Thursday, January 14, 2016

Knowledgable is not Smart

Don't confuse knowledgeable with smart. In this field, there are a handful of people I respect who have gathered their knowledge through bitter experience. And none of us are very smart. You don't learn this stuff by being smart, you learn it by being stupid in very specific ways.

"You want a job son? I got one for ya. Basics is being locked, alone and unarmed, in a room with 32-190 violent criminals and maintaining order for eight hours. Yeah, yeah, the media tells you that most are non-violent drug offenders but the reality is that we're so crowded only PVs and person-to-person violent crimes are locked up. What'd ya say?"

No intelligent person goes for that job.

The thing is, though, that there are certain lessons that can only be learned by doing certain things. Dumb things. And the lessons are valuable. On an earlier post, "Agent Cbeppa" wrote:

I've been wondering about a seeming paradox for a while now. 
You write a lot about how ordinary people who have had no experience with violence make up their own (largely false) stories and identities. When people go through a violent experience, they realise what is fact and what was fiction, which sounds like a handy thing to know about yourself.
Conversely, you also advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible. It's the safest and most sensible thing to do. 
Do you have any explanations that might clear this up for me? Or is there no right answer?

It's not a paradox so much as a side effect of life. Everything involves choices, and every choice you make now removes other choices. Every hour you spend plugged into practicing a language is an hour you can't spend practicing music. Spending six years studying biochemistry is six years not studying physics. I was very happy being single and am very happy being married-- but the happiness centers around different things. Every door you take leaves unopened doors in the background. That's just life. Even if you could have it all, you couldn't grasp a fraction of it.

With the violence stuff, you can choose a long life where your joints work fine and you have good vision in un-gouged eyes and fewer spasms from nerve damage and less arthritis and an ability to sleep through the night... or you can shatter some illusions about violence. You can't have both.

Of all the gods, only Odin was willing to maim himself for knowledge, and that's the choice here. All this-- call it insight or special knowledge or whatever-- comes at a price. I focus on the physical price because that's the easiest for others to see, but the real price? I can count on one hand the people I can really talk to. The books, the blogs, the articles... there's a compulsion to get the information out, but also the knowledge that most can't grasp it, there is simply no touchstone.

So Cbeppa, it's not a paradox, it's an either/or. I advise people to avoid violent situations as much as possible because that way leads to the kind of life that most can handle. But there is a different truth, and that truth, universally, feels more real to the ones who have followed it (probably just a side effect of adrenaline.)

There's one other reason to preach avoidance. Maybe you get new truths through engagement. Maybe your illusions get shattered and you can get new insights or even enlightenment. But only if you live, and hopefully unshattered. I talk about dealing with knives and luck, but if I had been a tiny bit less lucky, I wouldn't be here to talk about it. It's very cool to imagine going to the bad places and learning the cool lessons, but not everyone comes back and of those who do, many are too damaged or adrenalized to remember what happened. Seeking safety, by its nature, is safer than seeking the alternative.


Agent Cbeppa said...


Malcolm Rivers said...

It's only stupid in the narrowest sense. If you're shortsighted and self-interest is your focus, then absolutely: it's stupid because you'll get hurt and getting hurt may kill you sooner or later. But if you think in slightly bigger terms, it's just a case of self-interest, well understood. You're going to die, probably sooner than you'd like, no matter what you do. But if you are doing a dirty, necessary, job that (potentially) gives future generations a better shot, you can significantly expand the benefit of your influence before your inevitable end. Thus, it ends up being extremely forward thinking, selfless, and mature because you're combining concern for others and a focus on the future with recognition of how fleeting your life will be no matter how safe you play it. Sounds intelligent to me. Men and women who had similar ideas are probably why many modern societies are safe and advanced enough to contemplate such things.

George Stokoe said...

Thanks Rory. That blog concentrated my mind-- I'm now typing this just before breakfast (=coffee + guitar practice), and going to work (=language studies in my breaks in the post room.)

Alain Burrese said...

Another good post Rory, thanks!

Farhana Muna said...

Thank You so much Roy .Very informative post.

Erik Kondo said...

Rory's post is a great example of the Cost vs. Benefit equation of life.

Knowledge and experience comes at a cost. Whether or not the associated benefit is worth it depends on the individual, and what the individual does with that knowledge and experience.

For example, having a disability provides knowledge and experience that simply cannot be obtained by those without such a disability.

Few people without a disability would consider the knowledge/experience worth it. Yet many with a disabiility do consider the knowledge/experience worth it. Yet, they would not voluntarily have paid the cost.

Kai Jones said...

The next step is trying to find a way to teach without the same experiences. Can it even be done? If so, how? Most humans find it really hard to learn without direct experience, and yet the ability to do so is one of our most valuable qualities. What is written history but other people's experiences? As a parent the question of teaching what I know without putting my kids through the things that taught me came up all the time.

Tony said...

Thought provoking. Some experiences I've never wanted to have (prison/jail, disability, cancer, it can be a pretty long list.) Having said that, a friend of mine with cancer has said he wouldn't give up his cancer if it meant being the person he was before his cancer. I struggle with that, A LOT.

I've had maybe two physical attacks in my life (countless verbal and emotional attacks) and my life doesn't really lend itself to being attacked physically. Yet I spend time and money on classes, books, instructors, etc. etc. to prepare for physical violence. Is that rational?

Maybe it's important to learn as much as I can from my experiences, respect what others have learned from their experiences, and hope we can share with one another to learn whatever we can that lies outside our experience? It' important not to discount my own experience and attendant knowledge JUST because the people I respect have very different experiences. And vice versa.

Unknown said...

Hi Rory, your wonderful post makes me want to talk to you / ask you about a specific point, but not in the public comments forum if that's ok? I can't find any contact option on your blog, but if you are happy to share your email address, or email me: kai[at] that would be so great? Best wishes . . .