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Let's not have that conversation...

Over the course of the last 25 years or so, I've had the curious fate of doing two things that very many people find fascinating: studying the history, literature and languages of the Celtic- and Gaelic-speaking peoples of the British Isles, and writing. It's unusual and it is, I recognise, privileged. I was very lucky: I went from an ordinary state-funded school (a comprehensive, for British readers) to an elite university without having any family tradition of this, the 'right' class background or inherited money. I studied an obscure subject and won state funding to pursue and even more obscure subset of that subject at PhD level. I even managed (with a lot of effort) to gain jobs in which I was able to continue working in this field, both as researcher and teacher. And then I got a novel published. That's a lot of big things. I'm lucky or odd or both. And I know it. I accept that my academic background and speciality are of interest to others. I am usually fairly happy to talk about it, to listen to others' ideas and to offer bibliography, information and ideas.
The one I keep on having, the one I hate, the one I would dearly love never to have to have again. I no longer remember when I first had it -- I was probably and undergraduate student. Most recently, I had it at Eastercon. It goes something like this. Person -- usually someone new to me -- discovers that I'm a Celticist and expresses their interest in the subject. We get talking: so far, so good. And then it happens. We get into one of the sensitive zones -- mythology, women, nationalism, pre-Christian religion -- and they express fervent belief in pagan survivals to modern times/the existence of Arthur or similar figure/feisty equal 'Celtic' women/the utter and single-minded evilness of Christianity in its effect/or similar. And I say something on the lines of, 'well, it's not that simple' and go on to explain why and give examples. At this point, things can go one of two ways. They may say, 'Oh, I didn't know that. What about X?' and we have an interesting and pleasant discussion. Or they say something like 'No, that's wrong. I know it's wrong because I've read books by experts/my spirit guide told me/you're not a real Celt and can't know/my coven has traditions leading back to the Bronze Age/I'm a scientist and I'm cleverer than you.'1 And we go on to have that conversation, in which I am lectured about my failings, my ignorance, my stupidity, the invalidity of my 25+ years of study and so on and on. Because the person I'm talking to does not, in fact, what to discuss the subject at hand. They want to hang on to their beliefs and they find me in some way threatening.
I understand why, I really do. I hate to have my favourite ideas threatened, too. But at the same I am tired of dealing with the situation, I'm tired of the hostility and, yes, I'm somewhat tired of the disrespect. Because, you know, I've read the 'famous' experts plus a whole lot of others who are more recent and more rigorous, I've read the source materials (in the original), I've thought about the arguments and problems and issues and debated with them with my academic peers, and I know what I'm talking about. I realise that this sounds arrogant: it probably is arrogant. That's one of the reasons I hate having that conversation. It pushes my buttons as well as, frankly, wasting everyone's time. It serves no purpose. It's boring. And I don't handle it very well. In an ideal world, I'd never have it again.
It would be lovely to arrange that. My normal strategy is to walk away as fast as possible, though that can't always be arranged. I need to find a way to say this without being arrogant. A lot of me wants to say this in my public space -- on my website -- because I really really don't want any more reprises of that conversation ever again. I know that's futile. I am certain sure that a woman who had that conversation for the umpty-umpth time at Eastercon and did not handle it well, and stamped her metaphorical feet and grumped about it is neither a good public face for academics nor worthy of any other things that might have happened at said convention.
I need a better strategy -- any suggestions welcome.
1 Yes, someone really did once use that line with me.


( 76 comments — Leave a comment )
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(no subject) - purplecthulhu - Apr. 21st, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - klwilliams - Apr. 21st, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
I'm lucky or odd or both.
2 good things out of 2, then!

I sympathise. When I was a French medievalist I used to get much the same about Arthurian stuff or What have you feminists got against the troubadours? Those guys worshipped women! (For the record, I have nothing against the troubadours; I just think interpretations in terms of homoeroticism are more interesting than saying oh-how-beautiful-and-romantic.)

I escaped all that by getting out of the subject altogether. Now people tell me about language teaching, the national characteristics of various European nations, or, on occasions, teach me French or German words that I know do not exist. Or why only idiots and failures go into teaching. Yup, they still know more about it than I do.

So, I don't think you can avoid it. All you can do is treat it as a mine of comedy material. So be grateful! Celtic cranks are inherently funnier than foreign language cranks or probability cranks. (A's version of the conversation is the one about how the more times you've not won the lottery, the more reason you have to buy a ticket.)

Start keeping notes of daft stuff "experts" have taught you. You never know. Should be good for a Christmas book, or at least an interview on Radio 4...
Apr. 21st, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
A friend and I have for years speculated that we should write a Celtic Templar Nut Book. But alas, neither of us can quite get the tongues out of our cheeks enough.
(no subject) - frostfox - Apr. 21st, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - woolymonkey - Apr. 21st, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Apr. 21st, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - woolymonkey - Apr. 21st, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annafdd - Apr. 21st, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - annafdd - Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anna_wing - Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 22nd, 2009 09:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
I'm lucky or odd or both.

