Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | December 5, 2014

As a Matter of Fact, Yeah — I’m Always Right

All my life I’ve heard things that boil down to “you always think you’re so right.” I used to take this as criticism or even blame. Now I take it as a compliment.

As a matter of fact, I actually am always right for a very simple reason. Of course, if it were a simple, obvious reason, everyone would be doing it (not just acting like they were.) And it’s so easy to be right all the time, I’m amazed that more people don’t take advantage of it. I’ll explain.

“Being right” means something very different to me than it does to most people. Many people think that being right is a matter of “knowing” facts, having an “undeniable” explanation, believing the “truth”, having “proof” or “evidence” or “correct” opinions or “superior” theories, etc. Not a few are willing to argue and fight (or even hurt or maim or kill) when they think that they are “in the right.” Some think that they are obligated to do it or even entitled to. Righteousness can be a horrible, ugly, atrocious thing.

In contrast, my being right doesn’t come from “knowing” facts, having an “undeniable” explanation, believing the “truth”, having “proof” or “evidence” or “correct” opinions or “superior” theories (aside from old habits I haven’t yet kicked — I was programmed and got addicted to authoritarian rightness just like everyone else, after all.) My being right isn’t about what I’ve learned or what I know, because I’m still learning and my knowledge is constantly changing. I only know so much, and it’s negligible compared to what there still is left to know, most of which I remain clueless about, no different than you. I can only believe what appears true to me at any moment, and that changes as I learn more. So how can I declare my opinions “correct” when my grasp of matters might be way off and will certainly change? Superior? Forget about it.

For many people, being right involves being right about what’s out there. That’s important, but I try to limit my dependence on the stuff. What matters to me is being right about what’s in here. And on that — what I think, how I feel, how things appear to me, what they mean, what I mean, who I am, what I want, and what I’m becoming — in other words the first and most important aspects of life, the inward matters that determine how everything else matters — I AM THE SUPREME AUTHORITY. 🙂 But that’s really no different than you, either, unless you’re someone’s mind-slave.

So what am I saying that’s different? One difference lies in how we prioritize. I subordinate being right about the outside to being right about the inside. Internal, personal matters are way more important than external ones. But the crucial difference involves who decides the priority — me or others? I decide, always. I reserve that right and exercise it liberally. And I serve as my own authority on that. No one grants it to me. It always was, is, and will be mine. My lapses into delusions to the contrary, although strongly encouraged by others, even some whom I respected highly, were no one’s fault but my own.

This drives authoritarians nuts, because it makes absolutely no sense to them, and they can do absolutely nothing about it. They’d like to pass me off as a crackpot, and some try, but they have a slight problem with that: it turns out that I’m not a crackpot. Even I was surprised at first to find that out.

Most people subordinate interior, personal rightness to what they think they are supposed to think, feel, see, interpret, want, etc., according to preferred authoritative views (religious, philosophical, scientific, law-and-order, economic, etc.) that tell them what to believe about both the outside and the inside. I don’t play that game anymore. Whatever authority we use to validate ourselves is one that we chose, whether we chose it willingly or by choosing not to oppose its imposition. And before we made that choice, we made another one: we decided that the view or the person advocating it was authoritative enough to be worth considering, worth reckoning with, regardless whether we agreed or disagreed.

(That’s a way in which status-quo conservatives and radical protesters are alike: their antipathetic struggles are driven by similar beliefs in the power of the same authoritative institutions, whether they’re aligned for or against them. Both sides alike believe that the power of the very same authorities is formidable, whether they want to defend them or defeat them. Who bothers to consider the alternative, that the authorities are bogus and that their power is largely an illusion? And what if authority itself is bogus? What if authority is created precisely because its creators otherwise lack any good, defensible, non-coercive ways to get people to do what they want? I can hardly find an anarchist who takes that possibility seriously.)

I’ve seen where all this authoritarian nonsense leads. So, rather than argue with or argue about dominative middlemen who presume to get between me and myself and everyone else, I decided to simply eliminate them. Poof! Gone.

