The Quiet Before: A book review by Bob Morris

The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas
Gal Beckerman
Crown (February 2022)

How to discover or create anew the stages on which the incubation of radical ideas depends

Think of an idea as a seed. Even under ideal conditions, it may never become anything more….and eventually, nothing at all. Incubation cannot guarantee an idea’s success but without sufficient time for development and refinement as well as protection and nourishment, no seedling has a chance..nor does an idea.  

Switching metaphors, you can also think of an idea as a spark. Different metaphor but it suggests the same similarities.  Countless forest fires that consume thousands — or even millions — of acres were ignited by a tiny spark in a flammable situation.

For present purposes, let’s say that the given idea — like a seed or a spark — becomes a revolution that replaces an oppressive social order. King Louis XVI and the French aristocracy, for example, or King George III and the British Empire. More recently, The Russian aristocracy and then the Raj regime in India. Hold that thought as I now shift your attention to a brief passage in the Introduction to this book as Gal Beckerman cites a more recent situation.

In his Rules for Radicals (1971), Saul Alinsky suggests that successful revolutions follow the three-act structure of a play. “The first act introduces the characters and the plot, in the second act the plot and characters are developed as the play strives to hold the audience’s attention. In the final act good and evil have their dramatic confrontation and resolution.” Beckerman then adds, “It’s in those first two acts that incubation occurs.” (Page 4)

Radical, potentially disruptive and usually controversial ideas probably date back to Sumer, located in Mesopotamia, the first known complex civilization (comprised of families and tribes), having developed the first families, communities, and then city-states in the 4th millennium BCE. They developed the earliest known form of writing, cuneiform script, that appeared around 3000 BCE. Over time, the development of verbal and non-verbal language enabled ideas to be shared with others. Meanwhile, non-verbal means of communication (notably body language and tone of voice) enriched communication approaches and resources.

Beckerman focuses on a range and diversity of radical ideas and makes brilliant use of his unique skills when establishing a text, a frame of reference, for each. The development of a radical idea is an extended, perilous process. Beckerman notes that verbal and non-verbal communication skills hazd much h to do with that process. A radical idea’s advocates throughout history were usually ignored, then ridiculed.  During its incubation and refinement, as it gained increasing attention (if not appeal), it was often viewed as a threat to the status quo.

For example, consider the cautionary tale of Galilei Galileo (1564-1642)). Briefly, he was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer, sometimes described as a polymath, from the city of Pisa, then part of the Duchy of Florence. Galileo has been called the “father” of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. Some people were much better communicators than were others. Over time, a radical idea or a combination of ideas t helped to achieve a radical change in habit or custom.

As Beckerman explains, “One of the most famous men in Europe, at sixty-nine he had recently been forced to his knees before the Inquisition and made to denounce in front of ten cardinals his ‘errors and heresies,’ which he now promised to ‘abjure, curse, and detest’ then and forevermore. His crime had been the writing of a book [Diaogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, 1632] that argued forcefully (and in a way that seemed to mock the pope as a simpleminded idiot) that the church’s status and geocentric view of the university was wrong…By pushing toward the outer limits of acceptable speculation, Galileo had exploded the old way of thinking, and it’s his name we remember today.”

These are among the dozens of other passages that also caught my eye, listed in order to suggest the scope of Beckerman’s coverage as well as the thrust and flavor of his analysis:

o Revolutions (Pages 7-10 and 173-178)
o Nicolsa Claude Fabri de Peiresc (13-14, 24-28, and 31-32)
o People’s Charter (34-35 and 39-40)
o Mina Loy (55-56 and 63-65)
o Kathleen Hanna (129-130, 131-132, and 146-147)

o Incubation for change (174-178)
o AlternativeRight and Charlottesville (187-188, 193-197, and 209-210)
o Jason Kessler (189-190, 198-199, and 204-205)
o Social media and email: alt-right sites (190-191, 202-203, 208-209, and 263-264)
o Discord (190-192 and 208-209)

o Red Dawn (212-214, 227-228, 208-209, and 263-264)
o Minneapolis (237-238, 243-244, 249-252, and 256-257)
o Black Lives Matter (237-238 and 255-256)
o Police and Policing: Murder of Black men (238-243)
o Black Visions (249-252 and 257-258)

Beckerman wrote this book in order to help as many people as possible to “discover or create anew the stages on which [revolutionaryideas and initiatives] can unfold. Otherwise we risk a future in which the possibility of new realities, of alternative ways to live together in society, will remain just beyond our grasp.”

There are two major challenges: Gain the knowledge of what is needed, and then determine how to find that knowledge “within the confines of our online lives.” Gal Beckerman wrote this book in order to share his own ideas about HOW best to respond to those separate but interdependent challenges. He succeeds brilliantly. Bravo!


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