Monday, January 26, 2015

Community and the Enthusiast Mindset

Mark and Mike, this one's for you.

I recently had the chance to go on the Pen Addict podcast and it was a truly awesome experience.  The hour and half whipped by so fast I didn't even remember to take off my winter jacket (I had been outside just a few minutes before recording) and I walked out of my "recording studio" with a cherry red face.  That experience left me deeply impressed not only with the Hurley/Dowdy duo and their amazing podcast, but also with the pen community in general.  The parallels between the pen community and the gear community are both staggering in number and deep.

This brought me to a point I think is worth reiterating: enthusiasts of almost any sort can appreciate other enthusiasts even if they don't necessarily get it.  Myke isn't a knife guy and that's fine.  But he gets the passion and zeal folks have when they speak about blades because he feels that way about pens.  I have also discovered the same sort of fire for watches when Andrew from 555 Gear was on GGL recently.  Enthusiasts get it, even if they don't understand.  Its about a mindset and way of looking at the world.  You get the benefit of reveling in amazingly small details.  I loved the San Ren Mu 605 because it was a damn good knife.


The fact that it was $7 is beside the point.  Similarly Brad still loves a good gel pen, even though he has enough kimonos to start his own kabuki theater with all of the Nakayas that have been coming his way recently.  

The cross over or compatibility of interests is something that I think is very rare.  It is also something that, in the right place, is pared with a deep sense of honor and forthrightness.  I read a bunch of forums.  But again and again the one that surprises me the most is the Usual Suspects Network.  I recently had a transaction that I was not pleased with and the seller, without hesitation reversed the transaction and even waited while I thought about what to do.  He wasn't just a good seller, he was an honorable person.  The Internet does not promote that sort of behavior often, but it is par for the course over at the USN. Eric, the proprietor, handles matters with swiftness and integrity.  Things never spiral out of control and wolf pack/pigpiling I see elsewhere is a true rarity on the USN.  The way Eric and the community handled the Tim Britton controversy (where Tim copied Shane Sibert's designs and sold them as his own--he was banned by Eric and shamed by USN folks) was admirable.  I wish major corporations and politicians acted with as much propriety.  

All of this stands in stark contrast to another place where knowledge and enthusiasm are a hallmark--academics, specifically the humanities.  I was a philosophy graduate student for many years and the bickering and in-fighting among supposedly intelligent people was shocking.  I have no real experience outside of the humanities and generally true scientists (not social scientists) seem to be devoid of these petty duels.  But the absurd turf wars and walled off demeanor of some of the philosophy folks I met was shocking. Unlike the enthusiast, they saw devotion to a subject matter other than their own as a failing, either of intellect or taste or both.  There was little sense of honor and fights became meandering bores that settled nothing.  The welcome I received in the pen community and the integrity I see in the USN is nowhere to be found.  Our intellectual pursuits are significantly worse off because of this behavior.  

That's why stuff like the Partially Examined Life is such a joy (and, think back, did Lucy Lawless ever show up to one of your philosophy classes?).  Here are folks DOING philosophy, not preening for purposes of tenure or squabbling to justify their existence.  There is little concern with schools of thought or camps.  They read good stuff.  They welcome new stuff.  And they argue and debate with integrity.  And as the Internet grows this ability to gather like minded people and raise the level of discourse is a good thing.  Right now, enthusiasts are doing better work in philosophy than professionals. And this is not unusual.  Dave at Cool Fall makes better lights than anyone on Earth, especially the large companies--Surefire, Mag Light, Streamlight--any of them.


Long live the enthusiast.  Long live welcoming groups.  Long live honor and integrity.  Its time for others to take notice--for all its warts the Internet has raised the level of discourse for thousands of different niche interests from gear to wisdom.  


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  2. "But the absurd turf wars and walled off demeanor of some of the philosophy folks I met was shocking."

    It's Sayre's Law. Academic politics and disputes are so vicious because the stakes are so low. At least arguing the merits of a Dragonfly 2 over a Hawk Ultralight is something tangible.

    1. I'm sorry, but are you implying the trinkets we cram in our pockets have more merit than pursuing higher education in a non-STEM field?

    2. The thing that interests me about gear is first and foremost the community. A group of people with a shared mindset and openness is quite interesting.

