What if I'm wrong?

History is filled with lessons that "certainty of rightness" is a dangerous thing. What we know without a doubt is that people who pretend to have the right answer don't. Not about anything. Not even about this.

There may be wisdom in keeping a simple question in mind: what if I'm wrong? For example, what if I'm wrong about Whole Foods? What if boycotting the company does more harm than good? What if some butterfly effect kicks in and the company slips into crisis? People would lose jobs. Stores that do even less good would prosper. It's a moral dilemma.

Even worse, what if I'm wrong about health care? What if the current system is the best we can do?

Asking what if I'm wrong? invites a careful consideration of possibilities. It brings choices and actions into sharp relief. It also anticipates risk.

In business, the smart way to mitigate risk is to preserve options. Delay closing off possible futures until it is absolutely necessary. This is called strategic flexibility, which goes hand in hand with experimentation. That's because we never know what really works until we try.

Challenging Whole Foods is an experiment. It has had a beginning and it will have an end, one way or another. I hope it is a good end. All options are open.

Having a new public health care plan will also be an experiment ... the creation of an option that still has indeterminate value. We have to run the experiment to know if it works. It's that simple.

Eventually a new experiment will begin. Inevitably. It's the American way.

Along the path, it makes sense to preserve reasonable options whenever possible. I've seen nothing proposed anywhere in any legislation that would eliminate the option of private health insurance. There will always be a market. Always.

Which brings me back to what if I'm wrong? I believe this is a hallmark of progressive thinking, maybe even the hallmark. If I'm wrong about that, no harm done.

But what if I'm wrong about that too?



Burned bridges

I've not been smart enough to avoid burning bridges in my 58 years of living. Too many, for dumb reasons. I apologize to those across the canyon. Maybe we can reconnect using the what if I'm wrong bridge. This is one of those time when I wish I were a redwood tree.

Harm Done

It's a great question to ask. It's one of the reasons that I believe violent solutions to any given problem should only be considered if every other possible (and morally justifiable) remedy has been attempted, and only if the perceived problem is only of such magnitude as to justify violence (clearly a debatable judgment).

Being aware of the possibility that one's beliefs could be erroneous makes one less eager to use violence to compel others to live in accordance with them. Hopefully.

"The natural wage of labor is its product." -- Benjamin R. Tucker
A liberal is someone who thinks the system is broken and needs to be fixed, whereas a radical understands it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

A more serious comment this time


Shortly after posting my rather silly - ok, totally silly - comment this morning, I found an amazing post on MyDD that spoke directly to our liberal uncertainly about our opinions and knowledge.

This post discusses the Dunning-Kruger effect, which Wikipedia defines as

an example of cognitive bias in which "...people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it". They therefore suffer an illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average. This leads to a perverse result where people with less competence will rate their ability more highly than people with relatively more competence. It also explains why competence may weaken the projection of confidence because competent individuals falsely assume others are of equivalent understanding. "Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

Wikipedia continues:

Meanwhile, people with true knowledge tended to underestimate their competence.

In my opinion, we liberals - by which I do not mean doctrinare leftists whose certainty is as strong as that of the right - are able to listen to facts and arguments that go against our beliefs. To me this is a strength that we should be proud of.

-- ge

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

I'm so glad you wrote this

All of which raises the question of whether competence is, in fact, a winning strategy in the long run. I'm not so sure.

Aggression could just as likely prevail on the evolutionary stage. Might makes right is a cliche for a reason.

When Not Dog called me the other day, the anger was palpable. He wrote at NC Policy Watch that he's never threatened anyone, but I certainly felt threatened. He may not have been trying to scare me, but he did. That's what's happening at all these town halls. Verbal and physical intimidation.

Even worse, that ability to intimidate is seen as a source of pride.

Competence is a winning strategy

At least in the long run, because most people are competent and have a natural aversion to the use of force. The problem is the small percent that are naturally included to abuse social norms, use violence, etc. Luckily, problem-solving is exactly what our brains are for and over the course of history humans have tended to be able to reduce the problem of violence - not by reducing the percentage of people willing to use violence but by erecting superior voluntary institutions that have improved human welfare more than the 'parasites' have been able to reduce it. But only in the long run. The short term is a cycle between the two. There are a lot of really cool studies on game theory that have illustrated this evolution at a micro level.

