Category Archives: Philosophy

On Being Wrong

Cover of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the ...

Cover via Amazon

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

Dr. at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NA...

Dr.Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the November 29, 2005 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council, in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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On Immigrants and Vaginas

Marco Rubio - Caricature

Marco Rubio – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Last Friday, President Barack Obama apparently stole Mitt Romney’s thunder by announcing a version of the Dream ActLite. Ordering the Department of Homeland Security to not deport children of immigrant parents up to the age of 30 and allowing them to apply for a work permit is a

Mitt Romney - Caricature

Mitt Romney – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

major step forward, even when many would hope for the whole enchilada of immigration reform. According to news reports, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) was supposed to be working on the conservative version of the Dream Act, which Mitt Romney had agreed to support in public to show he could actually take a stand on an issue and reach out to the Hispanic voters he alienated during the silly season this past year. But Sen. Rubio dillied and dallied and failed to produce any product for months, leaving the Mittster  with nothing to stand behind. I don’t know if the White House knew of this plan, but it certainly scuppered it. And when Bob Schieffer asked Mr. Robme five times during a CBS interview whether he would revoke the order if elected, sure enough he (Shieffer) got no direct answer.

Rubio also had the arrogance and/or audacity to complain that Obama derailed his version of the Dream Act. He said that the President never called him to discuss this development or involved him in the planning. Now, call me stupid, but I have never seen it written that a sitting president should consult with a junior senator in his second year on matters of national importance. Obama’s directive to DHS can certainly be considered a political move, a huge outreach to the sensibilities of the Hispanic voters of this country. Rubio does not represent those sensibilities. He is the American-born son of Cuban parents who emigrated to the United States in 1956, when Fulgencio Battista was Cuba’s leader. They travelled back and forth between the two countries until 1959, when Castro came to power, and they decided to move to the US permanently. Rubio was born in Miami, Florida, and the Cuban community there was known for years for being ultra-conservative. The vast majority of Mexican immigrants did not have Sen. Rubio’s experience, nor do they support him today, as he has turned out to be a conservative beacon. Univision, the Spanish-language television station, ran an interview with Rubio that was, to say the least, combative.

The positive result of this kerfluffle is the news that both parties were working on doing something about the immigration mess in this country. It was a hell of a lot easier for my great-great grandfather to emigrate from Germany in 1850 than it is today. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

But the immigration mess is only the latest example of ways that American politicians deal with issues poorly. See what Amanda Marcotte, in  Slate’s Double XX Factor: What Women Really Think  had to say about the appropriateness of language in politics:

I personally want to thank the Republicans in the state House of Michigan for banning two female Democrats last week for their temerity to testify against the mega-bill trying to run abortion providers out of the state. With state Rep. Lisa Brown, it appears that the concern was she used language that Rep. Mike Callton called inappropriate for “mixed company,” aka the word vagina, which is apparently so filthy a term it must not touch the ears, much less the lips of ladies. I usually have to build a careful case that opposition to abortion is based not in any concern for fetal life, but instead in a prudish and sexist hatred of female sexuality and fear of female empowerment. This week, Michigan Republicans did that work for me. So I want to offer my thanks.

How is it possible that Republican legislators can write some of the most obscene legislation that would extend state control over women’s bodies, but can’t bear to hear the word “vagina” in mixed company? The hypocrisy is suffocating me. I thought the response, a public presentation of The Vagina Monologues by Rep. Lisa Brown on the steps of the Michigan capital was spot-on. And I hope this shakes more women out of their torpor and makes them angry at a political party that would seek to extend male hegemony back to the level it was when it could truthfully be said to be a man’s world.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Congress, Hispanic, Human rights, Hypocrisy, Immigration, Immigration reform, Philosophy, Politics, Women's rights