Why Be Wrong?
tldr: somebody has to be + it's kinda sexy
If there's ever a phrase to be wary of, it's "obviously wrong".
It will usually be bandied about by the insufficiently Socratically-humbled and laziest of debaters. Often as a cheap put-down and/or argument-ender. A way to say they’re not interested in imagining the possibility of the highly unlikely at the moment.
Which is perfectly understandable. I’m told the recommended daily average for impossible beliefs is 6, and preferably only before breakfast. Not everyone will feel like considering the possibilities of a world without property rights (sorry Karl) or whatever cool thought experiment you came up with last night. So we forgive them their impatience.
But sometimes this declaration of impossibility will even be used in complete sincerity by a certain type of particularly unimaginative folk. Who seem to view the idea of counterfactuals as a personal affront.
They’re the sort of people that I really don’t enjoy being around. You know the type. The ones that are sticklers for rules and correctness. The ones who place being “right” over being better. Who think “gotchas” are clever and that mistakes are the most embarrassing of possibilities. Desperately minimizing downside instead of, y’know, doing the fun stuff.
God forbid you ever have to watch them engage in a debate. Or worse, be on the other end of one yourself. It isn’t pleasant viewing, to say the least. The more desperate they are to be right, the easier it is to see the layers of cope around their sheltered egos.
Luckily, I’ve learnt to avoid them as much as possible1. And to find the folks who are the complete opposite of said stick-in-the-muds. Curiously, the majority of them had Twitter accounts, so that’s where I started to spend more of my time. For better or for worse.
It took me a few months until I realized what I loved about Twitter was the freedom from needing to be right. The freedom that comes from being surrounded by people that encourage bold, ridiculous, possibly-hilariously-wrong takes2.
The art of the shitpost is a beautiful one for many reasons. And none more important than the liberty to throw stuff onto the timeline and see what sticks.
It’s this quality of epistemic…looseness, that makes stuff like sci-fi so goddamn cool. I don’t care how time travel works, or if it even can. But I think Dr. Who is marvelously fun all the same.
Which is why “rigorous” is not a word that’s usually used to describe creatives. If you were really trying to churn out as many new ideas as possible, you’d need to be wrong pretty often. Why? Because all the good ones are probably taken.
my main contention with the human race is that they're really fucking good and have made finding alpha extremely hard in all walks of life. -Roon
The further you are from being an expert, the more value you can provide as a crackpot. And the bigger the formal system of knowledge creation grows, the more important the N=2 for ideas gets. If your only advantage is having nothing to lose, you might as well use it.
Sure, you can argue that this is midwit cope. And that truly good contrarianism arises from careful, independently-honed domain expertise. That’s a fair opinion to have.
I just happen to think luck is a much bigger factor than we dare admit. And that widely-spread, highly-unlikely bets have an important place in the system, especially once we’ve already minimized the worst downsides. Broken clocks aren’t completely useless. At the very least, they’ll tell you what time it isn’t.
The more complex systems (and the methods used to understand them) get, the more likely it is that unobvious simple rules (buy every tech IPO, Lindy food, checklists) will work better for the individual. In fact, their painfully simple nature makes them more likely to be discovered and exploited by a relative layman, rather than a domain expert.
But because the success of these rules are impossible to judge ex ante, you need people willing to be part of the experimental group. People willing to be wrong. The road less travelled by needs it’s brave (foolish?) backpackers.
It’s not all fun and games.
Self-experiments, contrarianism, and “Great Theories Of Everything” all have a feature in common: the potential to be huge, painful, embarrassing mistakes. But that only serves to make them cooler in my eyes.
Becuase there is a "reality cost" that all beliefs pay, the further your ideas are from the underlying state of reality, the more you stand to lose. The cost of contrarianism isn't just social ostracization, it's also the possibility of missing out on the "obvious" winning strategy. Frontiersmen pay the unavoidable price of exploring uncharted territory: higher levels of risk.
Cultivating contrarianism is a lot like owning a gun – you get a heck of a lot of opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot, but also very occasionally one opportunity to save your life.
