Monday, August 15, 2005

Of gnomes, trolls and other tabled beings

One of the most lingering side-effects of working for the Firm is an undeniable fascination with putting things into 2x2 matrices. No sooner has a thought occured to you or a problem presented itself than you start casting around for ways to express it in two dichotomous dimensions. There's something strangely comforting about being able to fit everything into those four little squares - as if the world were at once controllable and interesting. This is not about trying to be clever - it's just how some of us naturally think. The average Firm employee will not spend time plucking petals from flower saying 'she loves me / she loves me not', he will make a 2x2 matrix with 'She loves me' one one axis and 'I love her' on the other and classify all the women he knows along those two dimensions!

So comments on an earlier post about the difference between trolls and gnomes made me instantly start thinking of ways to make the distinction more interesting by expressing it as a matrix. The result draws heavily upon an apocryphal classification scheme prevalent in the Firm - only the names for the individual cells are my own.

Essentially this elegantly simple classification scheme has two dimensions: Taking yourself too seriously and trying too hard. The interaction of the two gives us the following figure.

Trolls are dull, silent creatures, secure and self-righteous. Typically lacking in any sense of humour whatsoever, Trolls are usually content to live their own insular and smug lives, and rarely inflict their opinions on other people. However, they are extremely sensitive to things that they see as attacking their values / beliefs and are quick to take offense at things that are said against them. They have an almost morbid fear of being made to look ridiculous and are unappreciative of jokes at their expense. These fears / hurts express themselves as disengagement rather than confrontation, however - Trolls are the ultimate passive-aggressives. Because they are afraid of being shown up, Trolls will tend not to react openly to negative stimuli, preferring to let a simmering resentment grow within them. Interestingly, Trolls are often pious and 'sincere' though this is a fake sincerity that is based on complacency rather than humility. Because their puny brains are often incapable of dealing with contradiction, Trolls have trouble respecting / considering other people's opinions and prefer a 'simple' if suffocating world view where they are always right.

Gnomes are possibly the most annoying of all creatures in this matrix. Opinionated and belligerent, Gnomes will seek out views that run contrary to their own without provocation, and proceed to attack them with all the bitterness they can muster. While Gnomes may often be full of biting wit, they have no real sense of humour, simply because they will never make (and usually cannot take) jokes at their own expense - humour to them is more a weapon than a toy. Driven by insecurity, Gnomes will constantly seek opportunities to assert their own points of view, but will be unwilling to listen to others and will react to opposing positions based more on emotional frenzy than on rational thought. Gnomes will never admit to being wrong. Logic is wasted on gnomes because they are selective listeners and will use it only to support conclusions that favour them - never considering how the same argument could be used against them. Gnomes are incapable of seeing things from the other point of view. The average Gnome suffers from a strong persecution complex and is extremely self-involved - to the point of assuming that everything in the world is somehow about him / her.

Pixies are the featherbrains of the world. Generous and good of heart, Pixies are anxious to please and desperate for acceptance. Rather than being self-involved, Pixies are infact almost entirely externally involved - they often have no discernible opinions / talents / personalities of their own, but always seem to be in search of external validation. While they are the most likely to make jokes (including jokes about themselves) their jokes are usually more notable for their quantity rather than their quality. Pixies are wanna-bes - strivers have no real personality and usually an extremely limited depth of understanding about the things that they talk about - yet silence makes them uncomfortable and they are often uncomfortable being alone. Unlike Gnomes, who are convinced that everyone hates them, Pixies cannot stand the thought that anyone could hate them and are therefore almost self-effacing in their desire to please - they arrange away confrontations. While pixies may have little faith in their own worth, they may often be convinced that other people find them charming and intelligent and believe that effort is all it takes to be respected - not realising how silly and cloying they may seem. Pixies can be annoying, but you cannot bring yourself to hate them - you know that they mean well and you often like them, but you cannot begin to take them seriously.

Elves are, of course, the most aspirational of all the life-forms in this model. Like Trolls, Elves are little concerned with what other people think about them, but unlike Trolls they are secure enough to admit that other people could be right. Elves have a great sense of humour and will laugh at themselves as much as they will laugh at others - they are intensely aware of both the world's absurdity and of their own ridiculousness. Frequently clever and talented, Elves use these gifts in a whimsical manner, often more interested in the effects / process than in the final meaning of what they come in with. Relativists by nature, Elves are uncomfortable with moral absolutes, and tend to take a more contingent view of the world. While they may often be interested in arts and culture, Elves seek these out more for their own pleasure than in order to impress others / be accepted by them. Even though they recognise that they might be wrong, Elves are not afraid to state their opinions on various issues, though they may be willing to change this opinion if they find a convincing argument that suggests a better one. Open and friendly, Elves have strong personalities, but see no reason to inflict them on other people unless asked to.


ozymandiaz said...

Very informative. Looks like I'm a troll. Didn't want to be an elfe anyway, not with those green tights and pointy ears and what. All of that bloody laughter. Just as anoying as the gnomes, if you ask me. Pixies, on the other hand, when you can get them to shut the hell up, can be quite useful. Those nimwits will believe almost anything you tell them. Give 'em a good sob story and they'll do anything you want. Your matrix makes it all so clear now. Explains a lot, it does. Only one thing, though, what this about "puny" brains? I don't think I like that part...

