Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why I Made A Mistake and How I View it

I would like to apologize to any supporters of John Kerry, apparently I made a mistake when I accused him of blowing a spies' cover. Furthermore though I was careful enough to prevent attribution and source myself, the journalistic level of cover your ass work on BOPnews I was more loose here and wrongly attributed the CIA operative identity to be Otto Reich. I fully acknowledge these errors and would like to discuss what they reveal about my own state of mind.

I believe that if you make an error that you should acknowledge it. Furthermore since acknowledging it publicly is harder because of the feedback of social scrutiny I believe that it is more important to acknowledge errors publicly than it is privately. Admitting errors privately simply is the price of belonging to the "reality-based community". Admitting errors publicly is the price of leadership.

My conclusions about this were formed a long time ago when I first began my search for the truth. I had this radical proposition that if one was seeking the truth, then the voyage would begin by being truthful. I know it sounds almost simple minded. Apparently it was a method that so far had been almost untried by the various philosophers of truth.

Instead of holding forth and dialoging and arguing about what I thought was truth, I would simply start by being as truthful as possible. Well it sounds straight forward but it wasn't. It started a multi-decade journey that I have still not finished and brought me all sorts of trouble.

For instance like everyone else, I occasionally tell white lies. However my commitment to the truth made me try to minimize these and to at the very least face up to the reasons why I would tell them. It was uncomfortable and it was sometimes quite embaressing, but it made me supremely aware of the difference between our self image and our projected social image and how our sense of identity was bound up in them. It also cost me a few relationships and jobs.

This didn't mean that I was uniformly and unerringly honest, but like a asymptope over time I started with some deviations here and there to approach it. Moreover it forced me to be over time the kind of person who could take public scrutiny without psychologically collapsing.

Another challenge I ran into was the standard of epistemology I was going to pursue. Was truth going to be defined in a factual and scientific way? At first this seemed like an objective way to approach things. However over time I found that while I could argumentatively win discussions and I could in a legalistic fashion tie other people up in knots that there was a difference between argument and reality.

That is simply because someone had a wrong rationale did not mean that they were wrong. It also meant that just because I had a technically correct argument I learned that didn't mean that I had all the facts about their situation. I learned that if I did not try to understand people, try to see where they were coming from, whether or not their arguments made sense then I could end up hurting people or their feelings. That was a very hard lesson for me.

In addition, not all truth could be reduced to scientific evidence or legalistic proof. This became apparent once I investigated the limitations of logical positivism and the nature of Godel's incompleteness theorem. Any logical system of thought has underlying assumptions that cannot be derived from the system. This means that any form of rationality is inherently an aesthetic rather than epistemological choice. You can critique certain systems of thought as being more or less consistent internally or externally with experience, but beyond that there are certain choices which are purely aesthetic and arbitrary. The layperson would call these things "values" erroneously but you get the idea.

Furthermore through the process of simply trying everyday to live with the truth, not an easy burden as it required constant self examination and investigation of hidden assumptions, and living through a few quite harsh moments of revelation where my assumptions crumbled about me brought me into contact with strange places and people. I learned that almost no one thinks of themselves as evil. Evil is the label we give to either self-consciously perverse behavior or to behavior by others that is antisocial in our estimation. Saddam Hussein let me assure you simply thought of himself as having made the best of his environment and was a misunderstood guy.

There is something called General Attribution Error. In psychology this means that people tend to blame the character of a person rather than failing to see that the choices were relative to their environment. I do not think that this absolves the individual of responsibility, but certainly without carrying it to the extreme that we are all "victims of our environment" or "helpless prisoners of our nature" that the primary characteristic from my point of view of human behavior is not morality.

After all everybody thinks for the most part that they are doing the best that they can. I'm sure even Paul Pot thought that. No instead what I see as the primary characterstic of people are ignorance, short-sightedness, and rigidity of thinking. People cannot solve their problems constructively and so they resort to highly negative fashions of externalizing their frustrations. I apply this to the sociopaths.

I mean is it really in the best interest of the sociopath to commit crimes which are nasty, risky, and have a large social opprobrium? If they want to kill somebody they can just become a mercenary or soldier and get the same thrill. As a matter of fact I have met some soldiers who were no more than just relatively well behaived sociopaths. You could even argue that it is a variably expressed trait in a population of a ambivalent social behavior trait. In a dog-eat-dog world being able to kill someone without remorse to a certain extent, as long as it doesn't get out of hand, can actually be a useful trait. However modern society has less and less room for such individuals. In Rome's gladiator pits or on the frontier subduing the provinces in the empire some two thousand years ago this kind of individual would have fit right in.