You're also very good at what you do - you don't get published or into an academic position without that.

Meanwhile, I feel your pain. I get that conversation (though about astronomy, cosmology, aliens, flying saucers etc.) a lot as well. On my first work trip to Hawaii I sat down on the plane, looking forward to 5 hours flying from LAX to Honolulu, and the first thing the person sitting next to me said on finding out I was an astronomer was 'so what about flying saucers then?'. I think this is an equivalent to one of your dreaded questions.

You're right - for a lot of people they just want their beliefs confirmed, and any hint that you might challenge them will be met with denial, argument and, potentially, hostility.

Sadly I don't have a better strategy than what you're already doing - either trying to educate them (in as non-arrogant way as possible) or trying to disengage as soon as it's clear they don't want a conversation they only want affirmation. Changing the subject by distracting them onto something else is about the only extra gambit I have to offer.

[The guy on the plane disappeared to the back soon after takeoff so that he could smoke, which was a lucky escape for me and demonstrates how long ago this was.]

If you find a better way please let me know!
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
I believe that Lindsey Davis regularly gets fans telling her how she has got the Roman names all wrong.

Perhaps you could do a handout: Common misconceptions about King Arthur/lesbian druids/whatever. But maybe it would take a book.
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Now that is a thought....
(no subject) - mojave_wolf - Apr. 22nd, 2009 03:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 22nd, 2009 09:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mojave_wolf - Apr. 22nd, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of sympathy for you. I get that with conversations about climate change. So much so that I often duck the conversation.

I just can't face the 'but it's all a hoax to give employment to climate scientists/one hot summer doesn't prove anything/it's too late to do anything/it's all China's fault'

I did my degree in environmental science, but that counts as nothing against someone with an axe to grind and no interest in learning. (to be fair, there are many who do want to learn, but they aren't everyone)

I realise that I've even chickened out of posting on the subject in my LJ for some time now. I'll have to do something about that once I've caught up on things.

PS. If you want anyone to act as an unofficial 'bouncer' after the Arthurian talk at Odyssey, I'm sure I can find someone who would politely tell people that you're too tired to talk right now and want to sit down quietly for a rest. (and we have a quiet room at Odyssey where conversation is forbidden...)
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)
I will probably go and hide in Green Room, but thank you. And the marquis makes an excellent firewall, too.
(no subject) - mevennen - Apr. 21st, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mevennen - Apr. 21st, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - swisstone - Apr. 23rd, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - much_of_a - Apr. 22nd, 2009 09:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 22nd, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mojave_wolf - Apr. 22nd, 2009 04:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - watervole - Apr. 22nd, 2009 06:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mojave_wolf - Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
Since you have been studying this subject area for 25+ years you ARE one of the experts! Of the two groups of people - the first group want to talk to you, share/learn/listen etc. The second group are not interested in that at all; their concern is entirely their own, and they want to use the (I hate to call it) 'discussion' to further their own opinions.

They will do this irrespective of what you do. If you agree with them they'll say 'Oh yes, I'm right' and if you disagree with them they'll still say 'Oh yes, I'm right'. So - might I hazard to suggest that the issue is dealing with PITA (pain in the arse) people, irrespective of what the discussion is about. You cannot win with them, simply because they'll drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience. Once you feel that the discussion, of whatever type is moving in that area simply make any kind of excuse and move away - no-one ever lay on their deathbed saying 'damn, I should have talked to more w*nkers'. It doesn't matter what they say, cos they're going to say it anyway, and most everyone else is going to ignore them.

Another thought - if they're not respecting you, why should you bother to be respecting them? Just a quick 'Thanks for your viewpoint' and dump them.

However, if you want to be nice about it (cos you're just you, and nice is part of the territory) I'd simply suggest a 'That's a very interesting theory. You might wish to follow that up by reading abc by xyz. Much though I'd like to continue this discussion I really do need to .'
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much what I do. The problem usually only arises very seriously when I'm in a situation where for some reason I can't leave. Then I find myself biting my tongue on something very rude (like 'I'm one of the leading experts on this. I'm right and you're wrong. So shut up.' Which I cannot say. Not really.)
(no subject) - pennski - Apr. 21st, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)
Ohhh yes, I've heard those, and that is not even my period.

My sympathies. (I tend to nod, smile, and decamp as soon as I can scamper.)
Apr. 21st, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)
That's what I do when I get the chance, too.
(no subject) - the_magician - Apr. 21st, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ms_cataclysm - Apr. 21st, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Apr. 22nd, 2009 07:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
I need a better strategy -- any suggestions welcome.

