Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Of Air Guitars and Ice Cream

I rarely express a personal opinion (speculation, supposition or conjecture) without identifying it as such. I suppose that’s because I hate to be wrong  --- an aversion I developed from having been embarrassingly wrong on so many occasions before I learned how to think!    If I weigh in on any subject of consequence, I do so only when I have already critically evaluated the facts -- while always remaining open to new evidence, of course.
There are some people who say they “like” Romney or Obama, Republican or Democrat, the same way they “like” vanilla or chocolate, or prefer basketball over football. It’s a mindless idiosyncratic preference based on nothing but emotion and habit. One cannot factually prove that chocolate tastes better than vanilla, or that basketball is better than football. There’s no real right or wrong here. It’s strictly a matter of personal taste.
Many people – TOO many people – don’t know the difference between a personal opinion based on subjective, idiosyncratic preferences, and an “educated,” or “expert” opinion, which is a well-reasoned conclusion based on a critical evaluation of the available evidence. 
Indeed, they don’t know there is a difference.  That’s why, when you contradict their irrational personal opinions with a conclusion based on facts, they simply respond, “Well that’s your opinion.”  That pronouncement implies the equal validity of all opinions, and is a shot at either raising themselves to your level, or lowering you to theirs.
It’s all relative, they say, and they have a right to their opinion.
While they, indeed, have a right to their opinion, that doesn’t make their opinion right, nor does it require the rest of us to respect that opinion, as if all opinions were created equal. 
They simply aren’t.
If someone you love needed brain surgery, whose opinion would you seek out: that of a surgeon who had done the operation successfully many times? Or someone whose medical acumen derived exclusively from a basic first aid course  taken many years ago? 
Obviously, all opinions are not created equal.
An opinion based on subjective, personal bias or prejudice and/or false premises is unworthy of respect and should be shown none.
At one time it was the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that a black man had “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857). At one time, it was the opinion of many Germans that Hitler was the best thing since sliced strudel. At one time it was the opinion of many people ( men and women, by the way)that women were too feeble-minded to be independent and make their own choices about their own lives. (Indeed, some people are still of this opinion.)  I consider these opinions to be unworthy of respect because they are patently false, unsupported by any facts
That’s not my opinion. That’s my conclusion.
The second error the “right to my opinion” crowd makes is to embrace the notion that “everything is relative.” Relativists claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, no such thing as a concrete fact. What’s real or true for you, is different than what real or true for me, and no matter what the empirical, factual basis – or lack of it – for our beliefs, they are all equally valid, the relativist would say. There is nothing right or wrong, they would say, unintentionally paraphrasing the Bard, but thinking makes it so.  They would say that there are no “natural” inherent, universal parameters of right and wrong.  And they cling to this belief – until they believe themselves to have been wronged.
I propose that what’s True is always True and what’s Real is always Real, regardless of one’s individual ability to see what’s real or true. 

What does this have to do with fencing, you might ask?
I had a feeling that you would.

Some folks would say that whether you prefer to engage in what we, much too charitably, refer to as “Olympic fencing”  (“sport fencing”); or prefer to throw on your favorite fantasy drag and cavort around as a knight, a musketeer, or a Jedi; or prefer to practice what has become known as “classical fencing,” is strictly a matter of personal taste. That is, they are all, some would say, equally valid examples of sword use, just different “styles.” Vanilla or chocolate, you see?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The very best “air guitar” performer in the world, does not, from that practice, learn anything about playing an actual guitar -- not melody, not harmony, not chord structure, not rhythm – and therefore neither does the air guitarist learn anything he/she can then extrapolate to other instruments, or various kinds of music. That’s because the air guitarist isn’t actually playing a guitar. He’s pretending to play a guitar by mimicking, in caricature, certain persons he’s seen who, to some extent, actually play the guitar.
The actor, “Olympic” fencer, the fantasy-role player isn’t actually sword-fighting. He’s pretending to sword-fight by mimicking, in caricature, certain persons he’s seen do what he thinks is sword-fighting. Unfortunately, in the case of the sword, what the “air fencer” has seen is NOT the actual use of the sword, but just another “air fencer,” who was, himself, imitating another “air fencer” who was mimicking another “air fencer,” who was imitating another ---- well, you get the idea.
The main difference between the actor on the one hand, and the Olympian or fantasy role-player on the other, is that the actor is honest about what he’s doing. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he learned his moves by rote, in order to do the play or the movie. He and his “opponent(s)” worked out the moves carefully and practiced diligently so that everyone would remember the dance and no one would get hurt.  The actor won’t generally take on airs and wish to be considered a real fighter, any more than after doing Hamlet, he would demand to be addressed as “your highness,” ever after.  The actor knows he’s pretending to be something he’s not.  Fantasy role-players seem to often to have blurred the distinction, and Olympic fencers have lost it completely.
The sine qua non of fencing is the ability to use a sword to defend yourself in a fight. That is the foundational objective of fencing. There are several theories about how best to accomplish this objective. The validity of any technique, tactic or strategy is contingent upon the extent to which it furthers the objective and does not run contrary to it.  That is, ALL “styles” of swordsmanship have, as their raison d’etre, the goal of “winning” the fight, and this generally translates as “hit without being hit.”
As a side benefit, verisimilitude in the practice of fencing may also teach you about fighting, in general, or even conflict, in general.  But you won’t be able to apply much of your lessons to other domains, if those lessons were false to begin with.
You can choose to BE what you desire to be.
Or you can choose to PRETEND to be what you desire to be.
Life is short.
That’s my opinion.


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