Thursday, October 2, 2008


Sooner or later I was going to get around to this subject. It has to be the most reflexive, silly, pervasive accusation within the community—leveled more often in the flaming heat of an online discussion than any other insult…and meant, for reasons that escape me, to end the argument by irrevocably branding the opposition as a tyrant.

What I find funny is that it isn’t merely a part of the RPG community…it is as equally pejorative in the BDSM community. There are strange parallels between both groups of people, in that they have a great deal of emotion (and money) invested in an activity for which there is no overarching authority.

If we are going to talk about onetruewayism, I need to pause and establish a position: for the purpose of this post, that position is going to be strictly neutral. Oh, I have an opinion, but that doesn’t matter just now. Just now, I don’t care if there is a one true way or not; I don’t care if in the past this has been leveled at me as an accusation or not; I don’t even care if you, reading this, are convinced, or not, that I am a onetruewayist. That’s not what I want to talk about.

What I’d like to talk about are two completely different communities than RPGs and BDSM, both of which include hundreds of thousands of individuals, both of whom have a great deal invested in terms of both emotion and money, and both of which are far more visible. One of these I have terrific amounts of personal experience with; the other I have almost none.

Neither include an overarching authority. Both have multiple channels dedicated to them on television.

I am talking about home renovations and cooking.

Consider for a moment the various comparisons. A vast number of practitioners. Different people preferring very different foods or home design. Literally thousands of books on the market, ALL of them describing the exact way to cook pasta Florentine or how to lay carpet. Google “chocolate chip cookies” and you will get 3,280,000 hits…with nearly every recipe arguing that it is THE real, award-winning, favorite, home-style, very best chocolate chip cookie recipe in all of creation.

If, however, you search “chocolate chip cookies” & “one true way”, you will get…84 hits.

If you search “dungeons and dragons” & “one true way” you’ll get 1,230 hits.

Okay, okay, that’s not fair. If you search “cooking” & “one true way” you’ll get 3,740 hits.

And “cooking” alone?: 187 million hits. “D&D” alone? 11.8 million.

What is the point of all these ridiculous statistics? Oh, probably nothing, if you haven’t understood yet. I’m certainly not building up the one true way to define the level of onetruewayism in D&D. I’m just throwing thoughts out there.

I worked as a cook and later, as a sous chef, for 12 years in a variety of restaurants ranging from 1 star to 5 stars, and I found one this was always true: there is a ONE TRUE WAY to make everything…for each restaurant you work at.

The entire restaurant industry has as its fundamental structure the competition between eateries, and while every restaurant will boast loudly and with conviction that they DO have the one true way to make lasagna, it wouldn’t occur to anyone in the business to complain that other restaurants are guilty of onetruewayism.

And while Iron Chef or that fanatic angry freak in Hell’s Kitchen might be rather picky about right and wrong, no one gets upset about it. Of course he thinks he has the right way: he has experience, he has a successful kitchen, he has EVIDENCE that people like the way the lasagna is prepared.

Not all people, no. But like any long-time cook, his opinion would be that people like that are STUPID.

(You know, it’s no different among people restructuring houses…I’m only concentrating on cooking because that’s what I know. The principles are, however, the same—ever talk to three different contractors for the same job?)

Most of the really good cooks or chefs I’ve known (based on how emotionally satisfying their food was) have felt that way. Don’t like my cooking? You’re stupid. The Italian I worked with for a year, who had a 5-star rating and who’s restaurant was filled with mafia, certainly thought that way. I can hear him in my head, answering the accusation that he was wrong to think there was only one true way to make cannelloni: “What the fuck do you know? You own a restaurant? Do people eat your food? Get the fuck out—get out of my place! Get out. Stupid dumb shit.”

(Working with Italians…there’s a post sometime).

But that same Italian would not have said the same thing to someone in THEIR restaurant. That’s respect.

Making a distinct, definitive statement about how a thing is done is not, as it is so often accused of being, a detraction on the way others are doing a thing. So often it’s taken that way. No one likes having someone in their kitchen. My maternal grandmother, who was a terrible cook of the first order, honestly one of the worst cooks I have ever known, was so territorial about her kitchen that she did not draw the line at throwing wooden spoons at little children. She could not be told anything about cooking.

My father, on the other hand, is the exact same way about renovations. Trained as an engineer and entirely competent in wood, steel, concrete or plaster, he has probably rebuilt his house twice from the ground up in the 42 years he’s owned it, one piece at a time. He can’t be told anything about renovations, either. Contractors have tried.

Having the genetic pattern from both sides of my family, I probably have some of the same characteristics regarding both D&D and BDSM. I can certainly understand my father better than my grandmother—before spending a week at her house every Easter, I would have to mentally prepare myself as a ten year old for a long fast. You wouldn’t believe someone would boil steak, would you?

More than once, I assure you.

