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 Post subject: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2009 4:07 am 
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Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
by Will Hiltz

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Illustration by Will Heath using open license images


On the BonsaiSite forums, a recent thread started by a newbie with a dying serissa was high-jacked by another newbie, who voiced the common complaint that the old timers had not been nurturing, kind, or patient with the serissa owner. We’ve all heard this before, but this time it began to resonate with a number of seemingly unrelated observations that have been bouncing around in my mind for years now. These observations seemed like they were trying to coalesce around some unified theory to explain why experienced bonsai folks, who are generally nice people, so often seem like such an ornery sub-species of humans, especially when interacting with newbies on the internet.

The observations:

1. An acquaintance of mine, Robert Cho, is the owner and operator of Asia Pacific Gardening in Kent, WA. For about a decade he has probably imported at least a hundred thousand small bonsai yearly from China for distribution to malls and other such outlets. He has several major and many smaller competitors who do the same. Between those who receive these trees as gifts, and those who buy them for themselves because bonsai seems like a “neat” hobby, there may be perhaps a million or so new bonsai enthusiasts, or at least owners created each year. Many of these make it to the various bonsai-related forums, either lurking or joining in.

2. Unlike forums related to other hobbies/arts/obsessions, those related to bonsai are very prone to old timer posts that more tender people, especially newbies, regard as nasty and not nurturing.

3. The rough exterior and apparent arrogance displayed initially by many of the bonsai greats I've met quickly fades once they realize a person is not just wasting their time.

4. This art is only partially about nurturing trees. It most often utilizes nurturing only to the extent that this it is necessary to ensure survival while the artist imposes unnatural manipulations and injuries to the tree.

5. At the highest levels of the art, trees are mostly valued to the extent that they reflect trees in nature that have survived incredible hardships and trauma, and bear the scars and character of such ancient survivors.

6. Dan Robinson often tells the story of a revelation he had years ago when viewing a diorama at a natural history museum in Victoria, where a 60 year old native Red Alder was depicted. The sign explained what Dan calls "The Harsh Reality"- that of the 20 million seedlings this tree had produced during its life, only two had survived beyond twenty years.


So I wonder if there is perhaps a natural tendency by bonsai old timers and masters, who admire the gnarly character of "ancient survivors" in the tree world, to unconsciously "cull the herd" in this hobby by creating a harsh environment that fosters natural selection - thus weeding out those tender young seedlings who would never survive anyway. If only two in 20 million survive the rigors of nature to become majestic specimens, (and the numbers in bonsai may not be that far off), why should we expect people who admire this natural process, and the admirable results of its apparent cruelty, to go out of their way to protect or coddle those who have not yet proven their strength and will to survive in this difficult way of life we call bonsai?


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2009 11:22 am 
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Interesting, though I think you may stretch the 'natural selection' analogy too far... this impatient or intolerant attitude may be far more intentional. As a relatively new bonsai artist, only three years, I have been vary wary of posting questions and comments on bonsai forums. As an early beginner it seemed evident that the answers to any of my questions would be available on static web pages or in books and that much of the short temperedness and grouchy behavior on blogs was due to people asking lazy or stupid questions (please forgive me if this sounds a little harsh).

This is not unique to bonsai, I know a chap who is an expert in hydroponic cultivation... many people have come to him asking silly questions about how to grow crops in this way and his answer is always the same: read a book and don't waste his time. If someone had mastered the basics by their own researches, trials and errors and came to him with a specific enquiry about a technicality that they were having trouble with, then he would be much more accommodating. He would recognize in that person a real commitment to learning and would respond positively.

This might seem harsh but one can find the same attitude in any discipline... those who have 'mastered' the basics by hard graft are always reluctant to molly-coddle those who are looking to fast track to success; in art, as in horticulture, there is no fast track, just a necessity of some latent talent coupled with study, practice and patience.

My father is an artist and teaches glass painting as well as producing his own work (one half of Williams & Byrne) the techniques are complicated and take a long time to master. He was recently quoted on a blog: 'people often come to us looking for the ‘quick fix’, for the Elixir or for something that will somehow turn them into Artists and magically cause the whole world to fall at their feet! But the truth is, you’ve just got to get on and do it. Definitely, no silver bullets: silver bullets be damned!”'

