Monday, October 22, 2012

Trolling for Hate: Sheeple

After the Victorinox Cadet review, I decided I wanted to address something that seems best brought up in the context of a SAK review--the Sheeple Factor.  On knife and gear forums across the Internet, people disparage non-knife people or people that are noticeably disturbed by knives.  The logic goes that knives are tools and that these "sheeple" (the pormanteau being too obvious and demeaning to spell out) are simply a bunch of babies, part of a wussified culture that has come to demonize guns and treat every sharp edge as a weapon.

I think this argument is fundamentally flawed.  Its premise is appealing, as are the premises of many bad but tempting arguments, that our culture vilifies inanimate objects.  This is assuredly true.  Next time you are in a store, read or at least look at the warning labels on a step ladder.  Based on labels alone, the step ladder is one of the most dangerous devices created by man.  But the conclusion--that all people afraid of knives are coddled babies--does not necessarily follow from a premise that our culture vilifies objects. 

As I see it there are four kinds of people: 1) people that are coddled babies and afraid of knives for no reason (sheeple); 2) people that are afraid of knives for good reasons; 3) people that don't care one way or another but are put off by some knife owner's behavior; and 4) people who don't notice anything.  On a percentage basis, the largest category is the people that don't notice.  I am constantly blown away by how unobservant people are.  The next largest is probably the people that are put off.  Then the sheeple are the next largest category, followed by people with good reason to fear knives.   

There are some people are afraid of knives for a good reason, like being the victim of a crime.  These folks are admittedly rare, but their existence seems to fly in face of the logic used by many as a justification for carrying a knife.  I cannot fathom how people that carry a knife for protection and have a CCW license because of the rampant crime (which is not all that rampant given statistics showing a decline in violent crimes and non-violent crimes) also laugh at the idea of people being afraid of a knife because they are mindless sheeple.  Instead, perhaps, these people were the victim of a crime or had a similarly bad experience.  If I cut my finger off in my table saw I'd probably be a little wary of going back.  A good band saw would seem like a nice investment.  So for a small but important part of the population, being afraid of a knife is not silly it is an unfortunately part of their reality.

But this group, as interesting a point they make in an argument about sheeple, do not represent the significant portion of the population.  I believe that a lot of people express dismay when knife users use their knifes in public because of how the knife user behaviors.  In essence, they are rude.  Before I spell this out, a little anecdote, actually two.

Anecdote 1

A friend of mine and I went to a local knife store to buy another friend a knife to use while in Iraq.  I had organized his going away pack carefully and everything was paid for by the generous folks I work with, except for a knife.  We had to rectify that problem, so we journey to the local knife store (the only one BTW and they don't stock a lot of the nicer brands).  There we meet the clerk, aka Mall Ninja One (if you have not read this link, please do so, it is a gut buster).  We talk for a while, he shows us a couple of weird looking knives, telling us that Cold Steel is the best brand you can buy, that AUS-8 is the pinnacle of metallurgy, and that the Ti-Lite was exactly the knife we needed for utility tasks.  I am not the most knowledgeable person in the world, but I knew this was wrong.  My friend, who makes his own Bali-Songs, also saw the errors in the clerk's logic.  Still, when you have exactly one knife store within a 100 miles of where you live, sometimes you have to suffer fools.  No sooner had the pitch ended when a pair of loyal customers walked in, Mall Ninja 2 and 3, and both waved massive Ti-Lites out of their pockets and repeated the knife sales person's pitch.  Annoyed, we both left and found our friend a knife elsewhere.

Anecdote 2

Every year my whole family goes for a vacation in Maine near Bar Harbor.  There is a very well stocked, but overpriced knife store in Bar Harbor called Jekyll and Hyde.  I like to go in and see what they have and this year was no different.  When I arrived the place was bustling, knives, it seems are doing well.  Inside were a pair of men, probably around 25.  One was showing the other how to wave a knife out of his pocket.  In doing so he propelled the knife out of his pocket and proceeded to almost stab someone, by accident.

Both anecdotes seem to emphasize a few things: 1) wave features require a bit of discretion and intelligence to use correctly; 2) wave features, in addition to being actually useful, tend to attract Mall Ninja types (it was designed by Ernie Emerson for a team of special forces types, that design heritage alone attracts Mall Ninja types); and 3) some people are also deeply unaware of their surroundings.

For the majority of the public, this is what they think about when they think of people owning knives nowadays, if they think about it at all.  They remember the past fondly, when gramps would whittle a whistle out of a piece of wood with an old Case.  Then they look at Mall Ninjas wielding waveable foot long knives and just shake their heads.  Its not so much that these folks are scared of knife owners or knives.  It is that knife owners, especially a certain kind of knife owner, tends to be pretty reckless when they carry and use a knife.  Few people remember the guy that uses a SAK Rambler to quietly and discretely cut off an errant thread off his tie in the church parking lot.  Lots of people remember almost getting stabbed by accident in a crowded store.

In addition the recklessness of the Mall Ninja types, there is a certain off-putting mentality, the "I have a knife, deal with it you pussy" mentality.  I am all for people carrying pocket knives.  They are great, useful tools.  But I am distinctly and steadfastly opposed to this attitude.  People have the right to be annoyed when knife users behave this way.  People SHOULD be annoyed when knife users behave this way.  This "deal with it" mentality displays a lack of civility and consideration that shouldn't be tolerated in society.  This part of why the political debate in this country is frisbee-shallow.  This is part of the reason why dealing with people in crowds, like in the city or on a subway is an unpleasant experience.  Civility and concern for others is a lost virtue.
 
