Why Admitting I am Wrong Means I am Right, So STFU!


Equivocation only goes so far... Image credit: discofiasko, used under Creative Commons license.

When I wrote a post entitled What If Every Environmentalist is Wrong?, I must confess I paused before hitting "publish". While I believe passionately that all of us—and especially those of us that advocate strongly for any particular solutions or approaches to tackling the world's problems—need to always entertain the possibility they are wrong, I also know that there are those who seize on any sign of indecision or admission of uncertainty as a sign of weakness. Sure enough, while the post received many positive responses—there were also those who took it as an opportunity to knock environmentalism, arguing that we "True Believers" are too fanatical to consider alternative points of view. So is self reflection a sign of weakness?

An Open Mind is a Green Mind
I remain convinced that keeping an open mind—whether it relates to the role of nuclear power, whether vegan or limited meat diets are more sustainable, and of course any compelling new evidence about climate change—should be a prerequisite for successful environmental campaigning, and life in general. As I quoted in my previous post, Saul Alinsky once said that "one of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.'"
Self-Reflection Should Not Exclude Conviction
Where problems occur, however, is if you let that inner doubt promote indecision and/or equivocation. The fact is that at some point we have to act, and we have to take a stand. Just because an anti-nuclear campaigner should be open-minded enough to consider alternative evidence, or a meat eater should consider the arguments of a vegan, does not mean that once they have examined their stance they shouldn't continue their activism, or lifestyle choices, with as much gusto and conviction as before. In fact, I would argue, it is only with this sense of self-reflection that we can ever feel truly justified to take a stand and fight for what we believe is right.

Partisan Opposition Makes Self-Reflection Hard
This issue is compounded when partisan debate kicks in. If any and every post that considers alternative points of view is seized upon by those who see environmentalists as "the enemy", it becomes increasingly tempting to avoid such topics all together. While I enjoy genuine, authentic debate as much as the next person, I have no interest in providing ammunition for those who would tear me down without listening to my argument.

There is, of course, an irony here. A self-described environmentalist posts a story about why it is important to always entertain the possibility you are wrong—and folks who are vehemently opposed to environmentalism, whatever environmentalists actually say—immediately start arguing that there is "no legitimate science" regarding climate change, and that environmentalists are too blinkered and fanatical to ever possibly consider they might be wrong.

Maybe it's an example of anti-environmental astroturfing, or maybe it's just a sad reflection of how much some people hate environmentalists, but it is important that we don't use blinkered opposition as an excuse to avoid debate. That would be a scenario where everyone loses. Even anti-environmentalists don't actually hate the environment.

More on Environmentalism, Sustainability, Communication and Strategy
What if Every Environmentalist is Actually Wrong?
To Be Effective, Environmentalism Cannot Be a Lifestyle Choice
Environmentalism: Movement, Ethic, Philosophy or What?
Disasterbation Turns You Blind

Tags: Activism | Global Climate Change | United States

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