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The Art of Being Wrong
Confession isn't only good for the soul.
Have you ever been wrong about something important?
Not just a little wrong, but so profoundly mistaken about a subject that you have inverted your map of reality. The picture you’ve been so loudly describing to yourself and others has turned out to be a photo negative, and you’ve since come to realize that most, if not all, of your former assumptions about its nature and meaning were based on a combination of lies others told you and ones you told yourself. You now find yourself in an ugly predicament, made all the uglier the more vehemently you retailed these lies.
But it gets worse: not only have you found yourself to be utterly and embarrassingly wrong, but the subject in question is of immense importance to the world. Therefore the radius and depth of the harm caused extends well beyond the borders of your personal life.
Because the stakes were so unbelievably high, the cost of being wrong about such a thing can seem unbearable. Many people have been badly hurt because of your blunder. Many people have even died because of it. Including children.
So-called “journeys of personal discovery” don’t get darker than this. I suspect that’s why they’re so rarely embarked upon. But we’re living in an age when that’s exactly what needs to happen, and on a unprecedented scale. Many millions of people will soon need to undergo this katabasis, accepting all the ways in which their mistakes helped spread so much misery, tyranny, death and destruction throughout the world.
There will be no general amnesty forthcoming. We will all be held to account for what we said and did, either in this world or beyond it. But fear of retribution isn’t the only reason we hesitate to admit such wrongs. The other reason has to do with trust.
By confessing our mistake, we open ourselves up to an eternal avenue of criticism. After all, if we got something so important so completely wrong in the past, who’s to say we aren’t equally wrong about Current Thing? Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, amirite?
We fear an army of told-ya-so bullies will descend upon us, including that breed of Manichean thinker who by his own definition is “never wrong.” We’re afraid that our reputations will be stained forever by our confession, and that no one will trust our judgment ever again. When we game it out along these lines, it makes public admission of wrongness seem not only spiritually difficult, but a horrendously bad strategy for anyone who wants their opinions to be taken seriously. In debate, your opponent can merely remind both you and the audience of your colossal screw-up. “And he’s doing it again,” will be the closing argument.
It’s a dubious tactic, for sure. But the scoundrel who deploys it will be rewarded with applause by those who don’t share your principles or politics. Meanwhile you will be ruthlessly mocked and slandered by the same, unless and until you publicly abandon those principles and swallow their slate whole. You can pull a “Max Boot,” in other words, but anything less than such total transformation will be deemed unacceptable. You might therefore wind up a very lonely figure: scorned by your old friends for admitting the error, and by everyone else for not joining their righteous choir.
Regardless of these very real social dangers, I have good news for those who decide to undertake the journey. But first, I want to propose the idea that there might be a “right way” to be wrong about Big Things.
There are a lot of wrong ways to be wrong, obviously. We’re seeing many of those on display now, a whole zoo of limited hangouts, appeals to ignorance, sorry-not-sorries and more. It’s getting hard to keep track of them all. Perhaps the worst species is the claim that those of us who got the COVID scam right were merely lucky. I know that Scott Adams issued one of those, shortly before he self-immolated on the pyre of racial politics. His version can be summarized in the following weasel words:
“All of my fancy analytics got me to a bad place. All of your heuristics — ‘don’t trust these guys, it’s obvious’ — totally worked.”
Adams did no analytics, fancy or otherwise. Like so many, he followed the heuristic of “consume and regurgitate,” and cannot even find graciousness in his buyer’s remorse.
But there are even more exotic species to marvel at. The mendacious COVID antics of Sam Harris (a.k.a The Incredible Shrinking Atheist) have been described at times as acrobatic. But lately they remind me of someone struggling to fold a paper for the twelfth time. Evolutionary biologists Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying — two of Harris’ go-to bête noires during the pandemic — recently broke down what is currently happening to him quite well. But they also widen their scope to the general capacity for large numbers of people — even supermajorities of “experts” — to get something so monumentally and destructively wrong that they’d prefer to bury it under brand new forms of cognitive dissonance and self-flattering lies than to ever own up to even the slightest mistake.
