No matter who you are, pawns don’t move backwards

Sometimes, I am tempted to jump sides and argue about social and political things according to the tenets I learned in childhood from my professing Democrat family.  I flatter myself that I would do much better than most of the folks currently lining up for their team. That whole exchange, like so many they’ve attempted, goes awry and stays awry for a fairly simple reason: they get locked on course and can’t handle any change.

It’s rather like playing chess. If you want to succeed, you need to know more than how to properly execute a sequence of forcing moves. That will trap the unwary and the beginner. Any opponent with a basic understanding of the game, however, will know how to handle that, usually by avoiding the sequence. Picture the situation: you know that putting your knight on e4, for example, leads to a counterattack that ruins your position. You move your bishop there instead. A normal opponent would think about what you were conceding to do that instead of the knight move and react accordingly. The Cuttlers, however, would go ahead with the sequence of moves, even though with a bishop there it will ruin their own position instead. And then they will insist that, because they made all the correct moves, that in reality the game is theirs, even as their queen and both rooks decorate the side of the board where you keep the captured pieces. The game WOULD have been won if the knight had been there, therefore your bishop doesn’t belong there, the move was invalid and the game is won, QED. Or do you deny that their moves were not perfectly in accordance with the rules?

Misses the point by a bit, don’t you think?

I’ve speculated previously as to the deeper causes, and that’s important if you want to remedy the problem, but in terms of having an actual conversation – exchange of ideas in two directions – the cause itself is almost beside the point. Whatever the reason, their hearts or their shoes, the Zachriel don’t think of others as Whos.

It’s not a nice thing to think – in both senses, that it’s not nice to be considered an unperson, and that’s it’s not nice to think that it’s what other people believe – but when I try to get to other conclusions, I puzzle and puzz ’til my puzzler is sore, but get no closer to a solution. None of the things that suggest connection on a human level ever show up in these endless palavers. You’d think that across the many months and over dozens of topics that by sheer chance we’d all hit on one thing where everyone would agree on something. Failing that you’d think that you’d hit on a topic where the disagreement leads to some understanding, and that the participants would show humor or personality or something – anything at all – that spoke to a human connection.

The closest I’ve seen to any kind of relational overture, alas, is peevishness and condescension. These are quite human reactions, but largely reserved for use against those whom one feels is not really worth the time, but is nevertheless obligated to deal with. Teachers use it with their dullest students; politicians with voters; athletes with the sports media; customers with service staff. The message is plain: one’s betters are in charge of how this relationship goes, and we are to know our place, do as we’re told, and not give any lip about it.

It’s contemptible. There’s a good reason why we side with the put-upon in that situation: just because in one particular, one has a claim on someone’s time or attention, doesn’t make the claim universal. On one level I am an irate customer with a badly-burned meal; on another I am just a human being like the cook and the waiter, no better than either. I haven’t the right to treat them like broken machines or dimwitted pets.

In my experience, I’ve found that genuine anger over something that should have been done properly, and hasn’t been, is easier to take, so long as that recognition of fellow humanity is there. In fact, genuine anger itself is a sign of that recognition.  By this reaction I see that a standard is held, that I am reasonably expected to put in my best effort to meet. Condescension signals the opposite: no standard except that once again one’s own excellence is neither recognized nor appreciated, and lesser mortals have done what they always do… they don’t care, they’re not capable of getting it, and once again one is let down. Is it really so hard? *sigh*

The difference is easy to spot. Just think of what happens when the standard is then met – the burnt food taken away with a quick apology, replaced by a perfect meal, the cost taken off the bill. An angry person would be pleased and express gratitude, no? At the very least they would be satisfied.  But would the snob not still be snobbish about it? You can easily picture them saying, “Finally!” or “About time…” And to remonstrate with them about it is a pointless exercise. Isn’t that what these people are there for? By this attitude they betray that to them “these people” means something much more like “these things.” We don’t compliment the elevator for finding the correct floor.

And of course a lot of the time the condescension turns out to be doubly-ridiculous because the alleged inferior turns out to be in the right. To use an example more in keeping with one of the topics of that conversation: an expert can be reasonably expected to know about a specialized topic. Wouldn’t you ask an expert about it? But the point isn’t in merely asking, because a question is a tool designed to get a good answer. If the answer is wrong, then it misses the point of having asked someone skilled in the field – I can give you bad tax advice a lot more cheaply than your expert accountant.

