Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Critical Mass Part III

Introduction to Part III

This is Critical Mass, a petition for the inauguration of NonPro space in our showing system. It seems the last twenty years have progressed to a point where this issue can no longer be ignored, that its time may finally have come. And isn’t that a wonderful thing? Adopting a new format promises new opportunities, expanding the excitement and diversity of our shows. Proactively attending to a systemic problem spells good things for all of us, too.

In Part I we analyzed the factors can created the disenfranchisement of the NonPro in the first place. In Part II, we got real with the issue of beta aggression and its byproduct, bullying, and how that negatively affects the NonPro cause. In this Part III then, we’re going to take stock of our collective attitudes about NonPro that have also worked to keep NonPro muffled.

Radiation Sickness

Beta aggression doesn’t just embolden bullying, it influences our attitudes, too. We’ve marched through the decades with such blinders on, haven’t we? So much infatuation with a ribbon or card, we blinded ourselves to the unintentional changes that were working against us. Or to put more fine a point on it—we shut down proactive change. Through our resistance, our apathy, our disdain, whatever the reason, we did a very good job of making sure a large segment of our community was muzzled. And now it’s come back to bite us as many warned it would.

In this, we need to admit something—our community has its own novel brand of discriminations which are strong, sweeping, systemic, and have the same false logic, fear mongering, and mistaken assumptions typical of prejudice. And yet we accept their truth as our reality or at least something to be begrudgingly tolerated. Why have they persisted for twenty five long years? It may simply be that many don’t recognize them for what they are, or perhaps “ribbon privilege” enables the rationalization “it doesn’t affect me.” But the truth is they affect everyone and in rather profound ways. And perhaps because these prejudices affect the NonPro most, we’re obligated to finally rethink them. Yet it behooves us to address them for our own sakes, too, since what’s good for NonPros will be good for all of us (something we’ll discuss in Part V). Time to get real with ourselves.

The first bias is the strident belief that “fairness” ensures quality and so upholds value, to the point where if something is perceived as “unfair,” people get quite riled whether or not it’s warranted. For example, we see it launched in attacks on judges, or against our peers when our fears, suspicions, and resentments pile up along with their prizes. But if we look at things more objectively, we see that for most cases there’s no real correlation between “fairness” and quality. Indeed, we have no consensual rulebook or fixed judging criteria. We can’t even consensually define LSQ. So a judge can literally use any criteria they wish, weighted any way they want. There’s also no confirmation whether they’re properly educated on that criteria either. Yet in this chaos, a ribbon is considered a factual statement of quality? The truth is the best we can say is that a placing represents someone’s random opinion at that moment given what’s on the table. That’s it. To attach a validation beyond that is to not fully understand the nature the situation and speaks to how skewed our prospects have become. To be sure, they’re now sustained by fear not reason, by self-interest not compassion, by cynicism not optimism—all the main ingredients of prejudice. Because most of the time, a model is bought or a ribbon is placed in accordance with someone’s honest assessment, but with criteria that may not match our own and in this ruleless system, isn’t required to. We all love a model for our own reasons. 

Similarly then, this bias works against the NonPro, being used to accuse them of simply wanting to stack the deck in their favor as if NonPro space would be intrinsically unfair to everyone else. But to assume their desire for their own setting is a means to simply scoop up armfuls of goodies is to misunderstand the problem. NonPros don’t want a nefarious advantage, something beyond what others have. They want equitable conditions matched against their peers just like professional showers have. But if we quickly assume that anything new to the status quo is simply a manipulation for an unfair advantage, how are we going to experiment, explore, and evolve into a more sensible showing paradigm? No wonder we’ve been stuck for so long! So it’s not to create an unfair situation, it’s to correct an unfair one. Yet this prejudice prevents folks from recognizing this, even to deny it caught up in the fear that fuels it. So rather than ensure fairness, all this prejudice does is promote suspicion, confusion, and exclusion, the very things we don’t need and which disadvantage NonPros even more.

