Sometimes, You’re Just Wrong (And That’s Totally Okay)

This is an interesting article and you should read it.

(Hi, sorry, popping out of Holiday Exile long enough to write this.)

You will discover, via that article, that there exist people who are ‘truthers’ about facts that are provably false — they believe that it’s the Berenstein Bears and not the Berenstain Bears, they believe there was a genie movie called Shazaam starring Sinbad instead (or in addition to) a genie movie called Kazaam starring Shaquille O’Neal, they believe that the Vader line is “Luke, I am your father,” rather than “No, I am your father.”

And these people are insistent about these points, assuring that their memories are correct. They further believe these truths so hard that their memories are, perhaps, a sign of an alternate universe, or that we’re all living in a giant simulation. Surely, this is proof. It’s proof of a glitch in the Matrix, or evidence that some people have slipped from one universe to another.

Except, no.

Fucking no.

What the —

I mean — god, shit, fuck — what? What?

Stop that.

Stop that right now.

We all get to hold different opinions. I can say, “I think Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie,” and you can say, “Well, I think it’s Return of the Jedi,” and neither of us are wrong because it’s a matter of taste. It’s subjective. But you cannot say, “The line in ESB is ‘Luke, I am your father,’” because it’s jolly well fucking not. You can’t say, “The best Star Wars movie is The Undiscovered Country,” because that’s not a Star Wars movie. You can’t just say shit and have it be true. You can’t just decide that the information you contain in your head somehow automagically defeats the information that exists in reality. This isn’t some kind of rock-paper-scissors game where MEMORY beats EVIDENCE. Your memory of something is not perfectly reliable. Personal truth does not trump empirical evidence.

You just think it’s one way because somehow, that got into the cultural consciousness. It’s like how the word “literally” sometimes is used to mean the opposite of its original intention — there, the definition can change, because the definition of words is (over time) malleable. But empirical evidence is not. The line that Vader speaks will not one day subtly shift to the other thing just because enough people assert it. (Though in the long-view, in two thousand years when no such copy of the film exists, it is possible to change that narrative. That doesn’t change reality, though, it changes our cultural memory based on misinformation.)

We have to cut this shit out.

This is how fake news happens. This is how echo chambers strengthen their walls. This is how we — and I’ve done it, too, trust me — share bad information, because we find people who also believe the same dippy bullshit. And sometimes it’s not even a matter of confirmation bias, it’s just a matter of repeating a lie long and loud enough until the truth of the lie enters into our memory banks. It over-writes other information and begins to code as “true.” And, solipsistic ding-dongs as we all are, we trust our memory of a thing far more than anybody else’s memory of a thing, even so much so as to concoct fuck-brained theories about we’re not wrong so much as well clearly there’s just a multiverse and I’m from Galaxy 5A73B — ha ha ha, that’s all this is, just a common misunderstanding between multiversal citizens!

No! Fuck! Nooooo.

You don’t get to have your own boutique reality! Your artisanal data might be locally-sourced, but bad news: it fell out of a bull’s ass. Sometimes? You’re just wrong!

And it’s okay to be wrong!

School teaches us that it’s bad to be wrong — but fuck that, it’s okay to be wrong! I dare say it is often necessary to be wrong, provided we discover our wrongness, because being wrong — and learning that we are wrong — is how we then course-correct and learn true shit. We have to be very careful in this Brand New Supposedly Post-Fact Post-Truth I-Believe-In-Political-Unicorns age not to let empirical evidence slip through our grip like so much rope. We must accept information. We must trust in experts, actual experts. We must not diminish or disregard entire bodies of data and expertise merely because it does not conform with our memory or with what our gut tells us. Yes, we can test information. Yes, we can shine a bright light on facts to try to hone and refine and seek deeper data. But that doesn’t mean simply diminishing, disdaining and disregarding actual provable information just because, “Enh, fuck it, I’m pretty sure it’s Berenstein and I’m the expert on my own reality, so eat a bucket of duck dicks, Fake News.”