This doesn't excuse such individuals however. To borrow a bit from Star Trek, what defines humanity is not what it is but its struggle to be more than it was. Each person is given a nature and certain opportunities. It is up to them and up to society to attempt to transcend these circumstances and make something constructive, always wary of our own flaws, out of the original legacy which is always less than perfect and characterized by temptations and weaknesses.

From my perspective, people are always making mistakes but they rarely learn from them or attempt to redress them. Their particular beliefs are almost irrelevant. Left, right, capitalistic, socialist, good, evil, popes, kings, janitors, and tyrants they're all trying their best and at the same time rather narrow minded and rigid and rarely learning from their mistakes. This doesn't mean they're all the same. Some are better than others at trying to improve themselves and some are better than others at managing their flaws constructively.

What did I learn from my mistake? I learned that I had an emotional feeling that I detested John Kerry because I felt that he didn't fight hard enough after the election. I detested him for it because I felt that even at the end of a long and honored career he felt it apparently more important to preserve his status within the system than to sacrifice his own personal good for the common cause. I detested him because I felt that if at the end of such a long and honored career and with such a relatively light penalty - ending a career to go into private life at the same time when most people retire - that he could not sacrifice then who or when or how was there going to be a time when someone could do it? If he could not do it with so little to lose then when would be the time when someone could do it?

Furthermore I detested him because he put himself forth as a leader of courage and conviction but he folded without a fight for what I believe to be to merely cling to power. I think he would have lost, but that his fighting would have made a difference in improving the American electoral system.

I do not pretend that such a choice would have been easy. I know my own agony over clinging to things that I thought mine by right when the soul prompts another path. However that is what divides human beings from animals. Animals are often nicer than human beings, but they cannot help but be what they are. Human beings are sentient, ensouled, precisely because we have free will. And free will is ability to mold our characters by going against the grain, by refusing the obvious or path of least resistance, and the ability to define who and what we will be.

Yet because I detested his failure I was too quick to believe an accusation against him without checking it out. Recognizing this taught me that I still have work to do on striving to be neutral and objective, and judging issues by their merits as opposed to my estimation of the character of the person. The act however of admitting this, of forcing myself to think about it and reconcile it with my actions, of bringing to the crisis point of decision making consciousness is the very act of changing myself for the better. The next time a similar situation comes up, I will be slightly more cautious and a bit more patient in assigning blame. It may be almost subliminal but forcing myself to face this will have changed me ever so slightly.

The price of the quest for truth is being truthful. The reward for the quest for truth is insight. It is painful to force ourselves to not just be aware of our flaws but to force ourselves to examine the aspects of ourselves that lead to such mistakes. However that very consciousness illumines our own minds and allows us to take control of our own beings instead of being thoughtless products of them. It is no different from closing or opening your hand.

First you become aware of it. Then you become aware of how it is connected to you. Then you simply will it to open or close. So childishly easy and taken for granted commonly, until accident or disease interpose a barrier to such connection.

I am still prone I think to thinking the worst of people, that is something I think I shall have to work on.


At April 21, 2005 at 8:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Glad to see you up and running again.


Hope all is well.

Mike S

At April 21, 2005 at 9:39 AM, Anonymous Amy R. said...

I was so thrilled to see that you're blogging again! You always have something insightful to say. This apology is no exception. I'm dying to hear you explicate the current economic situation (i.e., oil prices, currency devaluation, etc.)
Welcome back!
Amy R.

At April 21, 2005 at 10:25 PM, Blogger Oldman said...

Dear Amy,

If you're still interested in my economic writing please check out where I am a regular author. I've moved my economic commentary there since it has a wider profile, but remain committed to writing on this blog for philosophical and personal prose.

At April 22, 2005 at 12:20 AM, Anonymous Amy R. said...

I'm very interested! Will do.

At September 27, 2005 at 11:27 PM, Blogger lawnorder said...

I don't detest Kerry, but I feel the same pain and anger in my heart you feel for his less than 24 hour concession to preserve his 2008 electability. As IF!

Who would vote in the loser Ross Perot of the left ? His mom and Theresa and that's probably stretching...

What I feel about Kerry is sadness and pity. The reason he conceded was to preserve his career, but by doing it the way he did it he just smashed all his accomplishments and honorable past to bits, sacrifycing principle for another chance at the podium... Like Nader, he made himself a "has been" instantly at that moment, and stained his own lifetime reputation of courage and principles. Such a shame he had to end up this way... Sigh... -- law

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