The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of a regular column by Michael Rutherford entitled Fire for Effect. “Fire for Effect” is a military term used by spotters for indirect fire weapons. Examples of indirect fire weapons include cannons and mortars which are usually fired from a position from which the gunners cannot see the target because of terrain. To determine the proper aiming of the weapon, a spotter who can see the target relays basic coordinates to the gunners who then fire a few ranging rounds, allowing the spotter to see how far off target the guns are aimed. This process is sometimes referred to a “zeroing in.” When, by this trial and error procedure, a shot lands on the target, the instruction will be “fire for effect” telling the gun crew that they are on the target, and to fire one or more salvos of several rounds rapidly to blanket the target with the explosive projectiles…or in Rutherford’s case, explosive rhetoric.
Without further preamble, please enjoy Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special.
True or False: Every snowflake is special.
Every snowflake is not SPECIAL… but rather UNIQUE… and unique is no big deal.
Now get up off your ass and start cataloguing snowflakes. You will have UNIQUE coming out of your ears in no time. After you have catalogued say… 15K individual snowflakes… photographed them, weighed them, inventoried their chemical components… you will see that while no two are exactly the same, they do start to fall into large categories pretty quickly. Eventually, it will occur to you that most snowflakes are in fact… very similar… to many other snowflakes. And what’s more… only a very small number of snowflakes will really stand out. Keith… You jacked up your sample. Go back outside and catalogue 15K more.
SPECIAL… (I looked it up just to be sure) means “BETTER, GREATER, or OTHERWISE DIFFERENT from what is normal. Yep, DIFERENT is a part of the meaning… but don’t fixate on that small overlap. BETTER and GREATER are right there up front, and the clause “from what is normal” nails down the ass end of this definition pretty tight. SPECIAL = BETTER THAN NORMAL. Embrace this truth now, or leave this essay at once!
Can every snowflake be BETTER and GREATER than the normal snowflake? No it cannot. Not mathematically, not empirically, and not operationally. The assertion that every snowflake is SPECIAL is flat-out WRONG in every way, except from the cultural perspective (AKA the pretend perspective).
“Every snowflake is special” is a very powerful cultural metaphor. It has its place, and does some good. At its core, it contains some notions we would all do well to remember.
When applied correctly, the metaphor can re-enforce the notion that every person has some intrinsic worth. It celebrates the inherent value of being unique. The unspoken assertion is that this uniqueness is in and of itself a good thing, and that every variation is a potential benefit. The metaphor is a tool. But as with so many other valuable tools, like alcohol, duct tape, or spear guns… we seldom apply the metaphor correctly… and it is often used to suggest that every person’s contribution to every endeavor is superior and merits praise. Perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY, the myth contributes to a culture where CRITICAL FEEDBACK IS DISCOURAGED. It is a tragic and dangerous self-delusion which often results in such dubious claims such as: Wearing pajamas at Wal-Mart is OK, or “If she is too dumb to see what a catch you are, then it’s her loss” or “Destroying the enemy force before it reaches the capital isn’t the most important thing… it only matters that you tried” This is destructive thinking. Anybody who wants to do better… Athletic trainers, military commanders, lawyers, sales people and yes … wait for it… artists… They all understand that not every snowflake is special, and that honest critical feedback is essential for enhancing performance.
History, science, mythology, and often our own painful personal experience should tell us all… many snowflakes are not special… in fact, many snowflakes are trampled, defeated, destroyed, outclassed and/or never ever ever have dates on Saturday night.
So whats my point? Why does this matter? Am I ever going to connect this crap to our hobby, and will this essay EVER BECOME INTERESTING? Well I’m glad you asked! Spoiler: If you’re not interested yet, STOP READING… this essay doesn’t get any better!
Now, if you would, I need you to re-read the paragraphs above, and every time you see the word snowflake, replace it with the acronym AFOL. So for example, the first line of text becomes: “True or False: Every AFOL is special.” I will now subtly introduce my thesis…
THESIS: AFOLs should abandon the SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE metaphor because it retards our individual improvement, and the improvement of Lego as an art form.