Professor DeLong had a good post today catching WaPo’s Deborah Howell in a bit of historical revisionism. The way she tells it now, she was quick about posting a proper correction to the Abramoff “both major parties” thing. Sure, she could have done it sooner; but due to the Washington Post’s SOP, she failed to do so. As if this was the Post’s old school ways failing to keep up with the fast pace of the internet. And as the good professor points out; that’s simply not the case. Not only was her “correction” horribly late; it wasn’t a real correction at all.
But here’s the point that DeLong misses: By attempting to rewrite history, Howell is implicitly admitting that she was wrong in what she did. Perhaps this is outright deception on her part, but I believe that this represents what she wished had happened. What she now believes happened. She now believes that she had done exactly what we had wanted from her: a prompt and proper correction. She gave neither, but she wants to believe that she has. By rewriting history, she is admitting that she doesn’t approve of what actually happened.
And isn’t that exactly what we asked for? Didn’t we denounce her for failing to give a proper correction? Yep. And if she now is rewriting history to make it look that way, it’s obvious that she’s acknowledging that we were correct. Sure, she’s clearly not giving credit where it’s due. I’m not sure if she still thinks of us liberal rabble as scum-sucking vermin; but she seems to have changed her mind where it counted.
And so what the Professor is really complaining about isn’t that she didn’t admit that she was wrong; because she implicitly has. But because she didn’t admit that we were correct. As if it’s not enough to be right; we need Howell’s validation too. A confession that she was wrong and we were right. And while badguys always confess on Matlock and Perry Mason; people rarely do that in real life.
In real life, you just can’t count on your opponent admitting defeat. And the more your opponent hates you, the less likely they’ll admit anything to you. Too often, people will knowingly continue with a faulty or wrong argument; simply out of spite. Not because they can’t admit being wrong; but just because they can’t admit that to you. You’ve got them trapped into a corner, and if they can’t find a face-saving way out, they just won’t get out. They’ll repeat the dumbest inanities and hold-tight to obvious falsehoods; just because they want to deny you the satisfaction of being right…and smug.
And that’s why it’s stupid to make diehard opponents. That’s why it’s stupid to get personal with this stuff. Because people are already prone to not admitting fault; and emotions just muck that up further. And that’s why it’s stupid to be rude. Because it makes it personal and gives them a reason to dismiss you. And makes it far less likely that they’ll ever admit to you that you’re right.
But the secret is knowing that you’re right, without that validation. Without them admitting defeat. I’ve been in plenty of debates with people who disagreed with me, who ended up later telling me the exact things that I had been arguing to them. But without any acknowledgment. Sometimes, they actually act as if they were teaching it to me. But I can spot one of my arguments a mile away, and I know where they really got it from.
And that’s what we’ve got to do. The Howells and Bradys of the world won’t admit that the rabble was correct. Rove’s not going to admit that he’s seriously scared of being convicted by Fitz. DeLay’s just not going to confess. That’s not how the real world works. Everyone knew the Enron guys were crooks, but even now they hang onto their defense. That’s the way of the world and attacking people for it isn’t going to help; and is likely to just make them more bitter at you. People just don’t like to admit to being wrong or confessing to wrongdoing. That’s human nature.
We need to be secure enough in ourselves to know when we’re right. We can’t wait until they show weakness, they won’t. And when someone like Howell pretends as if she had done what we wanted her to do, it should be enough for us that she’s acknowledged the problem on some level. While she might not be giving us our props, she is likely to be taking actions to correct her mistake. And that’s the most we can hope for. Not validation; but improvement.
I also wrote a whole lot more at DeLong’s messageboard; so if you want to read more Biobrain, just go there.