Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Learning

I have to appreciate the description, "Half the time that guy's a genius" for its sheer lack of insight.  Naturally, the other part goes that the rest of the time the guy's out to lunch, he's a babbling fool, he's an old man yelling at kids on his lawn, he doesn't get it and so on.

Of course, the accurate phrasing of this particular statement is, "Half the time I agree with that guy, and half the time I don't."  Which is to say, when I agree, the guy's a genius; which makes me a genius, too, since obviously he's smart enough to know what I'm thinking.

Ah, how rarely the statement goes, "Half the time the things that guy says go right over my head.  I guess I'm not smart enough to know what he's trying to say."  I wouldn't say 'never' ... because where it comes to some expertise, people are willing to accept their ignorance.  When the doctor launches into a discussion of liver chemistry, and you're scratching your head between hearing the occasional familiar word, you don't say, "Wow, when he's not making sense, he's really an idiot."  No, you accept that you're out of your depth, that you don't know what he's on about, and that its a good time to ask questions before making a judgement.

I think it must be understood that if I'm a genius "half the time," I'm either not a genius at all, except when I happen to get lucky and agree with someone, or I'm a genius all the time, and they just don't fucking get it.  I think the likelihood is that I'm NOT a genius.  I'm well read.  I'm ambitious in my thought processes.  I'm experienced in the game, and in other things.  If I were a genius, however, I'd be able to change someone's mind about something.

I have been thinking at length lately about the process of changing minds, and particularly how the matter is taken up in the artistic design of literature and film.  I have very rarely experienced another person changing their mind about something they firmly believe.  I have done so myself, and often, but I'm always with me so I have the benefit of catching these moments when they happen.  Another person, on the other hand - particularly a person who has passed the age of 30 - is rare.  Oh, I don't mean changing their mind about having chicken vs. pork for dinner, or even changing their mind about dating a particular fellow or what movie to see ... though these things can be huge decisions for people.  No, I mean changing some belief - not even a core belief - so as to view the world differently.

I think writers must find themselves frustrated where it comes to changing a reader's mind, and so they are obsessed with it.  In A Clockwork Orange, the writer posits the effect of forcing the change of Alex's mind.  In Les Miserables, one of the central themes is Police Inspector Javert's bloody mindedness in refusing to change his perspective on Jean Valjean.  Frankenstein's crime is less that he made the monster, than that upon its creation, he grows sick and changes his mind about the whole idea of conception, stupidly driving the monster away and beginning a series of events that ends in tragedy.

My favorite in film must be that moment in The Graduate, where Ben is pounding on the glass, desperately, and Elaine stands amid her mother, father and fiancee; she knows what her mother and Ben have done, she's disgusted by it ... but as she looks at the angry faces around her, she has a moment of clarity; she realizes what the real crime is, and she turns and screams "BEN!"

Changing one's mind is empowering; it is clarifying; it is what has made the difference between comprehending the forces of the universe and blind, stupid ignorance.  The difference between being "well-read" and being "ignorant" is not in how many books one has read, but in how often one has consciously changed their mind about what they've heard.

My particular annoying capacity to bring argument after argument against people who post comments on this blog comes from my deliberate habit of seeking arguments ... and learning from them.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't struggle to find someone or something that disgrees with me, or who has written or presented a position I'm not 100% clear about - and when faced with the argument, I am less concerned with deliberating on the genius of the presenter than I am on two things - what do I know about this, and am I wrong?

I want to be wrong.  I want to have this other person bring up the argument I've never considered or never heard, to hammer that argument home brutally and inconsiderately, and make me change my mind ... because the fallout from that will be that once I've heard the argument, and accepted it, I will beat the living shit out of everyone else with it.

After 40 years of pursuing this practice, since the age of 8, I have a lot of clubs now.  Probably more than the gentle reader has.  If that seems to make me a bit frenzied; if I seem extraordinarily self-involved; it is only because I am a frankenstein's monster of ideas and arguments, and I am less concerned with being rated on a scale of my intelligence than I am with being heard.  Often, this makes me critical, inconsiderate and comparatively lacking in empathy.

Am I a genius half the time?  Would it matter if it were 55% of the time or 63% of the time?  No.  All that matters is, am I right, right now.  And if I'm not right, spare me the assessments of my rightness ... explain, clearly, directly, and in a way that I will understand, just how wrong I am, so that tomorrow, when I wake up, I won't ever be wrong about that thing, in that way, again.

2 comments:

Arduin said...

I wonder what sparked this post, and find that I agree with the result. My favorite posts are always the ones that turn my perception of the game on its head.

Like the Flight post, for instance.

And a good piece of knowledge, after it is learned, often appears self-evident. I know I often search through the back catalogue on off-weeks, and find myself amazed that at one point, we were all talking about such-and-such for the first time, as if it were NEW!

Yet I could hardly imagine the game without travel damage graded on quasi-real weather patterns, or without an equipment table that changes based on your city, or that spells are not cast with a wink and and a wiggle, for a more recent example.

Life is funny that way.

Carl Nash said...

"Of course, the accurate phrasing of this particular statement is, 'Half the time I agree with that guy, and half the time I don't.'"

Well that is completely not true. I did not say half the time I agree with you and half the time I don't - I said half the time I think you are a genius and half the time I think you are an old man shouting at kids in his lawn about their arcade games.

I did not say anything about agreeing with you - I agree with you on a vanishingly thin small percentage of the posts that I would ascribe the "genius" label to. That doesn't mean I don't understand them, or enjoy them, or label them genius in my head, and I keep coming back for more of them.

Thanks for the good reads.