I spent 50 years in bleeding-edge IT work. I was very good at what I did, probably in the top 10-20 people in the world at one time. I credit that not particularly to brilliance or training but to the fact that I am basically a creative person who happened to hit the computer world at a time when it was in flux. It needed creative thinking because a new world was being made possible by computers and we were creating new ways of doing many things, from business to science.
I spent 25 years of those 50 years at SIAC, the IT subsidiary of NYSE and was lucky to work there with some exceptional people. SIAC was widely recognized as not only a leader in the use of technology, but also a great place to work. It was a well-deserved reputation, chiefly because during its ‘golden years’, it was run by an execptional individual, Charles McQuade. Any corporation takes it cue from the top, and Charlie was first and foremost a decent, honorable and caring human being – and he ran the company accordingly. We busted out butts for SIAC because SIAC treated us well. When my wife was hit by a car and spent weeks in ICU and months in hospitals for multiple surgeries, I took off whatever time I needed and SIAC was completely supportive. So when SIAC needed a piece of code working by next Monday, I worked non-stop from 6am Thursday to 4pm Sunday to make it happen. We both did the Right Thing and nobody kept score or nitpicked.
This human-centered attitude on SIAC’s part was undoubtedly simplified by the fact that it was a not-for-profit company with no shareholders to answer to. NYSE needed something done and gave SIAC whatever we said we needed in order to do it. In theory, this should have put NYSE in the driver’s seat, but in fact, they needed us to keep them operational and SIAC ran itself as it saw fit.
Of course, all good things come to an end and SIAC is no more but I do keep in touch with a few ex-colleagues via Facebook. One recently started a ‘SIAC Alumni’ group on FB and 50 or so folks surfaced. They recently had a get-together in Brooklyn to reconnect and reminisce about the Good Old Days and probably bitch about the current state of affairs.
I haven’t been down there since McQuade retired in 2002, but was considering the 13/4 hour drive just to see a few of the people I worked closely with for a long time. However, I began to follow some of these ex-colleagues on FB and realized how incredibly kneejerk right-wing they were, almost to a man. I ultimately decided to skip the ‘reunion’.
Now one might expect that people in the financial industry would be inclined to be conservative, but one might equally expect people in a creative field – which IT was in those days – to be less rigid and even more progressive, having spent years inventing and teaching others how to think differently about how best to do things.
They are all great people to deal with on a day-to-day personal and professional level, but I realized how much of that is simply social conditioning rather than views and attitudes developed by their own experience and thought. Almost all their tightly-held convictions are the result of blindly accepting what they were taught. They believed their parents and teachers; they believed Madison Avenue and their politicians; they believe Faux News and the Empire.
Considering further, I realized that of the people I’ve dealt with over the years who were exceptionally good at what they did – from computers to dentistry, medicine, law, etc – most were very conservative politically, socially and culturally. What’s worse, they think that their professional ability and success stem from superior intellectual ability – they think they are successful because they are smarter than the average bear and therefore their political and social beliefs are similarly the result of their superior mental prowess.
I contemplated why people of obvious intelligence could so blindly swallow the American Pipedream; why they uncritically bought the MSM version of the world. It occurred to me that the common thread between right-wing [non]thinking and professional skills might be a matter of personality rather than sheer brainpower. They all functioned professionally pretty close to OCD mode and their predilection toward obsessive behavior meant they were very meticulous with and hence good at their jobs. It also meant they were obsessed with Order and Predictability. They want their jobs and their lives and the world to function smoothly and uneventfully and they are threatened by any disruption; a computer software glitch, a root-canal going bad, a lost legal case, a lost war, a financial collapse, a gay child, an angry [poor] community…
I speculate that such a need for a predictable world and fear of disruption stems from a lack of self-confidence in their ability to successfully deal with life on an ad hoc basis. If they can’t know in advance and devise a plan, they feel they are screwed. Ultimately, of course, they are screwed, since no one can predict 100% and one disruption or another will someday catch up with them and they will be helpless. It’s rather like depending on antibiotics and sterilizing one’s environment instead of being exposed to various pathogens and developing one’s immunity.
I guess the moral of the story is that we need to develop confidence in our ability to fly by the seat of our pants and cope with whatever life hands us. We will not then need the world to be rigidly predetermined., which leaves us free to be more flexible in our thinking and deal with the world as it is as opposed to the world as we would like to pretend it is.