PS: I can't help but to point out the discrepancy between your apparently negative attitude towards aggression, physical confrontation and intimidation and your political stance which seems to advocate an increased reliance on these methods of social control.


"The natural wage of labor is its product." -- Benjamin R. Tucker
A liberal is someone who thinks the system is broken and needs to be fixed, whereas a radical understands it’s working the way it’s supposed to.

That was in the back of my mind

I'm assuming you mean the threat of force around tax collection, conscription, reporting (Census), etc. I realize the discrepancy is there. I don't have a good explanation.

I suppose I'm willing to surrender to force in some instances, maybe moreso if it's being exercised by an enlightened majority of some kind.

For example, if I'm the only person among six billion who thinks something in particular, everyone else disagreeing with me, there's a decent chance I'm nuts. I'm willing to accept that and defer my personal freedom in favor of something that most people belief is a great good. To a point.

Thanks for raising the topic. Would love to know more about the studies.

The role of violence

I would argue that violence, or the threat thereof, is not only present in the cases you mentioned but is common to all government activity. All laws established by any state are ultimately founded and enforced via violence. As one quote reads, "at the bottom of every stack of laws lies a gun." The fact that the enforcement of laws does not come down to actual force in most cases is a reflection many factors, including the influence of the law on social norms and vise versa (i.e. the speed limit isn't really the speed limit, because it's always set lower than what is realistically safe and effective - that's why you would be extremely pissed for being pulled over for going 1mph over.. social norms have pushed the true/normal speed limit to ~5 over. On the other hand, laws prohibiting drugs like marijuana have had a similar effect of altering social norms to make drug use less socially kosher than it otherwise might be).

This doesn't change the fact that violence forms the basis of all policy questions insofar as government action is the proposed solution. The threat of government force is so ingrained into our culture and consciousness that many people just instinctively submit to government rules without considering the ultimate violent consequences of noncompliance (an amusing example of this process which may or may not be true). In my view, however, rules not based on violence are ultimately more beneficial to us all because of the process that brings them about and because they are more flexible than rules which have the benefit of being backed-up by physical force (which are hard to openly oppose if they are misguided).

The comforting truth is that most human behavior is not influenced as much by official state law as it is by other types of rules, such as custom or social norms, which have their own methods of non-violent enforcement. This is partly because the law is almost completely unknown the to vast majority of the population, and the opportunity cost of learning and understanding the official state law simply isn't justified to most people who are just trying to lead satisfying lives (it is literally impossible to be sure that you are not violating a law at any given moment (unless you are dead) because there are thousands of crimes at the federal level alone).

I personally prefer non-legal methods of social control not merely because they are non-violent, but also because they are developed much more democratically and spontaniously on the whole. In addition, these methods of social control arise because they tend to work as practical compromises between competing interests that promote overall social well-being under the circumstances.

To end yet another ridiculously long post, I'll link a book I read that includes an interesting study on this subject and a lot of interesting theories:

I highly recommend it for those interested in the issues of social control, game theory, dispute resolution, etc.

"The natural wage of labor is its product." -- Benjamin R. Tucker
A liberal is someone who thinks the system is broken and needs to be fixed, whereas a radical understands it’s working the way it’s supposed to.


I'll check out the book. I've been a big fan is "dispute settlement" as an alternative to legal action, and have been involved personally in that area. It works when it works, but often falls short.

The problem with "no rules," as some have mentioned on other threads, is the inevitable replacement of organized law and order with freelancers. Someone mentioned Somalia, which seems instructive to me.

From all I can see, there is no bridge between where we are and where you think we should be. And while I appreciated your list of possible actions, there is no evidence that any of them have even the slightest chance of happening. Certainly not in the world writ large.

As a final thought, I am often struck (and surprised) by how much weight Libertarians give to the Constitution and founding documents. They are, after all, prescriptions for government, crafted by imperfect men, designed to be changed, and open to wide ranging interpretations. You seem to hold them in reverence, which suggests a kind of nationalism that I usually find off-putting, if not offensive. Especially since we occupy a land we forcibly stole from its native inhabitants. Those documents were designed to preserve and legitimize that offense. American exceptionalism is nothing if not violent.

