Writing About Being Wrong

I’ve never really seriously taken into consideration that I might, someday, write a non-fiction book. Humor, perhaps. But a screed/diatribe/exposition on one subject? I don’t think I’d have the patience – or expertise enough in one subject – for that. But I’m close to changing my mind. The subject? Why and how I just changed my mind. OPINION.

Since you have to have a “BOLD TITLE: Followed by a colon and some quip or pithy summary,” I think I’ll call it “WRONG! OR AM I?: How Hard it is to Change your Opinion… Or is it?”

I guess I could work on that. I heard a snippet from a podcast, probably “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe,” remarking upon how when you confront people about an instance in which they changed their minds about something, they say, “Sure!” but when you ask for an example, they say, “Uh… uh.. hold on.” Nothing comes immediately to mind. But eventually, they think of something. Any mature and reasonable human can eventually call to mind a subject on which they changed their opinion.

But why is it difficult to recall that right away? Because it’s a process. If you can recall an issue in which you reversed yourself, it’s highly unlikely you can think of that ONE MOMENT in which you suddenly decided, “OK, I guess tomatos are fruit,” or “I give up, I guess Pluto’s not really a real planet.” No. It’s a gradual process. You learn and you evolve over time. Facts and evidence chip away at your opinion. You may have a moment someday, when you haven’t thought of something in a while, and realize that your mind has changed on it. But the revelation didn’t occur all at once – the realization may have, but the actual reversal didn’t.

But I have to delve deeper. Why does it take so much for us to change our minds? Presupposing, of course, that the issue is not borderline or personal. Say it’s something that is obvious to most people; there is overwhelming evidence, and it’s in front of us every day. I’ll go for the obvious, Climate Change. Why do so many insist on its lack of existence when there is no way they are right? Do they know it and they just cannot humble themselves and accept the evidence? Or is it merely a cynical stance that supports their broader political ethos?

Take the internet, the main place we see gatherings of opinion these days. It’s such an immediate medium. You can’t possibly convince someone with an opposing viewpoint to come over to your side. At least not quickly enough to satisfy anyone. Ideas have to seep in over time by osmosis, percolate, and soften the hard edges of a person’s stance. The concrete fortress of people’s opinions have to be made malleable over time, until (what are hopefully) facts can wedge their way in.

Look at your friends on Facebook. Can you remember anyone convincing anyone else of anything substantive? And the pointless, childish, futile insult-fests in the comment sections of articles and blog posts; how much effort at one-up-manship and needless rage happens in dark rooms across America and the world, with anonymous people verbally abusing each other? And for what? Fun? For some people, it’s fun, I suppose. It’s hard to account for tastes.

Why is it so difficult to say “OK, I guess I was wrong?” Well, I believe it’s a combination of things. Pride in being right. Fear of embarrassment in admitting error (and opening the door to the realization that you might be wrong on other things). Sheepishness in validating the fact that you’re not the smartest one on every subject. But it’s deeper than just that, I think. On a fundamental level, if we are proven wrong about something, do we believe that the person or people who proved us wrong are BETTER than us? Smarter, more tolerant, more insightful? Or, depending on our level of personal insecurity, that they are perceived by others to be superior to us? It’s an interesting question. Or maybe it’s not. Hell, I could be wrong.

I’ve been wrong before. It just took me a long time to figure it out.

