Today while on my way home from work stuck in the normal rush hour traffic (albeit an hour earlier than usual), I heard an odd commercial that struck me as both very strange and also very revealing. A local jeweler in town was seeking to distinguish its diamonds from those of its competitors by talking about oddball number of facets in other diamonds and other gimmicks, while saying that its diamonds had more shine (as if that was a technical quality) than the diamonds of its competitors, and though I am not in the market for diamonds in either situation or income, I was struck by the ferocity of the competition between different jewelers, especially because most people (myself definitely included) are not exactly prone to be able to tell the difference between one jeweler or another in terms of the worth of a diamond. I would assume, and I would like those with more experience in the matter to tell me otherwise if this impression is not true, that a ring (or other piece of jewelry) is mainly desirable because of how someone feels about wearing it or the person who gave it to them, and that the cash value of the jewelery is not the main concern.
It would appear as if advertising is most fierce between products that are similar in quality but whose makers and sellers are seeking to distinguish by other grounds. For example, there is a large amount of money spent on advertising beer (a product, it should be noted, that I do not use). Different beer companies will seek to distinguish themselves from other beers by pointing to lower calories than competitors, being stored at cooler temperatures, different levels of freshness (between American beers and foreign competitors being shipped over from Europe), or will point to their humble family origins to disguise their massive profits, or seek to point to their social responsibility if they are small niche microbrews. As someone who is not a beer drinker, I cannot distinguish between a pale ale or an India pale ale, although a true beer connoisseur would be able to tell the difference, I suppose.
We see the same sort of ferocity in advertising and marketing over small decisions in a wide variety of fields. Whether we are talking about the difference between one type of boy band or another (for example, comparing the career arc of the Jonas Brothers and Hanson, or Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync if you are a music fan of a particular generation), or between one type of nerdy fandom and other (this is especially true among different types or series of anime, for example, which have passionate fans and detractors but which appear to be largely indistinguishable to most people). I do my best to be sympathetic to those who are worked up easily over such matters, but as someone who has few loyalties in life I defend particularly fiercely (but those few are fairly easily recognizable for most readers of my blog), it is hard for me to understand how tiny and miniscule differences can provoke such ferocious responses from those who would be seen by others as nearly identical.
Perhaps it ought not to surprise me, though, given the way that my own ferocious boundary-enforcing conflicts have been over those loyalties I do have. Surely the differences between me and those whom I have passionately debated with are real (even if others would, probably rightly, see them as minor differences in light of the major commonalities that exist). Unfortunately, it is hard to see the similarities when there are strong differences, especially if politics and position appear to be at stake. Although I would consider myself a fairly gracious and patient and merciful sort of person, there are many people I know (and even more that I know of) that would never place themselves or their minor differences with me on such questions as interpretations and politics in a place that would depend upon my fair and merciful judgment. Nor would I feel safe putting myself in a position of having to depend on their graciousness, given my own lack of trust in turn to them.
In some ways, the differences that exist between very similar things require a great deal of time and effort and study to understand. One could see the difference between, say, Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync by pointing both to the fact that Backstreet Boys was more of a genuine group (with no member able to have a viable career apart from the rest of the group), while ‘N Sync was basically the Justin Timberlake Show (with JC Chavez a very distant second). One could also see a difference, if one studied closely enough, in two anime series, looking at some series that were intensely driven by plot and intricate storylines, and others that were driven more by characters with no greater story arc to tie everything together, but a suite of characters that could all be explored in depth in any given episode. One could even point to the difference in the quality of art between Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and something like Twilight or the black and white Frankenstein films, for example, even though they may be judged as vampire or monster tales all the same. In such cases, such distinguishing would require a great deal of study and attention, and most people are unwilling to take that time to distinguish between two members of the same group that are judged as being mostly similar, which is mostly true.
Indeed, it may be said fairly that to distinguish in general requires time and effort to discern the deeper qualities that lie underneath the surface. If one wants to make a quick and dirty judgment on something without understanding it or taking the time to really know it, one places oneself in the position of being found to be narrow-minded and biased and often of very poor judgment. Yet many people do not judge others as being worth the time and effort that it takes to really understand and appreciate them. For example, I have certainly not taken the time and energy to appreciate the fine distinctions between different types of wine, but neither do I pretend to be an expert in such matters. I do know that wine in general tends to make me sleepy and give me sulfa headaches, and so I tend not to drink very much of it. On the other hand, I have spent a great deal of time and energy getting to know young woman and discerning among them, and I’d like to think that I’m a fairly good judge there at least of what is attractive and well-suited to me (even if my judgment is not perfect in that regard either). We may not always choose the most important areas to spend our time and energy and develop the skills of discernment and distinguishing, but we all should have something to offer the world in terms of sound judgment besides an oddball number of facets.