This position also has its dangers, and not only for the one who takes it. To double-and-triple down on error in such unstable times will likewise multiply the consequences. It also increases the likelihood you won’t be able to see the next punch coming. That you’ll simply eat it, then demand that others eat it too. That you’ll essentially sacrifice the world upon the altar of your own self-image and ego. Given the stakes of the latest games being played, that might not be hyperbole. You need to get it right next time, or we’re all royally fucked.
So while it takes some measure of courage to fully admit to being wrong, it’s also an exercise of reason that can yield real gains. If we can figure out a way to do it right, others may follow in our example. And if the number who do reaches a critical mass, then the people who play us like pawns will suddenly have a major problem on their hands. They might even tuck tail and run (and they may not get far).
In other words, we need to do this. The only way out is through.
That means coming face-to-face with the worst and weakest versions of ourselves. Not as an exercise in self-flagellation, but to investigate how and why we bought into certain kinds of lies, and how doing that contributed to great and lasting harms.
I’ll go first.
Let’s talk about information.
Due to our limited senses and finite state of being, we are all, to some degree, peering at the world through a dark lens. This dim view has been rendered even more confusing lately. Data that’s useful and reliable is hard to find, particularly given the explosion of outlets and sources that the digital age has to offer.
But we still try to find it, some of us more diligently than others. We carry our little torches through a pitch black forest of propaganda, perverse incentives, moral panics and mass hysterias, searching for clues that will lead us back into the light of truth and reason. But even those of us who try extremely hard will suffer setbacks. Our clothes will snag on branches and brambles. We will run afoul of monsters, slide into mud pits, march off cliffs.
It gets worse though, because our maps of reality are incomplete, and the territory they describe could turn out to be wildly different in reality. Unless we can establish a “true north” of some kind, escape from the dark forest of strategic lies is impossible anyway. We’ll keep marching in circles, including circles of logic:
I trust Authority X, because Authority X would not be Authority X if it wasn’t trustworthy.
Product Y is safe and effective, because if Product Y wasn’t safe and effective then it wouldn’t be deemed safe and effective by Authority X.
I distrust Theory Z, because Theory Z claims that Product Y is neither safe nor effective, which contradicts what Authority X claims about its safety and effectiveness. Besides, Authority X has already investigated itself, and so have the producers of Product Y, and they swear the results of these self-investigations back up their claims.
If Product Y turns out to be less than safe and broadly ineffective, it isn’t because Authority X was wrong or lying, or that the promoters of Theory Z were correct and honest brokers. Wherever Z made accurate predictions, it was due to sheer coincidence or luck. Wherever Authority X made inaccurate statements, it was due to making honest mistakes.
And round and round we go.
But being wrong isn’t just about making errors, or submitting to logical fallacies in the face of novel problems and terrifying threats. For one thing, humans make errors all the time. For another, fallacious argument has become the lingua franca of any subject that remotely touches on “politics” (which is practically every subject, in our New Dark Ages).
The same goes for upholding principles and standards. Hypocrisy has become so rampant that it’s practically the oxygen of our political atmosphere. It’s gotten to the point that the folks barking loudest about “hypocrisy” seem to also be the greatest repeat offenders. The result is that almost no one seems capable of admitting errors anymore, big or small. Everyone’s judgment is absolutely correct, one hundred percent of the time, with regards to any subject they publicly engage.
This is madness, of course. But it gets worse when the subject is of life-or-death importance to large numbers of human beings. These would be the kind of mistakes made in times of war, pestilence, famine and other diabolical horsemen who charge upon us every couple of generations or so. The vast majority of humans are notoriously bad at making wise decisions in such moments of crisis, to the extent that we might as well name the precious few who aren’t “heroes.”
This is particularly the case whenever a horseman makes its dire presence known. When inescapable crisis looms all around us, and the media bullhorns are shrieking fear-porn 24/7, many minds are practically burnt down to ashes by fear and helpless rage.
I’m not excluding myself from this group, by the way. There have been moments throughout the past three years when I was scared out of my mind. As a result, I also made many errors early in the COVID game. Luckily, they weren’t the kind that hurt other people. They were erroneous assumptions, illogical tactics, dumb ideas about potential ways to mitigate the problem. For example, God knows how much we spent on hand-sanitizer, in those first few months of 2020.
