Monday, February 06, 2012

I Know Nothing

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?

*sigh*

Suddenly I have a maddening headache in the pupil of my glass eye...



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21 comments:

Expat mum said...

Blimey - it's 9.30am here. I should perhaps have left this post for a little later in the day when I'm fully awake!

Very Bored in Catalunya said...

My husband employs much the same tactic. He differs slightly in that he'll do a job so badly (I'm talking housework here) that he thinks I won't ask him to do it again.

Trouble is is that I am wise to him. I still ask, he still does it badly. And on it goes...

Marginalia said...

The Greeks got pretty pissed off with his smart alex ways.

I can't lay my hands on some hemlock at this instant, but come back in a few hours and I'll see what I can do.

Steve said...

Expat Mum: don't worry. Like my inner knowledge this post is going nowhere.

Very Bored in Catalunya: that's not Socratic Irony so much as classic Schoolboy defence. Most guys try it. It's one of those tactics that, no matter how often it doesn't work, a bloke will keep trying it.

Marginalia: damn. Another platonic relationship bites the dust.

Mark said...

Steve - not to put you off, but worth remembering that Socrates died for his dialogue - his death regarded by some as a necessary sacrifice to atone for Athen's crimes.

joebloggs said...

Columbo has nothing on me for wandering around aimlessly, muttering and looking shabby..Mind you he does tend to get there in the end unlike me who gets halfway there and then forgets where he's been and where he's going!
But does that make me twice as clevererer or half as thick?

Who knows?

Rol said...

Elenchus?

Really?

Put that flipping thesaurus away, dude!

Steve said...

Mark: given Greece's problems at the moment I'm suddenly feeling very nervous.

Joe: as long as you know what you're doing and not doing it qualifies as Socratic Irony. It doesn't mean you'll crack any crime cases though.

Rol: thesaurus? Google, mate, Google.

Gorilla Bananas said...

There's no doubt you have the brains to play the fool. But let's not forget you have the looks to play the fool as well. I think you should re-invent yourself as an idiot persona to rival Forrest Gump and make a straw-chewing tour of the UK. The groupies will be young and big-bottomed.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: "The groupies will be young and big-bottomed..." OK. I'm booking the tour bus right now.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Isn't this how philosopher kings, priestly hierarchies, secret guilds etc maintained power and got hoi poloi to do their dirty work for them? A note for Marginalia: hemlock grows like a weed/is a weed in Lady M's Secret Garden!

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: stop trying to push dangerous drugs onto would-be assassins!

the fly in the web said...

Were i still in France I could have sent you some hemlock from my garden to improve your Socratic credentials.
You could have put it in the works tea....

Steve said...

The fly in the web: is it worth me hiring a Maersk container, I wonder?

Nota Bene said...

I'm a little ignorant of the subject. Wish I could help out here but I just can't

Löst Jimmy said...

I wish I could feign brilliance to dazzle my peers...alas

Steve said...

Nota Bene: oh you're good.

Löst Jimmy: guess they'll just have to keep making do with the real thing then...

John Gray said...

nota beat me to it....... I think....

Steve said...

John: all this irony is magnetizing my fillings.

Meg said...

I remember four young adults, two men and two women attempting to carry a quarter of a keg of beer up a long slippery stream bed to the party we were having as part of a pledging ritual. We were being taught a very feminist pedagogy and I was very much in the women are just as strong as men camp. I found myself absolutely aghast that the other woman kept saying, I cannot carry that I am a girl. I finally figured out it was her way of getting out of the rather nasty and difficult job. I realized much later that she was just saying that so she didn't have to do the rather difficult job. I have since employed her method on numerous occasions. The best thing is, men are none the wiser that I can actually carry that 40 pound box of cat litter down the stairs, but it sure is nice having someone else do it for me!!

Steve said...

Meg: you're a smart cookie!