Trust me. It’s Berenstain. My mother worked for the Berenstains as a house-cleaner, and she did this for many, many years, and at no point did they change their name just to be weird. They did not go and seek out all the copies of their books and with infallible pen change the covers just to fuck with us all. They are not Refugees from a Collapsing Multiverse.

It’s always been Berenstain.

The world has always been round.

Climate change is really real.

Obama isn’t a Kenyan Muslim space alien who’s going to steal your guns.

Just because you think something doesn’t make it so.

Just because you feel one way doesn’t confirm it to be true.

This is going to be a real challenge in the next four years. Hell, it’s already been a challenge. We’re looking down the barrel of a government who wants to give you its own version of facts — which is ostensibly always true of governments, but fascist, autocratic governments are far more interested in delivering worldview and agenda and ideology as facts. It’s an abuse narrative, a cult narrative, where they set themselves as the center of the universe. The sun orbits around them, not vice versa. Real news becomes fake news. Science is sold as propaganda. They insist that they possess truth, they have facts, and all they have to do is tell them to you and have you believe them. But that’s not how reality works. Denying climate change doesn’t stop climate change. Closing your eyes and insisting that the train roaring down the tracks straight toward you will not turn that train to vapor. You cannot believe hard enough to change actual reality. Magical thinking feels great, but it also risks endangering us and shackling us to cuckoopants motherfuckers who happily confirm to the beliefs that come up bubbling out of the pool of our own magical thinking. We have to be hella careful not to give too much life to opinions just because they feel good, or sound right, or because someone else gave them to us on a platter but labeled them as REALLY REAL TRUTHY FACT-FLAVORED STUFF.

Facts are not opinions. They’re facts. They’re things we know. They’re not conspiracies or proof of a multiverse. Reality will never neatly line up with our beliefs, no matter our political stripe.

Reality does not conform to us. We must conform to reality.

Or, to reiterate —

Sometimes, you’re just wrong. And that’s okay.

Practice the phrase with me, and you might need it, because we’re all about to engage in THE HOLIDAYS where we’re thrust up against different people with different viewpoints about things. Practice the phrase, “I could be wrong.” And then practice the phrase, “That is not correct, and here I can prove it.” And then prove it. And if none of that works, flip the table and jetpack right the fuck out of there because you’re arguing with a houseplant.

Now read this, as homework: How To Convince Someone When Facts Fail.


*sets fire to your holiday decorations*

*guzzles your egg nog*


*climbs out through the chimney with all your presents*

39 responses to “Sometimes, You’re Just Wrong (And That’s Totally Okay)”

  1. “automagically”….my new favourite word.
    Also, cool that your Mom worked for the BerenSTAINS. “….they’re a lot like people, only more so.” I’ve always loved that weird-ass line in the cartoon theme song.

  2. That article about Shazaam is just fascinating in so many ways. For a moment I had to think whether I remembered it or not (turns out I was thinking of Kazaam). Love the commentary on it as usual. It’s even more important in these days to be skeptical of everything presented to us. Thanks for this Chuck

  3. Thanks for this! As usual, your post had me nodding in agreement, laughing out loud and needing to share this widely. Also, I now realize I’ve been wrong about the Berenstain bears!

  4. This argument reminds me of a study done with several participants. Researchers photoshoped historical photos and then asked participants about their memories of the events. Turned out that the photoshoped images manipulated the participant memories and many recalled the events differently.

    Here’s an article on it, though I can’t recall if this is the exact one I read in the past:

    There’s also been studies done on images creating fake memories of our own childhood. Imagine that.
    “…researchers snuck in doctored photographs of the subject taking a hot-air balloon ride with his or her family. After seeing those images, 50% of subjects recalled some part of that hot air balloon ride – though the event was entirely made up.”

    This makes me a bit nervous about our future considering how proficient people are becoming with things like Photoshop and audio manipulation. When you add in the fact that people are more likely to believe the first bit of information they hear (over the more reliable, truthful fact being told later), there might be a bit too much power at the hands of evil people.