This brings us to the second prejudice, the belief that people will engage in unethical behavior at the first opportunity. Truly, it always seems when things don’t go someone’s fickle way, they panic and call shenanigans without even considering how they may have misunderstood the situation or should consider it on a per case basis. We even see people getting frenzied over something they learned second hand, even third hand. Typically then, we see judges accused of unethical, biased behavior when placings don’t appear “right” to someone. But the truth is the judge is probably seeing things that are invisible to them and they’re just doing their job correctly. Why not just ask the judge? Or perhaps we’re seeing things invisible to them—we’re all still learning, remember. (Instead of freaking out then, that was a great moment to politely and discreetly have an educational moment.) What’s more, there are relatively few artists who consistently crank out the most accurate work and knowledgable judges tend to favor them for that reason. This isn’t an expression of unethical bias, but of doing their job properly, of making educated choices. And we can’t forget that many folks just aren’t aware of how judging actually works—it’s not as straightforward as it would seem. What sounds good on paper just doesn’t apply in practice! To automatically suspect others then is to literally interpret everyone as a potential enemy, and how is that conducive to consensus? Indeed, this knee-jerk assumption of unethical motivations—of guilty before proven innocent—helps to keep us divided. It creates an air of reckless disrespect and distrust, and a lack of civility as people become more shrill in their accusations and as more people are injured by them. It also makes us impatient with each other when a more tolerant response is the better reaction. It turns peers into opponents to be challenged, too, rather than potential friends to be embraced. And how fun is that? So when we automatically assume someone is up to shenanigans when not privy to the full facts is to fall prey this prejudice, and that helps no one, especially our own credibility. And—yes—there will be those few who are unethical and who will cheat, but they’re few and far between and usually ferreted out. The fact is, most people are honest and well-meaning so to fixate on the problematic few at the expense of everyone else is just overreacting. It’s time we relearn to trust each other again and even when a rare bad apple bobs up. Are we really incapable of rising above and moving on with our positives intact? Has our fear taken so much control that we’re simply incapable of thinking our way out of this? 

Even so, all this adds up to paint the NonPro with a particularly ugly brush. But NonPros aren’t some conspiratorial group. They don’t want to take advantage of anyone or the system. In fact, it can be argued that we’ve created a system that unethically takes advantage of them! If we assume that NonPros are unscrupulous in their motivations then, we’re simply being prejudicial. They’re no less trustworthy than anyone else. They’re our friends, too!

We come to the third prejudice which is particularly snippy: someone is just a wannabe if they’re not into high-stakes intense competition like the “real showers.” In other words, if they’re not utterly fixated on “perfect,” too, then they’re not worthwhile participants with invalid interests. They’re essentially losers. Because why bother? They’re not serious, are they? This prejudice usually burbles up in a number of sideways slams. For example, the idea that NonPros are the B-team because they’re just not “dedicated enough” to create the really excellent work is a common example. However, NonPro isn’t defined by quality because the truth is the work of many NonPros is brilliant! Another potshot is the idea that people who create their own pieces are somehow hokey or old-fashioned compared to those who buy the “real” work of Pros. For example, we hear this in the claim a region is particularly strong simply because a bunch of people there own Pro models, totally overlooking anyone who makes their own. Another veiled bash is the assertion that instead of “whining,” people should save up for one or two great models. This patronizing, out-of-touch response deliberately ignores four facts. One, financial limitations have a direct influence on our experience in this venue. Really, generally speaking, the less we can afford, the less likely we’ll find consistent success. Yet limited finances are unavoidable for many since this is a casual hobby with a fixed budget, meaning that their experience is essentially predetermined in the current system. Many people just cannot afford even a $500 model no matter the conditions. As such, this can drive someone to create their own models. As such, second, NonPros don’t want to compete with someone else’s work—they want to compete with their own, and on an equitable playing field with their peers. What’s more, none of this invalidates their participation, diminishes their value, or discredits their contribution to our community. Third, it doesn’t recognize that having one or two shots at success is very different from having many. Showing models with no rules, no consensus, no training, and no fixed criteria literally means it’s a form of gambling. What will the judge pin? Who knows. We can certainly hedge our bets with great work, but that’s no guarantee. Even the best piece ever created can do stellar under one judge but tank under the next. So even if we have a two amazing models, that’s still relatively low chances for success compared to someone who owns ten. And when someone can only afford to go to a few shows a year, chances are further reduced. Model horse showing is really about playing the odds and the odds certainly don’t stack up in most people’s favor. Fourth, it dismisses the concern in the first place, the validity of someone’s frustration with the status quo. Rather than considering their point then they’re simply labeled a “whiner” as if their reality had no merit when, in fact, it’s the canary in the coal mine. It’s essentially condescending victim blaming and it happens far too often in this venue. And it goes on and on. The fact is the NonPro is confronted on a daily basis by an undercurrent of disdain and indifference as if they were second rate citizens or “failed showers” despite being the majority of potentials.