But even amid all those early, unforced errors, I continued to hunt for real information in the growing pile of unsubstantiated — and increasingly ludicrous and anti-scientific — claims before me. This involved plunging myself into unfamiliar terrain, trying my best to draw maps of lands I’d never explored before. Because of this, there were a variety of subjects that took me quite a while to form strong opinions about.
For example: my earliest investigations weren’t about whether the novel injectables covered by the EUA were dangerous, but rather into which product was most likely to prove effective against a highly mutative aerosolized coronavirus. I’d quickly learn it was a feat that had never before been accomplished — and indeed, one which still hasn’t been, a fact which many people are finally waking up to.
The process of getting from there (the maze of lies and nonsense) to here (awake to unprecedented treachery and murderous fraud) wasn’t an easy one. As valuable a tool as research is for finding truth, it’s very time consuming, and requires well-honed methods for bullshit detection. Finding real signals in noise and filtering out the latter is practically a martial art in our age. To do it isn’t a matter of raw intellect, but rather the ruthless application of first principles thinking and intuitive inference. This technique is available to every human being, but it requires the kind of humility and self-reflection that tend to scare most folks off.
Because my wife and I managed to complete this process before the vaccine rollout, I never drifted into that territory of COVID wrongness which damaged and killed so many people and institutions, and which therefore requires a complete and detailed confession before any hope of grace could possibly be on the table. But I have been the same degree of utterly, harmfully wrong about another subject in the past.
Here is that confession, available for critique by any and all who read this until the end of time. If it is someday weaponized against me by an ideologue, so be it. But I wager those who’d do that are even more lost than I was.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was living and working in New York City. The thing I remember most about that morning was the snow, which rained down on me after the South tower’s collapse.
The storm probably lasted less than ten seconds, all said and done. But in my memory it lasted far longer than that. Later that afternoon, as I was elbowing my way down a supermarket aisle to grab whatever canned goods I could find, it dawned on me that there were human corpses in that downpour of white ash, and that I’d breathed some of those corpses in.
This snowstorm is something I’ve rarely heard discussed by the TV’s talking heads, in all the anecdotes of that horrific day. The days and weeks that followed were the strangest of my life. It was as though the Earth itself had cracked open, revealing a hidden realm of monsters and demons beneath.
I wasn’t really a political guy. I had my ideas, but most of them mapped out to something like “all politicians are crooked or crazy or both.” To some degree, this central theme of y’all kinda suck reflected the default posture of my generation; a weary, smirking, squint-eyed slouch that Gen-X’ers had honed to perfection by the time the millennium rolled around. Most of the crowd I hung out with were too cool for politics, and the rest were easy targets for our ironic jokes and tepid scorn.
If anything, my previous position could probably best be described as someone on the “Social Left,” albeit with a few right-wing heresies thrown in. I was the live-and-let-live guy, the legalize-drugs guy, the let’s-not-pay-the-Pentagon-eight-hundred-bucks for-a-toilet-seat guy. On the other hand, I was also the “Let’s defund the NEA” guy, (which, as you might imagine, went over like a lead balloon with those artsy crowds I rolled with). The point is I wasn’t hooked in to anything specifically political at the time. Both factions seemed kind of lousy to me. But I didn’t get myself worked up about it. I too was busy trying to have a life. Fuck ‘em.
When it came to religion, my impulses were basically the same. They all “kinda sucked,” and I didn’t scrutinize Muslims much more critically than I did Jews, Catholics, Shintoists, Presbyterians or Mormons. My only direct encounters with Islam had been those American blacks who marched around in suits and bowties, trying to recruit young fools into their War-On-Whitey grift. Because of these experiences, I guess I figured their particular religion might suck just a little more than most. But I also saw them as yet another species of poseur, and I understood that Islam itself came in a wide variety of other flavors and forms.
Again: “Live and let live” was my motto.
After the snow, that all changed.