Send for me and I shall hit them with a large fish. Or alternatively explain how Atlantis isn't real either.
Apr. 21st, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
I look forward to the fish!
(no subject) - purplecthulhu - Apr. 21st, 2009 09:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 21st, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
This particular incident was one I couldn't just walk away from: I was lucky enough to be rescued.
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 11:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
As I may have mentioned before, my usual tactic is to furrow my brow and tell the person that Ireally mustn't keep them, then apologise profusely for nattering on when they have more important things to do. They can't very well say 'no, I have nothing better to do than stand here being a tosser' and it makes them go away. It doesn't always work but it usually does.
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(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
This sounds like the Celtic version of the Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Arthurian division).

It's a long running tradition to project on Arthur the values of one's own day, de nobis fabula and all that . What a pity we haven't had the reality tv influenced version yet -I can't wait to see the Big Brother castle and Camelot's got talent.
Apr. 21st, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Dancing with the Spirit Guides!

(Or hasn't that wretched "Dancing with the Stars" hit your shores yet?)
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(no subject) - aberwyn - Apr. 21st, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
It's not arrogance when you've done the work. You've done the work and you've got the cred. Which means you've got the right to be short with these people.

I don't know even half as much about the subject as you do, but I have had That Conversation too. In my case it centers around the "orginal sources". I try to explain that no, these do not say that Celtic women were equal to men. Occasionally I will try to explain about taking the cultural attitudes of the writers into account when judging what they say, but this rarely gets us any forwarder.

Apr. 21st, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
As someone who was in the immediate vicinity during the Eastercon conversation I could see how deeply uncomfortable you were (if it is any consolation at all the same person spouted some bullshit on women at work a little later and was absolutely pounded on by a certain female academic of our mutual acquantance!)

Some people really get off on the cut and thrust of debate and often don't realise that others are not comfortable in that adversarial approach. Personally I suck big time at debating skills - I tend to retreat quite quickly from any sort of confrontation (my family history - let me show it to you...)
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aberwyn - Apr. 21st, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 21st, 2009 08:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
Oh, I want to have a *good* conversation about all the things I don't know about Celtic stuff now. I'm a blank slate, and utterly fascinated about the mythos and reality of it.

And I'll sneak my book in to get you to sign it, muahahahahahaha!
Apr. 21st, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)
Good conversations are *always* welcome! I really hope we will get to meet in person some day.
(no subject) - miintikwa - Apr. 21st, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 21st, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
Without naming names, L. read some of this out on the radio show, and proceeded with a very long rant that tied in [Unknown LJ tag]'s comments on Eostre/Ostara for a 15 minute diatribe against ignorant dogmatism.

What these prats need is no further input from you. If you do not feel it necessary to put up with them, then move them swiftly on - because the only person they affect is you. They are incapable of learning, so there is no point in wasting your energy or your good old-fashioned manners on them.

You know what we have named this year - Dump the ****. If they insist on rocking your boat, swiftly drop your left foot firmly and turn around. They will be over the side and having a good time swimming against the tide.....

Sounds like the next human being they came up against was a little like me, only I would have used the baseball bat.

Apr. 21st, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Having you and L present would have been wonderful and I think the whole thing might have faded far faster.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)
I've also had this one when someone who was a friend of a good friend roped me intop a panel at the very end of a Novacon on Paganism... I should have known better.
I agreed but said I was dfoing another program item right before and would be latet. He said. "Rightm I'll just introduce you as a fellow Pagan then."
I am afraid I hit the roof and left him standing looking like Chicken Little after the sky fell.
I am not pagan. Pagan only means a country person. I have nothing to sdo with the "pick & mix"New Age movement and have very little patience with it.
I will admit to being a Hedonist and do so on Hospital forms... which doesn't really amuse them but does me.
I think the only thing to do is what the others sey, or suddenly smack your forehead and exclaim aloud about the friend you are late to meet... Then grab your cell phone and excuse yourself, rushing off frantically dialling the nearest friend and yelling "Help! Rescue me!"

My dear, you are an expert and those who don't realize that are beneath notice. You will find yourself with more and more folk coming to you the way I frequently do to gain knowledge fro their writings. :)Not only that, but you explain it so easily, for me at least, and so fascinatingly. :)
I have had times when folk have reduced me to tears and then I have got on the phone to Sheila (our Editor) and sobbed out my insecurities to her. You are not alone, love, though it may seem like it. And I am trying, really I am, to be more patient with the "Pick n Mix" fantasy New Agers... not really succeeding. I now smile toothily and excuse myself and walk away asap.
Apr. 22nd, 2009 09:31 am (UTC)
Thank you: you are as ever full of good sense. And I never mind the people who are genuinely interested. it's just the ranters.
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