I’m amazed everyday at all the groups of people and individuals in our society that are inflexible, stubborn, and carry with them a belief of personal infallibility. I mean how many people do you see that have the kind of belief system that says something like this: no compromise, no sharing, I’m right, you’re wrong, and the only way we can interact is if you bow to my every assertion and relinquish your right to question my motivation, information, or rationale. It’s crazy, and yet I defy you, readers, to say that you don’t know someone like this, or that you aren’t this kind of person yourself (in which case, you probably won’t admit it anyway, proving the point).
I’m puzzled by this phenomenon, but I think I’ve found its source: these people believe the past matters in a material way—in other words, changing my behavior or beliefs now would make the person I was in the past wrong, and this really, really bothers me, to the point where I have no choice but to be a stubborn fuck.
If this sounds silly, it’s because it is. It would be even more comical if this mind trap wasn’t the cause of essentially all suffering, wars, and human misery in our species’ history. The only silver lining is that inevitably the stubborn fuck loses 100% of the time.
Why? It’s simple. Think of it as a race of ideas. Ideas, especially good ones, create progress for human societies and enrich our lives. They also create advantages for the people using them—in fact, this is the basis for capitalist competition. If this interests you, read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. If not, just know this: in human societies, the most effective and efficient people win.
Now consider a race where we have two runners: one who will decide what to do and then never changes course, and one who will decide what to do, but is willing to change course, based on the data, results, and observations they’ve made. Now, of the four possible starting scenarios, in only one does the stubborn runner win, and then, only if he makes the correct choices to start with, and continues, in perpetuity, to make the correct choice every time he is faced with a decision.
However, at any point during the race, the stubborn person is at a tremendous disadvantage, because he refuses to change his strategy, even if it proves wrong. To boot, in a game where human imperfection tells us for certain that both contestants are doomed to make at least a few errors in judgment, the stubborn runner is in fact certain to lose the race.
This is because, errors, as we know, cause problems. Sometimes they are small, in which case the consequences are negligible. For instance, if you forget to feed your dog, the dog will be hungry, but he probably won’t die or really be any worse off for it in most circumstances.
Other errors, however, have dire consequences. If a ship captain miscalculates his approach into port for example, and runs aground in the shallows, he’ll likely lose his boat, and he may lose some or all of his crew and cargo. If his cargo happens to be oil or some other hazardous substance, it could cause an environmental disaster of massive proportions. Now, what would we think if the same ship captain, after running aground once, insisted that no, in fact, his calculations were correct, and that he would be taking the exact same course into port next time. Would you call that person a fucking idiot? I would.
Well, the truth is, we have a political party that is hell bent on doing just that. During the last 30 years, the U.S. has slashed tax rates, financial and industry regulations, trade barriers, and tariffs. We’ve also decreased education funding, union membership, and rules regulating election spending by private entities. The results have been disastrous: we have the worst economy since the Great Depression, political malfeasance and corruption that is unprecedented, and a massive federal deficit. Most Americans would probably agree that our country has run aground. The question is: do we really want to put the same captain on the wheel?
That is exactly what the Republican party wants us to do. They are proposing more tax cuts, more deregulation, more free trade agreements, less government spending, fewer unions, and fewer jobs for teachers and other public employees.
It’s a vicious cycle. When we cut taxes, there is less money for the government, which means we must cut spending as well. This is exacerbated by deregulation which in turn causes instability (like when Wall St. crashed in 2008) in markets, scaring investors and devaluing capital. The end result is an bad economy with high unemployment, leading to a situation where the government collects even less revenue because there is far less income to collect on. And now they want to do it again. The fact that these policies cause economic failure stares us in the face every day—it is indisputable, and yet, the Republicans keeping coming to the table with more of the same.
Now, I don’t know anyone who’s happy about the direction or state of our economy. The question is whether our country decides, in 2012, to vote for a bunch of stubborn fucks, dooming ourselves to continued economic failure, or whether we’ve seen the light. For my part, I prefer winning to stubbornness.