The Conventional Wisdom

The conventional wisdom evolves as a consensus among a group with related interests. It is usually guided by experts with experience in the field. Note the use of the term ‘usually.’ Back in the old days these were writers that wrote about hunting, competition or law enforcement because they actually did those things. Some of the conventional wisdom came from these folks, but some just seems to have always been there.

Black-powder only? When smokeless loads were introduced all guns were ‘black powder guns, and manufacturers designed the new loads for them.

‘Damascus shotguns aren’t safe to shoot,’ ‘You can’t shoot smokeless loads from a black-powder cartridge revolver,’ are two that you still hear a lot, and these have been around far longer than the forty-plus years I’ve been into guns. These are widely spread beliefs and people will defend these vehemently. They’re not actually true, but they are ‘the conventional wisdom.’ (like any antique firearm Damascus shotguns and 19th C. revolvers should be carefully evaluated before firing, and it is prudent to use low-pressure loads. They’re old.)

These two gems have trickled down to us from the early 20th C., but these days there are lot of folks that know stuff because they read it on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fantastic resource and you can learn amazing things. But like any body of knowledge it has to be used advisedly, not simply believed without question.

Is this fine old Parker a grenade? Probably not; thousands of people across the world routinely use shotguns like this all the time. European proof houses routinely ‘nitro proof’ such guns. They are antiques, and should be treated prudently, but no, as a rule they are no more likely to blow up than any antique shotgun.

People, a lot of them smart people, believe things because it has become the conventional wisdom on the internet. People read it, and having no direct experience of their own the accept it and pass it on. Pretty soon it’s just the way it is. Then someone who has that experience comes along and gets push-back because ‘internet says so.’
It gets worse when this conventional wisdom is reinforced by credible sources; people that genuinely do know their particular field but still lack personal experience in related fields. When a well-regarded instructor says something we give it more credence, but in reality they may just be parroting the internet.

I have an acquaintance who was in the army and worked in Special Forces. If he set himself up as a pistol instructor that would give him a lot of cred. The thing is SF has very different emphasis on the use of pistols that does not necessarily apply to civilian self defense or even police work. Oh, and he was a medic in a ‘hearts and minds’ unit. He knows his way around an M9 and M4. He’s even a decent shot, but he will freely admit he knows next to nothing other than how to make them work and put holes in paper. He’s even pretty good at it. But he is not the person you want to look to as an expert in pistol instruction. Got a question about field sanitation, improvised first aid and the like? He’s your man. But a pistol instructor? Nope.

Another fellow I’ve known for decades was also in SF. He was an analyst and intelligence support guy. Once again, he knows his way around the weapons and has had some, un, interesting experiences but none of that qualifies him to be a pistol instructor. The thing is these guys could use their ex-SF cred to pump themselves up as experts or instructors despite the fact that their actual experience genuinely does not apply.

I guess my point is that the conventional wisdom is often nothing more than parroted information that may or may not be true. Don’t reject it out-of-hand, but don’t accept it as received Gospel either. Think, do your own research and whenever possible consult a primary source when possible.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 22 Sept 2022

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