Jabberwock said...

Ouch. I suspect I'm the love-child of a pixie and an elf. wouldn't mind having the body of a troll though!

Veena said...

But you forgot the dwarves! Where in your matrix do they fit in?

Falstaff said...

Oz: Sorry, but I think you're going to have to live with the green tights and the pointy ears - not so much laughter though, think Orlando Bloom in LOTR. Don't think you're a troll at all. A troll would just ignore this. Or say something like "it's wrong to classify people this way - every one of God's creatures is different and unique". Trolls have no sense of humour remember - I hardly think you qualify.

As for the puny brains - I probably got a little carried away, mostly because the trolls have been annoying me recently. I'd apologise, but that would be a pixie-ish thing to do.

Jabberwock: Bodies of trolls are over-rated, sure they have rock-hard abs and get all the women, but who needs to turn into stone the minute one steps out into sunlight?

Veena: Dwarves are half gnome, half troll. If you want the complete genealogy:

Gnome + Troll = Dwarf
Gnome + Pixie = Leprechaun
Pixie + Elf = Fairy (Think Puck / Oberon)
Elf + Troll = Hobbit

Anonymous said...

what is Firm? some lawyer cult?

Heh Heh said...

That reminds me of the "desperation, opportunity, ability" model. A three dimensional matrix for classifying people to evaluate their likelihood of hooking up with a chick.
Come to think of it, I will blog about it sometime.

TDREC said...

The moment of revelation for me: I think I am a troll pretending to be a pixie. You have no classification for me.

Take that Falstaff, put it in your pipe and smoke it.

ozymandiaz said...

Why are all of the halfbreeds so short? And I beg to differ concerning trolls not having a sense of humor. History is riddled with funny trolls. hare are a few...
John Belushi
Sid Ceaser
John Cleese
Dave Chappelle
Chevy Chase (the rest of SNL were pixies with the exception of Dan Aykroid who wore green tights and Eddie Murphy was a gnome.)
Jimmy Fallon
Buddy Hacket
Jimmy Kimmel (obviously)
All of the Stooges (I know you think they are all pixies bu that was a very elabrate ruse)
Sarah Jessica Parker (OK, shes not really funny)
Carl Reiner
And most of the cast of Second City
All of them trolls. Of course their relationships with the rest of the troll community was kinda like Krusty (definenite troll) and his father, but there it is. You really really really don't want to see me in green tights. I tried that once and it wasn't pretty. Threw them in the pile whith the parachute pants.

meditativerose said...

Nice ...
one more thing though. Though elves have few moral absolutes, when you try to attack the absolutes that they do have, they turn into gnomes ... I think our high-Q/Z friend has been shown up to be a gnome ;)

Falstaff said...

HWSNBF: Three-dimensional matrices are just pretentious (as opposed to humble things like 2x2s); plus I don't think opportunity is the right dimension - it's situation, not person specific. Also you need to think about whether ability and desperation are truly independent.

tdrec / MR: Gnome + Elf = Imp; Trolls + Pixie = Goblins.

Oz: I bow to your superior wisdom on Trolls. Disagree about John Cleese (who is very definitely an Elf) and think Sarah Jessica Parker is an excellent example of Troll-dom (sans humour) but I'll grant you the rest - though again, I would think they are more exceptions than the rule. Let's just say that you've won honorary troll status for yourself. As for half-breeds being vertically challenged - sorry, couldn't come up with that many tall mythical creatures.

MR: Now, now, you musn't bad-mouth friends of mine that way. I think it's the troll in you showing through.

Heh Heh said...

Ability and desperation are indeed independent. You can have Saints (low desperation, low ability), Poets (low desperation, high ability), Dingers (high desperation, low ability) and Flingers (high desperation, high ability).
Hows that for a 2x2 classification?
Opportunity as a third dimension was purely about number of women in the market you operate in. Even dingers high on the opportunity axis will end up hooking up with someone. (Thats just a market clearing condition).

Falstaff said...

HWSNBF: Nice. Would like to think of myself as a poet, but suspect I'm a Dinger. The reason I think they may not be independent is because I suspect lack of desperation can be a very seductive thing - the whole playing hard to get line. So for instance, I'm not sure that Saints have low ability - just the fact that they're sworn to celibacy could act like catnip (at the risk of destroying my psuedo-intellectual image - there's a Sex in the City episode about this, I think). And ya, opportunity is just the level of the market.

Gocool said...

However forced you r to dichotomise this multi-layered existence- if u r helping urselves to understand that u take nothing from here, since u brought nothing; then this taxonomy stuff is good. Else u r also behind that ring of all rings, and thence u r doomed :)

confused said...


Now all I have to figure out is where do i stand. :)

I hope I am not a troll or a Gnome and I am no elves.

So what remains? :)

I am not answering it! But it depends also on the situation. On this blog I prefer to keep shut because I am intellectually a little out of depth. But I assure you, I am quite a Lion for other less gifted bloggers.:)

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