29 March 2011

Near or far

This weekend I had a conversation among old companions which made clear what seems to be a pair of crucial differences between me and... pretty much everyone else.

1) I don't think most things change. That is, that in our lifetimes, and over the course of them, some things will shift, but in our day to day, week to week, even year to year timeframes that most people engage in thinking about, the most that changes is subtle and often at best superficial changes. Actual changes operate on a generational scale and most of them are not the sorts of things that people genuinely notice (or at least are encouraged to notice by media and politics and so on). We are told that politics has become nastier and the generation of young people and kids meaner and so on. To a student of history these changes are superficial, if at all noticeable. Human beings as a species live and breathe on a much longer time scale than an individual. Even our distinct cultures and social structures and institutions have long scale lifetimes that far exceed our own. And so they change very slowly and very rarely in significant ways. This sort of macro level analysis also applies to people. We seem to assume that very potent things and events change us. I'm not sure that they do that either. They seem capable of altering some of what we might find important, or how our priorities are listed openly. They don't seem to actually make us into malleable social creatures who radically and significantly change our behavior beyond a certain point. Very severe traumas might (major injuries or health conditions, and physical assaults like a fight or a rape ), but otherwise our individual changes seem slow and modest.

2) This one was more pronounced. Most people find themselves caught up in their own physical concerns over a day to day scale and do not throw themselves passionately and intellectually into an issue until it begins to affect them directly or personally. This is why you had many Tea Party types spring up in 2008-9 when the actual issues that supposedly motivate them began appearing back in 2002, or why people suddenly discovered a civil liberties streak when the TSA decided to use body scanners when these were issues that immigrants and minorities have dealt with for decades, if not centuries, and its immediate "security theater" aspect has existed at least since 2002 also. It's also why there's been a shift in attitudes toward homosexuals, especially among younger people, where they have direct access to a friend or family member who is gay or lesbian as opposed to the attitudes of older generations who have resisted these kinds of awareness (by creating cultural attitudes which suppressed open sexual knowledge of peers who deviated from a heterosexual norm).

Opposed to this, I can list dozens of topics which have little or no impact on me personally that I've written thousands of words on in my lifetime. I would suggest this means these are issues which I'm concerned about without any practical reason to be.
1) Gay rights, in particular gay marriage or civil unions. (I'm not gay and don't actually have any homosexual friends or family, at least that I know of)
2) Legalisation of narcotics and the general problems with the drug war. (I have no interest in trying them or in selling them).
3) Most forms of civil liberties abuses by police and prosecutors. (I'm not a "visible" minority and know very few people personally who've been directly abused by this institutional bias)
4) Overzealous international interventionism. (I'm a foreign policy realist, so waging some wars or aggressive actions seem occasionally justifiable, or inevitable, but we've been busy wasting blood and treasure a lot lately. That said, while I grew up partly in a military brat town among children of air force personnel, almost all of those children are not now serving in the military and are not in harms way).
5) Education policies, including sex education or theory of evolution or a handful of other supposedly "controversial" topics. (I don't have children). Along with how it is funded.
6) Parenting in general
7) Abortion rights. (I don't have a womb)

Plus a few things that effect me only incidentally (as they do everyone else)
8) Health care funding and national policy (I'm young and relatively healthy, though I do know a number of doctors, from family or friends).
9) Vaccinations. (Again, no kids, this one at least nominally effects me through herd effects)
10) Energy policy and related subsidies
11) Food subsidies and international trade barriers
12) Monetary policy
13) National budget (debt and deficit)
14) Tax policy (mostly effects other people far more than it does myself)
15) Corporate welfare and lobbying
16) Free speech issues.

And then there's the stuff I don't blog about very often, if at all.
17) Personal life
18) Friends
19) Love life
20) Work
21) Physical maladies

Now that's not to suggest that I take these things dispassionately and don't concern myself at all with them. I might see them as uninteresting to a potential reader as opposed to the things that I might think about deeply and often which other people do not spend much time thinking about at all. More importantly, I see these "near" things as harder to write about than things which are "far", and which have to be approached more dispassionately and objectively, if possible.

I also don't think that this is necessarily superior or better to have impractical concerns which at best only tangentially relate to one's own life as one's passionate causes and concerns. I suppose it even might be fair to say that often times it is in fact a vastly inferior method of lifestyle, because it neglects personal considerations and concerns which can, at times, consume far more energy and attention than they "should" when they are left unattended to for too long. A balanced life seems more useful and productive; where a person injects themselves not only into distant causes and works to right fundamental wrongs in our systems and culture that affect all people in those cultures, even minimally, but also to advance themselves personally and socially among their peers.

But that's also not how I tend to be.
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