The Blindfold

When I was in my twenties I sailed close to becoming a Christian. Some evangelists in the area had set up a new church and were trawling for new young members in the strangest of places–in the middle of the street, on the bus, even coming up to me in a record shop. And for some unknown reason I actually went along to one of the meetings.

It was everything you would expect, wrapped up in a twentysomething-friendly package: dogma masquerading as open discussion, more and more extreme views aired in the open as my contact went deeper. Trouble is, at that time I didn’t have the confidence to say “I just don’t believe in god” although nowadays I’d waste no time in telling them I didn’t believe in their god.

Now I am a strong believer in humans, including their behaviours and motives. My realisation of this, and that I just didn’t want anything to do with Christianity anymore came when a friend explained the evangelist behaviour quite neatly:

Christian evangelists see all non-believers as wearing blindfolds and wondering around aimlessly near a cliff edge. They will do anything in their power to get that person to take off the blindfold and see what complete danger they are in.

Of course there may be other more tangiable, less morally pure motives for such people–but the statement above doesn’t condemn them any more than their misattribution of the blindfold to those they’re trying to convert.

Ever since I’ve reacted badly to any kind of evangelist. Evangelism of entertainment is mostly of no consequence, but it has the same negative behaviour. It usually boils down to:

You should do/try/play/listen to XXX

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p>This is distinct from “I like XXX because”, which is just a statement of opinion. It intrudes further into the realm of knowing the wants and thoughts of the person being addressed; it imagines a peak communication that isn’t there, which is very risky for the relationship. It’s not the same as a recommendation, which is a risky action but defensible with “well, too bad you didn’t like it, here’s something else instead”.

Proselytism and evangelism riddle RPG theory. Mostly it’s tainted by the usual name calling, meaning that it’s difficult to spot (long words are a give-away). It’s almost all to do with redefining terms to suit an argument. What is meant by Rules. What is meant by Advice. What is meant by Metagame.

The best way to deal with this kind of thing (should you choose to engage it at all) is to use dictionary definitions, which are anathema to the argument. Anything less (e.g. a long discourse on the context of those terms) will probably lead to more confusion, not less, and give more opportunity for out-of-context or bad faith analysis.

Even then, by participating with this discussion you’re trying to get them to take the blindfold off. Given most of the participants will have strong opinions, you can imagine how successful that will be.

The best thing to do is follow William Burroughs’ admonitions:

For god’s sake, keep your eyes open. Notice what’s going on around you.

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  • “This is distinct from “I like XXX because”, which is just a statement of opinion.”

    I find myself increasingly selecting games, books, films and so on based on these kinds of statements rather than reviews or even recommendations.

    In fact even more than words, I find myself convinced by people’s opinions in the form of actions. Steam (the digital download system run by Valve) has a nice feature which lets you see what people are playing, as opposed to just talking about. It’s great once you have people on your friends list whose tastes match your own to some extent. Just seeing them playing something a lot tells you more than any review ever could.

    • I believe that this is what economists call “revealed utility theory” (or something).

      Sometimes I find my *own* Steam History rather surprising. I don’t think that my own assessment of how much I like a game would actually match up with which games I choose to play or how much time I choose to spend playing them.