On Being Your Own Expert Authority

In my experience with people in life, most are willing to let others feed them information, skills, rationales, and opinions.  This is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.  It would be foolish to go through every aspect of life without the benefit of the collective intelligence of our culture.  Some of what our forefathers have learned has been profound and sublime.

This method of undiscriminating integration of information and ideas becomes a problem in a number of situations.  The most obvious problem is, that included with the righteous aspects of our culture, there is also a ton of crap to sift through.  It’s not hard to become a discriminating consumer of information, but many of us, and probably most of the kids coming up through public school aren’t taught to do this.

I have a personal example that shows another way that information is mis-applied.  Some of my articles have videos that I use because I think they have a pedagogical use that text or still photos cannot convey as well.  I use Youtube to host these videos and seldom give much of an explanation in the “About” section.  In one of the videos I did a quick demonstration of how I work the bolt while shooting left handed in offhand.  This technique uses the firing hand to reach around and over the top to work the bolt, and would work well in a position or situation in which you would like to keep your support hand in place.  I did not present the technique as a “sniper” or military technique and was not portraying it as a universal “one best way”.

I don’t disable the comments of my videos, and I got some comments like this:

            #1 “Ummm…your hand isn’t supposed to come off the trigger.
                 It’s a big NO-NO in military circles!”

            #2 Actually that’s plain wrong. Snipers get taught to cycle the
                 bolt with their strong hand as their support hand is usually
                 whats holding the butt down, and moving that would lead to
                 your POa changing.

The people that commented above used a common method of bypassing a logical analysis.  It’s known as an appeal to authority, and is extremely common.  The authority can be anyone, but in rifle shooting some popular authorities are Jeff Cooper, any military sniper, but especially Carlos Hathcock, David Tubb, etc…   There is no problem learning from these people, because in most cases they have a lot of valid knowledge and wisdom to impart.  It would be foolish not to seek out their knowledge.  What is a problem is not scrutinizing what you hear from them, not completely understanding it, and not placing it in proper context.

Let’s take the military sniper example.  Most of us are not, never have been, nor ever will be, military snipers.  It’s just a statistical improbability.  Those people have specific job to do and are very good at doing it.  Their equipment and methodology is precisely tailored to efficiently and effectively complete their mission (in an ideal world, but there exists a thing called bureaucracy that tends to screw good ideas and people up).  Most of their time is not pressing the trigger.  Getting benchrest groups is not the top attribute they need to succeed.

If you plopped a military sniper on the firing line in an NRA Highpower competition with an iron sighted match rifle, the odds of him winning against a group of dedicated High Master competitors are extremely unlikely.  The sniper doesn’t practice those skills (known distance shooting with a jacket, sling, fancy diopter iron sights, the funny hats with the eye blocker dealios, etc…)  because they are not relevant to his ability to complete his mission.  The NRA High Master will outshoot him on the line with irons, but if you plopped the High Master in the field of battle and told him to complete a sniper’s mission objective, he will be unlikely to make it into a firing position, may compromise a larger mission, and will probably get himself or others killed unless he has the proper training, experience, and mindset.

The appeal to authority is one of the most common tools of misinformation and readily bypasses the logical filters of most people (so much as most people actually have working abilities of logic).  Turn on the news and you’ll see it.  They’re full of “experts” saying something.  I’m no longer impressed by the fact that someone did something once, used to do something, still does it, wrote a book, stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, or has fancy letters in front of or behind their name (and I’m not going to call you “Doctor” unless you have the power to compel me to cough by threat of force resulting in immediate and excruciating pain).  I will still evaluate what you say on the merits alone.

The problem may not be that the information that is adopted is bad or invalid.  In reference to rifle shooting, the problem is more likely whether or not the information applies in the context of your objective.

Some of what we learn in our lives is passed along to us without our conscious knowledge that we adopt it.  These tend to be foundational things that seem to squeak by without the thought ever crossing our mind to question it.  Steve Kent told me a story about this.  I’ll do my best to paraphrase.

Steve’s wife always cut the ends off of a ham when she baked it.  He couldn’t understand why.  When he asked her, the reply was, “That’s the way my mom taught me to cook ham.”

Steve was still curious about it, so he asked his wife’s mother why she cut the ends off the ham.  She told him, “That’s the way my mom taught me how to cook ham.”

Still being curious, during a family get together, Steve asked his wife’s grandmother about the ham.  She paused for a moment and said, “Ohhh.  When my daughter was young, it was during the depression and we were very poor.  We could only afford one roasting pan, and it wasn’t big enough to hold a ham.  I had to cut the ends off of the ham to get it to fit into the pan.”

The point of the story is not all that delicious wasted meat.  It’s the information we absorb and pass along without bothering to assess whether it is still valid for our purpose and circumstance.    Stop cutting the ham ends!

One of the main things I do on the blog is to evaluate ideas, philosophies, equipment and techniques to determine their value in relation to my needs.  That was one of the reasons I started the blog, because I had reached the point where I was learning contradictory information.  I wanted to learn enough to know which one applied best to me.

Sometimes all it takes is thinking and mentally evaluating something to discern its value.  Other times a test is necessary.  When testing something it’s important to make sure that the test is valid in reference to your needs.  Are you a sniper?  Are you a hunter?  Are you a competitor?  What makes sense for you and under your circumstances?

Another one of the reasons I started the blog was that the sources of contradictory information were both seemingly certain that their methods were the best.  This was presented without much information in the way of application, which raised some warning signals to me.  That’s when I realized for myself that “knowing” something can make learning about it impossible or nearly so.

