How to Be Wrong — Part 2 of 4

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Okay, I know I promised Part 2 would be a look at the nature of an apology. But I’m thinking first I should make a point about WHY you apologize. Why you even admit to making a mistake at all. So:

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Modern-day Conservatives piss me off. For soooo many reasons.

But one of the main reasons is that they’re so goddam SURE they’re right about everything. Given the history of conservatism, you’d think they’d have a few second thoughts. But no.

Because conservatism is, at its roots, “Things should stay just like they are.” Or at its worst, maybe even “Things should go back to the way they were.”

(It always sort of baffles me when I hear about prominent women being conservatives. Because, after all chicky-baby, you little barefoot kitchen-minder – hey, great dinner, by the way, sweetie, and now (fond ass-slap) go do your little thing with the dishes while the grownups talk – THIS is the way men would still be treating you if the world had lived up to your ideals. You’d be without the vote, without the voice, most places without even the right to own property. The freedom you have to be an outspoken conservative was championed and won not by conservatives, but by liberals. Even that vicious, smirking cow Ann Coulter is, in large part, the child of liberal victories.)

Who opposed slavery? Liberals. Who championed it? Conservatives. The ones who wanted things to stay the same. Who created unions, and the 40-hour work week? Liberals? Who opposed it? Conservatives. On and on.

Liberals were there at the founding of the United States. Not the first to think that we should all be — rather than lords and peasants — people who were innately equal, and deserving of an equal chance to succeed and prosper. But certainly some of the noteworthy, and someone who first created a whole new country on that idea.

One of the things that worries me about conservatism, a little-remarked side-effect, is the power it gives you in the moment. Look at the Republicans, who appear to send out talking points memos to the entire GOP every week or so, and then slam those talking points at every opportunity, on TV, on the radio, in public appearances, firing in powerful synchrony, never letting up, like cannons blasting at a weakened timber in the gate of a fort.

Muslim. Birth certificate. Obamacare. Socialism. Socialism. Socialism.

Even as a minority in Congress, they set and controlled the agenda, and the idiot Democrats backed off and let them.

Face it, if you entertain NO doubts about the fact that you’re right, that you’re good, it gives you enormous power in every moment of conflict. Whereas if even the thinnest edge of doubt creeps in, if you pause to ask yourself “Am I really right about this thing? Is this a good thing? What if I’m wrong?” … well, the pause itself is an easily-exploited weakness. Doubt erodes your confidence to advance, or even to hold your position and not lose ground.

But conservative power applies only in the short term. Absolute certainty makes you strong in the moment, but as a long-term strategy, it is enormously weak.

Because … well, because this is the real world, and being right is stronger than being wrong, however long it takes you to get there.

And that’s the power of the progressive. Doubt, the willingness to consider that you might be mistaken, is a weakness in the moment. But in the long run, thoughtfulness is an enormous strength.

Because, again, this is the real world. The place you MUST accept the possibility of being wrong in any one choice, so you can consider all the others and find the strongest and best one.

Take two histories with alternate Thomas Edisons, the one who tried the 10,000 (apocryphal) materials for electric light bulb filaments, and the other who said “No, it’s corn silks, it has to be corn silks, goddamit, because by Jesus I’m not trying anything else!” and you’d have one world of light and one of dark.

This peculiar progressive power, the open-minded willingness to be wrong, applies after the fact as well as before it. It’s not just “I might be wrong” going into it, it’s also “I was wrong” coming out of it.

Because mistakes aren’t dead things to be buried — and hey (heh-heh-heh) when’s the last time you heard any Republican proudly tossing George W. Bush’s name out into the ether? Bush seems to have just poofed out of existence, conservative-history-wise — mistakes are live things to cherish and remember. Mistakes are things you LEARN from. You study them, think about them, figure out where you went wrong.

Victories might be the cherished mile-posts of forward progress, but mistakes are the road along which they’re planted.

Which means you have to look at them.

Slavery isn’t something you bury in an unmarked grave. The Holocaust isn’t something you sweep under the carpet. No, you keep things like that out in the light, hang ‘em up and beat ‘em like dusty rugs, over and over and over, IN PUBLIC, to let people know “See that? See that? Man, we fucked that one up, big-time! Jeez, never want to do THAT again!”

You look at your mistakes, you admit and study them, because you want to achieve something better.

Which is what modern conservatives never seem to want to do. To them, the “something better” is what you have, or what you had 20 years ago, or 50, or off in some every-man-for-himself, the-strong-emerge-victorious-over-the-weak frontier fantasy.

So why do you admit to being wrong? Why do you apologize?

Because in the end, it makes you more powerful. It makes us more powerful together. It allows us to shrug off mistakes and fuckups, the hurts and pains we inevitably bestow upon each other, and make progress together.

You apologize not because you’re weak, but because you’re strong. Strong enough to admit mistakes.

And because you want to be stronger still. Strong enough to attempt to fix them.

[ CONTINUED:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4  ]

Thoughts on “Privilege”
The Book of Good Living: How to Avoid Being Killed By A Train
Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth
Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy

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