Getting into this box is what's best for both of us. During your time in the box, you will learn so much, and yet experience so little. It's a wild ride, my friend, one well worth the time spent...and let's face it, you don't have much to do these days anyway.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A pet logic fail peeve of mine.

Today, ladies (if my vile misogynistic self hasn't scared all of them away yet) and gentlemen, I would like to present a pet peeve of mine, a particularly virulent piece of nonsense thinking that so many silly people fall back on in an argument.

I call it the personal experience idiocy. I'm sure there's a more formal name for it out there - I can't be the only person who's come across this and reflected on it. In any case, here is the basic form of the argument:

"You did not/cannot have personal experience of X, so you cannot have knowledge of/an opinion on X."

Now, I first came upon this inane argument when I was just starting out as a writer. It often came in the form of "Don't dare you rip into [insert beloved author of brainless pulp fiction here] until you've been published yourself. You have no idea what it takes to get a book published."

Now, let's take a step back and think about how many people have an opinion on the President of the United States, or any other politician for that matter.

Are some of these opinions quite strong? Yes.

Is it accepted that they have this opinion? Yes.

Will they ever be President of the United States, or any sort of politician? No.


The crux of this argument assumes that personal experience is the only way one can gain experience on anything, and discounts the human ability to vicariously experience an event through other means, such as listening to someone who has personally had that experience, or through reading. I do not deny that having personal experience of something can, but not necessarily always add to the depth of knowledge on a particular subject. Let's go with a simple analogy:

Being a professional cook will give you a greater understanding of how certain flavours and ingredients interact, and will aid one in appreciating and judging how a dish is crafted and in savouring it. However, one does not need to be a cook, nor does one need the extra depth of understanding in order to tell that a dish is burnt and frankly quite unpalatable.

Another way I can take this is that I may never eat chilli crab pizza in my life. However, I can talk to people who have tasted it, I can read reviews on it, and I can certainly draw on my experience of having sampled chilli squid pizza, know how squid and crab taste like, and make a guess as to how chilli crab pizza might melt in my mouth - or not.

Another particular egregous example I stumbled upon on Twitter:

"No, idiot. Childbirth is gross, yet not a moral abomination."

"you don't know shit about childbirth unless you've got a uterus"

"If knowledge of childbirth can only be obtained via possession of a uterus, why wasn't Ferdinand Adolf Kehrer a woman? Idiot."

Comments like this come straight in the light of idiotic statements like "Nine out of ten women in the US prefer circumcised penises", only further highlighting the silly hypocrisy present.

The very idea that personal experience is the only legitimate way to have knowledge of anything is blatantly retarded, otherwise the whole idea of history is defunct. Hell, the whole idea of education would be defunct.


1 comment:

  1. I'm not quite as harsh as you on people who use this argument, but I've written recently about the same thing in a more political context.

    Good points, though.