There’s the old saying that goes “it isn’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, but what you know that isn’t so.” All too often what we know that isn’t so lies in the preconceptions that we have. Because erroneous preconceptions are usually feelings and/or beliefs that we seldom examine, we run far greater risks with them than with what we know we don’t know.

Of course, one of the greatest erroneous preconceptions is that we know something that we really don’t, as recently demonstrated by Donald Trump’s statements about how easy it would be to fix healthcare and taxes, neither of which is amenable to a simple “fix,” at least not without totally screwing tens of millions of people.

Erroneous preconceptions by U.S. military leaders about how the Vietnamese would react to U.S. forces were the one of the major factors in why the U.S. became mired in one of the longer-drawn-out conflicts, yet military figures seem to have the same problem in Afghanistan, and it appears that this is also a problem with U.S. views on both China and North Korea, because too many U.S. leaders have the preconception that people from other cultures think of things in the same way – or they look down on others and draw simplistic conclusions based on arrogant assumptions.

On a lighter note and in a slight digression, I’ve gotten several reader comments about Assassin’s Price to the effect that those readers were upset that an imager wasn’t the main character, and several said that they couldn’t get into the book because of that. I can understand a certain disappointment, if you’ve been looking forward to a book about imagers, but… every synopsis about the book mentions Charyn, and Charyn is definitely not an imager in the previous two books, and he’s much older than the age when imagers manifest their talents. In addition, the book is still an adventure, and it still has imagers… if not as the main character. These readers had such preconceptions about the book that they couldn’t really read and enjoy what was written.

The older I get, the more I’ve seen how preconceptions permeate all societies, but it seems to me that in the U.S., erroneous preconceptions are on the increase, most likely because the internet and social media allow rapid and easy confirmation bias. What tends to get overlooked is that human beings are social animals and most people have a strong, and sometimes overpowering, desire to belong. Social media allows people, to a greater extent than ever before, to find others with the same mindset and preconceptions. This allows and often even requires them to reinforce those beliefs, rather than to question them, because in most groups, questioners are marginalized, if not ostracized… and that practice goes much farther back than the time of Socrates.

Trump’s hard-core supporters truly seem to believe that he can bring back manufacturing jobs and that the U.S. would be better off if all eleven million illegal immigrants were gone. Neither belief holds up to the facts. Far-left environmentalists believe that the world can be totally and effectively powered by renewable energy. Not in the foreseeable future if we want to remain at the current levels of technology and prosperity. Pretty much every group holds some erroneous preconceptions, and pretty much every group is good at pointing out every other group’s errors, while refusing to examine their own.

And, at present, we’re all using communications technology to avoid self-examination and to blame someone else, rather than using it to figure out how to bridge the gaps and recognize the real problems, because you can’t fix a problem you refuse to acknowledge, nor can you fix a problem that only exists in your preconceptions. Nor, it appears, at least for some people, can they even get into a book in a series that they like because the main character doesn’t fit their preconceptions.

8 thoughts on “Preconceptions”

  1. Antonio Carlos says:

    Not to diminish the feelings of other readers but I loved the behind the curtain fell of a regent without imager powers and the constrains in with he has to work to achieve his goals, and how no man governs alone. It is very refreshing in a Realpolitik way to see this in a fantasy setting.

    The character grows organically in the history and has much more ‘power’ at the beginning than all other characters, it was interesting to see how the story developed for a character in a position that you normally finish your other novels.

    I sincerely hope that you can continue with Charyn in another book or show other books with these diverse viewpoints.

    Also Recluce Tales is very good! For much of the same reasons and the background it provides.

  2. Jim says:

    Well said & why you’re one of my favorite authors. While I preordered “Assassin’s Price” & have it on the shelf, only my wife has read it so far. I’ve been busy rereading the Recluce series in chronological order & for the first time as audio books. I like that reading order far better than published, the way I first read them since I’ve bought & read each one as it came out. I hope you publish a list of them in chronological order. The themes & sense of history pop better for me that way.

    1. JakeB says:

      I remember I was taken aback when some of the characters in chronologically earlier books turned out to be far more powerful than later ones, but I’ve come to appreciate the idea that history isn’t teleological but rather things happen according to the circumstances around them.
      That is, I think we tend to imagine history as a long process of decay (as in Hesiod’s golden age – silver age – bronze age – iron age etc.) — how the original Angels and Demons must have felt about their lives in the world of Recluce, at least until they all died out; a process towards greater and greater progress (say if you focus on the advance of science); or as cyclical (if you’re totally into Toynbee). But the Recluce books suggest there’s a certain randomness to it all, where accidents of birth combined with the right (or wrong) circumstances may lead to very powerful wizards, or may not, if the circumstances are wrong (like Candar after the fall of Fairhaven).

  3. larry says:

    First, I liked that book. So there’s that. I do remember doing a pivot initially though when I realized the magic system would be playing a lesser role than I thought. But I still liked it because it was set in the universe I was invested in already.
    I’m not sure it’s an unreasonable preconception though. I mean, if I had picked up a Harry Potter book and realized it was mostly about Muggles I would have hated that unless it was like “Larry Potter: Harry’s Muggle Cousin”. I guess by being part of “the Imager series,” you meant it as being SET in the Imager universe, right? Where I interpreted that as revolving around imagers.
    As I said though… easy pivot to make for me. But I get it.

  4. Matthew Runyon says:

    Assassin’s Price is actually my favorite of your recent books. I generally enjoy all of your books (though I admit some of the near-future ones I struggle with the language and perspective shifts), but this was by far more interesting to me. In large part because of the reasons Antonio Carlos mentioned, but just in general because I found that a number of the imagers (and our most recent Cyadoran) have power levels that are simply mind-boggling, and I have difficulty accepting that any significant number of people would not start worshiping them like gods. Emperors of Rome and China certainly were, and had much, much less direct power than Quaeryt or Alastar. Those imagers have more direct destructive power at their command than most Greek gods, for that matter.

    I usually assume that you know more about people than I do, and tend to just roll with situations that seem implausible to me, but this particular problem is difficult for me to get past. But perhaps that’s just my preconceptions talking.

    1. Alastar and Rhenn and Quaeryt do have unimaginable powers, but most imagers don’t. So while individual imagers have great powers, imagers as a group are incredibly vulnerable, and most wouldn’t have lived to adulthood without the Collegium. This is, if you will, the parallel of the elites. Elites run societies… until they overplay their hand. That’s why imagers such as Alastar, Quaeryt, and Rhenn restrain what they do as much as they can.

      1. Matthew Runyon says:

        Oh indeed, but that’s focusing on their actions, which I find quite understandable. It’s the reactions (or non-reactions) of everyone else to them that I find confusing.

  5. Tom says:

    I would consider the ‘strength’ of the preconception as the problem rather than the preconception itself.We cannot be observant without extending a concept or scenario. By the same token, try as we should, we cannot all observe to the extent of a fictitious Sherlock Holmes. It is when we are considering damaging another through word or deed, because of our conception, that we must realize we are mistaken and review our position.

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