Maybe in some eyes it is radical, but I’ve always been happy to plough my own furrow; happier. Bend or break constraints. Pressures to conform are normally for the benefit of others.
And I’ve always been keen to keep my path my business if I can. Why attract unnecessary attention? Why end up in a fight you don’t need to have? Bend or break constraints and be radical, but be so quietly.
I’m not advocating cowardice. Just prudence. Marley’s lyric comes to mind. “He who fights and run away, lives to fight another day.”
What’s radical anyway? Too much with that label is merely radical by name. And what’s an alternative? Conformity? I guess calling something radical needs a benchmark. Radical in relation to …
I read a short while ago that the recruiters for the CIA – and by extension any number of other organisations, companies, groups and so on – can be accused of homophily, of recruiting those similar to themselves. That’s perhaps why the CIA didn’t spot threats when they were coming from quarters they didn’t understand themselves. That’s perhaps why so many other companies and what-have-yous aren’t always aware of threats they face.
Add confirmation bias into the mix and we’re all personally vulnerable.
Years ago, I went out to dinner with a deputy director of the CIA. A fairly up-market country pub. He arrived with the regular Chrysler Voyager-worth of stereotypical security men – crew cuts and bulging jackets covering their guns. (Is it ironic that the Voyagers didn’t do well in crash tests at the time?) It wasn’t just me and him. It was a ‘working-social’ meal … and I was just a very small part of an – as I write – failing bigger system.
(Get me! Is this boasting? It’s not intended to be. I’m trying to think of things that have been formative. So I’m finding myself including the relevant negatives. I can say that the lunch didn’t influence me. I think of that as a positive negative. And I think of that as pleasing.)
In truth I can’t tell you anything about the meal. I remember nothing about either its superficial nor its underlying purpose. Probably routine liaison about something or another. The pub’s now closed, converted into a house. I still walk by it sometimes. That’s why I’ve remembered the lunch now. The landlord, his wife and their daughter were the kind of people I’m happy to have known, however briefly, however shallowly. Somehow or another I knew that the CIA director was a fan of British beer mats and those branded brewery cloths that you sometimes find on bars. As I recall, presenting him with some won me a few brownie points. The landlord sorted it out for me.
The lunch was a fairly radical departure for me; it wasn’t a run of the mill event. Can anything be ‘fairly radical’ or is that just an oxymoron?
Is the CIA radical? Can maintaining the establishment, any establishment, be a fundamentally radical goal? Perhaps it can be, if it’s in the face of social pressures pushing for deep-seated change.
Thinking of security makes me recall a time even further back. I used to know a man who designed cyphers for the government. Cutting-edge stuff at the time. (So I was led to believe.) Was that radical in its own way? He’d design and make his own hi-fi too. I think of him as a decent man but this was a long time ago. I was probably horribly gauche back then. I have no idea what he thought of me. I don’t even know if he’s still alive.
If I think of him and his wife, I think of them fondly, as people I respected, who made their own track. I first met her when she worked in a bookshop in Oxford. Many years later, she committed suicide. That still feels a saddening, terrible shame even though we’d lost touch long before. I fear she’d spent her whole life cursed by the deeds of her parents. The long – and sometimes dark – shadow of family is just as much a stereotype as CIA bodyguards, crew cuts and guns. I don’t know why she cut herself so she’d bleed to death. But it’s not hard to imagine the past being just too much. Breaking completely away would have been very radical. We should remember that people carrying heavy baggage aren’t rare.
The why of it
The precise nudges that prompted these thoughts are not mysteries. What makes the whole ramble worthwhile is what I’m identifying as not being formative … and what things stay with me.
Self-awareness, (in this instance, of potentially being perceived as boasting), is more unusual than might be imagined.
And looking even just a little way beyond the obvious responses about ‘what’s radical’ is relatively fresh.