Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 100%

Yesterday, Tim Brannan left a fairly positive comment on my Jungle post - but for reasons having to do with the internet, he felt the need to begin with the following:

"This is the first post I find myself agreeing with you 100%."

Why, I ask, is it necessary to say this?

Without any fault directed at Mr. Brannan, this is the sort of thing that gets said very casually all the time - and defended just as thoroughly as a completely acceptable way to begin a comment.  Only, really, it isn't.  It is just the sort of thing that I've been letting myself off the chain in the past - and I want to explain why.

"This is the first time there hasn't been something wrong with your cooking."

"This is the first time I haven't found something wrong with the way you dress."

"This is the first time I've enjoyed an entire evening in your presence."

And so on.

From the above comment, I assume that Mr. Brannan has agreed with some of what I've said in other posts.  I assume he's agreed with enough of the things I've said to keep coming back and reading the blog.  But has he, all this time, been carefully keeping some record of what percentage of my posts he has been agreeing with or not?  I never yet received a comment that begins with, "I agree with 63.5% of the things you say," yet does it not follow from the above that some sort of reckoning has been made every time?  From comments made in the past, I know that this is a reader that has been reading me for literally years - so finally, AT LAST, I have written a post that he completely agrees with.  Pardon me, he 100% agrees with.  Not 99.7%.  One hundred per cent.

Without allowing myself the luxury of getting very sarcastic at this point - and believe me, several sarcastic options present themselves - I just want to talk about how this paints the rest of the statement that follows.  Mostly, it suggests that somehow I'm being rated.  Not read, not considered, not interpreted or applied to the present mode of thinking, but measured.

That is never a comfortable feeling.  Very few of us would like to have ourselves evaluated.  It is the strongest reason why would-be artists fail - because of this attitude.  The concentration on the small bit that 'doesn't pass.'  The little bit of distaste that the critic feels because - while everything else was wonderful - the hat that the woman is depicted wearing is hideous.  It isn't 100%.

I fully expect - one hundred per cent of the time - to be disagreed with.  In fact, I would say that is a central tenet of everything I write.  I expect the reader to disagree.  I expect to advance ideas that the reader has never considered or which the reader considers to be in error, and then to argue those points and prove the reader wrong.  That is the stance.  I am the voice in the wilderness that dares to say, your ideals, your perceptions, the measure by which you claim things to be right or wrong, is in error.  Let me explain why.

This is what makes good writing.  If I were to write that most young boys love their mothers, that your homeland is a wonderful place that you've grown to love or that beer is something good to drink on a hot day, without going further to challenge your perceptions about these things, then this would be a gawdawful boring blog.  I would have nothing to say except the very obvious, the very trite and the very redundant.  Which explains why so many of the blogs you read are execrable.  As the saying goes, they have nothing to say.  Except that which has already been said.

Thus, an assessment of this blog that begins with the reader never quite agreeing with me says a couple of things - in fact - that are not bad.  First, that I'm doing a good job kicking the cocks out of people's mouths.  Second, that the reader has failed to see past the reader's own prejudices.  The reader shouldn't be looking for the post that agrees, then making a point of saying so when a post does - the reader should be looking inward and admitting that he enjoys reading those don't agree with him.  Given that this particular reader, Mr. Brannan, has been helpful to me in the past - and that he continues to read the blog - the reader should be wondering about all those posts that didn't reach 100%.  Whose fault was that?  Mine, for failing to make the argument, or his, for failing to see it?

Well, that is the crux of all human discourse.  Argument, interpretation, comprehension and most of all, change!  It's not a static measurement.  While today it may be 56%, with more thought it might turn to 71%, then to 73%, then later to 89%.  Depending on the day, and the experiences of the reader as those accumulate over time, after reading the post, it may go up or down.  Change demands that what you read today as right or wrong may change tomorrow as you continue to learn and grow as a person.  Measuring opinion as an absolute only demonstrates a lack of awareness about thinking or learning.

It isn't as though this is the sort of comment made only on my blog.  The bulletin boards are full of them.  As a species, we should be aware of the message we're sending when we start with, "Allow me the luxury of making a judgement about your value before beginning to make my point."  The judgement - and the insidious emotionality behind it - isn't lost on the listener.  It is very definitely heard.  It paints everything said afterwards with a whitewash that diminishes all that you have to say.

If you want to be heard for what you have to say, say it without the judgement first.  Just say what you believe.  I, more than anyone, have had to learn this lesson the hard way.


Jeremiah Scott said...

The moment I read that comment yesterday, I assumed you'd be lighting into it in a reply. I was surprised that you didn't, so I'm glad to see you address it today.

When I first saw it, I thought it was in poor taste and--like you said--typical of what passes for internet dialog.

But I think there's another element to this. It's no secret that you have a veritable flock of sycophants, slack-jawed, hovering over their keyboards, waiting to express with unbridled enthusiasm their approval of every word you write. It appears to me that Mr. Brannan just wants you to know that he shouldn't be counted among them. That you can actually believe what he says, because he's more discerning than the average spineless supplicant. And that he doesn't mindlessly accept every decree you hand down--as though some of us do!

What is it about an insecure human ego that makes people broadcast to the world that they have their very own ideas, thank you very much? Well no shit!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Trying to change, Jeremiah. Trying not to 'light into' people. Wanted instead to politely, reasonably express a complaint.

Timothy Brannan said...

Nothing strange. Nor nothing deeper than "I agree".

I don't always agree with everything I read. Sometimes it is close. Sometimes it is way off.

That's why I have my own space. So I can write what I like.

I said because I was excited. I like to argue, I like to bicker, but when someone says something in such way that I don't have say anything else except "me too!" then I like that as well.

I felt that "me too" was a tad to brief given your effort to type all that.

(i have not read everything here yet.)

Timothy Brannan said...

Yeah in this case it was 100%.

Ok, MAYBE 99% (I suppose I could count the words I agree with over the total words...)

I think the database you want could be done faster than you think.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Fair enough, Tim, and I stand by my words where I say, no fault directed at you. It's a habit of speech, is all. We get so used to doing it, we fail to recognize how it's going to be interpreted or how it colours everything that comes after. I had to concentrate to read the rest of your comment after that initial missive, which is why I called it 'fairly positive.' Would have been better, however, if you had not looked for a greater way to say, "I agree."

"I agree" would have done the job.

Timothy Brannan said...

Fair enough!

Anonymous said...

The main reason that I keep returning to this blog is that, although my second or third best fun activity is roleplaying, my vocation is persuading people with written language.

You daily set forth examples of rhetoric that read well. One learns rhetoric by studying examples. One who seeks to persuade, seeks to write in a way that reads well. Therefore, I study your blog.