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.
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.
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?