Here we can see again the difference between condescension and humane behavior. If you question the bad advice, how does the expert react? Does he explain the reason for his advice? Does he accept if the reason doesn’t apply here? If you share something you’ve learned, does he take the time to show why that knowledge is irrelevant, or better, does he say he’ll read about it and then get back to you? That’s humane – it recognizes that what one has learned may be learned by others, that to be an expert is not to be flawless even in that realm of practice, and it shows a willigness to grow.

Or, you know, the expert could be insulted that someone else did a little research, discount the new information because of its unworthy source, openly question why you’re questioning their opinion in the first place, and then go right ahead and be stubbornly wrong about it, because experts say so. The bishop never belonged on that square. The reply moves were all well within the rules. Just tip your damned king, you peon.

That’s the funny thing about something like chess – the pieces are the same for each player, from a grandmaster to a patzer like me. One side’s bishops don’t suddenly start scooting sideways; the grandmaster’s rooks don’t level up to move twice per turn; my queen can’t shoot lasers just to make it fair. The board doesn’t care which of us is which. If I have a forced mate in three moves, and I make those moves, the GM will invariably lose.

Life is rather chesslike in this regard. The rules of logic are the same all around. The expert’s increased knowledge does not make truths out of his non-sequiturs; his preening and sneering don’t spin golden conclusions from his strawmen. And it’s a larger truth, expressed best in the Gospels: those who are faithful with something will have more added to it, and those who aren’t will lose that which they think they have. The person with the healthy attitude towards others and the willingness to learn from anyone will grow more skilled and more expert, while those who refuse to hear any such nonsense will ossify. By definition, if you can’t admit that certain things are beyond your knowledge, you won’t bother to expand your knowledge to include it.

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3 thoughts on “No matter who you are, pawns don’t move backwards

  1. Severian June 6, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    The Cuttlefish are mentally ill. Seriously. They’re not arguing in good faith, but they’re also not trolling in any recognizable sense. They’re just repeating the script, over and over and over again, as if what didn’t work the first fifty times will somehow work the five hundred fiftieth. The only non-autistic explanation for this type of behavior is that they’re the blog equivalent of Chinese gold farmers in a World of Warcraft game. If they aren’t, well…. see Elliott Rodger.

  2. House of Eratosthenes June 7, 2014 at 8:57 am

    […] too long and it takes too much reading-between-the-lines to get there. Anyhow, the point made is brilliant, as is the chess […]

  3. Zachriel June 7, 2014 at 9:59 am

    nightfly: Whatever the reason, their hearts or their shoes, the Zachriel don’t think of others as Whos.

    That is not a fair or accurate characterization. We not only think of you as a “who”, but assume you are expressing your views honestly.

    nightfly: You’d think that across the many months and over dozens of topics that by sheer chance we’d all hit on one thing where everyone would agree on something.

    One should always try to find common ground. Not sure why you have resisted it so strenuously.

    nightfly: Failing that you’d think that you’d hit on a topic where the disagreement leads to some understanding, and that the participants would show humor or personality or something – anything at all – that spoke to a human connection.

    We try to stick to the topic, and personal comments are usually off-topic. Good luck in all your life’s endeavors though!

    nightfly: The message is plain: one’s betters are in charge of how this relationship goes, and we are to know our place, do as we’re told, and not give any lip about it.

    That’s certainly not our view, but will certainly point out problems with your argument. Would you prefer we simply agreed with you, even when we find your argument unconvincing?

    nightfly: It’s contemptible.

    That’s on you.

    nightfly: To use an example more in keeping with one of the topics of that conversation: an expert can be reasonably expected to know about a specialized topic.

    Thank you. Believe it or not, that’s been a very difficult concept for others.

    nightfly: If you question the bad advice, how does the expert react?

    The vast majority of scholars are more than happy to discuss the evidence! That’s usually why they became scholars, after all—because they enjoy discovering things within their field, whether it’s archaeology or entomology.

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