The fourth prejudice is the idea that NonPro space is about handing out a bunch of ribbons to a bunch of second-rates which will water down placings overall—even diminish the value of everyone’s models. How in the world will ribbons earned in a totally different space—the NonPro—affect that of Pro? This is literally like saying the price of bananas fixes the price of curry combs. Ribbons aren’t a kind of universal currency—people pay attention to where they come from and how they’re won, in fact, obsessively so. This is pure fear mongering! Can we please stop fixating on the value of our models and think about the value of our collective experience? Yes—the money we've invested in our collection is important, but our investment in our community experience is important, too. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, in fact, they’re synergistic. Think about it—the better our collective experience, the more people are attracted to our activity and so the value of our models goes up. And even so, what’s wrong with handing out more ribbons? Really—how is that bad? This idea of being a “ribbon miser” to ensure quality and value is a fallacy because it doesn’t work that way in the current system. We all know of the undeserving winner just as much as the shower discouraged by this covetous obsession. And with the gambling setting, value is all over the map. In the midst of all this, we really should be giving folks any encouragement possible. This whole “they get! they get! they get!” attitude misses so many points when we need a lot more community-minded thinking. Because the truth is the more ribbons we hand out, the more people are encouraged to continue and that actually boosts showing, value, and participation. There’s this, too: high quality has become so evenly distributed nowadays that the idea of handing out only a few titles becomes ever more problematic as more of these pieces are created every year. So the idea that we should be tightfisted in our prize-giving to shore up an artificial sense of value is contrived at best and arbitrary at worst. This isn’t to say we need to be flinging out ribbons like ticker tape, but we can certainly loosen our grip on the bag. Because what’s more important is that people get some form of positive feedback and encouraging vibe for all their effort whether Pro or NonPro. Besides, a good placing under a great judge will always retain its value.

The fifth prejudice is that everyone else will have to suffer in order for NonPros to prosper, as if one had to sacrifice for the other. Perhaps some believe their goodies will be sacrificed to allow some to be given out to NonPro? This doesn’t have to be the case with targeted entry fees and smart development. Because NonPros deserve a competitive space where they, too, can feel the benefit of their efforts just like the rest of us. Creating a positive feedback loop is never a bad thing. Really, NonPro is about setting up a space for them to compete against their peers rather than being thrown into the Pros who have all the advantages. So it’s about equality. We got proactive to get artist resins out of custom because we thought that was an inequitable comparison, right? Yet we don’t recognize this very same disparity between the motivations and limitations of Pro and NonPro? It’s as if we have a willful blindspot with our peers, that we’re loathe to even consider how they may be suffering under a system that benefits us but disadvantages them. Because we already have one group sacrificing for another, don’t we? The NonPro has been sacrificing for the rest of us for over twenty years, and it’s time the playing field was made more equitable. But as we all know with any body of power—it’s loathe to share it. We can do better. We need the neighborhood tennis court. It’ll keep more people incentivized to create and stick around so our ranks don’t continue to dwindle. The goal of NonPro then is really to encourage and support the larger segment of the community not to deprive anyone else of opportunity. Equal rights doesn’t work that way.

Yet it also cannot be ignored that in the gambling setting, it’s advantageous for showers to keep the game exclusive by limiting the number of entries in any given class and participants at any given show. That is to say keeping entry numbers suppressed—either by exclusion or discouragement—increases each person’s chances of getting a ribbon (or NAN card). And if we’re all about chasing ribbons nowadays, this is perceived as a benefit despite the systemic damage it does to our activity. Because let’s flip this equation over—let’s create a boom in the number of showers—now the chances for any given model to ribbon in any given class goes down. This highlights the fact that what we have today isn’t actual competition, it’s rigging the system! And nowhere else is the system more rigged than against the NonPro where whole swaths of interests are being methodically disenfranchised for no better reasons than misunderstanding and self-interest. But let’s reconsider this—let’s institute NonPro. Yes—we have more showers, a lot more showers. However, they’re popped into their own space. That actually leaves more room in Pro for models to ribbon and new space in NonPro for those models to ribbon. In short, NonPro actually increases someone’s chances of ribboning, something good across the board.