As the weeks wore on and Thanksgiving drew near, I watched my city transform all around me. And, unbeknownst to me, I was being radically transformed alongside it.
One memory that stands out was the arrival of the flags. In my neighborhood, you’d occasionally see flags hung over front doors. Some were Italian, some Irish or Polish, most Puerto Rican or Dominican. I would sneer at all of them (One of my other mottos was, and still is, “I hate a parade”).
In my recollection there were hardly any stars-and-stripes on display — and if so, it was always paired with the tribal one. But by mid-September, I started seeing the American flags everywhere. Not only did these houses start flying the nation’s colors, but they also took their tribal versions down. This didn’t seem like mere conformity to me; it seemed like my neighbors were making a definitive statement. They had also seen the Earth crack open, and decided to declare a form of loyalty that was either long-dormant or never existed before.
Before the snow, this sudden change in scenery would have freaked me out, big-time. I was a fan of Heller, Vonnegut, Three Days of the Condor, They Live. I was conversant in Ellsberg, had memorized bits of Ike’s MIC speech, saw Orwell and Huxley as a latter day prophets. In other words, I was inherently suspicious of mass movements and jingo, and would’ve seen this development as the perfect storm of both.
But not in those days. In those days, the sight of these new flags elated me.
I mentioned earlier some of those heretical “right wing” views I held. One of those had to do with policing. Even before the forced cannibalism of the snow, I was what you might call a Giuliani Republican. That itself wasn’t freakish; there were obviously vast numbers of New Yorkers who thought the same way, though they’d keep those views mostly quiet in public. I wouldn’t. If the name came up, I would describe my ringside seats to the positive changes I’d witnessed from his “mobile police stations” approach, among other data-driven tactics. I was living in a rough neighborhood at the time, of the kind where you really don’t want to walk alone at night. But the arrival of the NYPD’s strategically parked mega-vehicles turned things around very quickly.
I also had no intestinal hatred of cops, like some of my friends did back then. I saw them mostly as people doing a job, and a pretty dangerous and thankless one at that. I don’t consider “gratitude” to correlate to a specific faction of politics. But I recall at the time very little of that on the American Left, when it came to cops and soldiers. At best their stances seemed to be neutral. That changed after the snow as well, however temporarily. In fact, it seemed like not only were we all showing gratitude to cops and soldiers, but in many ways had become their willing deputies.
I have so many stories I could tell with regards to this seismic shift. Before we knew it, fully armed and armored infantry had become a mundane feature of the landscape, no more remarkable than a hot dog stand. But there is one interaction that still sticks out in my mind in the early aftermath, as if some part of me knew to catalog it for this exact purpose.
It was around 5:30am, maybe three weeks out from 9/11. I was walking down a deserted street in my neighborhood when I spotted two teens heading towards me the other way. They were both black, both wearing hoodies and sneaks, and I didn’t recognize either one of them. I'm a realist when it comes to random encounters like these, so normally some part of me would’ve raised some shields. But not today.
I am very good at reading faces and body language, even at a distance. And I just knew. And the teens also just knew, reading my own. We met in the middle to exchange a few neighborly words.
sup you see somethin?
nah dawg makin the rounds tho, you knowd’d’mean?
same same good lookin out nigga. yo holler if you see dat shit.
You’ve surely heard that old chestnut, “I don’t see race.” It’s a bit clumsy as rhetoric, and doesn’t exactly mean what it implies.
But in the fall of 2001, it had become a virtually accurate description for vast numbers of us. For that brief moment, we’d all glimpsed the outlines of a certain Big Truth: as American citizens (and more specifically as New Yorkers) we had common enemies who hated us equally, and didn’t care which of us they slaughtered. What we didn’t yet realize — what too many of us still haven’t realized — was how many of those wolves we’d hired as our shepherds.
We weren’t even on the lookout for wolves that morning. What were we looking for? Hard to define. A duffel bag left on a bench. A shady guy hanging around a schoolyard. An outsider might assume we were just out looking for “Arabs” or “Middle-Easterners.” In fact, we would find ourselves tarred with that broad brush eventually (the white ones, anyway; black New Yorkers have a funny way of evading “hate crime” accusations, even when the evidence is overwhelming).
