Right is Wrong and Wrong is Right

Day 59 of A Year of War and Peace

Judge me the world, if ’tis not gross in sense

People may change their clothes but rarely, if ever, do they change their minds. Today, for instance, you’ll probably visit some of your favorite political websites. But it won’t be to learn anything other than what you already know to be true. You’ll dive into that dopamine pool of confirmation bias, contentedly swimming lap after pleasureful lap in its vindicating waters. And should an inconvenient, disconfirming fact happen to drift into your path your stroke will only strengthen as the My-Side-Is-The-Right-Side brand chlorine works its sanitizing magic. That’s not me talking, it’s science.

Dolgorukov takes such a dip today. You remember Dolgorukov? He’s the genius who is predicting certain victory for the Russians in the upcoming battle of Austerlitz. He’s got his mind made up. Nothing is going to change it. Not even our old friend Nikolai Rostov, sharing new data showing strange fires and shouts from where the enemy’s camp should no longer be, can change Dolgorukov’s mind.

Upon the first presentation of this data Dolgorukov dismisses it as a trick being played by the French. Dolgorukov believes the French have retreated, therefore the French have retreated.

Nevertheless, Prince Bagration sends Rostov to check it out just in case. Rostov sets off. He gets so close to the enemy camp, in fact, that he’s fired upon. He just makes it out, bullets whizzing by his head.

When he returns to the Russian camp and shares this new data Dolgorukov still refuses to be proved wrong. “What does it prove?” Dolgorukov asks. “They might retreat and leave the pickets.”

It’s so much nicer to be right than to be correct.

Back at the French camp Napoleon rallies his troops for battle.

DAILY MEDITATION

Don’t be Dolgorukov. Be Rostov. Seek out facts. Disconfirm your priors. Challenge yourself. If you rarely change your mind it’s likely you rarely really think.

It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.
Epictetus, The Discourses

This is the fifty-ninth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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