  5. The whole “it’s bad to be wrong” mentality is one of several reasons why I homeschool. Some schools are trying really hard to move beyond the regurgitation of facts and numbers, but there’s only so much one can do in a world of standardized testing.

  6. So it’s 1963 & I’m talking to the kid next door about the new Beatles single, “She Loves You.”
    “No,” he says, “it’s ‘I Love You, Yeah, Yeah Yeah.’ ”
    “No, it’s ‘She Loves You’ “, I reply, I have the single. He continues to argue. I run inside & fetch the single, show him the label.
    “No, that’s wrong!” he says. “It’s “I Love You Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!”

  7. I make my living as a scientist. As a chemist, specifically, in R&D for a retail-facing company. My training and avocation has been the discovery and codification of empirical evidence. Believe me when I say that for several years any empirical evidence has exactly zero influence in the public eye. We’ve discussed the very things you bring up here but I have yet to find anything I think will change it.

  8. I both love and hate this. I love because it is fascinating. (I’ve been following it for a while it keeps looping around in my universe.) Fascinating because people believe their memory is actually good, so good it is better than reality when memory has been proved to be the worst tool in our truth telling brain arsenal. (I’d say go read the study about false memories of getting lost in a mall but I’m probably misremembering the study.) on the other hand memory is great at changing to reinforce beliefs you already have, to make sure that your self perception stays the same, and that you don’t have to reconsider your values.

    Also seriously did people not know automatically‽ Finally I’m on trend.

  9. Great post, you are literally the best thing to counter act all the shit going on in the big bad fictional city of Washington DC these days. Thank you for this and so many other posts that have helped get the shit out of our eyes and ears and carry on.

    Wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever Chuck.

  10. Oh man this has been driving me crazy because I *did not know there was no Sinbad genie movie until today.* I have a very clear visual of it and I remember it being on a wall in a video store. I mean, my visual memory of it is so clear I could DRAW it. What makes it worse is that I don’t know that many people who liked Sinbad, so I don’t know how this could be sucked into my brain.

    I had only begun to trust my visual memory – I was actively shocked at how accurate my memory of Murder on the Orient Express was – so discovering this poster is fake has been quite a trip 😉

  11. Insisting the things you believe are facts when it is possible you just might be discounting a strong argument from a contrary position — by using language to describe it that implies it is a lie and not worth even considering — that is the worst, most vile deceit there is.

  12. I was fascinated when I heard that human memory storage doesn’t work like a video tape, like a lot of folks think. Instead, any memory, when you “retrieve” it, is rebuilt from the ground up – so instead of putting in a video tape, it’s like re-shooting the movie all over again every time you want to remember it. It makes the idea that a memory may be wrong much easier to understand and accept.

    OF COURSE it could be wrong. My brain just now created it.

    (For the younger folks reading this, there used to be these things called “video tapes…”)

  13. I’m rather worried about your President in Waiting.
    I think he may have the same mental illness that I had a few years back.
    See I used to believe that I could change a fact if I really, really wanted to AND made lottsa promises to God about being very good if He did this trick……
    So if you see Mr Trump looking up to the sky and talking to himself send for the boys in the white coats.

    Me? I’m into a different zone now where I don’t believe anything and the pills are working just fine thanks.

  14. There was a line in an Episode of Pushing Daisies that summed this up very well.
    “The Truth ain’t like puppies, a bunch of them running around so you can pick the one you like best.”
    Or something similar.

  15. Is it true that your mom worked for the Berenstains or are you tricking us with false information? Is this one of those times where I should demand proof? I’m kidding. I totally believe you… but how cool is that?! My youngest son loved those books with a passion, & I read the whole set to him so many times that they all started to fall apart.

  16. It’s interesting that Chuck has taken presents out of our collective houses. What this means is that we have all been fed false information that Santa is good wherein fact Santa has 2 guises, one as a present giver and one as a present taker. Presumably this is where the legend of receiving coal as a present has come from as there has been a mix up in who does what.