Dylan sang, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Not true, but lots of people think it is. In that frame of mind, some misinterpret the things I write and say, but I get it. It’s how we were programmed to think, and pretty much everyone thinks this way. It’s actually very hard to think differently, the current is so strong. I’m still trying to unlearn it myself. They mistake my being right about myself for being right about them. That’s a simple but profound confusion. They take descriptions that amount to, “This is how it is,” as if binding on them, as if I’d said, “This is how it is/must be for you.” It gets worse if I offer simple feedback. Some take, “This is how you seem,” not as honest admission of how they seem to me, but as judgment — as if I’d said, “This is how you truly are.” (Wow. As if any person alive is qualified to make statements like that. Apparently they think that someone is, just not me! 🙂 )

When someone judges us we always have the option to reject judgment. We can reject their judgment itself. We can reject their right to judge at all. I’ve gone one step further. I reject any right to judge me — even my own right. Speaking from decades of experience now, we all suck at it anyway, so why fret over those who pretend competence? Especially if some would-be judge is way off base, why would we let their folly bother us? And yet we do. We’re so sensitive to judgment that we can barely tolerate simple feedback without feeling wary, anxious, threatened, insulted, offended, or even convicted and sentenced — by simple statements of purported fact. Such is our weakness of psyche or, if you will, our frailness of spirit.

Why is self-inflicted over-generalizing like that so instinctive? Why do we so easily personalize mere observation when it’s uttered decisively with conviction? Why even succumb to judgment when it’s intentional? Submitting to judgment is just the tails side of the authority coin, the heads side being taking offense and protesting. Why not laugh it off as the inane, ridiculous crap that it is — especially since it’s likely, mostly wrong? (Hindsight invariably reveals this.) Probably because it might imply that we’re laughing off authority itself as inane and ridiculous. We’ve had a lifetime of indoctrination and conditioning that made clear what will happen next if we do that.

In our authoritarian culture, to say anything confidently and categorically, you need a right to do so. Merely seeing it the way you do doesn’t warrant your saying that’s how it is. You need the added force of authority, expertise, and a considerable following, or people will demote your voice to “just another opinion.” (Notice that you don’t need those underpinnings when speaking with trusted friends, which should clue you in to what’s going on.) Our experience is chock full of proof that authority makes even unreasonable claims stand, (which is in large part what authority is for, because when claims make sense reasonable people notice and don’t need authoritarian persuasion,) that good claims can quickly get knocked down unless authority backs them up, and even that authority gives people the right to knock us down if they don’t much like our claims, no matter how good and sensible our claims might be. (Again, notice that even ridiculous crap doesn’t make trusted friends feel the need to knock us down.) This leaves the impression that opinions of authorities and experts, especially when lots of people agree with them, constitute more than mere “personal opinion” — something more reliable, more true — even though achieving the positions and the status enabling them to make such declarations was more likely a function of politics than fidelity to fact or truth, and despite that time after time we look back on the opinions of past authorities and experts (or hold even current ones highly suspect these days) and see that they were mostly wrong about the most important things.

(If you think that authorities and experts usually get most things right, then you probably consider our current state of affairs as a great achievement outwardly instead of an abject failure inwardly. Many people these days regard science and technology as stellar successes of authoritative expertise. That’s a Pyrrhic victory in light of the fact that, quantitatively speaking, most of humanity lives without most of the benefits of science and tech, the overwhelming share of which has always been and continues to be enjoyed only by the rich — and anyone living in a “developed” country is rich in the eyes of the poor elsewhere. Three month’s salary of only 100 of the world’s richest people would be enough to eradicate global poverty according to Oxfam. That’s small “sacrifice” for huge benefit, but the rich do not want to make it, and we do not want to make them do it. Our gravest problems are neither scientific nor technological, and regarding them our authorities and experts have failed dismally, if solving them was ever their real intention.)

