I gotta say, folks: most of the time I walk around thinking that I’m hot shit on the intellectual/moral high ground front. I burn up a lot of synapses trying to figure out the right thing to do, or how something perplexing works. I had a thought today while I was biking around with the puppy, though, that spun me for a loop. I came to the shocking conclusion that other people do things differently than me because they have completely different assumptions and expectations. “Holy shitballs,” I thought, “So THAT’S why no one can work the robot cashier at the grocery store!” I realized, (and let me tell you, this was a veritable lightning bolt) that even though I THINK I do everything very sequentially and logically, that even though there are multitudes of reasons within master plans for everything I do, that maybe – just maybe – I’m not exactly right. It struck me that if everyone is different based on their experiences, education, genetics, and maximum capacity for being an asshole, THEN THERE ISN’T A RIGHT OR A WRONG way to think or do things – there is only that which is possible to each individual organism in its quest for survival. That’s some deep bullshit, I know, but THINK ABOUT IT – this is why no matter how hard you try to communicate some people will never pick up what you’re throwing down. This doesn’t make them wrong or worse than you, it just makes them different. My biggest problem in life is that I make all these awesome plans WHICH WOULD TOTALLY WORK if only everyone would just get in the boat. Unfortunately, getting my friends and family (and NASA) to do anything is like trying to herd cats – you get one person in the car, go try to round up the other person, and then get them to the car only to find that person one has gone off to poop.
I spent some considerable time this morning (okay 23 minutes, but for me that’s like a decade) doing some rather uncomfortable meta-cognitive exercises – trying to prove to myself that my own reasoning was sound. I mean, I’ve been really up in arms lately, calling other people super turbo assholes (which I realize that they are) because they don’t share the same values that I do. As I reflected, I remembered the one time in my life that I have ever been ABSOLUTELY SURE that I was beyond a doubt correct about something. I was in art school, and my cat had just unexpectedly produced a batch of scruffy, multicolored kittens. They were about two weeks old, and were doing the typical stalk/pounce kitten play. Sirrah and I were sitting on my couch watching them, when (SUDDENLY) LIGHT BULB. It was like some omniscient higher power had just jacked into my brain and fed me the answer that would solve all of the world’s problems. Seriously, this was an electric moment. I turned to Sirrah, eyes like saucers, and I’m sure mouth slightly agog, and said in a voice filled with childlike delight and wonderment, “I know why kittens walk around with their tails stuck straight up in the air.” Sirrah gave me
a look that indicated that she thought I had just totally lost my fucking mind, sized me up for the straight jacket, and said very tentatively, “Okay, Johnny, why DO kittens walk with their tails stuck straight up in the air?” I smiled knowingly (because I REALLY BELIEVED I knew) and said, “It’s so their mothers can find them in the tall grass.” Gazing at me with total incredulity (like she couldn’t believe that she was breathing the same air as a moron of my caliber) Sirrah replied in an extremely gentle voice, “Honey, I really think it’s more for balance.” I immediately realized she was totally correct. I was crushed. My epiphany was bullshit. It was almost enough to throw me into a fit of bitter nihilism complete with an emo soundtrack. I was saved by the fact that, almost immediately after she told me the actual scientific truth of the kitten conundrum, Sirrah laughed so hard at me that she fell off the couch. She made me realize that being wrong wasn’t tragic, it was fucking funny.
So, here’s the deal about rightness, campers: no matter how hard you think you’re correct, no matter who agrees with you, no matter whether what you think feels like an incredible epiphany, no matter what, THERE IS ALWAYS THE POSSIBILITY (however minute or improbable) that your head is so far up your fucking ass that it would take a team of Chilean coal miners to extract it. YOU COULD ALWAYS BE WRONG. As I pondered this conclusion, I understood that it’s not being right or wrong that matters – it’s how you treat other people. Let’s work the syllogism: if it’s possible that all of our most deeply held beliefs could be totally wrong, then we have no real reason to treat the people who don’t agree with us like shit. What does this mean? Even if you really believe that Jehovah specifically said that homosexuality is wrong, that marriage is between a man and a woman, etc (EVEN THEN), because you COULD BE WRONG, you can’t justify being abusive to homosexuals. Let’s do me now. I COULD BE WRONG in my certainty that Republicans are misogynistic, money loving, greed fucking, intellectual mutants, therefore I can’t morally validate going out and beating up Republicans (even though I have quite a bit of historical evidence that indicates that I’m spot-on in that evaluation). Don’t worry. I’m not going to STOP saying fairly mean and totally obvious things about Republicans – I’m just going to acknowledge that, “hey, I could be wrong,” and do it anyway. I think that EVERYONE should accept some level of fallibility; we’re human. The problem is that the people who seem to be much more fallible than everyone else are not only the most vocal about their opinions, they’re also the least likely to acknowledge that (logically) there has to be a possibility that they’re wrong. That’s why we shouldn’t listen to those people. I’m advocating a mute button (or maybe closed captioning that they have to do themselves because the spelling/grammar errors would be hilarious). That’s how I watch CNN.
The tricky thing about fallibility is that it’s not an excuse for wrong doing. It’s more of an impetus to treat people properly, because WHAT IF YOU’RE INCORRECT? The great thing about acknowledging our own capacities for being wrong is that it makes us more thoughtful about our actions. If you realize, for instance, that you could be wrong about attacking a whole country, then it makes it that much more difficult to push the button. Maybe taking that extra time (and experiencing that extra worry) would change the world in a positive way. Now we just need to elect people that don’t need an assistant well versed in phonetics and armed with a Webster’s Dictionary and a saint’s patience to explain the concept of “fallibility” to them. I imagine it would take about three years in a windowless, locked, grey room (and probably about 72 flow charts) to get Romney up to speed on this idea. That’s troubling. And hilarious.