Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz may be the best non-fiction book I’ve ever read — certainly the best I’ve read since i woke up several months ago. Schulz is bogglingly learned, funny, witty, thoughtful, and incapable of writing a boring sentence. Her insights may change the way you look at the world, and at yourself. (More often than not, they’re the same thing, as she proves over and over again.)
I won’t presume to summarize her 400 pages here, but I will introduce two of her more important concepts. The first is the “Cuz It’s True Constraint.” The second is the “Ignorance Assumption.”
As Schulz writes, “This is the essence of the ‘Cuz It’s True Constraint: every one of us confuses our models of the world with the world itself — not occasionally or accidentally but necessarily. This is a powerful phenomenon, and it sets in motion a cascade of corollaries that determines how we deal with challenges to our belief system — not, alas, for the better.”
The first corollary she introduces, which is important for this discussion today, is the “Ignorance Assumption.” Because it’s her idea, and because you deserve another sample of her writing, here’s what she says about the Ignorance Assumption. “Since we think our own beliefs are based on the facts, we conclude that people who disagree with us just haven’t been exposed to the right information, and that such exposure would inevitably bring them over to our team. This assumption is extraordinarily widespread. To cite only the most obvious examples, all religious evangelism and a good deal of political activism (especially grass-roots activism) (emphasis added) is premised on the conviction that you can change people’s beliefs by educating them on the issues.”
Sometimes this is true. But most of the time it isn’t. Partly because people who disagree with us can be just as smart and just as well informed as we are — they just disagree with us. And partly because we’re wrong sometimes, too — every one of us. To quote Schulz again, “When other people reject our beliefs, we think they lack good information. When we reject their beliefs, we think we possess good judgment.” How’s THAT for an uncomfortable truth?
To me, that’s at the heart of what I’ll call the Progressive Dilemma. We meet someone who disagrees with our basic assumptions about the world, and we either say “Watch me present my statistics!” or we say, “What an ignoramus. Listens to too much talk radio.” Either way, we lose. Then we’re painted as out-of-touch, elitist, egg-headed, liberal, lamestream — all the buzzwords that are marshaled to marginalize us. Most of the time, we’re wielding the brush ourselves. And we continually find ourselves reacting, rather than leading the conversation.
By now you may be asking yourself, “What on earth does this have to do with Parcel B, or with anything else in beautiful Culver City?”
Good question. Of course, it leads me into murky water — because I’m going to present MY world view, which perforce is correct. While I’m doing so, I’ll undoubtedly display my own ‘Cuz It’s True constraints and Ignorance Assumptions. At the very least, though, I can start by listing the assumptions I’m aware of.
1) Most people aren’t sociopaths — they believe that their world view is not only correct, but that the world would be a better place if everyone agreed with them and acted accordingly. It is neither true nor useful to label these people either “ignorant” or “wicked” when their beliefs diverge from ours.
2) It doesn’t matter that Prop. 13 was, and remains, a compendium of bad policies with a couple of tricky sweeteners thrown in. It’s the law, and it’s going to be the law for the foreseeable future.
3) Culver City, like every city in California post-Prop. 13, is dependent on sales tax for the majority of our funding.
4) An improved city budget, therefore, depends on a growing sales tax base. If we want quality police and firefighters, a city dogcatcher and mobility coordinator, well-maintained parks, etc., — we must have more sales tax revenue to pay for them.
5) Sales taxes come from businesses. By definition.
6) As progressives, we need to come to terms with the business community so that we can both get what we want.
So what belongs on Parcel B, in the heart of downtown Culver City? Certainly not a park (at the confluence of two of the busiest streets in the city). Certainly not low income housing (for the same reason). Certainly not another parking structure (which will be a white elephant in ten years when gas costs $10 a gallon). An independent bookstore? When Duttons and Vromans couldn’t make it? When even Barnes & Noble is close to receivership? Not unless everyone in the city makes a pledge never to buy from Amazon again.
Then what? It’s perhaps the most valuable piece of land in the city, and we desperately need for it to generate revenue. Let’s talk about how. I have some ideas I’ll lay out next time. What do you think?
(In the meantime, go buy “Being Wrong” by Kathryn Schulz. At a bookstore. Pay the sales tax. That way you can join this discussion without feeling like a hypocrite).
Ted Bellamy is the nom-de-plume of Scott Wyant, who’s lived in Culver City for more than 20 years, and was actually awake a good part of that time. He’s interested in the human side of technology, and can be reached at [email protected]
Editor’s Note- I have never nor will I ever buy a book from Amazon.com. I swear on a big stack of Bibles, Korans, Torahs, Sutras and Upanishads.