, January 30, 2007

McGreevey: The Confession, and Bauman: The Gentleman from Maryland


James McGreevy: The Confession (Regan, 2006, ISBN 0-06-089862-3, 369 pages) and Robert Bauman: The Gentleman from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative (Arbor House, 1986, 0-87795-686-3, 276 pages)
Both of these books are autobiographies authored by gay men who tried to live up to societies expectations by marrying and having children. And both men succeeded in politics in a conventional way by (after schmoozing to raise money in partisan games) getting elected to office – an accomplish that seems real and necessary before many people will respect you as “accomplished” in the political affairs of the world. The narrative style in each book is straightforward and tends to stay away from pontification, although Bauman tends to get out of sequence. Bauman’s book dates back to 1986 but it still provides a valuable example.
There are some major differences in their stories. Bauman was brought down when the FBI investigated his trysts while he was married, an investigation that clearly motivated by the politics of the 1980 election. McGreevy would have appeared to have misused his office (as governor of New Jersey) to give a critical post to an intimate associate. But what is more important is the underlying motive. Bauman was actually a congressional page, an observation interesting today in light of the Mark Foley scandal in 2006.
There is a tendency for boys with introverted, artistic, or less obviously competitive temperaments (whether because of genetics – probable – or environment) to focus attention upon their own developmental needs. Society tends to react by trying to force them to address the needs of others, especially family members. This gets to be elaborated into religious and moral ideas about family values and family blood loyalty, which are less persistent in today’s pluralistic culture than they were a few decades ago. After all, given the inequities of the outside world, the survival of a weaker family member can depend upon the almost compulsory deferential loyalty of not just parents but also siblings and children. Family socialization is viewed by many as a prerequisite for the ability to make a lifelong marital sexual commitment. Another way to looking at this is to realize that society tends to make people who are "different" compete according to majoritarian norms of "public morality": here, that men must prove that they can provide for women and children before they do anything else. Ironically, gay male "upward affiliation" seems to follow societal expectations of men in trying to confirm what is "good" or aesthetically beautiful in others.
Getting married, fathering children, and proving that you can protect and provide for a family gets perceived to be the “moral” justification for having more than other people have because of birth circumstances. Or, for poor people, it family domain gets to be the one thing a young man has to live for, and he will not take cultural threats to it (or suggestions from others that he is less than adequate to become an ancestor himself) lightly.
Both authors heeded these pressures, which are, as they experienced them, related to the notion of competitive personal success in a meritocratic world. Both even experienced some genuine heterosexual passion and love of their wives. Why, then, did they need homosexual contacts or relationships? In the Bauman case, particularly, there seems to be the idea that these liaisons would help him “recharge his batteries” so that he could experience his conventional family and political life – something that others would recognize as legitimate – fully. Marriage was a way of paying his dues.
It is common today to find middle aged men who divorced because of coming to terms with homosexuality. Media outlets like ABC 20/20 say “it happens to millions.” These men usually have children and visitation rights (and more often than one would think, custody). Child support is often a considerable financial burden. Yet, having been parents and family men does make these men seem more real. In today’s world, an increasing portion of jobs involve interacting with minors, the elderly, or people who are not fully intact as “normal” adults in a business context. Having been a parent for a while, even if it ended in a divorce, does not mean failure; it may become a prerequisite.
The idea that marriage and fatherhood should be mandatory for acceptable social standing, common in many more authoritarian cultures, does not seem to be good for marriage in the long run. Yet it sounds reasonable to wonder if "the measure of a man" (or of a woman) could include proving that one can provide for someone else during the course of a life. Is that notion a moral common denominator?
Both of these books could make good TV movies.

A blog about Mrs. McGreevey's book "Silent Partner" appears here.

Detailed reviews here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists


On the way to an art movie today in Washington, I found at the nearby Barnes and Noble a copy of the Jan-Feb 2007 "Bulletin of Atomic Scientists." The main website is this.

The issue was in five sections: (1) "Doomsday Reconsidered" (2) "Nuclear weapons" (3) Climate change (4) "Emerging Technologies and (5) "Preventing doomsday". The contributors are Freeman Dyson, Martin Rees, Jonathan Schell, K. Eric Drexler, John P. Holdren, Matthew S. Meselson, Bruce G. Blair, and Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky.

The Bulletin considers us to be perched at five minutes to midnight.

Some specific contributions need to be noted. An essay "Genesis in Reverse" by Jonathan Schell mentions horrific but theoretical scenarios for ending mankind gradually, such as the idea that a virus could wipe out all male sperm. This sort of scenario plays out in the recent film Children of Men.

Martin Rees (author of Our Final Hour, 2004), in a piece called "Grounds for Optimism" discusses asymmetry and the danger that even one malevolent individual could pose to all of civilization. "We're kidding ourselves if we think that technical education leads to balanced rationality....There will always be disaffected loners in every country, and the "leverage" each can exert is ever growing. The global village will have its global village idiots." And I guess such an "idiot" is not so innocuous as the Cobbler in the opening scene of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar.

