The Right to be Wrong – Opting Out

Nassim Taleb

We have a God-given right to be wrong. This can also be called the right to believe in bullshit.

We have to. Otherwise, we’re all violating God’s law around the clock. The chances that 100% of what you believe right now isn’t wrong are close to zero.

We seem to discriminate between our bullshit believers. There are those who believe in bullshit who we laugh at, and those that we don’t laugh at. We tend to laugh at people who believe in bullshit such as the flat Earth theory, yet nod in reverence when intellectuals talk of the essential purity of the democratic system. It’s not a matter of evidence — both of these ideas are equally absurd. The reason why people laugh at the flat Eart and not democracy is that flat Earth is outside the Overton window and therefore unthinkable. Democracy is a fashionable idea, nay one our culture almost compels us to believe in. All bullshit is not equal in the eyes of the mob.

It’s a matter of skin in the game. It’s easier to spot the bullshit when you incur no penalty for not doing so. Nobody cares about flat Earthers. Flat Earthers are not getting invited to cocktail parties; they’re already suffering for their beliefs. If you’re going to punish someone for being wrong, punish the believer in democracy, who does so because it’s popular. Make the sheep suffer.

It is the height of immorality to laugh at someone for being wrong if they have done so for the right reasons, i.e., that’s genuinely what they’ve concluded based on the evidence they have seen. It’s the height of immorality not to laugh at someone for being wrong if they do so for reasons of popularity. Who gives you the right to judge someone for being wrong? If you’re right about anything, it’s probably an accident.

If you’re going to express something very strongly, it is better to err on the side of idiosyncrasy. That way you know it’s more likely that you’re believing it for the right reasons, and not because everyone else also believes it. The reason why proclaiming “I’m against racism” is widely seen as an empty virtue-signal is because the proclaimer risks nothing in doing so. Nobody is losing their jobs over this opinion.

Twitterites sometimes attempt to mitigate the virtue-signaling level of their statements by adding the hashtag #UnpopularOpinion. Nobody’s buying it. Usually, these opinions are not unpopular at all, and the hashtag serves as a poor attempt at adding an edgy air to their boringly conventional worldview. For example, “The Beatles are overrated” is not an unpopular opinion. Many people believe this; it might even be the majority view, but the hashtag is added anyway.

Making the positive case for The Beatles is actually harder because it requires careful thought and listening. It requires no effort nor sacrifice to not understand The Beatles. It’s the default condition of man. You don’t have to know what you are talking about to proclaim your indifference to greatness. Guess what? Beethoven’s 9th Symphony doesn’t care whether your goober arse likes it or not.

If you’re worried about being wrong about something, rest assured, you probably are wrong. Just accept that you can only work with the information you’ve been exposed to, and endeavor to relieve your ignorance by constant learning. Don’t admonish someone for believing in something that happens not to be true if they’ve come to that conclusion by thinking for themselves. Ridicule, instead, the guy that believes in BS because it happens to be fashionable.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.