A couple decades ago, discussion forums were THE place for folks in the knife community to share ideas, argue, and discuss blades. Remember those days? Remember having to use photo sharing services that required uploading photos from a digital camera, copying a link, and posting it to a thread? Remember the days of dial-up connections and large files that took forever to download and appear on your screen? Those were the days when only the professional photographers had cameras capable of producing photos that looked print-magazine worthy. The internet has changed dramatically over the years and today modern cell-phone cameras rival professional DSLR counterparts. Today, anyone can produce a quality photo with the right light, contrast, and vignette settings. Today, filters make everyone an Instagram star and everyone feels entitled to opine when an idea is presented that runs counter to theirs. This month’s Fiddleback Forge blog is all about those wonderful engagements with “experts” who have to put in their .02 cents worth. I thought it would be fun to look at common arguments made and explain the logic or lack thereof. If you’ve ever had someone start a “flame war”, “pissing match”, or “D*#k-measuring” competition, please keep reading. You may get a laugh out of this one.
The Internet Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam)
An appeal to authority is when a person makes a claim like this, “I’ve been a knife-dealer for 25 years and the sharpest knives are…” This is a common fallacy made online and I will admit I’m guilty of it from time to time. I often call out my experience teaching survival skills and then provide an opinion of what I believe to be the best. The problem many people have is when they present their way/idea as the ONLY way/idea. There are many ways to skin a cat and you’ll find the internet authorities want you to do it one way because that is how they do it. Think of all the times you’ve heard people use authority to state a “fact.” “I’m a professional guide…” “I use my knife as a LEO and…” “I butcher 3000 chickens…” When you hear someone make an appeal to authority, get ready for an opinion to be presented as fact.
Personal Attack (Ad Hominem)
You have to love people who have earned the internet badge of courage and bravery. These are the people who take such offense to an honest debate or argument they would rather insult you than speak about the issue at hand. Here’s a great example from a recent exchange I had on Instagram. A photo was posted and a comment was left asking a question with a statement made about a person using a particular product. I replied to their question with a question that provoked the correct answer and was met with 3 additional comments from the same person claiming “you are soft and don’t know a damn thing your* writing about.” In addition to the typo, this commentator added in plenty of claims to authority outlined in the previous paragraph and then claimed we were in a “pissing match” when I never replied to his comments. Sometimes, people just want to be heard, sometimes they want to be seen as the highest rank, and sometimes any discussion is seen as a personal attack. Don’t confuse addressing the topic with insulting the participant in the conversation. Finally, remember when you make a strong case, people attack you. When you make a weak case, people attack the case. I think my question and the comments directed at me illustrate this nicely.
Bandwagon Fallacy (ad populum)
The knife community is filled with plenty of cliques. Sometimes these groups are called “fan boys.” If you are active in online discussions, you know how protective these groups are and what happens when you “attack” the leader or their ideas. I used “attack” in quotes since they may mistake a good-spirited discussion as an insult. Often, what is popular is often dictated as fact. The “fan boys” are quick to point out how many people use this or do that. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is right. Keep in mind, at some point in history women were not allowed to vote, people were kept as slaves, and alcohol was prohibited. Imagine if these popular ideas were not challenged? In the knife world, you will hear people make arguments about “this is the only way” or “99% of all knives have…” or even “Most people carry…” There are going to be exceptions to every rule and sometimes the outlier has a better approach than the masses.
Hasty Generalization (dicto simpliciter)
This is the fallacy that makes me smile. A hasty generalization is when a statement/fact is made based off a small survey or sample group. Ever hear something like this, “my knife broke…all of their knives have bad heat treat”? Or perhaps you have heard, “their customer service sucks because I wasn’t treated well.” The internet is quick to paint a company or product as great or flawed. These generalizations are made all the time online and I’m sure the readers of this blog have seen a few examples in their browsing of social media comments. Granted, sometimes extra scrutiny is not always a bad thing and this can lead to product recalls before people get hurt. However, hasty generalizations can represent a very small cross-section of a larger issue. Want an example that will really sting, something that rubs me the wrong way? “Gun violence” I hate that term. There is only violence. The media is quick to use an isolated incident as a major cause of death for all people. One shooting is used to infringe on the rights of all. In reality, heart disease and car accidents cause more deaths each year than my rifle.
Circular Argument Fallacy (circulus in probando)
“This knife is awesome because “knifemaker X” makes awesome knives!” I’m sure that sounds familiar to some of you. Kind of like an extension of the discussion of “fan boys” from earlier in this blog, you know there are people who begin with an idea that is actually the conclusion of their idea and then they loop their comment back to the beginning. I get it, people are very loyal to a brand but they should understand how to express that loyalty with a deeper depth to their description. As much as I love my Fiddleback Forge blades, I will sooner explain the fit and finish, the quality of the heat treat, the level of customer service, the wide range of handle materials, etc etc before I simply say “because they are awesome.”
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of a good argument but the knife community is an environment filled with landmines. You are sure to piss someone off and these common arguments (as illogical as they are) are sure to be thrown in your path. Perhaps someone will yell at you by summoning the power of the CAPS LOCK button before they reply. My advice, learn to recognize them, all the other types not presented here, and smile since you can rise above them. I’ve been told my smile and deep laugh bothers people because they know they aren’t phasing me. Just a FYI, when I woke up and read the comments from the pissing match I was apparently in mentioned earlier in this article, I knew I hit a nerve. I also knew I’d highlight the comments made in this post and potentially drive the nail of truth a bit deeper. So my fellow knife enthusiasts, as we move forward into the more pervasive social media world of knives and all the online experts, photographers, and commentators, get ready to deal with all the comments you’re going to see and reflect on the advice given here. Stay bladed and sharp!
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