The Youtube commenters above also suffer from “knowing” too much.  They’re so focused on bolstering their egos that, to them, latching onto any authority that will enable them to “win” a minor point here and there is more important to them than actually learning.   This is not intended to be derogatory.  I think any human has this weakness, and youthful immaturity (or adultful immaturity) seems to bring it to the fore.

What seems to work better and allow for continued learning is to embark under a spirit of inquiry.  Of course it’s necessary to take in enough indoctrination to be useful, but a constant spirit of searching will ensure that the information is always fresh and is being upgraded and renewed.

It’s not easy to give up the comfort of “knowing” and “winning” minor arguments to open up the prospect of learning and maybe gaining some wisdom.  You have to be willing to first accept the possibility that you don’t know.  This opens up your ability to be inquisitive and begin to actually learn.  Part of the difficulty here is that you have to be honest, and be willing to allow others to witness that that you don’t have all the answers.  I think that this is necessary even for someone at the top of their game.

There are times when your initial evaluation of something may cause you to dismiss it.  It can be good to suspend your judgment on some things until you really give it a fair chance to work.  Going to training is a good example.  Why go to all the time, energy, and financial expenditure if your own way is better?  I have seen people show up at Appleseeds who clearly could not shoot (the target doesn’t lie), but the person could not accept that truth, and refused to open up to any correction.  Unless the training is clearly bad, why not give it a try?  It will often enhance your own methods to do something slightly different for a short time.

I spend a lot of time thinking about things and testing things that could probably be more easily absorbed through other sources.  I have been accused of reinventing the wheel.  This doesn’t bother me.  I’d be thinking about those things anyway.  More significantly, rather than being able to regurgitate by rote, I have a good understanding of what I’m doing.  How much you start from scratch really depends on your purpose in learning.  If your goal is to become operational in the shortest time possible, just find someone who can spoon feed you (again, not being derogatory, just realistic).

Getting down to the point to what I’ve been trying to get at in way too many words…  There is no human expert that possesses perfect wisdom such that you should open wide your filters of discernment.  You have to compare information, methods, and opinions against what you already have experienced, what you can readily perceive, and what you can find out for yourself.  There may be people better than you at any given discipline, but there are also many people with an agenda, or people who are effective at posing.  Things are sometimes very different than they appear at face value.

More than just being a sophisticated consumer of information, to really be your own expert authority you have to begin to have the mind of being a producer of information.  This is primarily for yourself, like subsistence farming, but as your expertise grows, others will recognize that you have worthwhile knowledge to share.  Producing information through experience will also result in wisdom, which is unlikely to be gained through a book or Youtube video.

14 thoughts on “On Being Your Own Expert Authority

  1. Evaluating information based on others’ experience can only best be achieved from actually attempting to perform the experience and then to evaluate your own results. Information is not an absolute finite commodity, it is ever growing. Yes there is such a thing as fact and absolutes, but the most valuable of all experience is your own self realized activity. At the basis of these comments is the fact that no two efforts will produce the exact same results. Properly evaluating your results and applying a weighting system based on what factors you choose as most important is tantamount to improving YOUR results. It is only then that you can best utilize the wisdom which others have obtained by applying their procedures to improve your procedures and thereby improving your results.

    Effort produces results and for some of us it also imparts wisdom. Effort can teach at least two things, a right way to proceed or a wrong way to proceed. Wisdom is experienced once a person learns how to discern between these two pieces of information.

    It has been said that “experience is the best teacher” and it has also been said that “practice makes perfect”. Neither of these sayings is in the least bit worthwhile if not used in the process of achieving a goal. In any given endeavor, coaching is required to either improve one’s results or to maintain one’s results. This includes self coaching or seeking external information or advice.

    From having spent time reading each of the postings on this Blog, I have found one overwhelming pattern. The pattern to which I refer to is that RifleSlinger practices what he preaches. What I mean is that he is forever in search of improving his marksmanship (GOAL) and is also forever applying feedback to improve his performance. As is the subject of this posting, RS implores you to accept no piece of information as an absolute value until you evaluate the value of this information as it pertains to your own experience.

    Now we must also realize and respect that RS has put himself into an ultimate feedback situation. He has stated his goal, to paraphrase “I wish to improve my riflemanship”, and to that end he has shared his knowledge and his lack of knowledge for all to see. He has even gone one step further by publicizing his results. Along the way he has shared with us what his approach and thought process was to working through another objective or to achieving a milestone.

    From all of his effort to share his learning process, I am grateful, as he has taught me much!

  2. IMHO the target is the ultimate authority as to whether or not a particular technique is working for the shooter. A hit is a fact. You opened Schroedinger’s box and the cat is dead, you shot him. End of story.

    Anything else is just an opinion, and you know what they say opinions are like….

    I have found that the really top shooters never give specific advice. They only give you the general area in which to look. There are no shortcuts to mastery.

    • Actually that’s plain wrong. In military circles it’s a big NO-NO to shoot at cats in boxes. Snipers get taught to kill Schroedinger from 1500 yards with a .308 (the most powerful rifle round in the world).

  3. And I always thought my need to invent a way through a problem was a fault… you make it discerning. Thank you, as long as my needs aren’t as tough as some of your practices I will continue to test it all, does the nut turn clockwise or counter?

  4. You hit the nail on the head!

    But don’t expect them to like you for it. The ego is our enemy, and powerful the delusion is my friend. It is comforting to find others here who are on the path, but it can be isolating too. The odds are against it, but that is ok.

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