A wee while ago, a friend got into a discussion about libertarian politics on his FB page. The guy he was talking to, when asked to explain an aspect of the issue, linked him to an 11-hours video lecture. When my friend mentioned that he didn’t have 11 hours to spend on the subject, his interlocutor told him that, in essence, he’d failed the entry test for that conversation. If he wasn’t willing to engage with the subject at a deep enough level, he didn’t have the right to discuss it, let alone question it. The fact that this statement was made without any prior attempt at checking my friend’s existing knowledge of the subject was just the cherry on the cake.
That was the most glaring example of a behaviour I’ve seen a lot without really noticing it, because I had failed to categorise it. It’s very, very common in the martial arts/self-defence circle to tell people that they don’t meet the requirements for being able to participate in a discussion. It’s common in other fields, but I don’t go there as often so it doesn’t annoy me as much. Plus, I think the behaviour is inherently more egregious when applied to SD – lemme tell you why.
One of the most common entry price people fail to pay is that of “experience”. You do not have enough experience to be entitled to an opinion on the subject. Your opinion is inherently invalid because of your lack of experience. Just shut the hell up and listen to us, the Experienced People!
… except that I thought the entire point in self-defence teaching and training was to prevent people from going through certain experiences. I appreciate that some things cannot be fully grokked unless you have gone through them; however, I thought it was our job as teachers/trainers/bloggers/wafflers to bring people as up-to-speed as possible without them having to go through shit. I thought it was why we taught the subject in the first place. And I thought reducing the discrepancy between our students’ understanding and the reality of the situation was one of the ways in which we could measure the quality of our teaching. Am I missing something?
The people who are learning by listening to us will never fully understand us; they will never fully know what it means to be us, to carry the weight of our experience, to understand the price of our knowledge. Personally, I class that as a damn good thing. Aside from the fact that I find pain painful, just think of the trade-offs. I dearly wish I could have spent all the time and effort that went into dealing with situations and recovering from them on something else entirely; something pleasant, ideally. Playing the cello. Baking. Raising prize poultry. Our students are getting as much as possible of the benefits, without any of the risk, damage, and loss. 90% understanding and no scars… Where’s my time machine? Where do I sign up?
Instead of celebrating this achievement and trying to make the knowledge gap as small as possible, we’re increasingly smacking our students in the face with mixed messages. We’re telling them that they’re less-than-us because of their lack of experience… while teaching them how to avoid getting that experience. We’re telling them that physical self-defence is the very last resort… and that until they’ve used it, they’re not entitled to talk about self-defence at all.
Now I’m having conversations with young, un-fucked-up people who want to get fucked up. They want to get themselves into high-risk situations, knowing that they are high-risk situations, because they have been told that that’s the only way to get experience. They have been told that until they have enough experience, they’ll always be second-class citizens in the self-defence community. And they have been told that in the context of their self-defence instruction. Violent incidents as rites of passage; it may be true, but it’s also unconscionably stupid.
More fools them, anyway, because not every experience is equally valid. If their experiences cause them to develop opinions clashing with ours, they weren’t the right kind of experiences at all. They got a too-narrow view of the subject. They failed to learn What We Have Learnt(TM). Instead of pushing them through an eye-opening satori, like ours, their experiences acted as blinkers, and now prevent them from looking at the situation as a whole. They’re too damaged to understand us now, more’s the pity, and any disagreement they have with us is a function of that damage. Plus the plural of anecdote is not data, anyway.