Saturday, April 30, 2011


I recently heard a conversation on the radio where a visiting author asked the host what measure his success was due to his own efforts and what measure was due to luck. To his credit, the radio show host answered that he was extremely lucky. He had the skill and the insight to take advantage of opportunities, but he was extremely lucky to have opportunity come his way. He credited a lot of people who helped him and gave him his first big breaks into the business.

That got me to thinking about my own modest plateau of success. I've done well in life. I've enjoyed a certain measure of success, and in the teeth of many who told me that I wouldn't and shouldn't. I certainly brought to that success talent, skill, and a lot of hard effort. But, I was very very lucky. I can think back over the course of my life on so many places where that success could have so easily gone off the rails, and it still could. I had the great good fortune to be born white and male in the USA, and yes, those are still tremendous advantages right out of the starting gate. I was born into the middle class, and was lucky enough to be born into a time when that was still an advantage instead of a liability. I had the good luck to have conscientious parents who did their best, and after a lot of initial resistance, agreed to support my ambition to be an artist. I had the very good fortune to have parents who accepted my sexuality (that is still very exceptional unfortunately). I owe my success not only to their support, but to the many people who taught and encouraged me, and who sent opportunities my way. There are a lot of people who get none of those things, including very smart and talented people. I've always had the support of good friends through good times and through some very hard times. I'm extremely lucky to have Michael, about as good, supportive, and loving a partner as anyone could ask. I can go to bed early on Saturday night grateful to have what all those folks up late are looking for. I know the history of my profession well enough to understand that I stand on the shoulders of many giants who came before me. I know history well enough to know how much trial and error, how much courage and sacrifice, how much toil and bloodshed went into creating the society where some one like me could be even modestly successful.

It's that knowledge that keeps my political views to the left of center. I certainly worked very hard and I went through a lot, and for a long long time to get where I am. But, I hardly did it alone, and I started out with a lot advantages that most of the rest of the world doesn't have. No one chooses the circumstances into which they are born, and the playing field for success is not, and never was, level. The game is always rigged to someone's advantage. In some respects (race and gender) that game was rigged to my advantage. In other respects (sexual orientation and class), it was rigged against me. The game always changes according to who is in charge and has the advantage. Justice is our responsibility as people, as citizens. Success without it is meaningless and worthless. The older I get, the more I tend to think that the ancient Greeks were right, there is no real freedom without the polis. The City secures and guarantees liberty. It makes freedom worthwhile through justice and equality. There is no more freedom alone in the wilderness than there is as some insignificant factotum among many in a vast empire. In both there is only isolation and futility. We are neither lone wolves on the prairie nor bees in a hive. We are men and women who live together in communities by consent.

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