      Compared to the walled off, slicing the baloney extra thin mentality of certain academic fields, that mindset and community is much more interesting. Compare a journal paper in a philosophy journal with a discussion on PEL. Its not really even close.

      The trinkets, they are, for me, quite secondary really.

    3. My concern is that you are making a general claim about the humanities from your experience as a philosophy graduate student. Regardless of whether the field and study of philosophy has changed since you've been in law, it lambasts the rest of the disciplines as ivory tower, exclusive pursuits.

      I've been in the MA History program at CSUB for almost two years, and while I've certainly read elitist works that use so much post modernist jargon I wanted to gag myself, I've also read works that emphasize accessibility and clarity. Speaking strictly as an historian, community outreach is expected, whether it's inviting guest speakers, interviewing community voices and recording them, or bringing in new blood from undergraduates. The community of graduate students and professors is small, but strong. We regularly go to local pubs as a group. I know my experiences are just as anecdotal, but I feel it's necessary to stick up for it. I'd do the same if someone said all knife knuts were mall ninjas who wanted to go on a stabbing spree.

      And, to be fair, my experience on the USN has not been drama free, despite my attempts to avoid that. 99.9% of the folks there are probably great. Most of my experiences have been nothing but stellar. It's a great community and I'm glad to be apart of it.

      My two cents,
      Grayson Parker

    4. If it were just my experience, that would be one thing, but you have good, very good writers with a philosophy bent like Alain de Botton that has been all but embargoed by "serious" philosophy departments for no explicable reason at all.

      Contrast this with the way that paleontologists welcomed Robert Bakker. He is a leading paleontologist and yet is devoid of a PhD. That would NEVER happen in a philosophy department.

      I have no doubt great work is being done in the humanities in the university setting, but I am not sure if it is done exclusively within the university system anymore. PEL is pretty compelling as an example of good discourse outside the walls of academia. Its not original thinking, but most of what passes for philosophy these days is just textual interpretations.

      I would not be surprised if, three hundred years from now, the leading philosopher of the 21st century was someone NOT in academia. It would the first time in something like half a millenium that that is the case. Someone like Nassim Nicholas Taleb is doing big thinking but definitely not in a university. Similarly, the most purely philosophical work I have experienced in a long time is some of Terrance Mallick's films like the New World and the Tree of Life.

  3. In defense of history: typically, history is distorted for political gain or to justify ideological hate. History is not and should not be judged as a rhetorical exercise.

  4. I just wanted to say, I really enjoyed your guest appearance on the Pen Addict podcast. Having my two favorite bloggers on the same podcast was like waking up and finding myself in some sort of OCD, gear obsessed heaven.

  5. Is it time for flashlight companies to hire custom designers to design their products the way the knife industry has?

    1. Or you can do what Sysmax McGizmo a truly nominal fee for the PD design and then turn around and patent it yourself. That, coupled with the complete rip off of a few customs has made folks wary. Big flashlight companies are worse off because of this baloney.

  6. There is plenty of feuding in the hard sciences. Check out the past 50 years of nutritional debate, rife with logical fallacies and big egos.

    The Leatherman Tread might make for an interesting watch review.

  7. Ouch! I didn't realize the philo department was so bad. You could've joined the dark side, the theology department! Or at least maybe the Lonerganians: holiness as fidelity to the natural unrestricted desire to know. Unrestricted love (willing the good for all) as the ultimate standard of authenticity.

  8. Fantastic article! I very much agree with your comments on the USN as I have experienced a level of respect and decorum that is hard to find in any area of today's society. I stumbled upon this community while looking for my first pistol. Then I bumped into the knife guys and realized knives were more useful than guns in that it's a tool I can use every day. Then I found this blog and I started collecting flashlights, then a nice watch, a few nice pens, and various other small pieces of gear to make the things I do everyday easier and more enjoyable. Without the help of a respecful community I would never have found the pleasure of using an MBI or Prometheus light, a Brous flipper or a CRK knife, a Shaker or Alpha pen, a Saddleback leather al. Again, stellar post Tony!

  9. I can tell you that, in engineering, there wasn't a lot of "feuding" exactly. But people were extremely competitive and most were not willing to share ideas when it came to solving problems. That was in school - the workplace has been a very different experience for me.

    And I think what you're describing is exactly why a lot of people are attracted to internet communities. This sort of knowledge sharing doesn't really happen anywhere else.