We’re probably wrong and that’s okay

In But What if We’re Wrong, Chuck Klosterman looks at the present as if it were the distant past.

In one chapter, he tries sorting out which modern writers will stand the test of time.

You need to write about important things without actually writing about them. I realize this sounds like advice from a fortune cookie.

He uses 9/11 as an example of an important thing. Down the line, though, whatever stands as representative of 9/11 probably won’t be something written directly about it.

One thing that’s stuck with me from listening to Serial is how poor memory is. Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you details about 5 Thursdays ago. Klosterman brings up the inaccuracy of same-day eyewitness statements. Stretched over centuries, recorded history can’t be very accurate. It’s also missing a lot of pages altogether.

So maybe the past doesn’t matter, because we don’t really know what it was like. What about the future?

Well with computers we’re able to have accurate records of everything. True, but it really means everything. Who’s gonna go through that? It’s not like people hit up archive.org day to day. It’s usually a deep dive into one topic.

On a time scale of centuries, many things end up being winner-take-all. We can debate a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, but 500 years from now it’ll probably just be Michael Jordan in one full body mountain sculpture.

One takeaway from But What if We’re Wrong is that a lot of things won’t matter in the far future. Books take years to write. Most won’t be remembered a century from now, much less five centuries from now. Writers can only add a few pages to a book every day.

On an individual level, anything we do in a day or even in a year probably won’t matter in the (very) long run. It’s grim or freeing, or both.

Chances are, aiming to be remembered in the far future isn’t a great goal. Especially because the people who remember you don’t care in the first place:

To matter forever, you need to matter to those who don’t care. And if that strikes you as sad, be sad.

Basketball nerds can debate whoever else is in the top-4 with him, but Jordan will be in there. Of those 4, he’s the one with a global brand. There’s a culture with a foundation built around the popularity of his shoes.

A lot of the kids standing in those lines never watched a single game he was in live. They can’t care about Jordan as much as a Bulls fan in the 90s1. Their emotions aren’t tied to how well Jordan performs in a playoff game.

So the past doesn’t matter and now maybe the future doesn’t matter either. Bringing me to where we’ve always been and always are: the present.

For me, being present was the important thing this book was about that it wasn’t really about. I’m guessing it’s not even on the list of top 1,000 points Klosterman was aiming to make. I only made the connection because it’s top of mind for me right now. I started meditating recently, beginning my transition into the lifestream. Maybe it’s the way out of the simulation.

  1. I may have just talked myself out of this. It might be LeBron. More people worldwide have probably followed his hero’s journey. In a 24-hour news cycle. So it’s gonna be Jordan, unless it’s LeBron. It just won’t be Kobe. You can’t go long thinking about Kobe and where he ranks without thinking about Jordan.