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Knowitallism


A friend of mine and I were having a talk about ... hold on, I have to check the dictionary. The German dictionary.

Rechtarberei. That's the word. You know what it is even if you don't know the word. It's this attitude of "disputatious knowing-it-all", as Werner Cohn so phrased it, that some people have. They're right and you're wrong, and that's all there is to it.

I don't really mind this attitude when it comes from people I don't have any reason to share time or space with. I can listen to them, nod, ignore them, and move on. It's worse when it comes from people who share a space that you inhabit voluntarily, like a fandom.

Various fandoms tend to be lousy with people like this. I remember meeting some of my first really serious Star Trek fans, way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the idea that an actor could run for president and win was still relatively novel. What struck me was not just the seriousness and fervor about which they discussed all the idiot details of Star Trek lore, but the joylessness of the whole affair. Even if they "won", they were still miserable, because the whole way they approached their interest in the subject was so closed-off and hostile to outsiders.

Not long after that I found out most every fandom has people like this. And I did what a lot of other people do: I learned to live with it. Those people can be nodded at and ignored just the same as the people who don't occupy the places where you choose to spend any personally significant amount of time. There's nothing that says you have to let them run the conversation. But I have this weird fascination with why people end up in such positions, so I dug deeper into the psychology, and hence came that conversation with my friend.

My friend put it this way: Such people aren't interested in the opinions of others, because they think they are Correct Logical Beings. They think the things they think aren't opinions, but factual information.

That analysis made sense. The Rechtarberei type isn't interested in looking for truth; he (it's almost always a he) believes he already has it, and it's his mission to dispense it. The idea that there could be some other truth worth finding that isn't his to come up with alone, or that doesn't jibe with what he thinks he already knows, is absurd.

Also, for many of these people, fandom isn't a space to share, but a castle to keep. It's in their best interest not to be self-doubting, because then you just look weak, and when you have self-declared turf to protect, you can't look weak. (You will never see people like this admit to entertaining a more nuanced view of something, because nuance, the ability to make fine-grained distinctions, is also a sign of weakness.)

Stephen Downes created a site about logical fallacies that is one of my regular go-tos for the subject. In its introduction he notes one of the most important things I have ever read about logic and reasoning generally:

The idea of logic is truth preservation. What that means is that if you start with true beliefs, your reasoning will not lead you to false conclusions. But logic does not generate true beliefs. There's no easy way to do that. ... Most people have non-logical reasons for believing the things they do. They may have political opinions because their parents had them, they may have on-the-job views because they're afraid of being fired, they may think a movie is good because all their friends do. These too count as parts of a person's world view. There is no reason for you to hold these beliefs, because you are not subject to the same non-logical factors. But you should be aware that mere reason will not be enough to get them to change their minds.

This to me seems to be the way these people fail. They don't just fail to understand that reason alone will not get some people to change their minds; they fail to understand that reason alone may not be how they arrived at their points of view in the first place. Their failure to understand others stems from their failure to understand themselves, because all of this applies to them too.

Most people don't think of how intellectual humility would have any role at all in fandom, but I think it has as much a place there as it does anywhere else. If you have some sense of proportion about the issue, you understand that humility doesn't mean lying down in front of the other guy and letting him walk all over you, but just leaving room for the possibility that you're wrong. You get on some level what Sir Karl Popper was talking about: you may be right and I may be wrong, and together we can find the truth. You can do all of those things without making yourself into a victim.

The problem is that fandom is subjective. The very choice of fandom is subjective. The things we take away from that fandom are subjective. How's something that subjective and personal supposed to work as part of any attempt to find the truth of things? So I'm not surprised some people don't even try: no accounting for taste, don't'cha know.

My thought is this: The truth of things in this case isn't any one opinion about a given show elevated to the status of fact. It's about the ground rules for how we share our takes. If I feel a strong personal attachment to something that you find repulsive, we can lay out our attraction and repulsion side by side and see what informs them. They necessarily come from separate places, and they necessarily end up in separate places. The point isn't to try to start or end up in the same place, but to walk a little ways together and see what can be exchanged.

I had some experiences like this when I watched the live-action Ghost In The Shell film that came out last year. I thought there were good things in it and bad things in it, and I felt an affinity for the material that transcended its presentation. I also thought it was a bad model for other projects in the same vein to follow. If you make another live-action adaptation of an anime or manga project, you don't want this one as your guide, because there's as much in it that's cautionary as there is salutary.

Other people despised it on sight, and I got why. I wasn't trying to say they were wrong, or that the mere existence of my differing opinion was proof their opinion wasn't valid. But I also wasn't trying to do that stupid "devil's advocacy" crap where people deliberately choose to defend something indefensible because they know it'll get their professed enemies worked up in a froth.

Some people felt mixed feelings, and for those people I felt the most empathy. But that doesn't mean I think the people with mixed feelings are morally superior to those who loved or hated the film.

What I'm circling with all this is: Some people don't want to have a discussion or trade views. They don't want to know why other people think differently. They want to be right about themselves, not curious about others. Sometimes those people are worth listening to; here and there, they have a kernel of understanding that's worth receiving. But that doesn't mean you have to give them the benefit of all doubt. You can take what they offer, even if they don't know they have it, and walk on. That's been my strategy.


Tags: fandom 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2018/04/24 17:00.

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