The only reason anyone has, for themselves, a one true way of doing anything, its because they have reason to believe it really is the one true way. And they think someone else is going to have to make a pretty good fucking argument to prove there’s another. (In the case of my grandmother, that argument was going to have to involve the reappearance of Jesus in some degree). What I or you might think is a good enough argument may not be…not for them. We can only do the best we can, and when we fail we can only shake our heads and tell them to get the fuck out of our place.

Most of the time, my arguments fail. I’m good with that. I have my limitations as a human being. I take comfort in the fact that occasionally, other people’s arguments succeed, and I find that I have reason to change the one true way I’ve been doing something. I appreciate that other people are willing to keep trying with me.

Somehow in the midst of their trying with me, and my trying with them, I’m convinced that there really is a one true way…somewhere.

Shame none of us practice it.


KenHR said...

"Making a distinct, definitive statement about how a thing is done is not, as it is so often accused of being, a detraction on the way others are doing a thing."

Too true. I wish that more people understood that.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I think with genuine conversation, you create a place which is neither their place, nor your place. That way, no one can be told to get the fuck out out of thier place. You can stop talking/creating that place, but you can't tell someone to get out of it.

But some people begin conversations as if they own conversation and can tell you to get out. Particularly on the internet, because a swift smack in the face isn't such a risk when behaving that way.

The dreadful thing is that if you conversed in good faith, you created a space you didn't own - when they grab it, they do indeed take it over. It's really disappointing, because you'll end up going along with them for fear that they are acting okay and if you do anything, your the one taking over. It's a curious pothole in communication, I think.

Alexis said...


MY place, YOUR place, the place...these are petty distinctions, fought over by nitpicky people who have a lot of "fear." Fear of being ignored, fear of being pushed out, fear of inadequacy.

I never think about who "owns" a conversation, or whether someone is conversing "in good faith" because I'm not really afraid of being "taken over." Nor do I feel concerned when others accuse me of doing or not doing these things. Again, they are petty complaints. Your comment contains no actual substance--did you notice that? Just arguments about protocol. When and how people should act. Risk and fear and "spaces." None of those things actually matter.

There is no law in the arena, my friend. Toughen up or die.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't really matter if your afraid or not.

If you physically stand in proximity to someone, with a quick whip of a blade they could do you harm whether you chose to be afraid or not. You have to decide if your going to stand near them, being brave or afraid or calm wont change what they can physically do. Same goes for trust - if you really talk with someone, you grant them some trust - and they can use trusts 'proximity' to do damage. Being a braveheart wont matter. Not being afraid of being taken over doesn't grant you some magic protection from it.

That or you don't extend trust and aren't talking with them, your just spouting the safe lines your used to. But in that case, yeah, there is no soft point where you can be manipulated.

That's the arena as I understand it. Not saying that to ask you, just displaying this info in case it's of use latter.

"Your comment contains no actual substance--did you notice that? Just arguments about protocol."
Do you have to tell me what my words mean?

It was relevant. Whether you want to get within the range of trust, whatever. Just don't bother with having a bet both ways, where you don't really have any trust, but you still try and have a conversation. It doesn't work, I think.

Carl said...

BrokenMArrow is reminding me of a brief forray I took into the examination of Post-Structuralism. In that school of thought, there are words, which have a universal meaning, and the speaker of the words which determines their intended meaning and the hearer of the words which determines their actual (subjective) meaning.

I decided I'm still an Existentialist, but I'm open to the idea that the meaning of language and by extension everything is a subjective experience, regardless of the intention of the person using language to convey a particular meaning, or the accepted definition of the words used by the speaker.

Maybe I shouldn't huff so much glue.

Alexis said...

Jeez. Post-structuralism. Are we pounding our pud now or what?

Sorry, moved out of that particular ivory tower long ago. It's a place for people who can't read instructions.

Carl said...

Pud-pounding is all we do, if my simplistic interpretation of Post-Structuralism is anywhere near correct. And according to Post-Structuralism, because it's my interpretation, then it must be.

I thought the Ivory Tower of academia was for people who weren't interested in getting a real job. From personal experience, you have to be pretty damned good at reading instructions to stay there.

Anonymous said...

Experencing speach/reading is subjective, but if your in a life or death situation, your going to really, really bloody try to understand the other guy. Because to have your own little interpretation might end up making you cold meat on the floor. Sorry to put it in gruesome terms, but that's where the meaning of words come from - dealing with life and death situations.

However in our cosy little first world, were so far away from that that the words are retarding. Politicians and lawyers use words like knives, which ironically provides the sort of threat words were meant to deal with in the first place (life and death situations).

One of R Scott Bakkers books mentions a symantic apocolypse. I wonder if it's plausible?

Chgowiz said...

BDSM and D&D - here I thought I was the only one who thought that more kinky people should also be gaming. Now I know why!

(If you have a profile on FL, I have one under this same name.)