Great discussion

Is it government that is violent or is government just a proxy for violent homosapiens?

Take away food or water (especially water) and it's amazing how thin our civilization is.



Links disabled, no spam please

There cannot fail to be more kinds of things, as nature grows further disclosed. - Sir Francis Bacon


Government is violent AND it is just a proxy for humans at their best and worst.

That water problem you mention is coming on like a speeding freight train. Soon we'll find that not only is healthcare a scarce resource, available easily to the wealth ... but water as well. Look for more war, coming soon to a thirsty planet near you.

Right and wrong

can at times be absolutes that simply don't apply, at least not as absolutes. Not all the time, but sometimes. Right for who? Wrong for who? Is it right for me to boycott a business whose ethical practices are questionable? Yes, it can be. Is it wrong for me to boycott a business if it results in people losing their jobs, their means of livelihood, and (in the present situation) their health coverage? Yes, it can be. Making that kind of call isn't always neat, clean, easy to do, and maybe it's good that we wrestle with such things and ask such questions. That doesn't mean we don't make those choices or take those stands that are important to us, but maybe it means we make those choices with a bit more humility. Maybe it means keeping open the dialog of differences without summarily dismissing those with whom we disagree. To borrow the title of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield's book, you don't have to be wrong for me to be right.

Trader Joes gain

perhaps Whole Foods loss will be Trader Joes gain. They are located very near to each other, and I love Trader Joes. And I think it is great they are located beside a Evos. I feel healthier just walking into that shopping center.

For any poor souls that have yet to encounter Evos:


It's awfully hard to keep the dialogue open when people keep screaming.

Self reflection and doubt is usually a positive trait

Introspection, self reflection, and self doubt are usually positive traits to have. It can also be a negative trait in that it makes us more aware of every consequence and aware of each impact of that consequence. I would rather be introspective, self reflective, and weigh each view and decision with self doubt than someone who never second guesses themselves, who are fanatical in their beliefs, and who are selfish to the point that they will hurt themselves because they support or do not support a critical issue that will wind up hurting them. We need look no further than Republicans fighting against Health Care Reform to see those types of people. They are the same people that fought with us "Liberals" to wage a war that never should have been started. They were the ones that agreed that the President needed more power and authority and that he needed to spend trillions on that war. They were, at least initially, firm supporters of the previous administration. These are the same people that now are supposedly worried about Presidential power and our deficit. They didn't have a problem when it came to war and abuses of power but they have a problem with fixing a system that allows the majority of American citizens to suffer in various ways.

To ask yourself, "Am I wrong?" is a great thing to do. It shows that you are a person of strong character, concerned about not just yourself but everyone and everything else. If more people stopped and asked themselves that one simple question and then took just a few minutes to see the consequences and impact of their choices and actions, we would have a much better world.

Personally, I don't think that you are wrong, I support Health Care Reform even after serious introspection, self reflection, and self doubt. It has to be better than what we have now, it is our one chance to at least begin correcting a system that has been broken for far too many years.

What if

I have sold to both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. The latter is a blood sucking bottom feeder that buys distressed products and sells them at inflated prices. At least WF buys quality.

As for the what if, may I suggest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

Trader Joe trade-offs

That's been the experience with others I know who deal with TJ. I guess the only answer is to stop eating.

Nothing wrong with being wrong

The path towards true progress is littered with stumbling blocks and dead ends, but each misstep we take helps us to better envision what we want to find at the end of the path.

That was a little flowerdy, but I've been going through DT's from being away from my keyboard so much. ;)

Thank you

I'm still trying to figure out the hows and whens of working my blogging in while driving cross-country. It would be really cool if there was some voice recognition software I could use so I could compose blogs while in motion. But then I would have to figure out a way to automatically delete the "What the f**K!" comments whenever some car zipped in front of my truck. :)

We don't censor four letter words

...and you can spell out the word f-u-c-k. :D

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.