A Space for Wrongness

13 January, 2012 § 2 Comments

I want this blog to be a space where it is safe to be wrong.

Wrongness is, I think, undervalued a lot culturally, particularly in the internet culture, particularly on the blogging world, which is to say the world of argumentative individualistic writing. In this world, the goal of any particular argument, interaction, etc, is to be the one who’s right, and “winning” that rightness comes at all costs.

This is sad to me. This is sad to me because the personal value I get out of reading argumentative, individualistic writing is pretty much at a disjoint from its truth value. If all I ever wanted to read was correct things, I could easily go for the low hanging fruit of reading about, say, basic mathematics or formalistic logic. But I don’t. I seek out writing about politics, gender, race, culture, society, art, game design, linguistics, science, and so on, places where wrongness isn’t just likely, it’s basically assured. Why is this?

Well, clearly, it’s because I get some value from wrong arguments. In particular, personally, I would rather read an argument which is wrong, but makes me re-evaluate my life and world view, than an argument that is correct, but mostly reconfirms my existing prejudices. I had a recent talk with a room-mate about this, with respect to Andrea Dworkin (link to an excellent interview by Michael Moorcock), whose writing I really adore. Dworkin was wrong about a lot of stuff, including some of the critical issues of her day. But she was wrong in a way that leads a reader to re-assessing their relationship to sex, gender, society and self. I don’t agree with Dworkin’s conclusions (sometimes) but I’m a better person for having read her writing. This is clearly a superior experience, as a reader, than — for instance — wikipedia’s article about adhesive tape, which is more factually correct.

In this space, I’d like to pursue the kind of writing that makes people re-evaluate their own lives and their own relationships and thoughts, whether that is right or wrong in terms of trivial content. In this regard, I’d really like to have a space where being wrong doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, and it doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have the worse of the argument. It means, simply, that you are wrong, and no further.

This is the ideal. I don’t even know how to start to approach it yet, and I imagine that this is going to be a work in process. Anyone reading: I would welcome your thoughts.


§ 2 Responses to A Space for Wrongness

  • My thoughts:

    First, I like what you’re doing here a lot. When I first saw your custom of saying “someone is wrong on the internet” I found it a little off-putting, because I know your aggressive debate style and it felt like a superiority thing. But as I came to understand that it was actually your personal coping strategy for avoiding unfruitful engagement, I warmed to the practice considerably (and of course, that IS more or less the point of the XKCD strip that inspired the phrase!).

    i, personally, have been on a journey out of the territory of “right” and “wrong,” and more to the point, “us” against “them,” and the ugly jostle of rhetorical positioning and identity politics, for a few years now. The word “wrong” is really difficult to engage with, at this point. And not so much because I’m a delicate flower who can’t bear to have his fee-fees hurt; more like I’m a recovering alcoholic who, if he tastes a drop of “Vigorous Debate 200 proof”, might lapse into an all-night bender of Righteous Internet Crusade.

    I want to engage with this blog, though. Because I see what you’re doing and it’s a beautiful thing. I’m looking at your choice of words as a challenge, but not a deterrent. You’re doing a lot to put this endeavor on a footing of trust and mutual support, and I appreciate that.

    It’s tough to conduct a positive discussion that’s framed in a negative context. Framing something as “wrong” has a lot of emotional baggage that can prevent people from receiving input in a spirit of goodwill due and engaging with it in a productive and safe way. I’ve read Ryan Macklin’s “You’re Wrong” flowchart and taken it to heart–and even there the lesson is framed negatively–“if you tell people they’re wrong they’re a cockbite.” So while I find it a useful check on my impulse to get confrontational on the internet, every time my brain summons up the mnemonic it’s accompanied by a twinge of negativity: “aw, some people in the world are cockbites,” my brain thinks for half a moment.” It’s like a little bitter tang in my otherwise sweet positive engagement wine.

    Yep, it’s booze metaphors all the way tonight.

    I’m don’t think you’re unaware of these issues; your post demonstrates to me that you’re thinking about them and trying to address and mitigate the negative factors. And I don’t expect or demand that you rename or restate the whole thing. Just a perspective to take under advisement.


    • benlehman says:

      Hey, Joel. I have actual text in the “how we interact here, please” sidebar now. I’d be interested in hearing your views on it.

      In short: I’d like to try to keep the “right and wrong” and not keep the “us and them.”

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