I am currently reading a wonderful book by Kathryn Schulz called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Humans are not comfortable with making mistakes. But we do, and we do it pretty consistently. I have to assume, though, that some of you might have run into insufferable bosses or colleagues who insist that they rarely, if ever, err In fact, you might even find one in your family, perhaps Grandpa Hamid or Aunt Lucy, who never ever make mistakes. The skill they all have in common is the ability to blame an underling or other family member for their faults.
Schulz writes that;
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
You know, the only creatures I’ve ever found with omniscience were gods! My, my, aren’t we all pleased with ourselves.
Of course, with ordinary mortals one can just ignore them or, in extremes, tell them off. But then there is the politician, the bloviating, slobbering, pompous, condescending paradigm of this hubris just described.
Most of us, according to Schulz, believe that falling into error is “dangerous, humiliating, distasteful, and, un-fun in the extreme.” She refers to this belief as the pessimistic model of wrongdoing. Schulz explains:
[o]ur mistakes really can be irritating or humiliating or harmful, to ourselves as well as to others. To dismiss that fact would be disingenuous, but as an overall outlook on wrongness, the pessimistic one is radically incomplete. To begin with, it obscures the fact that whatever damage can arise from erring pales in comparison to the damage that arises from our fear, dislike, and denial of erring. This fear acts as a kind of omnipurpose coagulant, hardening heart and mind, chilling our relationships with other people, and cooling our curiosity about the world.
Is this not the ultimate truism about the political class? Are they not petrified of making any error, lest the electorate throw them out of the comfortable homes they have found in government? And is this not true in every land on the face of the planet?
I can only speak for my own country, but the denial of committing error is running rampant in my government, and I must be honest and say the Republicans/Conservatives are the biggest offenders. Take, for example, climate change. Business has denied the existence of climate change for a number of reasons, but one big one is that it is afraid of the regulations that would burden them should climate change be true. Over the years, more and more scientists have reviewed the evidence and undertaken new studies and, unfortunately, climate change is a reality. The long-term droughts, violent storms, huge flooding, and monster hurricanes are telling us that something is wrong. And still Republicans deny it is happening.
I saw Bill Maher‘s panel discussion on cable tv the other day. Some Republican Luddite was arguing that these climate catastrophes were nothing more than the regular cycle of events, like the hurricanes he remembered from his childhood. Luckily, there was another panel member, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, science
communicator, and director of the prestigious Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Of course he was asked for his views. His first comment was on what scientists expect from laymen who are told some information they don’t like to hear. First, he said, they deny it. Second, they say it conflicts with the Bible (or Torah or Quran). Third, they say they knew it all along. But when asked for evidence, he pointed to nature itself. Plants and animals are moving northward, because it is becoming warm enough for them to survive there. They know what global warming is and they’re feeling it.
But the Republican party cannot bring itself to say it was wrong, and so we continue to have battles about environmental regulations that shouldn’t be. Because they would find it humiliating to say that they missed the boat. I don’t think they will acknowledge their effort until that boat is foundering. And we’ll all lose.
- Climate: “Extreme” events will focus minds – NOAA boss (seattlepi.com)
- How to bet on climate change (guardian.co.uk)
- Heat wave bakes eastern half of the US but is climate change to blame? (bfreenews.com)
- Kathyrn Schulz: Why Should We Embrace Regret? (wnyc.org)
- Just 3% of News Stories about the Wildfire Epidemic Even Mention Climate Change (treehugger.com)
- Belief in Climate Change Is On the Way Back Up (motherjones.com)
- The Courage to Say: I Am Sorry, I Err (sabinianabalagtasbaliba.com)