Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn
dachte

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To Bind the Self

I've been thinking recently about how people's ability to bind their later self under contracts/promises is similar and different from statements of intent, the way people's actions create reputations/consequences that they later might disapprove of, and similar things. A particular example of this was someone I used to know who converted to Judaism while dating an Orthodox (but not observant) Jewish guy. Long after she stopped dating him, as I understand, she wanted to reconnect with her former faith, but felt bound by her conversion experience and felt that it wouldn't be taking it seriously to go back on what she felt was her word. I wasn't sure what to think - the idea of promising to "be" something (although I imagine this promise is not explicitly part of conversion) seems a bit odd to me in most cases, although now that I poke around the concept, I can see that I don't categorically disapprove of it in that I see becoming a life partner (and the sexual and other exclusivities tied to that) as a type of change in that general category that I don't disapprove of. I'm not sure whether I think of being in a relationship as being more descriptive or prescriptive.. I do think it changes one's identity in a deep way, although I'm inclined to see it as being a unique case - other types of agreements (like citizenship or corporate employment) towards loyalty and identity seem, to me, invalid on their face (to expand a bit on this, I consider my American citizenship to have no moral weight, and treason, while a very pragmatic and necessary offense to have on the books, is not something I would condemn).

On that matter, I find it interesting how "my word" has taken second seat to a number of other concerns as I've grown older - when I was younger I considered it almost inviolate and a mark of a good person never to break one's word. The "absolute right to contract" made a lot of sense to me philosophically, as a universal form of that intuition. I've since carved a number of exceptions into that idea - areas where the public good is better served by ignoring contracts and agreements, types of contracts/agreements that never can be valid where I don't feel obligated to tell people I'm knowingly entering into agreements I won't hold (e.g. Pledges of allegiance to get foreign citizenship), and again this feels like an improvement with new values. It's funny how that works - it'd be possible to get four versions of a person, each with a coherent worldview, in a room if we could, and have a nice broad argument.

Since starting this entry, I went for a nice lunch with Kavita - we talked about citizenship, states of India, and the expat Indian community. She described how a number of Indians take advantage of stupidities in American citizenship law by arranging to have their kids while on work trips or vacations in the United States, then go back home with them, later sending them to American Universities with full American scholarship opportunities and favourable tax situations, which she sees as the country (America) not properly taking care of its people. I mentioned the opposite situation (no doubt familiar to her given her origins) of Arab countries requiring citizenship of one or both parents to convey citizenship as creating permanent class boundaries among the (often multigenerational resident) "immigrants". The idea of birth conveying only provisional citizenship on children of immigrants (until age of majority, provided enough residency in the relevant country) seems like it would curb the worst abuses she described. Having abandoned the "no social services", it makes sense for me to be thinking about what constitutes citizenship.

Some time back, someone (I can't remember whom) suggested I watch Carnival of Souls. I've been poking around on filesharing networks and the like looking for it, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it is public domain and that archive.org has it for free download. At some point I should browse through the list and see what other good films they have for download.

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