Saturday, January 21, 2012

More Than Completely Wrong

At some time over the past couple of days you may have discovered or remembered that you have the capacity to be completely wrong about a person, about a place or about a thing. Moreover, you may have come to accept your employment of that capacity on a regular basis as being: just fine.

If so, congratulations! You may well have eliminated greatest barrier to optimal learning and development. You see, being open to being completely wrong is the single most critical factor when trying to learn. It's more important than having the best teachers. It's (kind of by definition) more important than everything you've learned so far. It's more important than memorization or practice.

The key to optimal learning is the willingness to toss out everything you've learned... no matter how long you've employed it... no matter how successfully it's worked... no matter how many people believe it... no matter how respected a person taught you it.

Really! As soon as you're willing to toss out everything you've learned and believed, you're ready to learn.

Note that the active verb is "willing" and not "toss out". This simultaneously makes things easier and harder: easier because there's no mandate to actually toss out anything; harder because you never really know about willingness until it's accompanied by commensurate action.

Profession and Practice
Indeed, it can be challenging to reconcile disparities between belief and action. Each of us is full of them. The two most common methods of reconciliation are denial and situational ethics. The two may in fact make the strongest case for belief in reincarnation as they manifest anew in each generation and group.

Denial is easy to do. Although common side-effects of longterm use are too numerous to list here, they largely resemble those of repetitive-stress-induced injuries.

Approaches to denial include:

SimpleThis is your bread-and-butter format best delivered with a splash of indignation. Popular utterances include 'No I don't!', 'I would never...' and 'How could you think that I would ever...'
SemanticThis form is often employed in response to simili and analogy. It provides a great way to pivot past a pesky point and charge down an avenue of distracting irrelevance. When someone compares your disparity between word and deed to an atrocity committed by Myanmar's reigning regime, you say something like, "No, it's totally different..." or "How can you compare my actions with..."

In a flash the conversation shifts from your apparent hypocrisy to the other's lack of tact.
JustifiedThe most powerful and dangerous form of denial, justification, is difficult (if not impossible) for others to overcome and the most debilitating to the denier. Justification allows you to look your word/deed-disparity straight in the eye and say, "I don't care!"

One who is justified may appear to be out of denial; he see's the disparity and accepts it for "good" reasons. However, all she's actually done is to wrap up one layer of denial in another. The justification form of denial is typically used to reconcile your more egregious forms of activity to your more altruistic forms of belief. It results in the strongest feelings of regret and remorse once the wrappers have been removed.

Formats include the ever popular "it's not practical", the insidious "but she deserved it" and the rabel-rousing "something's got to be done!"

If you want to take being completely wrong to a high artform, then justification is the way to go.

So far I've focused on individual complete-wronged-ness and how to make it bigger. However, no matter how wrong you are, it's nearly impossible for an individual to have the impact of a larger group. World-class wrongers know how to take it viral.

Consider the recent protests of Internet companies regarding two congressional bills that might lead to censorship of the Internet. These campaigns culminated Wednesday in a unified initiative to increase awareness and incite action. Google covered its logo with an off-kilter black rectangle. Many sites directed visitors through an intermediate landing page that provided information on the bills before redirecting them to the normal home page.

Although most of these companies are more financially-motivated than altruistically- and philosophically-motivated, I agree with them. Nonetheless, Wikipedia did something that rivals the Nazis in complete-wronged-ness. In a beautiful display of despotism, Wikipedia closed the doors to all its content in protest of the pending bills.

"Despotism?", you ask.

Yeah, despotism. About 100,000 authors regularly contribute to Wikipedia with goal of making accurate and relevant information readily available to anyone, anywhere. Wikipedia houses the more than twenty-million articles produced by these authors. Wikipedia is the bank; however, it's not Wikiedia's money.

Still, Wikipedia unilaterally and arbitrarily decided to make "its" content (that they didn't create) unavailable (to those to whom they promised to keep it safe and accessible).

You might say, "It wasn't arbitrary; it was to protest censorship!"

However, that would only be the case if you agree with their justification. Why not make content unavailable in support of autism awareness, or anti-smoking, or labor-equity? Although you can draw lines of rationale, outside its being self-serving, the connection is arbitrary.

You might say that it wasn't unilateral, that the authors contributed to the decision. Although Wikipedia reported that a small number of the 100,000 authors participated in the decision, they're unclear about the actual number who agreed and the bias of the process. They ignored the vast majority. It's despotism at its best.

Best of all, Wikipedia did the very thing they're protesting; they censored the Internet. Why? Because they were justified.

Come On, Now
You might be thinking, "No one's gonna let them get away with that!"

They did! They completely pulled it off. People all over the world supported the action. They took completely-wrong to new heights. A small group of people finds a justification for unacceptable activities that support what is important to them. They identify a villan against whom to perpetrate the actions. They recruit others who agree with the importance of cause. Unthinkingly and skipping right past the denial stage, others join them in unacceptable activities to support an arbitrary cause.

On the surface it sounds like such a good thing. However, it's a perfect example of how one can expertly engineer a magnificent manifestation of complete-wronged-ness.

Fortunately, people don't think too much. If they were to, Wikipedia's actions would have set back cloud-computing a good decade or two. Who wants to trust the Internet to keep your data when service providers can arbitrarily deny you access to it. Moreover, Wikipedia's actions justify greater regulatory oversight. Large monopolistic providers of service that demonstrate the potential to violate the public trust get regulated.

Ahh, I feel better.

Happy Saturday,

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