The sixth bias is the stubborn belief that NonPro simply cannot be defined and is therefore an exercise in futility. Even more, that unless we have an irrefutable definition that scoops up every extravagant exception, we need to dump the idea altogether. It’s always seemed so strange that the community could come together so quickly to form NAMHSA—accepting the risks and loopholes that could be later be closed—yet refuses to do this for the NonPro situation. It could be that the idea’s bad PR simply scared people away and suppressed activism. It’s also possible that as it was originally envisioned, its massive governing bureaucracy was simply too overwhelming for the perceived payback—actually a fair assessment. And NAN was a big, fancy show, a decided perk for active showers whereas NonPro was about “those people,” something incongruous with our growing intensity. So maybe it was just bad timing? The idea that NAN have NonPro space may also have riled intense showers because—to them—having the “B-team” get the same opportunities just rubbed them the wrong way. But it also could have been done on purpose. It cannot be denied that some people seemed to deliberately complicate matters as a means to shut the idea down, throwing out every possible exception and wild scenario as if just one pothole meant the entire truck had to go off the road. Indeed, we’ve been oddly spastic to throw the baby out with the bathwater with the whole NonPro concept. Yet we allowed so much leeway with NAN yet none with NonPro? So much uncertainty with NAN yet none with NonPro? So much risk with NAN yet none with NonPro? The fact of the matter is no definition is going to be perfect and there will be some who fall between the cracks. That’s true of AO rules as well. There will also always be someone who tries to game the system in their favor. That’s true of everything, including NAN. But neither of these scenarios preclude the necessity and viability of the concept. We have to start somewhere and we can figure it out as we go along, even on a per case basis. Let’s keep that baby in the bathtub because we can certainly change the water as needed.

The seventh prejudice is that NonPros are just a bunch of sour grapes, sore losers who only want to whine about how they aren’t winning as many ribbons as we are. What a great way to shut down dialogue, huh? So very effective in discrediting another person’s reality, isn’t it? There seems to be some people who are really attached to the current showing system and therefore feel threatened by the DIY idea. But they forget—perhaps in their knee-jerk panic—that there’ll always be a very active Open Halter division, always a place for Pros and professional showers*. But the problem here is that showing currently only caters to the Open division—heck—it is the Open division. But that doesn’t represent the bulk of potential participants, the NonPros, and so our traditional showing paradigm isn’t servicing a large part of our community. And they just want to play tennis! (There are also vast numbers who cannot afford to compete as a professional shower which warrants its own discussion). In contrast, horse associations take Amateur Owner (our version of NonPro) extremely seriously. They keenly recognize that AO stabilizes their activity into a sustainable long-term activity and viable economy and so seek to encourage them with inclusive, active involvement. In a sense, the AO (NonPro) is the middle class and we all know how fundamental that is to the vitality of a consumer-based economy. The bigger their numbers and the more they’re included then, the more robust and dynamic the system. And like the real showing world, we have our professional trainers (professional artists), professional owners (professional showers) and AOs (NonPro) so why not simply jump to this new paradigm? We already know it works—and really well! Here’s the thing—the Open-only division may have worked in the past, but it’s quite obviously obsolete and out-of-touch today. It’s time to move onto a better paradigm, a more sensical showing system that includes more of our community.

[*It’s another prejudice to think that professional showers are “do nothings” who just buy a model and plunk it on a table as if they didn’t put any real work into earning their ribbon. The truth is it takes work and study to develop the finessed Eye to spot the great work—it’s not something we’re just born with. And just because it a more “invisible” skill doesn’t make it any less authentic or valid.]

Because here’s the thing—NonPros don’t mind getting beaten, they just want to be beaten their peers. Indeed, who wants to get blasted by something not even aligned to our same interests? Would we show an OF against an artist resin? Then why would we show an intense motivation against a casual one? A set of advantages against a set of disadvantages? And just because one is casual doesn’t mean it’s less worthy. It’s simply different. There’s nothing wrong with just wanting to play tennis! I mean, I love to play D&D, but I just want to play the game not immerse myself obsessively in every tiny detail, lore, book, and rule. Or I just want to bake cookies not become a pastry chef. We have to start recognizing how different intensity levels determine outcomes and start respecting them. Participation is always more important than obsessing over the “best of the best” at the expense of whole groups of people, especially when we’re talking about a casual pastime. Indeed, if people aren’t having fun in their hobby, they’re going to find another one and there are plenty of options out there to fit any horse-crazy heart. Then what are we losing? We’re all diminished the moment someone leaves in discouragement or chooses not to pick up a paintbrush. And—no—this doesn’t make them any less dedicated or worthwhile. It means we’ve failed to provide a setting that makes sense to them.

Showing used to be about positives: incentives and exploration. But for most people in its current state it’s based on negatives: discouragement and entrenchment. And while a large part of our community are creatives or potentials, our system is designed specifically to demoralize creativity if not of the most intense fixation. In response, NonPro would offer a reinstatement of that incentivized setting for people to again explore their creativity without worrying about whether the outcome will be competitive enough to justify their time and emotional investment. With NonPro, we recreate that encouraging setting for the majority while leaving the high intensity for those who want it. It’s a win win.

