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Coming Out as a Radical -- or Coming In?

Risks of cultivating negative capability in a caliphate of normality (Part #1)

General relativity of terror -- a context for both demonisation and empathy?
Radical as a questionable focus of antipathy?
Radical as a questionable focus of empathy?
Radical quest: getting to the root of a problem
Radical identification of the root cause of terrorism
Failure of radical analysis of root causes

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Produced on the occasion of centennial celebration of Einstein's radical theory of general relativity


This argument is inspired by the progressive conflation in mainstream discourse of radicalisation with Islamisation, extremism, fundamentalism, dissidence and terrorism. The concern here is whether it is possible to engage in thinking, framed as radical by some, without being branded a terrorist in consequence. The further concern is whether thinking upheld appreciatively as normal in mainstream discourse can be permitted to be critical, as in critical thinking, without being similarly conflated with radicalism and terrorism. This in turn raises the question as to whether creativity -- through questioning conventional modalities and "business-as-usual" -- is to be considered threatening to those conventions and therefore to be similarly branded.

Radicalisation (without qualification) is now the focus of extreme deprecation as indicative of susceptibility to terrorist sympathies -- even potential engagement in terrorism. This framing increasingly invites criminalisation and incarceration (possibly without charge). Whether understood as radical or fundamental, how then should those who have long engaged in critical thinking as part of the creative process declare themselves?

This argument is also inspired by the famous reference of the poet John Keats to negative capability. As summarized by Wikipedia, it is

... a capacity of those capable of creative process, a capacity that negates intellectual pursuit of answers. It has recently been appropriated... to comment on human nature and to explain how human beings innovate and resist within confining social contexts, rigid social divisions and hierarchies, and to transcend and revise their contexts. The concept has also inspired psychoanalytic practices and twentieth-century art and literary criticism. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability of the individual to perceive, think, and operate beyond any presupposition of a predetermined capacity of the human being

The reference to negativity is also understood as consistent with the argument of Barbara Ehrenreich (Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, Picador; 2010), separately explored (Being Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005).

As argued here, the issue can be explored in terms of the increasingly "slippery" nature of conventional definitions and categories, despite the strongest of claims and assertions variously made -- if not as a consequence of them. In this context definitive description and explanation are called into question as indications of premature closure. Metaphorically this slipperiness can be experienced as "mercurial", offering a degree of mirroring recalling the distorting effects of a fairground hall of mirrors. Given the extent to which evidence is massaged, many "facts" are increasingly questionable as highlighted by Samuel Arbesman (The Half-Life of Facts: why everything we know has an expiration date, 2013).

As indicated by the "concrete proof" presented to the United Nations Security Council for the existence of WMD in Iraq, the situation is exacerbated by the extent to which leading politicians themselves admit the need to lie. This has been more recently clarified by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission: I have to lie. I'm a Christian democrat and a Catholic, but when it becomes serious, you have to lie (Jean-Claude Juncker: a parody on Christian-Democratic Principles, 14 May 2014; Mike Shedlock, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg PM and Head Euro-Zone Finance Minister says "When it becomes serious, you have to lie", Global Economic Trend Analysis, 7 May 2011). This confirms the original recognition of doublespeak, as separately discussed (Enabling Suffering through Doublespeak and Doublethink, 2013).

There is an increasing sense in which assertions by authorities are claimed to be "evidence-based" but without any capacity to present such evidence -- righteously justified by "security" and related considerations. Following increasing dependence on fiat money (quantitative easing), there is now a sense in which people are expected to adapt to a "fiat reality".

The irony for a civilization in crisis is that any "extraordinary" insight is now readily framed and condemned as "radical" -- thereby inhibiting new thinking potentially vital to the survival of that civilization. Expressed otherwise, it is appropriate to ask in what contexts radical thinking is encouraged, rather then deprecated and censored as abnormal: the United Nations system, regional organizations (EU, OAS, ASEAN, etc), the military, religions (the Catholic Church, etc), academia? Curiously it would seem that only in the arts or technological innovation are "radical" approaches now valued -- exemplified by the conscription of hackers in anticipation of cybersecurity threats.

What is the requisite complexity, previously identified as characteristic of radical thinking, now appropriate in an increasingly complex society? As what level of complexity is current strategy being envisaged -- and where is this questioned? How do we ask questions of ourselves as queried by Charles Freer Andrews in support of the radical initiatives of Gandhi in South Africa? Most curious is how the ground on which the engagement with radical extremists takes place is chosen and defined by them, rather than being the focus of reimagination by those thereby challenged -- contrary to the most fundamental strategic principles.

As with the highly controversial status of gender identity, should radicals face up to the issue of whether they should "come out" and confess publicly to their unconventional cognitive orientation? Does the argument extend to those of contrarian disposition, or to the archetypal outsiders featured so extensively by the arts? Such questions are given particular poignancy by the case of the esteemed mathematician, Alan Turing, whose radical insights were so significant in the engagement with the Nazi regime. Later accused of a homosexual relationship, he was obliged to undergo chemical castration -- leading subsequently to his suicide. A royal pardon was only negotiated 60 years later.

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