In the course of my life, I have been wrong about plenty of things. This should be obvious, since I started life as a typical Christian conservative who believed I was possessed by demons because I was transgender and ultimately became an atheistic anarchist, passing through socialism and full-blown communism in the process. So not only have I been wrong in the past, I have been absurdly wrong.
When one undertakes the quest to find the truth, it’s never about finding out what is true. It’s about ruling out what isn’t. You have to try an idea out like a pair of glasses, walk around with them on for a little while, and only then can you determine whether they feel right. You have to keep an open mind, always willing to put on a new pair of glasses, no matter how silly you might think they initially look.
I used to make a little show of correcting myself, in fact. When I argued with Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience over the Great Pyramid and his assertion that its “size” is analogous to the Luxor in Vegas because he was intentionally excluding mass from counting, when the reality is that the fact that it’s made out of 70 ton stone blocks is precisely what makes the Great Pyramid so damned remarkable, just so that he could write-off what some conspiracy loon was saying about ancient aliens, there was one point where I had to backpedal.
While it did seem to me that the best way to backpedal, since the discussion was relatively public, was to publicly acknowledge that I was backpedaling, that I had been mistaken on one area or another, the entire thing was irrelevant. Matt then, in the way most people do, took my clarification of something as admission that I was wrong, declared himself the victor, and walked away. Austin Petersen attempted something similar, when I foolishly allowed for the possibility that I was mistaken in my understanding of his positions, seizing the opportunity–as Matt did and as any troll would–to say something like, “If your facts are wrong, how can your conclusion be right?” even though it had no bearing on what I said.
Even among people who ordinarily function as intellectuals, debates devolve into a bitter war between two sides who refuse to appear weak. Since any hint of weakness will be touted by the spectating masses as losing the argument, no backpedaling is allowed–and, if you must backpedal, you must do it quietly, without anyone noticing. But, realistically, the best thing you can do–in the eyes of the masses–is to dig that hole deeper. Anything but admit you’re wrong and need to re-evaluate your position.
Gary Johnson did this in the Stossel Debate, when asked whether a Jewish bakery should have been forced to bake a cake for Nazis. Everything about the question screamed two things. First, Johnson had to find a way to deny the validity of the analogy. People do this a lot–in fact, Americans are great at it. It doesn’t matter how obvious and clear the parallels are; they will deny its validity. Johnson was intellectually honest enough to not attempt this route, though. The second response would have been to stop and re-evaluate his position, to backpedal, and to admit that he may be wrong and needs to consider it further. Instead, Johnson dug deeper, saying there before all the people watching that, in his opinion, yes, a Jewish bakery should have been forced to bake a cake for Nazis.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson went on to quietly rectify this remark–somewhat–and quietly tried to smooth over how he called religious freedom a black hole. It’s revealing that Johnson didn’t do this in the debate with everyone watching; he chose to do it later, rather than appear weak.
I’ve long since stopped bothering to admit that I’m wrong about something, but it’s not because I refuse to appear weak. I don’t have enough of an audience for that to matter.
It’s because those public admissions that I was wrong were never anything more than showcases of ego. “Look at me! Look how intellectually honest and humble I am! I’m so humble and so great that I’ll write a 2,000 word article admitting that I’m wrong!” Honestly, I’m disgusted that I ever did it, but human existence is a constant battle against one’s own ego–I don’t mean “ego” in the Freudian sense, but in the sense of “the image of self.”
As a transsexual person who often finds herself explaining to people that there is no meaningful difference between me today and me of two years ago, the image of self is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. You undoubtedly have some image of me, just as I probably have some image of you. Let’s not kid ourselves here. Your image of me probably doesn’t look anything like me, and my image of you probably doesn’t look anything like you. You might have the advantage and may be closer to “me” if you’ve watched my more personal videos on Youtube, but even then you’re only getting an incomplete picture.
This is intentional, though… Putting up a complete picture has bitten me in the ass at least twice. But even if I wasn’t intentionally separating things today–another reason I took down Shemale Diary and renamed it elsewhere, to write about my personal affairs–you still wouldn’t get a full picture of me. This is neither here nor there, though.
The reality is that you have some image of me in your head, but you know what else? I have some image of me in my head, as well.
And you have some image of you in your head, as well.
The reality is that these images very rarely coincide with us in reality. I’ve always been fascinated by the topic of wondering how other people perceive me, but it’s a question that can never be answered. Where does their image of me differ from my image of me? Where does my image of me differ from me? Who is “me?” Is “me” the image that other people have, the image that I have, or none of the above?
This is the crux of ego: that self-image, and conflicts between that self-image and the actual self. This is why transgenderism ends up claiming so many lives: people don’t just have a self-image, and people don’t just see disparity between that and who they are, but they also have an idealized image. I realize this sounds similar to Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego. That’s probably coincidental. Anyway, conflicts between these things cause substantial internal conflict. The person who looks in the mirror and sees a man while looking in the mind’s eye and seeing a woman has their work cut out for them in resolving the disparities. We all have these conflicts, whether it always includes gender and sex or not.
I feel like I’m rambling, but also that it’s important rambling.
The point is that my self-image through all of those public acknowledgements that I’m wrong was this ultra-intellectual person who was so humble that they drew pride from their humility. That’s the problem of ego, of course. Attempting to abolish the ego is, by definition, an act of ego. I could put up the pretense of humility, and many people would accept it at face value: “Look at this person so humble that they can admit when they’re wrong! Awesome!” Yet the reality was far more insidious than that. There was nothing humble about it, because it was “Look at me, I’m so humble that I can admit when I’m wrong! Admire that!”
I don’t mean to suggest that I ever consciously did this. Of course not, and I haven’t been clear if that seems to be what I’m saying. An act of ego is so rarely aware that it is an act of ego. I didn’t see the underlying sense of pride in what I was doing, but there it was, nonetheless, hidden beneath the mask of humility.
In the past six months or so, I’ve altered my worldview in several ways, and I will continue to do so as new facts are brought to my attention and as I am exposed to new perspectives. I am more correct today than I have ever been, because that is the search for truth and I have left thousands of ideas lying in the wreckage behind me, but it’s not about never being wrong.
It’s about being less wrong today than you were yesterday.