If you can’t admit you’re wrong then you’re weak, and stupid.
The problem with making a statement like that is that pretty much everyone falls into this category, to a greater or lesser degree.
But that degree is largely under one’s own control. If you keep on eye on yourself you’ll notice those times when you can’t admit that you’re wrong, even though you know you are.
And I’m here to tell you that it is at those times that you need to bite the bullet and fess up.
Because if you don’t you are weak, and will become stupid.
In order to understand why we find it so hard to admit when we’re wrong we need to know a few things about ‘identity’.
In the shortest possible hand ‘identity’ means the way that you define yourself. People often look outside of themselves for things that seem important and they identify with those things. National identity is an obvious (and destructive) example of this. People identify with their country and so when their country seems threatened, even verbally, they feel that they are threatened.
Of course sometimes when a country is threatened its inhabitants really are threatened as well. But that usually isn’t the case and the problem with identity is that people can identify with almost anything. It could be a political party, a racial or economic group, a sport’s team or rock band, an ideology; almost anything really.
And one of the most obvious ways that this identification plays out is in contrast to other, competing, identities.
Now, one may ask what the problem with this is? Is there really something wrong with identifying with something ‘larger’ than oneself?
Well, not in isolation, but things never are in isolation, are they? Sooner or later someone is going to criticise the thing that you’ve identified with and that’s when the problems start.
I mean think about it. Imagine that you have identified with a particular political party. You have made your perception of that party into a central component of your sense of self.
So when that party is criticised you feel that you are being criticised. And when that party is attacked you feel that you are under attack.
And you respond accordingly.
This is why arguments over the most meaningless shit (PC vs. MAC being my favorite example) can turn into vicious, cruel, relentless warfare. The supporters of each camp are incapable of accepting the weaknesses of their own position because doing so would mean losing a part of themselves.
They have identified with their group and when the group is threatened they feel that they are threatened.
The really silly thing is that often people don’t even identify with the point of view they are defending. They identify with simply being ‘right’, and so anything that challenges this self-belief is attacked.
At times it can be quite amusing watching two people argue because you can see that after a while they don’t even pretend to stay on topic. They simply wait for the other person to say something that can be contradicted, and then they interrupt them in order to get the contradiction in.
They do this even if the contradiction weakens the standpoint they are supposedly defending.
Of course many of these arguments are about important issues like abortion rights, progressive taxation, freedom of speech, the role of religion and so on. I’m not saying that the topics under discussion aren’t important (I left out stopping immigration because, frankly, it’s not important). I’m just saying that their relative importance has nothing to do with how furiously people defend them.
Which topic gets more heated debate: “justifications for the thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq”, or “Arsenal vs. Manchester United?”
But even if we recognise the role that identity plays in this foolishness we have to wonder why people find it so difficult to get past these identifications.
The short answer is “ego”.
The slightly longer answer is “people need to feed their egos in order to feel better about themselves”.
Every human being needs to face the fact that they are ultimately powerless in an uncaring universe and that sooner or later they are going to die. Furthermore, we are raised to deal with the crisis this awareness provokes by pretending that we are more important, and more permanent, than we actually are.
And the easiest way to do that is by feeding our egos, either by identifying with the parts of ourselves that we think are superior to others or by identifying with things we feel are more significant than ourselves (like Steve Jobs’ managerial style or Bill Gates’ philanthropy).
People find it difficult to admit they are wrong about something because doing so would be a blow to their ego, and then they’d have no defenses against the realities of the human condition.
So the more fiercely a person sticks to their argumentative guns the more likely it is that they are really insecure beneath it all.
Thus, in a very real sense, the more difficult it is for someone to admit they are wrong the weaker their sense of self is.
So being stubborn in arguments is a sign of weakness.
And it can also be a sign of stupidity.
So let’s move on to the main event shall we?