But there is another reason why this attitude is silly.  Sometimes these Mall Ninja types are whipping out these huge and ridiculous blades in a way that seems to provocative.  For example, they bust out their Benchmade Adamas to cut their Sbarros calzone in the food court.  Its like they are channeling their inner teenager, but instead of wearing a tacky t-shirt from Hot Topic or white face paint, they are wielding ridiculous blades in the name of utility.  You could light your cigarette with a blow torch, but that is equally silly.

I have long been in the smaller-knives-are-better camp, especially for EDC purposes.  This is in part because I like light and easy to use items, but it is also part of my desire not to freak people out and annoy people.  You do your thing and I'll do mine.  The next time you think of using the word Sheeple, think about this--are you using your knife in public because it is useful or to draw a reaction?  If it is the second thing, there is an equally powerful lemming though process going on.  Which would you rather be: a responsible knife owner or a Mall Ninja?

9 comments:

  1. Tony, I had to bookmark the Mall Ninja story! It was a hoot! Even the movie "Paul Blart, Mall Cop" didn't have this much over-the-top stuff going on.

    I have certainly seen these "little-dick" compensators going about their "business" in public. They get looks that they may interpret as respect, but that are really on-the-street psych evaluations. Apparently they live inside their own little bubbles of self-constructed "reality".

    Thanks for the laugh.
    Bill

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  3. Thank you for your voice in the EDC/Knife world. I went from a 3" Centofante3 to a ZDP Dragonfly2 (and a Zodiac CRI Preon 1 soon thereafter) and never looked back. I too have thought there is something wrong with the obnoxious use of knives. This level-headedness (and emphasis on quality and not groupthink quality either) is why I keep coming back.

    When I use knives, I almost tend to somewhat hide it, or go somewhere where there aren't a lot of people when I take it out. If people see me using it for cutting fruit in the bathroom or something, that's fine but I think it's the taking out that people find more stressful. I think that apologizing or asking people in most environments draws too much implicit negative attention but I don't like suprising people either. So far I simply take a 'don't apologize or ask for permission and be descrete' approach and was wondering if anyone had any other bright ideas. I've only been carrying for about 1.5 years so I'm sure there's someone wiser than me out there.

    I also bought a Aeon MKII on your recomendation I'm sure a Sebbie or a Haiku is next. Terrible, terrible damage to my Brompton fund.

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  4. I've recently become active on a large internet knife forum, and will usually add anyone who uses the term "sheeple" to my 'Ignore' list. I'm not interested in having conversations with people who casually use condescending terms to refer to people who have a different point of view, and as a side effect it makes the whole internet forum experience more pleasant.

    Today I used my Alox Cadet instead of my small Sebenza Insingo to open a plastic clamshell for an older gentleman. There's nothing wrong with showing some deference and being sensitive to my environment. After all, he was wearing a bow tie – using two hands to open a small knife seemed like the least I could do.

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  5. I really, really dislike the terms "sheeple" and "sheepdog", regardless of who uses it. Nutnfancy may have popularized the term, but people were using it for a long time before him, and it just suggests such an unbridled sense of ego and arrogance- as if, just by choosing to carry a gun (or even a knife), one automatically becomes a God-empowered Protector of the People, to whom all others are inferior. Perhaps it's most telling that the *actual* defenders of our peace and homeland, our servicemen and LEOs, use those terms far more rarely. What you describe in your piece here is wholly accurate, but it's just one part of a very bothersome mindset. Carrying a gun, a knife, or even a badass set of skills does not make you superior to others. You are not a sheepdog, and the people around you are not sheep.

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    1. Clarification: When I say "you" I mean it in the general sense, not you specifically Tony.

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  6. Couldn't agree more Tony! I am one of those people who carries big knives. Not because I like scaring people (also in Idaho, 75% of people carry a knife) but because I legitimately have a use for a large, heavy duty knife. I also carry a gun daily, but I don't try to be obnoxious about it, nor do I believe that I can "watch over people like a god", as Gecko45 did. I believe people should carry whatever they need. I spend a good deal of time outdoors, in the woods. A Dragonfly II, as perfect as it may be, just wouldn't work well in that circumstance. An Endura or ZT300 preforms much better. I support people who carry big knives and big guns. I just don't want them to purposely use them for "shock and awe" on people who are not accustomed to it.
    The Idaho Gunslinger

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    1. Excellent point about the size of knives. It is not the size alone that matters, until you get into the foot long blade territory, but context and discretion.

      Thanks for the different perspective.

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  7. While I agree that mall ninjas cast a bad light on knife owners in general, I do have to wonder if there are truly enough of them in this world to account for any meaningful percentage of the knife-weary citizens of this world. Sure, a single one of their 'ranks' might attract more negative attention in one month than a responsible owner might in his entire life, but they are but a fraction of an increasingly dwindling group of knife owners as our modern lives push us closer to living tool-free.

    But if I am to be at all honest, I feel like most folks out there are doing us a bit of disservice with all of these modern tactical folders. With an emphasis on "performance" and needless features, I think a great many of us have all become one step closer to the mall ninjas we despise. I'm not saying we all need to go back to slipjoints and thumb-nick lockbacks, but do you really need all these assisted openers, flippers, Teflon washers and other fancy and flashy opening mechanisms? What's wrong with a nicely tightened pivot that requires a methodical, manual opening? Is that quarter of a second difference in opening time so vital that it is worth spooking others over? But let's face it, just like the mall ninjas, we find these features fun, cool and something to keep the hobby interesting. Just sayin'.

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