"Nothing happened until normalization and boredom. Before that, things were just too new, too risky, and nobody wanted to do anything
"How did you move toward normalization then?"
"It had to be a gradual process. Sometimes it was just talking about it. Other times it was minor steps in the direction we wanted
"You didn't lose patience
? You didn't try to just push everything through all at once?"
"Technically that was possible, but it was hard to make stick. There would usually be retaliation or resentment, and that would hurt us in the long run
"So you went for gradual change instead. How did you deal with the costs of having to wait so long
for things to take effect?"
"We just had to swallow it because the alternative usually turned out to be far less effective, at least in our experience."
"Why do you think that was?"
"I think after people got used to something, it stopped being a big deal to them. They just shrugged and went about their day
. It was the new and exciting stuff they were interested in, but that was also the same stuff that made them wary."
"So you guys were sort of sneaking in through the back door then."
"I guess you could call it something like that. If everybody else was doing it or had done it, the edge was gone, they knew the script
, and things happened almost automatically."
"So how did you know how far to push? There was a limit to the speed of normalization, wasn't there?"
"Yes, there was. We definitely had to measure public reaction regularly. If we pushed too far, they would certainly let us know
, and we would back off. That didn't mean we would give up though. We just took ever smaller steps until everything we did was considered predictable and boring."
"And that defined normalization for you."
"Yes, it pretty much did."
"What about moral or ethical issues?
Did you have any concerns that you would go too far in one or another direction?"
"That was always a big question, usually with those outside our department. Internally we had reached the point of mainly being concerned with the technical aspects of implementation, and didn't look at the big picture much. But yes, it was good to regularly re-evaluate what we were doing with those who had fresh eyes
"And what about accountability? I understand you mostly ran your own show."
"Yes, at the time, that was how the system worked. There was some degree of accountability, but not as much as the public imagined. Not nearly as much."
"That didn't bother you?"
"Not at the time. Not much anyway. We were mainly concerned with day-to-day operations, and outside accountability would only slow us down. Looking back on it now, it wasn't a very safe situation, but the guy with the gun always feels safer
than the guy without it."
"In the back of your mind, you knew there was a problem, but you didn't consider it your problem."
"Yeah, sure, you might say that. Everyone has problems. We mainly think about the ones that most affect ourselves. We only have time to think about other people's problems
when our own have been solved."
"Do you regret any of the things you or your people did in those days?"
"I guess I have to say not really. Certainly there were always things that could've gone better, but I think if we had a better system at the time, we wouldn't have had to worry as much about negative effects."
"How do you think the system could have been improved?"
"I'm not that type of a policy wonk. I'm sure there are many others out there with better ideas about it. I was just spending my own time thinking about our own tasks."
"So you're saying improving the system was someone else's problem."
"It was everyone's problem
in the end, I suppose. It's just not something I spent a lot of time thinking about at the time. I could certainly offer my own views and experiences as someone on the inside, but what people do with that, that would have to be up to them."
"So you're abdicating responsibility
then? You're saying anything your department may have done wrong was not your fault?"
"I'm not sure I would quite put it that way. Things happened the way they did. Whatever consequences that resulted from that, positive or negative, are still going to be the consequences. I'm not sure I'd be a good judge of what the correct consequences would be either."
"Let's get back to the original question - so you thought large changes wouldn't work well?"
"They did every once in a while I think, but if you really wanted to sneak something by the people, it had to be barely noticeable, unless you were intentionally trying to show some signs of progress
"You didn't find that deceitful?"
"Like I said, that was the system we had and the job we were doing. Questioning too many orders was a career-limiting move."
"You don't think you could've changed the system
itself, using your own tactics?"
"You mean like normalizing the questioning of orders?"
"Yes, something like that."
"Yes, we could have done that. But to be honest, the righteousness of what we were doing was not high on our list of concerns. We just wanted to make a living, and as long as we got that, we didn't concern ourselves with too much other stuff."
"Even if it meant the ultimate collapse of the system you were embedded in?"
"Yes, I guess that part of our brain just got switched off when we arrived at the office. Big picture thinking was not part of our job description
and we saw no immediate benefits for doing it."
"And what made you switch it off?"
"A combination of being distracted by our projects and complacency I guess. If we were busy thinking about our jobs, it was focused on very narrow areas
, and when we had breaks, we were usually too tired of it - so we refocused on completely unrelated things."
"Unrelated things like what?"
"Family, hobbies, vacations
. Stuff like that. Why does anyone do what they do anyway?"
"Good question, but you're not the one that's supposed to be asking them today."