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.

The Real State of the Union

Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, Members of the Supreme Court and diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, my dear, dear lobbyists, bumbling cronies, shameless sycophants, soulless corporate sponsors, and… uh… Oh, yeah, and fellow citizens:

Today our Nation lost a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who called America to its founding ideals and carried on a noble dream, which we continue to do our best to delay and destroy at every turn. We are nothing if not diligent. I shall now shamelessly exploit her memory. Tonight we are comforted by the hope of a glad reunion with the husband who was taken from her so long ago, and we are grateful for the good life of Coretta Scott King, even though she made the continued abuse and neglect of minorities more difficult for us rich white guys. Now that I have the obligatory homage that shows me as a “compassionate conquistador”, I mean, “conservative,” over with, let’s get down to business.

Each time I am invited to this rostrum, I am humbled by the privilege, and mindful of the history we have seen together, although I have no idea what a rostrum is – ain’t that what they call that pimple on my ass?. We have gathered under this Capitol dome in moments of national mourning and national achievement, and of course, these monumental national bullshit sessions. We have served America through one of the most consequential periods of our history – and it has been my honor to serve with you. And it will be my continuing honor to rape the once-glorious environment of America, steal from the poor to give to the rich, disrespect our allies, murder the English language, pummel the rules of courtesy, mangle the tenets of tact, create awkward moments out of thin air, make an art of miscommunication, destroy thousands of lives by proxy for no good reason, and fall off my bike and choke on a pretzel every once in a while for good measure.

In a system of two parties, two chambers, and two elected branches, there will always be differences and debate, but we are always right and the other side is always wrong. But even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger, so when I say your mother is a filthy whore who blows bums for kicks, I mean it in the best possible way. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another – and I will do my part, especially to make underhanded and snide comments in an arrogant tone, accompanied by an infuriating smirk. Tonight the state of our Union is strong – and together we will make it stronger. And if you buy this bullshit, you’re stupider than I thought, and stupider than me, even though you did elect me, which makes you not too smart in the first place.

In this decisive year (unlike every other year, which are all indecisive, waffling flip-floppers), you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. Well, I will make the choices and you will have no choice but to do what I say. After all, I am God-general of the Universe. I’m not? Well, Emperor of the Solar System. No? OK, King of North America, then. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom – or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life, letting Cheney and Rove run things while we take 5-week vacations at a fake ranch. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy – or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity, which we are doing handily, I might say, by alienating everyone with our glib remarks and staccato jibes in an exaggerated Southern accent. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting – yet it ends in danger and decline. But not for us, ‘cuz we don’t need no one. You wanna fight? Bring ‘em on! The only way to protect our people (at least those in gated communities) … the only way to secure the peace (when it suits us)… the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership and an occasional pre-emptive war – so the United States of America will continue to lead. Lead to where, I have no idea, Dick and Karl haven’t told me yet.

Abroad, our Nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal – we seek dominion over all lands that happen to contain the oil that is rightfully ours. Oh, that’s not a legitimate reason? Then we seek the end of tyranny in our world, or at least in places in which it’s advantageous to us. Some want to begin right here. Some dismiss that goal as misguided idealism. In reality, the future security of America depends on it. Now, on to the fear factor. On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country (we found no need to analyze the numerous failings of our own systems, that’s for those liberal wussies). Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom’’s cause. Without a trace of irony, for we are incapable of it, we believe that a “Peace or I’ll Kill You” policy will foster utopian governments across the globe. As long as we’re in charge and Halliburton gets the revenue that is its due.

Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time (pay no attention to the way my government attacks the freedom of our own citizens; blatant hypocrisy is the luxury of power). In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. Today, there are 122. And we are writing a new chapter in the story of self-government – with women lining up to vote in Afghanistan after a long, hard day harvesting poppy to be made into heroin for export… and millions of Iraqis marking their liberty with purple ink before going out to be blown up by their fellow citizens or being captured and tortured by ours… and men and women from Lebanon to Egypt debating the rights of individuals and the necessity of freedom before dismissing them and the Great Satan of America in a frothing Allah frenzy. At the start of 2006, more than half the people of our world live in democratic nations. And we do not forget the other half – in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran – because the demands of justice, and the peace of this world, require their freedom as well. Well, OK, we don’t forget them only when it suits our purpose. By the way, where the hell is Zimbabwe? Do we need to add them to the Axis of evil, or just the List of the Slightly Disagreeable?

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it (some that do are foolish puppets, like myself, or evil manipulators, like my dear friends Dick and Karl). And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is Christian Fundamentalism – uh – I meant to say, radical Islam – the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death. Terrorists like bin Laden are serious about mass murder – and all of us must take their declared intentions seriously while also using their deeds shamelessly for political gain, over and over and over again. They seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder, just as we seek to do here in the United States. But don’t tell anybody, hush hush. Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. The fact that they wouldn’t be there in the first place, if not for us, does not compute in the Orwellian maelstrom of greed, fear, and lies we have created and nurture with obstinate gracelessness. Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. Just in case you forgot. Fear, fear, FEAR! When they murder children at a school in Beslan (support us or children will die) … or blow up commuters in London (no one is safe)… or behead a bound captive (YOU could be next) … the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth from us, those without scruples. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it, at least for those who make a minimum of $200k a year.

And it goes on and on and on…

How much worser can it get?

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.