I used to be a leftist – not in any organized way, but in my heart. And often I would find myself getting angry when I read or heard something that contradicted the worldview I’d adopted.
Later I realized my anger didn’t come from being contradicted. It came from fear – fear that I was wrong, fear that I didn’t have the slightest whiff what I was talking about. Out of fear, I insulated myself from viewpoints that challenged what I believed.
Gradually I began to force myself to read those challenging viewpoints, and I began to doubt many of the things that I’d previously accepted as true. And I thought, “At last I can be honest with myself! I no longer have to fear being exposed to contrary opinions! I’m a free man!”
So here I am, a free man. Yet still I find myself getting angry. Still I find that I have to force myself to read and listen to opinions that cast my preconceptions into doubt. Still there’s this ever-present fear that I don’t have the slightest whiff what I’m talking about.
I don’t think there’s any escaping it, this fear. The world is complicated, and the human brain is just an oddly-shaped lump of permeable meat. Excepting a few geniuses, most of us can’t possibly memorize the blueprint of the whole structure of arguments and proofs that comprise a coherent philosophy. We select a few arguments that seem convincing to us, bolt them together as best we can, fill the gaps with putty, and hope that no-one pushes too hard on the seams.
I think we’d be better off, we’d abet fewer falsehoods, we’d spend less time being angry at each other, if we acknowledged our weaknesses. So I’ll do it right here: every time I express an opinion on this blog – whether it’s about something trivial, like the ending of the movie Splice, or something small but important, like whether a certain restaurant in Brooklyn is involved in sex trafficking, or something enormous but trivial, like who was primarily responsible for the Allied victory in World War II, I’m frightened that I’m wrong.
The internet sets a low bar for accuracy, and a lot of people stumble onto this site through Google searches, and some of them may see what I’ve written as authoritative. I hate to think that I’m misleading my visitors, so I strive to be thorough and truthful. But I abide by blogging standards of accuracy, not journalism standards. I have a full-time job. I can’t phone up sources to verify quotes. I don’t subscribe to Lexis-Nexis. I can’t afford to buy a whole book every time the few crucial pages I want to consult happen to be missing from the Google Books scan (which happens with exasperating frequency).
I’ve spent the last two days reading up on Rigoberta Menchú, the Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner whose memoir I, Rigoberta Menchú was shown to contain several falsehoods and distortions. Specifically, I’ve been looking into the controversy surrounding the confrontation at the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City in 1980, in which the group of leftist protesters who’d occupied the embassy were killed, along with most of their hostages, during the assault by police.
I’ve been trying to compose a measured and comprehensive post on the topic, but I keep bumping against my awareness of my ignorance. I don’t speak Spanish, so I have to rely on Google Translate to help me interpret the documents; even some of the English-language resources I need are unavailable online or at my local library; and anyway, most importantly, what do I really have to contribute to the debate?
On the other hand, maybe I can help some poor chump who, like me, had his curiosity sparked by an article he read online, then was discouraged to discover, on investigating further, that most discussions of the topic are either distorted by ideology or buried in out-of-the-way corners of the internet. Maybe at least I can bring together the information I’ve gathered, and save the next chump the trouble of gathering it himself.
So I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll throw out all my notes and keep my big yap shut. Or maybe I’ll post my conclusions in a few days, and take the risk, yet again, of being wrong.