Thoughts on the 2014 World Cup

  • Muticulturalism rules: When you have two black half-brothers named Boateng, one who plays for Ghana and the other for Germany. When I see a US national team member, a black dude with dreads, speaking English with a German accent. When among the Gonzalezes and Rodriguezes of a Central American team, there’s a “Campbell.” OK, so most of the guys’ names on the Balkan teams still end in “-ic.” It’s still a work in progress. But I dig it.
  • It must really chap the old Germans’ lederhosen – you know, the old bigots complaining at their Stammtisches – to know that their foremost strikers are, well, two Poles and a Turk.
  • I hate Ronaldo. I don’t like Ronaldo. Please don’t make me like Ronaldo. (http://sportbild.bild.de/fussball-wm/2014/fussball/geschichte-hinter-ronaldos-narben-frisur-36501386.sport.html)
  • Luis Suarez should join up with Mike Tyson and form a support group for those who have an irresistible appetite for manflesh.
  • Sure, I love Germany, and I want them to win it all. But it’s about time for someone besides them and Brazil, Argentina, and Italy to win. I say the Netherlands. Come on, give them a break, they live in a country with 30 people that’s below sea level. And they had to send most of them to Brazil to play soccer. They’ve come in second three times!
  • Is it me or does Alexi Lalas seem to have contempt for every other analyst? He works through it, but, initially, man, relax.
  • How do so many people from so many countries afford to show up to the world cup? No matter where it is, really? You’d think that at the prices they must be charging for airfare, hotels, etc., that only the elites could go. But you see the same face-painted, bare-chested, dare I say, “blue collar” madness that you might at any NFL game. Somehow, soccer rules.
  • That guy’s knee hit you in the thigh. Why are you grabbing your face?
  • I remember playing (American) football, and when it was my turn to come out, loping casually off the field. And the coach screaming at me, “Get your ass moving, Goldman! Why should we have to wait for you?” So when I see these Pro players casually striding off the pitch, wasting precious seconds, and no one is protesting, I wonder. The clock’s running, man.
  • But man, those little dudes can move quickly. When they want to.
  • Never do I remember seeing such a myriad of inked skin. Some of these teams are tatted up and down. Arms, stomachs, chests, necks, even faces. Not being a tattoo guy, I don’t get it. Maybe I’m getting old and inevitably old-fashioned; seeing multimillionaires running around looking like gang members or rock starts is odd to me. I realize a bunch of ink doesn’t make you a low-life; I have friends with tattoos. I guess I just don’t get the attraction of permanently marking your skin…
  • Hairdos. Chileans with Mohawks. Belgians with Afros. There are more hairdos at the world cup than at a Milan fashion extravaganza. Some women would kill for some of that hair. When you see a guy with “normal” hair, you have to point it out. “Look, that guy has normal hair! What the hell’s wrong with him?”
  • There’s a guy on the Brazil team named Hulk. Hulk say no handball. Hulk angry. Hulk never flop.
  • Sportsmanship. One of my absolute favorite things about the whole spectacle is seeing players getting along with players from the other team. Sure, often they’re on the same club team together. But seeing a Japanese player and a Colombian player grin and hug each other before a game bodes well for the world. Even if they DO both play for Dortmund or ManU.
  • Diving/flopping/falling. One of my least favorite things about Le Fusbol. OK, the absolute WORST thing. And one of the things that has always made me a non-fan of the South American teams, particularly Brazil and Argentina. The flop left, they flop right. Another player taps them lightly and they flip a somersault and hurt themselves far more landing than whatever the other player did. Then they writhe around, crying soliloquies of pain, histrionic like a wordless Olivier. They finally get up and limp like they have a shattered femur. Then, miraculously, two minutes later, they’re sprinting like a Jamaican track star. Must be their training.To be fair, I’ve seen a few flops by my favorite teams, too. I still don’t like it. I know you’re trying to win a foul, an advantage for your team, perhaps at a critical moment. But it feels dirty. In fact, I’ll even call it, yes, a wussy move. I’ll go out on a limb and say that if you’re an adult male, and you’re crying and acting like you’re hurt when you’re not, then you’re a big, fat, whining wuss. Get over yourself, you big baby. Stand up and play the damned game.
  • And what a game it is.

Rant In Passing: Hatequake

Ongoing hatred, as much as it is human, eats at the spirit, does it not? I have found as I age that it is easier to analyze the hatred, find its roots, and try to laugh at the people that cause it. Laugh at them for their ineptness in life, their walled-in narcissism as they crash through the world, flailing about in helpless attempts at relevance. And laugh at them knowing that, if they even make it that far, they will sit old and decrepit, eaten away by the bile of their selfishness and mania, and stew in a pool of dementia and insignificance.

All that said, a good bout of angst and animus is also healthy. We are not Vulcans.

No passing an ongoing rant

Admit it. If you commute to work in your car and you drive through suburbs, you’ve been stuck behind a school bus at some point. And like me every once in a while, you may have found yourself cursing out loud at the behemoth in front of you, then feeling guilty for the cursing. Of course you should have to stop for a school bus. On both sides. Of course it’s a good idea. Even people who don’t have children of their own probably agree. I agreed with it before I had a son of my own. He doesn’t ride the bus (yet), but any law that objectively enhances the safety of children is valid in my book.