But what those outsiders didn’t understand is the error bars for such an ethnic witch hunt would be ludicrously wide in a town like ours. Mohammed Atta looked like the guy who managed the local bodega, or sold you a falafel in the park, or drove you home in the rain that night when you were too tanked to risk taking the subway. Atta’s face was everywhere and, therefore, it was nowhere.
What really happened is we’d all just become generally alert. We didn’t know what the next sucker punch would look like, but we’d be damned if we wouldn’t see that punch coming from a mile away. The whole world was conforming to this new war-footing. New Yorkers were just doing that much faster and more intensely than the rest. But we were also becoming spiritually closer to each other, in some indescribable way. And as a result we started dropping certain tribal boundaries and instinctive guards.
I think part of that was due to so much attention being fixed upon us. In the gutter language of hyphenated ethnicities, we’d become “American-Americans”; a meta-tribe located at the center of the media universe. The hated Yankees had suddenly become America’s Team, Giuliani America’s Mayor, and the city’s rude and crooked population the poetic avatars of our national grief, courage, resilience and wrath. It was like the Eye of God was upon us all, and we somehow — however imperfectly and briefly — felt the collective need to live up to this new image.
It was the night of November 1, 2001, game five of the World Series. I had to work late, and when I was done I rushed out to find a place to watch. I picked the spot more or less at random; a little hole-in-the-wall in the East Village that was playing the game on an old CRT mounted above the bar. We all huddled around the thing like it was a campfire in the Arctic. Nobody was thinking about getting pickpocketed, or catching a cold, or accidentally touching dicks or asses.
By the time I got there the Yanks were down two-zip. But there wasn’t much tension in the air that I can recall. It was more like anticipation. We all knew, somehow. Even before Brosius stepped to the plate, we knew.
And when Soriano sent Knoblauch home in the twelfth, we roared and howled like it was the end of a hundred-year war.
“Aura and mystique, baby! Aura and mystique.”
Drinks were on the fucking house.
The reason I note these seemingly positive-sounding changes isn’t meant to mitigate my case. I’m not building a defense for my error. I’m just trying to fully explain how I think it happened, so that I will never go down that dark path again.
In that spirit let’s talk about The News, by which I meaning the broad bundle of media outlets that depict themselves as trustworthy purveyors of objective information.
I wasn’t much of a news guy in those days. I read a couple of mainstream, local papers — the Times and the Post, mostly, as well as a few free alternative rags. I also bought certain magazine journals off the rack from time to time. But one thing I didn’t consume was TV news. I especially steered clear of the 24/7 cable networks, whose business model I found to be particularly conspicuous and obscene. And the consequences of those networks for society struck me as totally horrifying: an army of dullards sounding off in bars and breakrooms, buses and airplanes, every goddamned public place, thinking they’re informed about a subject because they watched some paid shill blather about it for ninety seconds on CNN. I’d read Postman and Chomsky as well, after all, and saw the rise of cable news as the mutant offspring of their warnings.
In the snowstorm’s aftermath, this changed too. Like so many others around me, I became a hardcore News junkie. I didn’t even care which flavor I was being fed, flipping back and forth between ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox like I was playing the world’s lamest video game. I devoured it all uncritically, and even listened to the same stories repeated on multiple shows. I didn’t care to find out what was actually in the product. Just stick it in my vein, Wolf Blitzer!
As was the standard at the time, I swiftly became an “expert” in geopolitics, terrorist cells, Iraq, the Koran, chemical and biological weapons, the Kurdish military, The House of Saud, petrodollars, international law, global transportation and security protocols, Afghan history, Israeli-Palestinian relations, suicide bombings and much, much more.
And as one result of this dirt-cheap, lightspeed education, the question swelling up in me wasn’t, “Should we go to war?” but: “Why aren’t we shooting and bombing people already?”
Here’s a dark counterpoint to my Yankees story:
A few days after 9/11, I was sitting in a local dive. It was the early afternoon, and we were watching a different kind of game play out, our eyes glued to a dark, grainy image on the TV screen.