An ailing bonsai is usually due to lack of patience (i.e. working too quickly or inappropriately on the tree) or a lack of basic horticultural knowledge (i.e. laziness).

[My wife has just commented that there are different learning styles and that while some can learn by reading and practice others may require discussion and being talked through... so maybe the impatience of 'old timers and masters' is due to a difference in learning styles?]


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2009 3:39 pm 
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I think you touch on several good points, Matt. Thanks for taking the time to offer such a thoughtful response.

I agree that the natural selection analogy is perhaps stretched a bit far, but this is often a useful device for stimulating discussion if not carried to extremes, which I hope I have not done. The analogy is put forward as an hypothesis, a tentative proposition for others to examine, as you have done. But too cautious an approach neither appeals to my nature, nor typically stimulates much in the way of interesting discussion, so I have not backed off from a more bold statement.

The suggestion that the attitudes and behaviors of bonsai old timers are sometimes seen in other fields is true, but I and others usually sense that this is a much stronger phenomenon in bonsai than elsewhere. Although I have lately heard a few people put forward the idea that this is seen on forums related to other endeavors, the opposite statements are by far the majority, with people constantly chiming in that they’ve never experienced such arrogance and impatience on the two or six other forums they belong to. It has also been my experience that the casual remarks about the masters, from people who have met them in person, support this as well, although frequently followed, as I said, by the disclaimer that once they got to know them they found them much different.

I find the idea that different people learn in different ways is often put forward by apologists to explain the rather rampant NON-learning increasingly evident in younger generations in our society. I am not saying that you or your wife necessarily fall into this category, but I am always suspicious when I hear this apparent truism put forward. One thing I have noticed in the rants of the old timers on the forums and elsewhere is the ubiquitous lament about the generational decline in the fundamental mental skills and attitudes necessary to learn much of anything, let alone something as complex and arduous as bonsai.

I agree completely about your insights into the difficulty and hard work entailed in learning, and particularly mastering, any complex body of information and skills. It is human nature for those who have paid such dues to expect others to also pay their dues by learning in such a way. And yet there is now a strong counter-emphasis in our society that pushes people away from imposing any hardship or roughness upon others, no matter whether the end results may be admirable. Those who are thus coddled end up spoiled beyond hope of redemption, yet their sense of entitlement continues to demand resources and results that are unrealistic. I suspect that many people in bonsai, aware of natural selection on some level, and aware of the beauty that comes from struggle, and just generally, naturally fed up and pissed off with these folks, lash out with both conscious and unconscious motivations to cull the herd of them.

I don’t see this as necessarily cruel in any sense. Years ago I was told of a young student who entered Boston University to study violin with Joseph Silverstein, hoping to fulfill her dream of becoming a virtuoso solo performer. She auditioned for him shortly after her arrival. He listened attentively, thoughtfully. At the end, with full awareness of the weight of his words, he told the young woman that, while she played well, she did not have what it took to be a soloist. He pointed out that she could probably have a good career as a section player in an orchestra if she studied and practiced hard, and that he would gladly accept her as his student if she would accept this as her goal. She did. Was he cruel to dash her hopes? If she didn’t even play well enough to have much chance as a section player, would he have been cruel to simply reject her as a student altogether? Is it cruel for a bonsai master to dissuade a neophyte, entirely lacking in the necessary internal and external resources for this discipline, and to do so roughly when the neophyte is obviously too cocky and/or clueless to respond to more gentle approaches?

Thanks again for your thoughtful input.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2009 6:55 pm 
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The censored word towards the end of my last post is defined succinctly in my small Random House Dictionary as, "arrogantly conceited."

My Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, much more authoritative, has it listed twice as a noun, neither one obscene or in any way offensive, and then a third time as an adjective, as it was used here. Two definitions are given for the word as an adjective. The first, "lecherous," is indicated as obsolete, from the mid sixteenth century 1520-1539. The second definition then, is similar to the one in the Random House Dictionary: " Arrogant, conceited, saucy, impertinent." It is not listed as obsolete, and it has been in use with this benign meaning since the mid eighteenth century. This, then, is obviously its meaning when used today as an adjective, and it is the meaning I sought to convey by choosing this specific word.