    Thank you Chuck for setting us straight on this festive fact and a very merry Christmas to you and your Family 🙂

  17. Do you have family over for Christmas or something?
    I love admitting when I am wrong, personally. It shocks people when I say “my bad I was completely wrong” and, strangely enough, it feels somewhat powerful. Plus eating crow is yummy.

  18. So, I’m a “Berenstein” recaller. So’s my wife. We both are book nerds and worked in the book industry for many years. I remember as a kid, not being sure how to pronounce Berenstein. Was it “ine,” “een,” or “ayn?” But, ok. I can accept that maybe, with so many years gone by, maybe my memory has a glitch.

    Then last week, I saw the attached article. Before I could even be influenced by the contents, I thought, “Shazam!” Yeah, that’s that old flick with Sinbad in it. (I don’t think I ever saw the film, but I remember its existence- this, despite a notoriously horrible memory.) But, lo and behold, said movie doesn’t exist. So I did a little experiment to see if maybe I’d lost my mind. I went on Facebook and posed the question to my (admittedly small) circle of friends. I asked people if they remembered a movie called “Shazam” (and specifically stated it was NOT “Kazaam” starring Shaq) and, without looking it up in any way, if they could tell me who starred in it, and what it was about. I only received a handlful of responses. Some pointed to the TV show. A handful said they had no memory of it. But my daughter (and in the presence of her fiancé) said, “yes, isn’t that the movie with Sinbad in it?” And another, older gent whom I know in a limited fashion but find to be utterly trustworthy, could describe the movie and knew that the lead was played by a guy with only one name (no last) but he couldn’t recall it.

    Now, admittedly, to a degree, this may be blind- I can’t confirm for certain that my kid didn’t look it up and think it would be fun to fuck with her old man. Or that someone that I know in a limited capacity who had no reason to reply (or lie) didn’t look it up before responding. But I think that’s largely implausible.

    Here’s what I’d be willing to accept, however–it’s possible, if unlikely, that between the words Shazam, Shaq, Kazaam! and the timing of other things Sinbad was doing at the time, an association was imprinted on some of us, that was suggestive of a Sinbad movie called Shazam. There are pictures of him in a genie-like costume from that time period–maybe all of those things somehow automagically got all-a-jumbled and left a vivid suggestion on a small number of people.

    And lest you think it, I am also one of the least prone people on earth to buy into this post-truth bullshit we’re experiencing today. I just posted a diatribe about the importance of a free press and the danger of equating it to “fake news” (and got thread-slaughtered for doing so). I have a blog called the Voice of Reason, in which I discuss climate change and other matter of import with a (hopefully) rational, logical hand.

    But on this, I’m stymied. Maybe hundreds of us have some sort of erroneous imprint on our brains. Maybe there IS a glitch in the Matrix. Maybe it’s a weird social experiment using one of the most obscure films ever as a factor.

    I personally don’t know, but I’d damn sure like to find out, because, well, it’s fucking bizarre–and I’m not the only one who seems to have independent, non-suggested memories of it.

    (And Chuck, allow me to say, I admire your work and am in absolute agreement with everything else in your post!)

  19. Please guzzle the egg nog in my fridge. It’s nicely aged, well spiked, and utterly terrifying in it’s caloric and alcohol contents.

    My liver can’t take much more and my stomach is no longer reporting back, apparently all communication must be cleared by Mr. Heartburn.

  20. […] We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned: A fake news creator claims he did so in an effort to show how easy it was to perpetuate fake news but his intention backfired dramatically. Over a month old but still relevant, I’m looking for more info about the hazards of indulging/critiquing “boutique realities”. […]

  21. It’s funny. I was just reading the Sinbad genie thing and it made me think of your Twix alternate universe short story. Interesting timing.

    (Or maybe we’re just all so plugged into Enfotainment News that we don’t realize data-bots know us better than we do. Oops :p)

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