Friday, January 3, 2020

"Good Will Hunting" is Not a Documentary

How many times did your mother tell you not to touch the stove when it was hot?
How many more times did you touch it after you didn't listen to her and found out for yourself what it feels like?

- Sgt. Rory Miller
If you bury a gold coin in the center of a pile of shit, no one walking by is going to say, "Oh hey, maybe I'll dig through this big steamy pile of shit to see if there's something valuable there." They just see a pile of shit. "Potential" is the worst fucking measure of humanity, and yet everyone bitches about it constantly. Potential is absolutely nothing. Which means a person with potential has absolutely nothing. You're only as good as what you do.
- u/Cammorak 

When this first started brewing in my chamber pot many months ago, it was only about a very specific instance of arrogance. But as it simmered without boiling over, and I've spent time ruminating on it, it's become broader in scope. Looking back, I think it is fair to say that many of my rants are, in one way or another, about this. One might even go so far as to say that this is the All-Rant.

This is a rant about arrogance.

I have a core belief about the importance of direct experience as it relates to a person's ability to synthesize a useful opinion about a given topic. It's odd to me that this ends up being a controversial stance to take because it's something that nearly every part of our society is built on. Pick just about any profession, consider hiring someone from it to perform their work for you, and consider whether you want someone fresh out of education or someone who's been doing it successfully for 20 years. I can't think of a case where there is a contest here. Job interviews don't just want to know what information you can repeat - they want to know what you've done.

I must apologize. I forgot. This is an Appeal to Authority and everything I have to say going forward is therefore false because an infographic said so.

I've spent about 10 minutes at this point thinking about how to transition from where I'm at to the point I want to really rant about. I think that means I'm trying too hard. So, fuck it.

Good Will Hunting is a movie about a nobody janitor who has done literally nothing in his life but is smarter than everybody because he reads a lot. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie. But that's what it's about. And it's just a goddamn movie, so some people need to stop acting like it's a documentary that was sent back from the future about their life as an internet lifting wizard.

There are people who, in the process of trying to adopt lifting as a hobby, decide that what they need to do to be successful is to assemble an encyclopedia of as many facts as possible, and then use that encyclopedia to construct their plan. I have ranted about this a bit before. What is left out from that rant is that I think this practice is incredibly arrogant. Allow me to explain by expressing in the least charitable way possible what a person is saying when they do this:
I know that there are professionals with many years of knowledge, experience, and/or concrete successes under their belt - professionals who have a solid track record, who have worked with high caliber athletes, who have put together everything they have learned into training and dietary methodologies. But I, a novice and a layman, am smarter than they are, and I can do better. In a short period of time, I will teach myself more than they have learned in decades by reading scientific studies. My encyclopedic knowledge of facts will be equal to or greater in value than theirs, and I will have the best opinions.
I can hear the voices of a thousand Abstract Warriors crying out, That's just gatekeeping based on a strawman!

It's not. It's the truth of what every novice and layperson is saying when they throw out established methodologies in favor of trying to create their own by reading.

I want to take a moment to say a few words about Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA. Schoenfeld is well known, well respected, and what he has to say about training is valued very highly in the fitness world. Somebody like Schoenfeld is what the really, truly smart people become (or are working to become) - not Will fucking Hunting. But the thing about him is that he also only barely looks like he lifts. But because of everything else he has done in the field, there is no reason to care at all that he is not big and strong.

This would be the part of House of Cards where Kevin Spacey looks directly at the camera.

If you are just a guy trying to learn about training on the internet, you are not Brad Schoenfeld. You never will be. It is arrogant to pretend that you - a layman - can be. Even more arrogant is the claim that all it will take for you to stop being a layman is the ability to parrot articles and study abstracts you've memorized.

See title.

Brad Schoenfeld is an outlier. You are not. Your lane is over there. And in your lane, you have to have done something before you can have anything truly valuable to say. The reason for this is - Lacking experience, your only possible source of words is the rote regurgitation of information derived from the experience of others. There is nothing a layperson can add to the conversation which is uniquely valuable if they also lack experience. What remains is aping something more experienced people are already saying - and likely saying better - which is almost always just noise and rarely signal.

Novice laypersons having the ability to add value to a discussion is a myth, repeated only by novice laypersons who want to participate and feel useful despite that they should not and are not. I know no one experienced who wants to hear from such people about their field(s) of experience. In fact, I know of no person who has not at some point gotten angry because someone who has never done a thing gave them advice on how to do a thing they do all the time.

Imagine asking your great grandmother how to fix your computer. Imagine asking your child how to manage your budget. Imagine asking a plumber to rewire your electricity. Imagine asking a gorilla how to solve algebra. Imagine asking a bartender how to treat your cancer. Imagine asking a 130lb guy who started lifting a few months ago how to bench 500lbs.

Now take the reverse.

Imagine being 100 years old, knowing almost nothing about technology, and telling someone how to fix a computer. Imagine being a six year old, having only the barest concept of "money", and telling your parents how to manage it. Imagine being a plumber and offering to rewire somebody's electricity. Imagine being ZBGBs and telling somebody how to do math. Imagine being a bartender and telling a drunk who just got diagnosed with cancer about the treatment you read about on Facebook. Imagine benching 95lbs and trying to tell a 400lb bench presser how to reach 500lbs.

Most of these imaginings are uncontroversially dickheaded things. But one of them is something that happens in internet lifting discussions all the time. And it should not. But it will. Because there is a kind of person who cares more about being able to (feel like they) win arguments than about actually knowing useful things, and that person thrives on the internet.


All that being said, there is another side of this coin.

It's perfectly okay to:

  • Be a novice
  • Be a layperson
  • Lack experience
  • Lack accomplishments
  • Not participate in conversations
There is nothing wrong with any of these things.

What is wrong - what I am raving about - is people who refuse to recognize what their current station is, and refuse to act in congruence with that station.

It is okay bench only 95lbs.
It is not okay to give people advice on how to bench when you only bench 95lbs.

I want to stress this heavily. It is important to be honest with yourself about a lack of experience and thereby a lack of useful knowledge. It is important to listen instead of speak when you lack experience. A person who does this is a much better person than one who denies it and tries to be a Helper anyway. Being silent can also be a way of helping - by not adding noise that others have to sort through or argue with.

If you are inexperienced and want to help others, the best way to do that is to spend time gaining experience that you can speak from when you give them advice. Learn to be ok with not being able to help now, but rather in the future. It makes you more useful to others than just being another dildo who mic drops PubMed links and starts slapfights.

"Good Will Hunting", Part 2 - For Dingdongs

When ZBGBs browbeat me into making my thought-vomit into a blog instead of just leaving it sitting on my computer, I only felt okay with doi...