I do not understand why it was censored, and I don't appreciate that it was.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 01, 2009 11:42 pm 
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Will,

We have an automatic word censor in place on the forum, which replaces a word with another and/or symbols when it is used. In the case above, the first four letters of the word you used tripped the censor. You can verify this by clicking the edit button on your post above, you'll see the word appears fine in edit mode.

Unfortunately, in this age of porn spammers, it is a necessary evil, but in the case above, it was unwarranted. I have corrected the script on that particular word, thanks for bringing it to our attention.



Will


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 02, 2009 3:51 am 
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Will, thanks for the explanation. Perhaps you can understand that I might be a bit sensitive about censorship, but sorry if I over-reacted by thinking that AoB had over-reacted.

Will


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 4:59 pm 
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This is an interesting read, one that I can support in part. What distracts me from the intent of this article is the reference to "another site". It his widely known that you have a talent for putting thoughts to screen so to speak or into words in the real world, Will . Do you believe any weight is added to your arguments by referring another site, when starting a post? I believe the opposite, isn't a little mystique far more appealing ... What is more tantalising: a naked woman or one that is scarcely clad? Although this metaphor might be used in the wrong context ...

There is a general generation gap that further widens as time goes by. It is seen in all walks of life these days. Values and traditions are no longer upheld in favour of "convenience". The latter word (which I despise more than the "F" word) is the flavour of the day in the 21st century. Others chose to label it the "quick fix". We have become a society of "what's in it for me" vice a society that shares and learns from the wisdom of others, while sharing ones thoughts with others could be stimulating and educational for both parties.

The thing about the "quick fix" syndrome is that nothing is truly understood, folks are merely walking around with titbits of what I call useless info in their brains. Some folks are able to connect the dots but, the unfortunate side is the majority cannot.

It has been said may times before, patience is a virtue, but so is respect. What is more apt to get the better response: someone who has expended a certain amount of energy in the quest of finding an answer, or someone that can't be bothered, and is looking for a quick fix? We all know the answer...

"We" the elder generation are motivated through recognition for our hard work whilst turned off by casual attitudes of what's in it for me. Therefore, the apparentness of a condescending attitude. Someone that as demonstrated more than a passing interest will often reap rewards fart greater than expected.

In closing, if you wish to draw from the well, then have the common decency of purchasing a bucket, as none will be provided. I agree that: not all folks learn from the same methods as others, and that we as teachers need to modify our approach in order to maximise our time/their leaning so we can all benefit but, effort is something we all share in common...


Edit: Although previously presented anecdotes where germane to the discussion, I felt they added little credence to my observations. Therefore they were removed.


Last edited by Richard Moquin on Fri Jan 09, 2009 8:34 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 9:53 pm 
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It has come to my attention that some are confusing me with the author of this article, please look closely at the last name, the author of this article is not myself.


Will Heath


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 11:31 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
It has come to my attention that some are confusing me with the author of this article, please look closely at the last name, the author of this article is not myself.


Will Heath


I, for one, am not confused, Will, but I agree that others may be! Besides my other bonsai screen name, I've sometimes referred to myself as "The Other Will" when we both find ourselves on the same thread, but I think the rules here require our actual names. Perhaps it might help to change my moniker here to William F. Hiltz? Wouldn't want you catching any flack for stuff I put out there!

Rick, thanks for your feedback. We've stood side by side during some of those newbies-vs-oldtimers skirmishes. :)

Will Hiltz


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 6:04 am 
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I guess an apology is required and thus extended to both Wills. I should have taken the time to read more carefully. On the other hand, I stand by my opening statement that it is not necessary to mention another forum as an anvil for forging a debate (eristic forum) or better yet, a discussion.

I should have picked up on the reference to Robert Cho and Dan Robinson but, I guess I was just having one of those senior moments as your writing styles are similar in many ways.

My participation on the forums these days has been sporadic at best for various reasons.

Quote:
Rick, thanks for your feedback. We've stood side by side during some of those newbies-vs-oldtimers skirmishes. :)

... yes we have ;) and I find myself more and more reluctant these days in wasting my time. The latter is not limited to bonsai but applied to life in general. I simply refuse to get with "the" program and will uphold my deep seeded values. Perhaps if we insisted that traditional values be upheld instead of allowing them to be slowly eroded away, the world as we know it today would not be in this deep heap of dung.

