One thing life has taught me is that the easiest way to be unhelpful to people you don’t like is to feign ignorance. To shrug your shoulders. To look apologetic and say in a wheedling voice that you’d really like to help but the issue in question is totally beyond your current scope of abilities.
If you want to be particularly passive-aggressive about it you can add: “Ooh, I don’t know a thing about this and I fear I will only make things worse for you should I try to lend a hand.”
Once this tactic has been employed I can quite nastily go about my business watching rather smugly while the mother-of-all-foul-ups occurs as the hapless victim struggles with their task without the miracle-cure knowledge that I have jealously guarded and retained for myself.
For years I thought that such tactics were just merely sneaky, lazy, cowardly and undeniably fun but small victories in a world where little people like you and me get shat upon regularly from great heights by big people who don’t even notice the rank smell they leave behind them as they pass over the surface of the earth.
But it turns out that, according to an episode of QI that I recently watched, such a tactic is actually a prime example of Socratic Irony. Making out that you are dumber(er) than you actually are. Playing the fool. Playing the ignoramus. Apparently Columbo is a classic modern example of Socratic Irony at work. The bumbling, stumbling detective who seems to have a haphazard and dishevelled grip on the facts.
I now feel that my normal modus operandi has been elevated somewhat by its dazzling association with Classic Greek Athenian philosophy. I don’t know whether this makes me feel very proud or fills me with chagrin. Clearly I have been exercising the higher echelons of my intellect rather than just taking the easy way out. Rather than just laziness my nonchalant responses indicate a deep understanding of elenctic method. This does wonders for my self esteem.
But I can’t help but feel I have been casting pearl before swine.
Those around me have been thoroughly ignorant of the cleverness of my tactics. My methods, in short, are too damned smart for them.
So my question is: is that more ironic than the method of elenchus I have been employing? Or less?
Just who is the joke upon?
Suddenly I have a maddening headache in the pupil of my glass eye...