Proven Wrong (by the Soviets)

I have no data to back up this claim, but I feel safe in saying that in most every argument the person doing the arguing thinks that he is "absolutely right" and that the person with whom he is arguing is "absolutely wrong." And vice versa. And they feel it with such conviction.

Thinking that we are "in the right" is perhaps the one basic principle upon which our whole society is based. For instance, the Republicans think their philosophy is absolutely right and that the Democrats' is absolutely dead wrong, while the Democrats believe the exact opposite to be true. On nearly every issue the two parties have polar opposite views. It's either black or it's white. How is that possible? (Personally, I tend to think in terms of gradient shades of gray on most issues.)

Another example:  Let's take the classic case of a major league baseball manager arguing with an umpire. One is clearly right and the other is clearly wrong. The runner cannot be both out and safe - the baseball gods took care of that scenario when they declared that a tie goes to the runner. Other than the case of a tie, either the ball gets there before the runner (in which case, he's out) or the runner gets there before the ball (in which case, he's safe). Yet both men will argue until red in the face, within spitting distance of one another no less, that they are correct and that the other is an idiot ... or, rather, an "expletive" idiot, in which case the manager is ejected from the game.

On a much grander scale, Muslims think theirs is the true religion. Jews think theirs is the true religion. And Christians think theirs to be the true religion. And extremists seem willing to kill each other over the trueness of their religion. It boggles the mind ... given the fact that the three religions overlap in so many ways to a point where an alien race of space travelers looking down from on high would probably conclude that the three are really one monotheist belief with just subtle differences.

But to admit that one is wrong is taboo in our society. We will cling to our side of an argument regardless of all the evidence presented against us. We will never admit defeat. To admit that one is wrong is a sign of weakness.

Yet to be proven wrong can sometimes be a cleansing exercise. For instance...

Going through some old papers in my basement I came across a file from my college days. One ancient piece of papyrus in particular caught my eye -- a paper I had written back in May 1982 for an Eastern European Studies course I took in my sophomore year. For this particular assignment we were to monitor various media sources over the course of the semester for news stories on a particular Soviet bloc country (I chose East Germany). For instance, I cited a December 21, 1981 Time magazine story entitled "East Joins West" about a meeting between West Germany's leader Helmut Schmidt and East Germany's Erich Honecker concerning a number of issues of interest to the two countries, including renewing East Germany's credit and extending a natural gas pipeline running from Siberia through the two Germanys. To sum up that particular story, I wrote: "Reunification of the two Germanys is in doubt."

I went on to cite other articles concerning East and West Germany - in National Geographic, the National Review, the Christian Science Monitor -indicating that "Ties among the two countries have been uncommonly good ... This good friendship has lead to reunification rumors which are probably many decades premature."

I continued with: "Besides holding talks with West Germany, East Germany's Honecker has had visits from Polish Gen. Jaruzelski and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Honecker supports the Polish government's position in suppressing the striking workers with martial law." And concluded with the following: "Hopefully, East-West German relations will continue to improve, but I don't expect them to come together as one country."

Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong! And wrong in print, no less! Seven years later, after a domino effect started by the striking Polish workers in the early 1980's that created an atmosphere of independence throughout Eastern Europe over the course of the decade, the Berlin Wall finally came down and East and West Germany began the process of reunification. Boy, was I wrong!

Now I'm kind of apprehensive about rereading my other college papers! I might have written a paper in favor of nuclear power ... before the Chernobyl meltdown. Or a macroeconomics paper claiming that our society could not survive if oil prices increased to over $40 a barrel. Or you never know, maybe even a strongly worded astronomy paper touting the celestial attributes of the (former) planet Pluto!

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