Suddenly, the darkness was shattered by a huge flare of light. Something had exploded.
We all stood up and cheered.
Just like Game Five, the next round was on the house.
I don’t remember exactly what they claimed was blown up (or even where, apart from the generic planet named Afghanistan). I never in my life imagined myself cheering on such a weird image.
I can’t even dismiss it as “mindless” cheering; I wanted the people who planned 9/11 to literally explode and melt. I wanted them to pay for the lives of those cops and firefighters, for the people who were forced to jump, for all those snowmen and snowwomen I was forced to inhale. These thoughts would turn darker still in the months ahead, when I began to think that bombings might actually be too good for them.
But this inner darkness isn’t the kind of wrongness I’m referring to. The ways we allow fear and anger to warp our hearts aren’t so much crimes requiring confession or penance, but rather a constant spiritual threat we must learn to defend against. In fact, in those first few months, I don’t think I did or said anything which specifically hurt my country, or the world at large.
But then came the War on Terror.
To say I supported that war — or those wars, to be more accurate — is an understatement. I offered nothing less than full-throated approval, and grew outraged at even the slightest questions or dissents. There were precious few of those in the beginning, so my righteous anger was mostly kept in check.
But as the Terror Wars dragged on, I began to notice something about the American political landscape that hadn’t occurred to me before. There were traitors — actual, literal traitors — that haunted it.
Pre-snowfall, I’d grown accustomed to thinking of “the Left” as a mostly benign (if occasionally foolish) critique of the social contract. While they had their wingnuts, most seemed to mainly be interested in the pursuit of “fairness,” as pertains to labor markets, civil rights, taxes, the size of the welfare state and a tone of general pacifism. But as the Terror Wars proceeded, I began to see their anti-war protests as a disguise for something much more sinister.
Their faction, as I saw it, had been invaded by fifth column agents who sought to destroy our constitutional republic from within. What was once “liberal” (a label I did — and in some situations still do — apply to myself) had been twisted into an existential enemy of liberty and its fruits. In their endless, solipsistic critiques of the Terror Wars, they had transformed themselves into suicidal and fratricidal collaborators against the whole of Western civilization.
In the light of this “revelation,” I became utterly reflexive in my thinking about the growth of what I’ve since come to think of as the MIMIC (Military Industrial Media Intelligence Complex). I viciously derided and ridiculed the earliest critics of the Department of Homeland Security as leftwing traitors and rightwing conspiracy-cranks. I’d figured it out, you see? All their supposed fears about government surveillance were nothing but a façade; what they really wanted was for more Islamofacists to slip through the fence. They wanted the country to burn to the waterline, so they could build their utopias upon its ashes.
I also believed there was a visceral joy in the pursuit of that strategy for the Left. Even before the snow fell, I'd seen their attitude toward complex topics like race and sex mutate into something monstrous, unmoored from their legal and philosophical origins. Many in that camp had begun to sound like the New Klan to me, exuding the same aura of suspicion, tribal incest and blood libel.
Over all the years I’d spent in Bohemian circles, I’d witnessed first-hand their disdain of whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality, Christianity, patriotism, duty and the very concept of the Rule of Law. I assumed the media’s near constant praise of dead cops and firefighters — most of whom fit those exact categories —must have been a profound torment for them. But not so much that they didn’t relish the idea of more of them being killed.
Again: I’m not seeking redemption for these thoughts. I think a portion of them even turned out to be correct, if only partially and/or contingently. And even that has little to do with liberalism or conservatism per se; I’ve found that a significant amount of poison will leak into any political ideology during times of crisis and panic, and every faction’s worst monsters tend to prosper as a result.
But while my views about the Left’s moral and intellectual corruption during that time were arguably accurate along its fringes, there was a different breed of corruption that was simultaneously being dumped into the heart of the Right. And I was one of the people to help poison that well.
No matter how insidious and unconstitutional the administration’s latest policy might’ve sounded to my younger ears, I had convinced myself that the non-argument of “the other guys are worse,” was sound enough to prop it up.
And it was all just temporary anyway, right?
Why would they lie about that?