But that leads me to this: We shouldn’t need this law. Call it idealism, maybe, but if we had decent, well-designed roads with sidewalks and crosswalks, and drivers who were skilled and gave a shit, we wouldn’t. This brings me back to one of my long-standing peeves: sidewalks and bike paths, or the lack of ‘em. (Another reason I have affection for Rachel Maddow – she loves to get geeky about the unsexy subject of infrastructure.)

If we planned our communities instead of leaving them to the whims of developers concerned only about the almighty dollar, we might have schools and shopping centers and gathering places within walking and biking distances of homes, not this moronic and unsustainable sprawl. We’d have sidewalks and bike paths and playgrounds and all of that, and cut down on traffic, danger from traffic, use of fossil fuels, emissions from using those fuels, and use of energy in general. We’d increase fitness levels, and most important of all, provide the means for a sense of COMMUNITY. Oh shit, there’s that word, with the same root as that dreaded Stalin/Marx/Mao thing… what was it called?

I’m guilty of it, too. I live in a house far from any real cultural centers. Sure, there are carbon-copy strip malls everywhere, but how does that help in bringing a sense of community? I’ve noticed this since living here in the US: people can be so isolated from one another. I hardly see my neighbors, barely remember their names. I admittedly am far more interested in international news and issues than what happens locally – local issues hold no interest for me because I’m not involved. Sure, it’s partly my fault. But the way we do things is not conducive to people being involved. It’s not encouraging. When it’s dangerous to walk to a friend’s house a couple of streets away because there are no sidewalks, we drive. And no wonder we don’t have a sense of community, we never talk to each other because we’re always in OUR FUCKING CARS! I ride my bike a lot (for fitness, rarely for transportation), and to see the incoherent rage of the imbeciles whom I dare to slow down because of my meager human-powered perambulation is saddening. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been honked at for no good reason, and even run off the road on occasion because some frazzled mom was late getting her kids to soccer or just wasn’t paying attention (or whatever), wrapped up in her own world. Oops, I just used a woman for my example of bad drivers. Guys can be just as bad, usually in a different, more aggressive way.

Back to community. I have to bring up Germany again. Yes, I know it’s a tiny country compared to ours and the logistics just don’t compare. But there are bike and pedestrian paths everywhere, not to mention a stellar public transportation system. Sense of community? I used to see people sweeping the sidewalk in front of their home. The sidewalk – not part of their property. (OK, knowing the Germans, it’s probably a law.) But there was always more of a sense of community there to me.

Besides there not being any real connectedness between us, I guess my sense of community, or rather the lack of it, stems from no sense of history and culture. Rather than grand stone buildings with admirable design, we have cookie-cutter housing developments, the houses built out of wood and drywall I can put my foot through. Rather than well-respected businesses that have been in the same family for a century or more, we have ugly little pre-fab strip malls, whose tenants seem to change yearly. Rather than locally-owned, dedicated, and homey restaurants of all kinds, we have slick, neon fast-food chains that serve up grease-laden hunks of mush. Am I too critical of my own country? It’s all out of love and a wish to improve it, man. Well, most of it. Believe me, I have plenty of critiques of my other favorite country, Germany, besides the thing that happened a few decades ago. That’s for another rant.

How to resolve this lack of a sense of community I see here? A confluence of many things, and that’s for the many people smarter than I. But for a start, let’s build some damned sidewalks and bike paths and some community places we can be proud of – and I ain’t talkin’ any more churches. That’s also for another rant. Oh, if I had the time, volumes I could fill. Humor me – writing about things I like just ain’t as interesting.

How much worser can it get?

(Later note: I wrote this in 2006. How naive it was.)