Most of us cannot fathom being confident and definite and open about our views without being propped by some kind of external validation. Most of us aren’t used to simple honesty as the rule rather than the exception, either. It’s not OK to just say how things seem; first we must ensure that we’re “right” about it. In our culture, no polite, considerate person makes comments about other people or criticizes them to their faces unless they’ve already formed firm, defensible judgments about them. Apart from formidable backing, and often even with it, we stay quiet about our judgments until we finally can’t bear to hold them in, even if meanwhile that means feigning or deceiving others involved, not to mention distrusting, dishonoring, and betraying ourselves in the process.

We were trained do avoid frankness from the first time that Mom or Dad (usually Mom) stopped us from making innocent remarks about others to keep us from hurting their feelings. This taught us that others’ feelings are more important than our perception, our judgment, and our very truth, since all those were denied to protect someone else’s emotional state. We learned from a young age that we are not allowed to be honest under certain circumstances and, by extension, that we are not allowed to honestly be. We were taught that sometimes it’s good to pretend or even lie. I know grown, intelligent adults who continue to adamantly defend this daftness.

So, of course, if someone speaks up — especially if with criticism — we presume that they, like us, must feel deeply and strongly about it and must have checked it against authoritative views and the opinions of others. In other words, these aren’t just judgments — they’re staunch judgments, and we’re probably the last of many to find out about them. That’s a lot of insinuative baggage to burden simple, honest, descriptive statements with.

I like to make categorical, descriptive statements precisely because, when we trust ourselves and feel safe enough to be frank, it’s our native mode of expression. I don’t take a bite of peach and say, “In my opinion, this peach tastes great!” or, “This peach seems to taste great — maybe it does!” or, “According to experts, peaches taste great to lots of people, so I think I must be one of them!” even though all those statements would be accurate. I simply say, “This peach tastes great!” That it’s a peach, not a pear, and that it tastes great are opinions that others might disagree with, even though I stated them as truths. The fact that I’m not speaking for anyone else is implicit, even though my words could be taken as absolute. The fact that I’m not imposing my opinion on anyone else — that it’s descriptive, not prescriptive — is also taken for granted.

What would you think if a friend started an argument with you over your great-tasting peach, claiming that you’re wrong and that the peach doesn’t taste great (or even can’t taste great) merely because he hates peaches and thinks that, by accepting your “peaches taste great” opinion, you’ll expect him to eat one and be angry or judge him wrong or dumb if he refuses? Imbuing simple descriptive statements with authority, unilaterally morphing them into a prescriptive statements, and then presuming that the speaker applies the result to you and everyone else — just whose head did those transformations actually take place in? Even if the speaker intended all that, in whose head does the pressure to submit to those expectations and pretensions seem onerous rather than silly?

Reflexively overextending a speaker’s truth by applying it to listeners, as if merely stating it were tantamount to overruling everyone else, is excessive and presumptuous whether a speaker does it or listeners do it. It’s unnecessary. It’s a programmed reaction, a conditioned response, an indication of brainwashing. Taking confident claims of truth as “authoritative” is to submit to them as authoritative whether they were meant that way or not. Even if meant that way, nothing forces us to submit to them; and yet these specters of authority drive many of the arguments and fights that we get into. We often fight nothing more than projections of our own authoritarian-induced fears. We hardly know how to disagree gracefully or take disagreement without feeling threatened by phantasms of fault, blame, and repercussion. Authoritarianism makes for a stressful, confusing, scary world to live in. I left, and I’m learning the ropes out here in the free one.

The confidence that comes from trusting others is very different than the confidence that comes from trusting ourselves. Others-derived confidence makes us dependent and vulnerable in ways that can disempower us. It feels different and has different outcomes than self-reliant confidence. In contrast, trusting others because I’m confidently self-reliant enough to afford to show them trust is a completely different matter than its dependent, vulnerable substitute. In the free world, trust is not a risky prospect. On the contrary — trust is power.