I should’ve asked myself that second question every day from 2002 onward. I ask it daily now, and the heuristic has served me well. To see so many others who didn’t or wouldn’t is like re-watching a horror movie. I wanted to howl my warning through the screen (and on occasion, howl I did). But it was of no use. Like me, they had failed to ask the most pertinent question, and saw those who asked it as cowards, traitors or worse.
As I age, I think the sunk-cost fallacy is the most insidious of all. In the case of the Terror Wars, it took far too many years for the scales to fall from my eyes. Even the election of Barack Obama, and his administration’s expansion of these illegal and immoral activities, was not in itself sufficient to break the spell. Like so many people, it took the work and sacrifices of men like Ed Snowden and Julian Assange to drag me back into the land of reason.
But it shouldn’t have had to come to that. We wait for heroes to emerge at our peril. At everyone’s peril, actually.
In allowing myself to be seduced by the Deep State and its corporate collaborators, I betrayed every hard won lesson and instinct I’d ever known. And the consequences of being wrong about this subject were more than just spiritually and intellectually ugly. They were deadly.
Here’s an abbreviated list of the ways in which I was utterly and deadly wrong during the decades-long Age of Terror:
I supported the creation of awesomely dangerous new governmental powers and agencies, which would eventually be weaponized against my own countrymen;
I provided aid and comfort to dishonest politicians, greedy defense contractors and their media whores, and retailed these lies in the public square;
I defended the immoral and illegal tactics of the FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, DHS, DoD and other alphabetical organs of the National Security State apparatus;
I empowered the funding of ever more sophisticated tools of surveillance, coercion, psychological warfare and systematic control;
I participated in the ridicule and slander of fellow countrymen who’d raised important questions about all of the aforementioned people, powers and agencies;
I supported one war of aggression with ill-defined mission parameters and an ever-expanding scope, sacrificing nearly twenty years of blood and treasure upon the twin altars of psychopathic ambition and monopolistic greed;
I supported another war of aggression based upon the flimsiest evidence, throughout which a blend of evil and incompetence resulted in, among other things, the expanded regional power of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the creation of a multitude of freely operating juntas and terrorist gangs, and the undermining of Western theories of ordered liberty at home and abroad;
The prosecutions of these wars led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of both military and civilian personnel and untold numbers of physically and psychologically wounded, in my homeland and abroad.
I'm sure that list is incomplete, and that I could’ve found better language to describe certain errors. But I believe it’s more than enough to render a guilty verdict in any honest court.
Although my crimes are indirect, I might add this as the final charge:
By lending my vocal support to this gang of perverse totalitarians and war criminals, I aided our mutual Enemy’s divide-and-conquer strategy. This in turn fueled the conditions that allowed the massively destructive COVID-19 frauds and power grabs to occur. My hands are therefore not clean of this latest crime wave either, even though I refused to comply.
In getting the War on Terror so wrong, and in so many ways, I have stained my reputation as well as my soul. If someone were to claim my judgment can’t ever be trusted again in any matter of importance, I’ve unfortunately left myself little room to dismiss that person entirely. That’s the price of being this kind of wrong, and the reason we should resolve ourselves to not be led so far astray in the first place.
In recording this admission of error, I’m not asking for anyone’s forgiveness. If a chance of obtaining that can be found, it would be at the end of the journey, and by someone more than human. And as far as I can tell, I’m still barely out of the starting gates.
What I’m doing is describing as best I can the mistakes I made, in the hope of never repeating them. If this public admission helps others to avoid those kinds of mistakes as well, then perhaps that will count as a measure of restitution. But I doubt the debt can ever be repaid in full.
Or if it can be, I imagine the cost will be no less than my earthly life, which is a price we must all eventually pay. And when I stand naked before that final judge, I won’t be pleading ignorance or insanity, or offering limited hangouts and pseudo-apologies.
I won’t even recite a list of those important things I got right. That will already be known. My only job now is to make it as long as possible.
I’m assuming most of you reading this have not been deeply wrong about what’s transpired over the past three years, and perhaps not even over the past twenty. But maybe you’ve been wrong about some other subjects of profound importance. Maybe you’ve even started a journey similar to the one I’ve just outlined. Maybe reading this is going to be a part of that journey, in which case I sincerely hope I’ve done more good than harm.
