Social media consultant Todd Defren posted this quote from H.L. Mencken one day last week on Facebook:
The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
"While I fall far short of 'radical,'" Defren added, "this resonated."
But only one minute earlier, he had posted a happy piece about "brand-sponsored journalism," an example of our national debauchery so pungent that I can almost hear H.L. Mencken railing about from the great beer hall in heaven.
To his credit, when I called him on his hypocrisy, Defren didn't deny it.
"I'm a schizo, what can I say?" he said. "Gotta pay the rent."
When I was about 23, my first boss, Larry Ragan—who built Ragan Communications by being an honest voice in a public relations world full of hot air, but who didn't rock any really big boats—leaned in and whispered to me, "You know, Dave, I'm a closet radical."
Because I was young, and not had not yet been compromised, I was infuriated. What good, I wanted to ask him, is a radical in a closet?
I've since learned what good is a radical in a closet. It takes a closet radical—an appropriately dressed person who fully appreciates the stupidity and piggishness and fear and insanity that pervade all human institutions—to be even the least bit useful in communicating in the breach between those institutions and the human beings they affect.
Because we are looking so hard, we can find the real virtue in institutions and occasionally communicate it in a credible way.
But here's the deal, Defren: Closet radicals shouldn't go around hinting at their own radicalism for the sake of their own vanity.
(We do, of course.
But we shouldn't.)