Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Jabez maneuver

(If I blogged nothing but the controversies series we'll all get tired of it. I'll be pacing the series so that it's not the only thing on the blog.)

Remember The Prayer of Jabez? That book was all the rage awhile back. At the time of its wild popularity my main thought was, "You've got to be kidding." Don't mistake my point; I'm glad if many people enjoyed the book and were more steadfast in prayer -- and in looking to God for blessing -- than before. I don't think any ill of the readers or the author.

The root of my amazement traces back to something that even the review at Amazon notes:
Even well-versed Biblical scholars might be perplexed if asked about Jabez, a little-known man listed in 1 Chronicles, chapter 4 ...
I think many people have an insecurity, a nagging doubt that they are missing something important. When someone comes up with something we have never heard of before, we can come to doubt whether our understanding is adequate. It happens sometimes that someone uses this insecurity against us, that someone deliberately tries to leverage control by flaunting obscure trivia to claim expertise. Because of my initial reaction to the book of Jabez, I have been mentally referring to this move for some time as "the Jabez maneuver." (This is not to assume such poor intentions for the book's author! The point of comparison is the wide recognition given to such a minor figure in the Bible.)

I see "the Jabez maneuver" in fads all the time, whether musical fads, diet fads, scholarly fads, or spiritual fads. The basic setup is simple: find something obscure that has some merit, and fly its flag high as the one thing needful to make everything better. Never heard of it? That's just proof: This is what you've been missing all along.

So it is no surprise that people try to win arguments by exploiting that same type of insecurity. It is a standard (if dishonest) move in arguments to latch onto an obscure point -- preferably obscure enough that this person is the only one familiar with it -- in order to look smarter. If the arguer proves they know something the other side doesn't know, who looks smarter? If the arguer knows even something really trivial -- for example, poor Jabez, rest his soul -- why, they must know even more than the really well-versed Biblical scholars who never heard of him before the book hit the presses. Right?

Unfortunately, this move is often used by people who only know a few obscure facts to gain the upper hand in arguments, and otherwise may not have grasped the basics of the area in which they claim expertise. The risk is that, armed with just a few trivial pieces of knowledge, they may convince the unsuspecting that they are experts when in reality they have almost no knowledge of the field.


Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Martin LaBar said...

That's a good term. I hope it catches on.

陳育政 said...
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Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Thank you! I was half thinking I was going to get a pile-on of angry Prayer-of-Jabez fans ... I guess nobody has that set up as a search word for their blog feeds. ;)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF