The subject of who should be called a wilderness skills expert, and what that entails has been a favorite topic of discussion/fights in forums for many, many years now, and the debate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In this post however, I want to address a similar, but different issue; the issue of being an expert fanboy.
Generally speaking, the term “fanboy” means “one who is an extremely or overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something”. This is by no means exclusive to wilderness skills or buschraft/survival, but I’ve been seeing a lot of it lately with respect to wilderness skills “experts”.
To be more precise, many people reject the term “expert” when it comes to themselves but instead place the label on another person of their choosing and then obsess over that person to the exclusion of all others. The person doing this seems to find some type of identity, community, and authentication by proxy, through ideological association with this “expert”, and will espouse their views without an ounce of critical thinking. We have all seen them on forums; they are the guys who seem incapable of accepting, let alone leveling criticism against their expert of choice, and will fight to the death in their honor, usually while dressed head to toe in the merchandize that “expert” is selling at the time.
What’s wrong with that you ask? Sometimes someone might indeed be the greatest expert ever, right? Why not follow him exclusively? Well, even if that was true, I strongly believe that this type of mentality leads to stagnation of knowledge and ultimately to people learning less about the wilderness. Even if a person is the greatest expert ever, they are still going to be wrong some of the time. Or maybe they are not wrong, but are simply not aware of something better that another person has come up with more recently. Or perhaps their ideology is interfering with the more practical aspects of the craft. By blindly following this “expert” and their teachings, valuable learning opportunities are lost.
Knowledge progresses when we think critically; when we challenge established beliefs. Trying to align yourself with anyone’s camp is contrary to the furthering of knowledge. Of course this is nothing new. We do it with sports teams, celebrities, etc. However, while defending to the death your team that hasn’t won a championship in decades and wearing their colors proudly while screaming at the opposing side is all in good fun, doing the same when it comes to wilderness experts actually has a negative impact on the learning of wilderness skills.
This all culminates in The Clone Wars, where Ray Mears clones fight Dave Canterbury clones while seeking an alliance with the Mors Kochanski clones; all of course happening online. Interestingly, I haven’t seen too many Matt Graham clones. I suppose the loin cloth look is yet to catch on. This approach of “my expert is better than your expert” certainly serves to create identity and community associations, but is quite detrimental to the actual learning of skills.
My advice is to not fall into anyone’s camp. Don’t establish an identity for yourself as someone who enjoys the wilderness through association with another person and their beliefs. Take each skill, each lesson, and think about what you are being told critically. Then listen to a bunch of other people, compare the information, and think about it critically again. Then repeat the same process for the next skill or piece of information. Nobody is right about everything all the time. No matter how much you like and trust a particular expert, part of the time they are not going to have the best advise for you.
Most importantly, don’t think of disagreement as disrespect. It is not the same thing. You can respect an expert and their skills and contributions while still disagreeing with them on specific issues or ideology. Disagreement and debate is how we expand knowledge. Blindly following any one person serves the opposite purpose.