Gadflies and Giants
These days it is fashionable to be a disruptor. To stand against the status qui, and change the world with the power of cynical malcontent. From business to politics, disruptions and the people who cause them are celebrated as heroes. People love the idea of a disruptor, so long as they themselves are not the one being disrupted.
This fascination with disruption may appear to be a modern phenomenon. But if you believe this, you are mistaken. Disruptors have been around for as long as there have been people to bother, and systems to upend.
One of the firs recorded disruptors in history was the philosopher Socrates. He loved to ask questions with no real answers. He loved to point out all the problems in his society, and plant the seeds of resistance in his fellow citizens.
Socrates was called the gadfly of the gods, because he was always buzzing around. Asking questions, pointing out errors, and bothering the powers that be. Your basic disruptor playbook. Eventually, the powers that be grew tired of Socrates. They threatened him with execution. In a final act of disruption, Socrates freely drank poison and killed himself, demonstrating that those powerful folks were neither intimidating nor all that powerful. Socrates provided the template for legions of disruptors that followed in later centuries.
From then on, disruptors have been celebrated in an almost romantic way. One man, nation, or ethnic group struggling against oppressive systems. Fighting for justice, without ever saying exactly what justice means. We must remember that disruption is not inherently good or bad. It just is. Certain people are just disruptors, for better or worse.
But if you are going to be a disruptor, it is important to remember two things. First, for such a small thing, a fly can really bother a much larger creature. However, when they aren’t bothering elephants, most flies spend their short lives wallowing in dung.