….I am glad that there are dedicated survivalists who stockpile canned food in underground shelters in case of the nuclear apocalypse, because if there is ever an actual nuclear apocalypse, these people will survive and rebuild the human race. - SSC
And for that alone I admire them all; the trads, the reactionaries, the rationalists, the bugmen, even the crypto-bros. The majority of their beliefs may be painfully flawed, their worldviews often unadulterated cope, but they stick by them anyway. Possibility of undesirable consequences be damned.
Kinda hot, if I’m being honest.
Not that the social costs are negligible. Just the idea of being publically wrong is enough to scare most people out of true contrarianism. The chance of being a target of ire, of facing the derision of the internet, of getting your ass dragged in countless quote tweets, is pretty scary to the more conflict-averse of users.
And it plays out similarly in real life. Except here the benefits are sometimes not worth the cost. Losing your friends and fellows because you need them to understand how the Cathedral controls their lives is silly. There’s a fine line between tact and self-censorshi-
Nah. It’s a bloody obvious line and you’d have to be pretty dense not to notice it, actually. Which is why I don’t blame people for not speaking their mind in person. Sure “defending free speech” sounds awfully impressive and important, but have you considered courtesy?
You can live out your weird beliefs without forcing them down people’s throats. We have internet forums now. Learn to stomach the downvotes, and spare your friends the contrarian takes.
Are you making enough mistakes?
I know I’m not, and I get stuff wrong every single day. But I could be doing worse, and that bugs me. I’ve decided that it isn’t enough to hold low-confidence beliefs close to my chest so that I can discard them painlessly in secret. It might encourage higher ridiculousness-of-idea, but it’s not very brave, see?
The ceiling for "trying hard" is ~2 orders of magnitude higher than you think. If you haven't spent entire years failing, you are trying medium-hard at best. -Ben Kuhn
Heck, ideas themselves are rather wimpy things if you’re not actively using them. The least you can do is share them, y’know? The unexamined life and all that. If they suck, people will tell you. If they’re any good, well done you.
To be honest, it doesn’t take much to have a weird3 idea. All you have do is think for a few seconds longer than what most people have the time to. It takes much more effort to have a uniquely weird idea. Awfully difficult to do, now that every cool thought you could possibly have has it’s own cult following in some corner of the internet.
Some go so far as to say there’s no such thing as a unique idea. And to them I say…um, imagine a town in the center of a tornado where time moves really slowly- dammit, that one’s taken too.
But I’m sure if I go on for long enough, a sufficiently unique idea will make it’s home in my head. Only a matter of time, and generating a lot of seemingly dumb ideas.
And we desperately need these ideas. Because a lack of them creates a whole host of problems. Ranging from large, society-scale issues (elite overproduction, educational inflation, Malthusian dystopia) to the intensely personal (Girardian terror, envy).
We need people to create new games to play (preferably non-zero-sum ones), to prevent the old ones getting too crowded. And you can’t create games without first publicly playing them yourself. Risking being wrong, but for the greater good.
Assuming you have fairly fixed base rate for good ideas (on average, X% of your ideas are useful/true/whatever-your-definition-of-a-good-idea-is), increasing the number is the easiest way to have more of them. Which unavoidably includes having a lot of bad ones.
A gross over-simplification, you say? I disagree. Quantity is underrated, as long as you have the willingness to grind through the inevitable noise.
I chose to begin writing out here so that I’d have a reason to record my more…um, flimsy ideas. And in the naive hope that people will find the concept of deliberately mistaken ideas intriguing. Or at least, entertaining enough to bother reading.
Maybe I’m wrong about this, but- haha jk. I’m trying to be wrong, remember? I’ll be out here writing anyway. Even if the chance of any of these ideas spreading (let alone being good) is extremely low. At least it’s a non-zero percent chance now.
And I think this is good thing for anyone with sufficiently weird ideas to do. The internet is vast and lurkers exist where you least expect them to. With enough luck, you’ll gather a bunch of adventurous folks around you. Willing to follow you into the wastelands of ideological uncertainty. (And that kids, is called a cult).
As with everything, the oft-unnoticed, true benefit of being wrong is the friends (and foes) you make along the way.
Look, I don’t actively hate them. I just don’t enjoy their presence.
At worst, they’ll let you off with a slight ribbing.
“Weird” being defined as anything that would get people to give you a funny look.