Because there’s nothing wrong with competition—it’s a good thing. It's an impetus to improve and innovate and it provides a challenge to intense interests. But competition is only healthy under two conditions—that it’s peer-based and that it’s kept in balance with camaraderie, community, and fun. Instead, however, we’ve allowed competition to become the top priority at the expense of these balancing factors, resulting in a widespread unhappy sentiment. And we see this clearly with the plight of the NonPro since being forced to compete with Pros doesn't actually cultivate artistic drive—it destroys it. Strong competition only improves art and inspires participation when people compete within a context that makes sense to them, when it’s with peers. Being thrown to the wolves is hardly an incentive, is it? So initiating NonPro means two things here. First, the majority of creatives finally get equitable peer competition while the intense interests get to compete with their peers. And when the Pros are competing with Pros, that intense interest amplifies even more. A plus for that kind of focus, isn’t it? Second, this new playing field depressurizes the whole setting, reducing stress, suspicion, and anxiety so people can remember fun, camaraderie and community again, reforming bonds and respecting each other once more.

[It’s also been suggested that NonPros could focus on photoshowing as their outlet. However, this overlooks the fact that photography introduces its own exclusionary limitations. Equipment costs and technical know-how can be an exclusionary burden all its own, for example. And we want things to be more accessible, right?]

Because we have to wonder if AO is so popular in horse showing—demanded even—why hasn’t it been so with us? We’re supposed to be emulating real horse showing yet we’re failing on a fundamental level here. It’s these darned prejudices that give NonPro a bad image and make it seem like an unwieldy, unpleasant beast better left untouched. And maybe that’s also deliberate? Because if shows are a limited resource why would we want to share it with people who aren’t really serious? If we’re all about the best of the best, why would we want losers to have an equal shot at that prestige? If ribbons are a statement of value, why should second-rate quality be equally validated? And if NAN is a tough, qualifying show, why would we water it down by allowing hackneyed showers a shot at a cookie, too? Good grief! Is it any surprise that so many NonPros are demoralized, having being browbeaten with all this for so long? And it’s definitely prevented them from action and advocacy to boot. Truly, if any group has suffered overt discrimination in our genre—and so unjustifiably—it would be the NonPro.

Altogether then, it’s time we address our prejudices because their discriminatory influences are causing harm to this community, to our peers, and to our future. Tradition is nice, the status quo is comforting, and our expectations may be predictable, but we should never be married to them. Just because we’ve done something a certain way for awhile doesn’t mean that way remains relevant as everything else changes. Species, ecosystems, societies, culture, and technology evolves—and our venue is no different. Truly, if history shows us anything it’s that hanging onto an obsolete paradigm is only destructive. At some point it’s going to break and then where will we be? Isn’t it better to proactively reshape and adapt it as we go? A thing either evolves or goes extinct so which will it be? We’ve made big evolutionary jumps before and we can do it again…and again…and again. As often as we need. It’s important to realize that the last five years, ten years, twenty years are still just a snapshot of the whole scope of a bigger picture, including what’s to come. So what seems like the way it’s always been done isn’t necessarily the case—it’s just what we’re doing now. And a tremendous amount has changed in a very short time so it’s worth remembering that we’re more flexible and adaptable than we may think we are. So why not do so with better purpose in mind? We have a lot of wiggle room for everyone but only if we’re willing to rethink what we’re doing and why.

Conclusion to Part III

Confronting our community’s weaknesses won’t be comfortable, but it is necessary. In a very real sense, we have to address our foibles that continue to plague us not because they’re incidental, but because they’re symptomatic of core problems. But that’s good, right? The sooner we resolve them, the sooner all our days get better.

And we should remember that most paradigm shifts come with it conflict. Ugliness. Weirdness. Uncertainty. But they need to happen anyway. And after the tantrums, people adjust. After the confusion, people figure it out. After the chaos, things settle down. And there may be a step back, but we’ll eventually take two steps forwards. Give it time and it’ll take root. We need to shed our old skin and learn to feel comfortable in the new skin. We’ve done this before! This is often how change happens in human society and our community is no different. So the time is coming when those who want change will simply have to ignore the bullies and prejudices and just do their idea. Damn the torpedoes. Build something solid, plan ahead well, and wait for people to decide whether the change is more appealing than their fear—because chances are it will be. People just need time to adjust.

In Part III then we’ll explore the specifics of a NonPro category so we’ll have clarity in defining them. And it just takes a little shift in perception to do it!

“See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.”

~ Ralph Marston

Related Posts with Thumbnails