Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A metaphysical lament. When those who say they get it, don't.

As I was writing this, I had already been thinking about making it into a post of its own, because the topic seemed to be worth it. The following was inspired by one of Mama's insightful comments, and once Blogger told me it was too long to be a comment, it was reasonably easy to say, "okay, Blogger, fine...I'll make it into its own post."

As a "contextual continuity clue": the following relates to several posts I've got here at Rifleman Savant, in which something relating to a Jeff Cooper topic--scout rifles, Ching slings, gunhandling technique, etc.--struck me as so far off the mark of what Cooper actually said or intended, that I felt the need to vent about it. Mama's comment got me thinking about that, and I responded as follows:

Maybe it's just a normal phenomenon that accompanies middle age, but I am really starting to grasp the wistful frustration that I so often read as a younger man (without really understanding) in Jeff Cooper's work. Or, maybe it is a natural outgrowth of a long-cultivated appreciation of deliberate design. (And really, I suspect strongly those two things are quite related.) But whatever the reason, it seems like the "...how often they do very badly at it" observation comes frequently in recent years.

I'm certainly not without my own history of jumping in to something before fully understanding it, but I like to think that I am learning that it always--always, without exception--fails to achieve full value, or at least full synergistic value. Probably these days I go too far the other way, where the biggest risk is in missing the window of time for which the whole idea has currency.

With something like this [a "scout rifle" missing critical features or implementing others badly], or like my recent lament about misunderstanding the technique of the speed sling, I wonder if the bigger problem is less the people whose well-intentioned exuberance carries them into a place they do not understand, and more the problem of chest-thumpery among those who purport to know, but don't. How do the consciously ignorant know that they are not following the unconsciously or willfully ignorant?

The position I'm in myself is a real challenge, in this regard. Anent the observations and teachings of Jeff Cooper, I tend to minimize how much I actually know, since 1) it's kinda my personality in general (I like being underestimated), and 2) I don't have a CV of "official" credentials that say I know what I know. But know it I do, both because I have long paid really close attention to matters of design and the history of design, and because I have tested nearly all of it myself and understand why it works from that perspective. And so when something misses the mark, it jumps out at me like nails on chalkboard, and I can both quote chapter and verse, and then defend it extemporaneously.

But who am I, really, to speak with authority on it in the first place? I only met Col. Cooper, in person, once. I have never "been in a gunfight" (and am quite happy about that, no joke). I'm no sort of master marksman, nor particularly fast. I've never got into formal competition, and I get quite a bit less trigger time than it would require to impress a good number of people. And so I try, at least, to minimize my own authority, because I can't really argue that I have it. Shooting, for good or ill, seems to carry an expectation that "experience" equals "analysis".

On the flip side, I am reminded of how much I really do know, and at what level of explication and depth, pretty much every time I engage with someone else, even those with years of shooting experience. I couldn't even tell you the number of people I've met who know simply astonishing minutiae about how to wrest a tenth of an inch of group size from their precision fitted boltgun, at exactly 100 yards, from a bench--who have no idea how to use their own body, much less a shooting sling, to shoot from an unsupported field position with any stability; or how to zero their rifle to optimize a "maximum point-blank range" for what they will be most likely to encounter in the field; or how to manage their ammunition supply without looking at it; or even how to run the bolt from the shoulder... It's a little better for pistolcraft, but not a lot. There's been a depressing resurgence in the concept of unsighted pistol fire, usually declaring loudly a complete non-understanding of the flash sight picture. The "high-speed, low-drag" tactards have convinced far too many that "two to the chest, one to the head" is nothing but a speed drill, rather than the observation-and-problem-solving technique that it is. The "cold range" mentality, as understandable as it can seem, continues to retard any general improvement in safe field gunhandling. And so on.

It's hard to say simply that people need to be more observant, although that seems like an obvious part of the solution. "Try it yourself, before you believe or disbelieve" would seem to be another obvious one, as would "go to the source, after you hear it second-hand". But a really substantial part of the problem is also those who stand up and loudly say "Lookit me, I know!", and then don't. When it comes to things that Cooper taught (both the gold and the stuff that really does need re-thinking), I usually know, immediately, when someone is wrong. But does that make me right? I struggle with that, but I also don't want to see such an immense reservoir of knowledge and history simply forgotten, or worse, revisioned by people who didn't really understand it in the first place.

Sorry. Metaphysical lament.