I was thinking today that we often say, this administration is so horrible, hypocritical, incompetent etc. that we wish for the days of Nixon. I asked my father about the days of Nixon and Reagan and got the answers you would expect (both had their good and bad points, Nixon a bit ahead on the bad, but all presidents do bad things – Nixon just got caught). So I wondered if my son will ever ask me about the regime of George W. Bush. That, in turn, made me wonder if I would be able to say it was by far the worst presidency EVER. Could it get any worse between now and when my son is old enough (or foolish enough) to ask that question? How bad would it have to be to be WORSE? What could make someone in, say, 2045, wish for the simpler days of the Bush II Administration? The only thing I could think of was, well, yes, Hitler. If we were being led and bled by a leader who was similar to the loud, ugly, demented little maggot who held his jackboot on the neck of my beloved Germany in the worst years of the 20th century, then, and only then, could I see somebody saying something like that. For example:

“President-for-life Snerd is so evil and demented that it makes me wish for the days of George W. Bush, back at the turn of the century.  Back then, when the government lied, it was obvious.  When they stole from the poor to give to the rich, not only did they do it out in the open, they did it repeatedly, and ran on it.  They were so incompetent, they made us laugh.  They had this dolt, McLennan, or McClellan, for their press secretary one time, man, that guy was soooo bad.  And there was the Vice President Cheney who liked to curse reporters and shoot people.  And the Secretary of Defense, who caused thousands of soldiers to die needlessly.  And that mess with that hurricane…and how we’re still trying to recover from the environmental damage.  And…OK, it sucked then too.  But at least we didn’t have public beheadings and frontal lobe privacy-eradicator implants like we have today.  Oh, shit son, now I’ve done it.  Here come people from the Office of Suppressing Opprobrium of our Exalted Officials to take me away.”

Oh no! I made a Hitler reference! In the same paragraph in which I mentioned the president! I will surely get some flak for that. I would, that is, if anybody read this…

And yes, my America is beloved too. She’s just having adolescent identity crises right now and I’m trying to control my temper with her.

My Present Times are Better than Yours

(Later note – This was written in 2005 – I think maybe 2020 has proven me wrong…)

If I were World Coordinator, I would immediately outlaw anyone speaking in melodramatic tones – or any tones – of our living “in extraordinary times.” To me, this is narrow-minded and bombastic talk. That we live in “changing times” or “a fascinating era” is a highly subjective point of view, like saying that Britney Spears’ latest dance opus Bare My Midriff Baby – or whatever it’s called – is a pivotal moment in music history, or that Trading Spouses represents a massive step forward in the evolution of television. Everyone knows that Britney will never top her debut, and Survivor was just as good as TV gets in teaching Americans the two-faced, manipulative, peer-ridiculing values they need to succeed as unapologetic cormorants. What, don’t you agree?

Perhaps outlawing isn’t a good answer. I, being an uncompromising advocate of free speech, would never want to criminalize expression, even if it is godlike in its moronity. Maybe public flogging with historical texts of boring eras (the Reformation, my college career), and groping by a wet Wookie. Hey, I’m in charge here.

All times are “historical times.” Current events always affect the course of history; that’s how things work, if you operate from the supposition that time is linear. The false view that current times are more exciting or relevant than others is sort of a reversal of the enhanced nostalgia to which people often fall victim – when past times in their lives seem so much better than the present (when often they weren’t). I call this dichotomy the “Inverse Era Bias.” Not very sexy, but better than “the 80’s ruled, the 90’s totally sucked, dude.” So from a personal perspective, things were better in the past, but from a societal perspective, events were never more interesting and pivotal than now. The Inverse Era Bias demonstrates, I think, the continuing separation of the individual from the community; at least in America. Was 1776, 1865, or 1945 a more important year than, say, 1993? Were the years surrounding the Norman or Mongol invasions or World War II more relevant than now? Perhaps, but how can we judge that? If the Serbians hadn’t assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, we may never have had a World War I or II. So that’s all the Serbs’ fault. Sorry, a little sarcasm there, I’m still practicing the art. If Nader hadn’t run in 2000, we would never have had to deal with the idiocies we’re dealing with now. So it’s all Nader’s fault. Well, not all of it – I can’t blame him for Global Warming.

Any important historical event is preceded by a cause or causes, which are usually other events or a succession of events. Situations are shaped by many circumstances, individuals act upon those circumstances, and create the next situation, and the cycle continues. It is also extremely subjective to put boundaries on events or eras, as in, it started here and ended here. Let the victors of future wars and political conflicts modify history to decide that.

So I admonish people everywhere, especially speech writers and commencement address deliverers, to avoid the Inverse Era Bias. Yes, the times we live in are extraordinary, fascinating, pivotal, historical, blah blah yadda yadda blah, but please don’t claim that they are more so than any other.

If I were World Coordinator, I”d have to further address this issue. But I’m not, and it’s probably better that I’m not, but hey, it’s just a point of view.