Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What People Hate

Earlier today Dave made an astute observation:  "People hate being wrong."

I certainly do.   Being wrong is embarrassing and from the standpoint of writing a book, ego-crushing.  It is all the more unpleasant when we're talking about something that I've been wrong about for years, even decades, all the while believing that I knew the truth.  Being wrong just plain sucks.

I must hate it more than most, however.  I'll explain why.

Most people who are wrong about something will flat out disbelieve it.  Now, here I don't talk about someone saying the shop is on 17th Avenue when it's on 16th, or making a mistake in thinking that Cheryl's husband is named Brandon when his name is actually Braden.  This sort of thing is usually accepted by people once they've met Braden.  I'm not even talking about people who still sing "wrapped up like a douche when you're rollin’ in the night" even when they know those can't be the lyrics.  Sometimes we get things stuck in our heads that are tough to shove out.  That's how the brain works.

I am talking about people who, for example, absolutely will not accept something like evolution or statistically verifiable climate change.  Things are are, first of all, difficult to understand if someone hasn't sat down patiently with us and explained, and secondly, much more easily misunderstood than song lyrics once we've gotten it into your head that such things work in a way that's completely different from your interpretation.  We're so used to interpreting things based on our gut instincts that once we find ourselves dealing with something really big, it is easier to keep with the gut rather than apply ourselves to a lot of initially incoherent facts.

So we develop prejudices.  And we develop a defense mechanism against anyone who challenges our prejudices, because we're certain that we know and that they don't.

The problem with prejudice - beyond other, obvious reasons - is that they mean we're going to be wrong forever.  Every time we find ourselves in an argument with someone who does have knowledge about that thing, it's going to be an argument where we have to defend our inaccurate 'knowledge' against a person who won't bend because they actually are right.  And they're going to make us feel stupid, because they're going to pull arguments from every quarter that makes us seem stupid while we're stubbornly insisting on our position without any facts to back us up.

That's going to make us angry every time someone mentions the subject.  We're going to be pissed the instant we meet anyone vaguely connected with that whole thing.  Because we don't want to talk about it, we don't want anyone to talk about it.

I said, I hate being wrong.  The best way to stop being wrong is to be informed.  So all my life, when I've found myself in an argument that's over my head, I've tried to change.  Oh, often not right away - initially I can be as stubborn as anyone.  But I am listening while I'm arguing and if good points are made, I'll follow up on those points the next day or the next week.  And I'll find myself looking at the hard data and thinking, "Fuck.  They were right."  It did turn out that that thing's name was Braden after all.

What this means is that I'm wrong about this thing today, but not tomorrow and not any time in the future. Next time I'm in that argument, I'm the asshole that's actually right - because I'm the asshole that did my homework.

Yes, that does make people mad.

It's particularly galling for certain 'smart' people in the world.  'Smart' is relative.  We can seem very smart when we're 20 and surrounded by people who haven't been through college yet and therefore haven't learned how full of shit we are.  We can apply ourselves to a game that has no verifiable truths to it, so that when talking about that game we are able to be louder and more definite and more popular in our opinions than others, so that we are definitely 'smarter' by reputation.  There is no right answer - at least we're free enough in the context to claim there isn't - so we shout 'IMHO' and 'YMMV' because those are terms that codify deliberate will-to-ignorance.  We think in our heart of hearts, "It's a game and its my table and what the hell, everyone does it their way, don't they?"

The less knowledge we have about something, the less certain we should be, nyet?  Yet that is not how humans tackle uncertainty.  Religion, where every tradition-established opinion becomes fact, flourishes where no knowledge exists.  A lack of knowledge enables intimidation, resistance against universality and all the benefits that come with the fragmentation of community - the power to influence those nearest to us by sheer strength of our personality.  We push others around because we are the loudest, the most arcane, the most elaborate in our 'logical constructions' and our innovation.

In the community, I am most justly proud of those things that I've proposed that others have chosen to embrace.  What I do with my world is irrelevant where the game is concerned.  I make nice maps and explore things that others would never explore for my own sake - but where the reader is concerned, those things are at best interesting.  They aren't 'right' because they're not applicable to the reader's framework.

The best things in life are universal.  These are things upon which we all agree - even when we're not certain of the exact details.  Democracy is better than tyranny, however that democracy may manifest locally.  Love is better than hate.  Evolution provides better answers for keeping us alive and staving off death than religion, which is only interested in comforting us.  If you're Braden, you're much more positive about all the people you know who remember your name than about that one dork who still calls you 'Brandon.'

I used to preach that we need role-playing to be more universal, to have rules upon which we can agree.  At the very least, we ought to adopt practices that are of the greatest benefit to 'fun' and 'comaraderie.'  I stopped making those arguments because of the push-back I received.  People shouted that 'fun' did not require their obedience to a group-think model.  The truth is, of course, that they have no idea what that model entails - except that it almost certainly says that what they're doing now is probably the wrong way to do it.

Deep in their hearts, the majority of players are dead-certain they're playing the game wrong.  They don't like it.  They're divided into two groups, however - those actively seeking answers about what to do and those furiously insisting that they're not wrong, there are no right answers, everyone has to do it their own way and fuck off.

Some people would rather be wrong forever than to change.

There are right answers.  We study psychology because it has been proven to us that even though humans are complex, difficult and unique, we still do things that have predictable, verifiable results.  These behaviours apply to the playing of role-playing games just as well as they apply to any other context in which humans interact.  To cry that there are no definable right or wrong approaches to the game is to deny all of human knowledge about ourselves to date.  That's not opinion.  Your mileage cannot vary.  You sit down with your players and you act in a particular way, we have the experts who can watch your behaviour and point out chapter and verse where you're fucking up.  More importantly, we can universally march experts into the room to watch you play, and they'll all come to the same conclusions.

That is damn hard to accept.  People hate being wrong.


James said...

The more I think on it, I don't know if people "hate" to be wrong. If someone truly "hated" being wrong, they would endeavor to be wrong less often, whereas my interactions with people have led me to believe that there are few people who will put any effort into being less wrong in their lives.

I think people hate work and change. And I think people allow their broad categorizations to cloud their thinking.

I have learned to cringe when people say "it's just a game." When someone says "it's just a game," they are inherently dismissing the activity in question, relegating it as something unworthy of extra work. So when you say that you have to work to be better at D&D, they state "it's just a game" so they don't have to do that work.

Similarly, people hate change. People would MUCH rather be wrong then have to change. "Your mileage may vary" and other such cliches, they allow people to keep acting in their flawed ways without having to change them, because it is easier to dismiss an idea with a "my way works for me and your way works for you" than have an honest debate about which way is actually superior.

Digital Orc said...

Passing the bigot test is important: "What will it take to for you to change your mind?"

Being wrong is part of learning, even if we're hardwired and raised to dislike it.