... what's in it for me (greed)? I will know divert my attention to peace and tranquillity and go prune a tree ;)

Edit: Although previously presented anecdotes where germane to the discussion, I felt they added little credence to my observations. Therefore they were removed.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 12:41 pm 
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Richard Moquin wrote:
I stand by my opening statement that it is not necessary to mention another forum as an anvil for forging a debate (eristic forum) or better yet, a discussion.


I see no problem using specificity in a discussion. It captures attention and draws a reader in. To say, "Something happened somewhere that got me thinking about something," while probably passing for acceptable verbal output in certain circles, is not the kind of a lead in that would interest most people because it says nothing. The unwillingness to commit to saying anything specific, while "convenient," and therefore popular in our culture today, breaks down discussion.

In the other post of mine that Will Heath placed on this forum, you also add the "convenient" disclaimer, so popular in our post-modern intellectual swamp, that while my definition of visual art is a good one, it is "just an opinion." This sort of thinking breaks down discussion as well, and leads to solipsism and disintegration of society. As I said in that article, if we cannot come to even a rough agreement on the definitions of the words we are using, then we cannot use language to communicate to others what is in our minds. And if we cannot do that, there is no discussion, and without discussion there can be no effective society. If I say a chair is a piece of furniture with four legs and a back, used for sitting on, and you say that is "just your opinion," or you say that you call that sort of thing a "dog," then language is meaningless and we are both in our own little solipsistic worlds. And if we are narcissistic to begin with, then that situation feels very "convenient". But it makes for a worthless society. I think we can use specifics rather than convenient vagueness here, and I think we can agree to agree on certain definitions, otherwise communication breaks down and we might as well just go work on our trees - perhaps not a bad idea, but not one that entails the need for a forum unless we just want to squabble.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:17 pm 
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Will Hiltz wrote:
Richard Moquin wrote:
I stand by my opening statement that it is not necessary to mention another forum as an anvil for forging a debate (eristic forum) or better yet, a discussion.


I see no problem using specificity in a discussion. It captures attention and draws a reader in. To say, "Something happened somewhere that got me thinking about something," while probably passing for acceptable verbal output in certain circles, is not the kind of a lead in that would interest most people because it says nothing. The unwillingness to commit to saying anything specific, while "convenient," and therefore popular in our culture today, breaks down discussion.

In the other post of mine that Will Heath placed on this forum, you also add the "convenient" disclaimer, so popular in our post-modern intellectual swamp, that while my definition of visual art is a good one, it is "just an opinion." This sort of thinking breaks down discussion as well, and leads to solipsism and disintegration of society. As I said in that article, if we cannot come to even a rough agreement on the definitions of the words we are using, then we cannot use language to communicate to others what is in our minds. And if we cannot do that, there is no discussion, and without discussion there can be no effective society. If I say a chair is a piece of furniture with four legs and a back, used for sitting on, and you say that is "just your opinion," or you say that you call that sort of thing a "dog," then language is meaningless and we are both in our own little solipsistic worlds. And if we are narcissistic to begin with, then that situation feels very "convenient". But it makes for a worthless society. I think we can use specifics rather than convenient vagueness here, and I think we can agree to agree on certain definitions, otherwise communication breaks down and we might as well just go work on our trees - perhaps not a bad idea, but not one that entails the need for a forum unless we just want to squabble.


I think the real issue breaks down to the fact that we live in a society that wants something for nothing, and is loath to put fort the sweat equity necessary to obtain that which is desired. If you, myself, or some other more experienced individual informers the ubiquitous newbie the truth within the question asked, and the newbie doesn't like that answer given, then you, myself of some other more experienced individual are painted with the broad brush of being nasty and insensitive. Personally I have come to a point on some of these posts I don't waste my time any longer, it's not worth the grief.