Some think that the prospect of self-confidence like this is a formula for self-delusion, but of course that’s an opinion from the other side of the hill about the grass on this side. In fact, judging from experience, I’m much less likely to be fooled. I call it the power of credulity, and I’m finding that very few are familiar with it. In fact, we were trained to be leery of it. To those on the other side of the hill, it implies all kinds of absurd things that simply aren’t the case, such as that it leads to thinking that you’re infallible, and so you stop listening to others. Apparently that’s how it would work on their side of the hill, but no — it doesn’t work that way here. Do I have blind spots and make mistakes? Of course I do, just like anyone else. Do others help me see them? Certainly. Do I listen? You bet I do. To their satisfaction? Yes, sometimes, but there’s the rub, right? Whose satisfaction are we actually after? The fact that people have insights and perspectives that we need doesn’t make them authorities over us or authorities about us. Having an insight about blind spots or errors here or there doesn’t mean that they know how our blind spots and errors figure in, or what we should do about them. Figuring out all that is our job. Don’t tolerate usurpers.

I’m not always right about my thoughts and feelings or my intentions and motivations. In other words, I can be wrong about myself. Of course. But I’m more right about myself than anyone else is or ever could be. It has little to do with smarts or good judgment, either. It’s a simple matter of access to information. I have an overwhelming amount of information about myself that no one but me has the remotest shred of access to. Put crassly, I’m not nearly as ignorant about myself as others are about me. And the reverse is true, too. They aren’t nearly as ignorant about themselves as I am about them. So on matters concerning others, I defer to them. I expect the same consideration from them to me.

With so much ignorance, error, and only-just-learning going on, how can I still say that I’m always right? Right about what, exactly?

I’m always right to trust myself and refuse to let others sit in my judgment seat, especially when it comes to matters concerning me. That seat is mine alone and I’m solely responsible for taking my place on it and passing all the judgments I want. I don’t pass the buck, and I don’t pretend that I have no right to judge. On the contrary — if you never judged anything, you would have no judgment, not good judgment. And you can’t develop good judgment without practice, which means making lots of judgments and lots of mistakes and learning from them. Lots of mistakes. Notice that our culture has very little tolerance for mistakes, especially for judgment errors, and least of all for errors in judgment about others. Heads roll for that kind of thing, even though we all pretend not to notice that this, too, depends on judgments that often prove to be wrong. I guess the redeeming fact is that others make those judgments and lop heads off, so we aren’t at risk for being wrong. But not being wrong is not the same as being right.

It makes me wonder whether the underlying issue involves the pitfalls of judgment, or whether that’s just an excuse used by pitifully frail, fearful egos that want to avoid being wrong at any cost.

We each have a judgment seat, a throne of self if you will, and it’s for each of us alone to sit on it. Learning how to function there constitutes freedom and power — sovereignty in fact. Abdicating it to others is not only cowardly, it’s a tragic, damnable travesty. It’s the very crux of thinking like, “I was just following orders,” or, “I’m doing God’s will,” or, “It’s our rightful, manifest destiny,” or, “I have no other choice,” or, “Everyone knows and says so” — the kind of thinking without which cults, totalitarian regimes, imperialistic exploitation, slavery of all kinds, and genocidal madness wouldn’t be possible, because if we refused to abdicate our judgment to others, no one but psychopaths would go along with that shit.

There’s many more of us than there is of them — a ratio around 97:3 or 95:5 depending on which expert you consult — yet we’ve let psychopathic idiots sully everything and rule the roost to boot. We need to stop abdicating, we need to think and judge for ourselves, and we need to start trusting and working with each other. We can do far better than this.

I sit on my throne of self and life. No one can supplant me. I encourage you to take your place on yours. You’ll see. Contrary to the uninformed crap that gets lobbed from the authoritarian side of the hill, peace will ensue, not war. War is their lot and their perennial, try-it-one-more-time insanity.

If we want radically different results — I do — I say try something radically different. I’m doing it. It’s getting amazing.

And I’m right about that.

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Responses

  1. Nice article………


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