Saying You’re Wrong, Even If Not Sorry

Ideas and Issues Media

            Pearl River     We’re all wrong sometimes.  I swore Hillary would beat Trump, and, in fact, hoped he would be her opponent, thinking he was the one candidate she could surely beat.  I thought the Amazon Labor Union would lose in their shot at the Staten Island warehouse, after failing to make the showing of interest the first time.  I was sure the Astros would beat the Braves in 2021 in the World Series. Over the years, I’ve hired hundreds and maybe thousands of people, but I’ve also hired scores of people who I was convinced would be great, who crashed and burned within days, weeks, and months.  What can I say, but to quote the English poet, Alexander Pope, “to err is human, to forgive is divine.”

Admitting when we are wrong is the hard part sometimes, captured by our own confirmation bias or just plain being stubborn as mules.  Nowhere is that more common than among the pundits and pontificators in our daily papers.  All of which made it unusual to see the vaunted New York Times parade out eight of their columnists in a feature where they admitted they were wrong.  Or did they?  I was curious about whether they were really serious and were they really sorry.  It’s a mixed bag.

For the award-winning, book-writing Thomas Friedman he kind of said he was wrong about China having to curtail censorship, but his fingers were crossed behind his back.  He still wanted to say, China would have to stop censorship and had three conditions that just possibly might make him wrong, and various feelings about them.  Basically, he was trying to still argue that he was right, which was typical of how arrogant he is, and why, except in this instance, I refuse to read his columns.  I only read this one to see if he would admit that he was wrong about globalism for which he has been an unceasing cheerleader.  No such luck.

Nobel Prize winning Paul Krugman, who I do often read, claimed he was wrong about inflation.  He even acknowledged that blowhard economists like Larry Summers might have been righter.  Did he really think he was wrong and that the other team was right?  Not really.  The models were wrong, he said, because the combination of the pandemic, Ukraine, and more tricked the computers.  Furthermore, he claimed both sides really sort of agreed.  Hmmm…that doesn’t quite qualify as a full-throated apology.  I’m a fan of Michelle Goldberg, but her claim that she was wrong about Al Franken rang hollow in reading her column.  She doesn’t really think she was wrong about Franken, in fact, she seems to argue she was right about him, but she was wrong in not calling more patiently for due process, making the argument that her support of #MeToo made him at the time acceptable collateral damage.  All of which seems more a defense than an apology.  Gail Collins, who I used to read, but no longer do, claims she was sorry about Mitt Romney and his dog, but she’s not.  She’s sorry she mentioned it eighty times during the campaign against Obama. She’s sorry he’s so boring and that her job is wise-cracking.  It’s a shtick that gets old, and admitting how worn out it is, as I’ve realized, isn’t the same as saying you’re wrong, and certainly not that you’re sorry.

I’ll give a lot more credit to some of the others.  David Brooks who writes on what I might describe as the soft-conservative wing says he was wrong about capitalism.  He actually seemed contrite and to bear some responsibility for promoting market solutions which didn’t work and brought more inequality.  Farhad Manjoo, their tech guy, said he was wrong about Facebook, and actually felt guilty for having told everyone to join and then seeing the horror that brought.  He really seemed contrite, and worse, chastised himself for having actually seen it coming, but ignored his own recognition of the warning signs.  That was kind of refreshing, since he was both wrong, and truly sorry.  Brett Stephens, who is a harsher conservative that I really don’t much care for, admits he was wrong in his disgust with Trump that he saw his voters essentially as “deplorables” without understanding their grievances or hearing their rage.  He quotes Abraham Lincoln to good effect.  I’m still not a fan, but I would accept his apology.

Finally, when it comes to Zeynep Tufekci, who I read religiously, whether her columns or books, she made it righter than most of these humblebrags masking as apologies.  She says she was wrong about protests.  The headline writers gave her a bad break.  She was right about protests, and says so in her column.  She was wrong about the role of social media in making and sustaining protests.  She realized after observing and researching the Arab Spring and other protests and movements that she hoped would create change, especially given her roots in the area, that she had it wrong.  She concluded, correctly, that protests and movements have to spring from struggle and organization, not social media, if they are to be sustained and create social change.

She was wrong, but then got it right.  That’s what should happen when you realize you were wrong, and, more importantly, when you are still ready to learn because you care more about the facts, than your own opinion.  Of course, I’ll also concede that I value her column the most, because it agrees with my own opinion, and, admittedly, my life’s work.  As for the rest of them, we value their opinions when they also concede that their arguments are really just their opinions, rather than pretending to a truth in this complex world we all try to sort out the best we can.