Regardless of where you’re currently standing on COVID, Ukraine or anything else, I leave with you a trio of warnings, and a bit of good news. Take them with as many grains of salt as you like, given their author and his failings.
For those of you who’ve already accepted they were wrong:
Do not seek forgiveness.
That isn’t for us to ask, but for those we’ve harmed to offer at a time of their choosing (if they choose to offer it at all; be prepared to never be forgiven).
Asking others to forgive us for such wrongs will merely slide the focus back onto ourselves and our needs, which played a big role in what got us into such terrible moral and intellectual trouble in the first place. Moreover, it’s impossible to request or receive forgiveness from the entire planet, which more or less represents the radius of these mistakes.
For those who still cannot admit to being wrong about anything of importance during the pandemic years, or who seek to mask their errors in shades of gray, I have a different warning:
You are running out of time.
If you wish to regain some shred of future credibility and grace, you need to invert the map of reality that our enemies and their propagandists have drawn inside your heads. You must make peace with the notion that you vilified good men and women based on the flimsiest of evidence, and that you likewise heaped unearned praise upon a horde of villains and fools.
Now is the time to use every channel available to you to restore the reputations of those you slandered, and to cast sunlight on their tormentors in every public and private sphere. Some would say that the time to do so has already passed, that the damage is already done. I say better late than never.
For those of you who will continue to promote discredited lies and fraudulent data, and to carry water for the cast of obvious liars, murderers and thieves who authored them, a third warning:
Your future is very dark.
It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it, or even why you think you’re doing it. Your reasoning may include elements of personal, political, financial and psychological incentives, tangled together in that Gordian knot some people call motivated reasoning. Or perhaps you just aren’t working hard enough to disprove your own preferred answers, even though they were essentially handed down to you by government/corporate fiat anyway. In other words, you aren’t being scientific, but egomaniacally Scientistic in your approach (and perhaps $cientistic, if you work in an profit-adjacent field).
At this stage in the game, it hardly matters how you came to support or defend these lies. You have blood on your hands, just like I do.
I know you don’t think so. I know you’re much smarter than I am, stronger than I am, wealthier than I am, more righteous than I am.
But prepare yourself for what’s coming, regardless. You will be held accountable.
The Good News:
For those who admit aloud and without caveat to being wrong:
By being honest with yourself and with others about your mistake, you have already grown in spirit. This growth can’t be measured on a scale, no matter how finely tuned. But I suspect you’ve already felt it. It might feel like an invisible burden being lightened, if not a boot lifted off your throat. I can describe these sensations, because I’m feeling them right now, having laid my own error bare for all to see.
This feeling isn’t to be mistaken with having completed some kind of penance, though. I’m not even sure what penance looks like for these kinds of errors. But at the very least I’m on the lookout for that now. In the same way, I don’t think confession frees us of our burden, but its lightening makes it easier to act intelligently and morally in all the games to come. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to be utterly crushed by guilt and shame, we become useless as future agents of goodness and truth.
The same can be said of fear. Fear is the enemy’s finest poison, and that includes fears for our reputations, fears of punishment, fears that if we confess our biggest mistakes, we’ll never be fully trusted or loved again. If we allow these fears to silence us, we may as well surrender to the darkness now.
Courage is not the opposite of fear. Overcoming fear is what makes one courageous, so a fearless hero is no hero at all. The real opposite of fear is hope. Both are born at the same nexus, where thought and action become untethered from that which is immediately and observably true.
And so even as we grieve for our wrongness, we may find ourselves filled with an indescribable, irrational hope, as potent as any fear. Whenever that happens, latch on to it. Save whatever scrap of hope you can, in whatever form it arrives. Hope is the breath of God, reminding you that even if Man cannot forgive you, He most certainly can.
But it’s up to us to take the first step.
And it’s a doozy.
P.S. If you found any of this valuable (and can spare any change), consider dropping a tip in the cup for ya boy. I’ll try to figure out something I can give you back. Thanks in advance.