John P. Holdren ("The Sky Is Falling") argues that proof of global warming from human fossil fuels can be seen from warmer winters and differential warming at high latitudes, and warmer nights.

Freeman Dyson's "Freedom of inquiry" has the subtitle "a more open world is a safer world," and he argues his case. He gives some chilling examples of ideas that fortunately (given today's "asymmetry") did not pan out, such as a theory that a "nuclear grenade" could be made using fusion instead of fission. Because of the horrific possibilities that certain technologies pose in the wrong hands (these technologies ranging from nuclear, to bioterror, to computer worms) there is a natural tendency to start thinking about "licensing" access to or publication of knowledge, an idea that libertartians would detest. There has be a tendency for all the "free entry" to lead to a culture of "infotainment", leading to superficiality (but I would disagree; the best "new" material will tend to find an audience anyway.) We do need new paradigms for personal ethics, brought down to the individual level, a sort of "pay your dues" system or mandatory interpersonal accountability (beyond today's ideas about marriage) perhaps; but it would be very difficult to enforce such a system politically without corruption from those in power, whether on the political left or religious right.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Marti Olsen Laney: The Introvert Advantage


Marti Olsen Laney, Psy. D., The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World (2002, Workman Publishing, ISBN 0761123695, hardcover. 330 pages, indexed) tackles the question of introversion and extroversion in our culture.

The issue is important because in recent years the job market really has been favoring extroverts even more, as many "individual contributor" kinds of jobs become vulnerable to offshoring. Extroverts don't mind schmoozing and manipulating people -- in fact sometimes they like to do it -- to build wealth for themselves and their own families. Introverts are more content oriented.

A news story that illustrates this problem is Varlerie Strauss, "Headmasters' Salaries on teh Rise," The Washington Post, Jan. 20, 2006, at this link.
This is the kind of job that requires building social networks, preferably using your own spouse and family, to raise money for other people's interests. Not the kind of thing someone with an artistic temperament wants to do. Technical sales jobs have exploded in recent years, as many techies really don't like the extroversion required to sell.

While Laney's extrovert and introvert (or "innie" and "outie") may seem to correspond to Rosenfels's masculine and feminine, a better analogy might be Rosenfels's balanced and unbalanced personalities. I have a longer review here.

Friends have mentioned several other books along these lines (such as Seligman). I will try to read these later.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A rodeo roundup of gay conservative books


First, there are perhaps two dozen or so books out there that deal with the “gaycon” or “homocon” approach to issues, by or about so-called “gay conservative issues”. One amazon list is Gay, yet conservative.
And a longer list is “Gay Conservative Books”. I respond to the comments in the review of my own DADT at this blog entry (and later ones in the same blog). Central to my own argument (my "Monument to Convolution") is to examine the moral conundrum of "don't ask don't tell."

Paul Robinson’s “Queer Wars: The New Gay Right and its Critics”, University of Chicago Press, 2005, 170 pages, covers Bruce Bawer, Andrew Sullivan, Michaelangelo Signorile, and Gabriel Rotello. Sullivan, remember, was at one time Editor of The New Republic, which in the 90s was considered the quasi-liberal competitor to William F. Buckley’s National Review. But TNR has always been much more centrist, and sometimes conservative (while progressive) then, say, The Nation or Mother Jones. Sullivan, in his 1996 book Virtually Normal, had proposed his own “gay Nolan Chart” with the corners being Prohibitionist, Liberationist, Conservative, and Liberal.

Robinson provides an insightful discussion of the deeper levels of conservative anxieties about publicly visible homosexuality, especially in the level of self-consciousness it raises in otherwise committed married heterosexuals raising children in new societal expectations that they “compete” to prove their worthiness outside of marriage. The concept of letting committed heterosexual couples experience marriage "in benign ignornance" of unconventional relationships reminds me of "information hiding" in Object Oriented Programming!

Sullivan and Bawer have both written strong positions against radical Islam, especially Bawer in his recent "While Europe Slept." Sullivan's important recent book is "The Conservative Soul."

Robinson talks about animosity among "gay intellectuals" even within a particular camp. It is true that once someone publishes (or gets published by a conventional trade publisher) a controversial book, he or she will have a "reputation", objectively deserved or not -- this has always been so, even before there was blogging and personal sites, which, of course, now can be set up to defend one's work or credibility. Of course, if you aren't going to create controversy, why publish, except for $$$ (then it may have to be what other people want -- the stereotyped advice in Writers Digest).

A good comparison is Richard Goldstein's Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right (Verso, 2003, with afterwood added to the paper version addressing Lawrence v. Texas). What's interesting here is Goldstein's balkanization of moral thinking into different groups that most compete with each other on a political stage. There is a certain denial of , well, faith here. True, gay liberation started in the Left because the "family values" of the Right, however utopian, were so easily corrupted as a vehicle to preseve unearned privilege and oppress legitimate minorities -- a fact that fits into the "fair individualism" theories of gay neocons.

I have a more detailed review of Robinson's book here.

Picture: Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Lexington, VA (a hard place to live with DADT, to be sure)