This is not the entire problem though; if it were it would not be so difficult to deal with. The problem becomes exacerbated by those who come along thinking that they know everything, when in fact the truth is something less, seek to demean the credibility of the more experienced growers who may have spent a life time learning the lessons and acquiring the information they offer freely. In the end truth is accused of being ego, and common sense, as being mean and nasty. In the end the experienced grower is made out to be out of touch etc. and the urinating contest begins.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 1:43 pm 
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Will, I concur!

... and in order to give an honest reply to this caveat, I know find myself in a position of having to point fingers. But, in the course of this discussion let's see if we can do it constructively vs merely pointing fingers.

As I said in my apology I thought the other Will had written the post. In the past several post/discussions were started in a similar fashion: over here they said this; over there they said that; etc... I think one can catch my drift. These posts on these forums deteriorated into a slinging contest for most part, as everyone is looking for a "juicy" morsel to chew on, regurgitate and join in the fracas. Notwithstanding, we are in the eristic section of A of B and a civilised debate is indeed possible. Both of you have a similar writing flair although, I have to admit certain nuances separate both of you.

Will has in the past started threads as mentioned with exactly your opening. Was it to draw the reader in, or create havoc? Was it really necessary? Can one be achieved without the other? The fact that a particular venue is raised, does it lend greater credence to the argument? Can the argument stand on its own merit? If it can, than a lead in may indeed be verbose and thus, unnecessary.

Wrt your other post Will, if one was to dissect a "reply" to a "comment", then yes it would seem out of context and would put on an appearance to illicit the termination of any discourse taken place. However, when taken in the context of the entire reply, one can draw their own conclusions, as stated in my closing arguments.

... I still stand behind, it is the best definition put together in the discourse of the previous debate held at BN. But is it important?


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 2:05 pm 
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Importance is only relevant to some. Another aspect of this kind of derisive conduct leads to the other complaint: How come the experienced growers no longer post to "Bonsai Such and Such"? I think the answer is patently clear; who wants to endure the kind of character assassination that takes place at the hands of some individuals who are more concerned about their standing on the forum than they are about furnishing a good and logical answer to a simple question?

Sadly what usually happens is a retreat to personal attack, accusation, and name calling when lack of content becomes exposed. Some my think I am specifically pointing that this at them. The preceeding is really a compilation of a host of similar responses I have received, or have seen administered to someone else, over a period of more than a few years from more than a few people. Some have mellowed and some have gone.

In relation to this article there really is a two-edged sword where both edges of the sword need to be examined, not just one.


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 Post subject: Re: Darwinism on Bonsai Forums
PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 2:49 pm 
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Quote:
In relation to this article there really is a two-edged sword where both edges of the sword need to be examined, not just one.

... to a certain extent when applied to bonsai yes, but the root of the problem IMO is not necessarily Bonsai related, society as a whole have lost their sense of values.

I am not talking about my values over someone else, but rather the good conduct and interaction between human beings. I am not a religious man but if one was to adhere to the ten commandments, it would be a pretty good start.

This is an anecdote I previously removed from my original post as I deemed it out of context during initial discussion. I find it fits a little better as this conversation has progressed and thus will mention it once again.

They have instituted a reward program for good behaviour in school. In other words behaving as we did when we were children. Now don't get me wrong I am not living amongst the dinosaurs and evolution is a good thing, or is it? Improvement IMO is probably better suited. Although, this type of program may alleviate some unwanted behaviour in young delinquents, it has the opposite on folks who are conducting themselves in a smart manner on a daily basis without recognition. Not that this is important as was the subject of a dinner conversation I had recently. We do things, acts of kindness etc... because it makes us feel good to do the right thing, not because there may or may not be an award involved. We do it because it is the right thing to do, and not "what's in it for me".

Notwithstanding, I will not direct this verbiage to the younger generation as a whole but to all those that didn't or don't stand up for what is right and merely took part in the program out of convenience. In turn these individuals seem to have transported themselves on the bonsai scene, because this is the venue we participate in these days, but they are found in all walks of life.

... what's in it for me, can indeed be applied to the current economic crisis under-way in the US and eventually spill over to the rest of the world. Greed! in all its ugly aspects! Please do not read more into it than what has been said, because of the US's geopolitical tenure in the world, it only stands to reason that the economic impact be felt there the heaviest. When I refer to society, I refer to society as a whole and not one limited by demographics.


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