There are a handful of albums that I wish I’d written: Meshuggah’s Catch Thirty-Three; The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; Tool’s Aenima; Cattle Decapitation’s The Anthropocene Extinction. I can find faults with each of these, but I just don’t give a shit to do that when the whole package is amazing. There are a handful of books/stories about which I have the same feeling: Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller trilogy (The third of which isn’t even written yet. I’m sure I’ll want to have written it when it releases.); Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question; Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching; and now Chuck Klosterman‘s But What If We’re Wrong?. So confident am I in this last that I’m beginning to write these words when I’m only two chapters into the book.
I am biased here, however. One of my own books begins with the dedication, “There is always the distinct possibility that I am wrong.” The opening lines of the other’s introduction is, “Look, I don’t hate you. I just think you’re wrong. We all are. Without even knowing it, we end up being mistaken a good chunk of the time.” So yeah, I’m drinking the juice in a big, fat growler.
The idea of Klosterman’s book is that humanity has very little ability to accurately predict the future, because we are bound by our own rationality to believe that the future will occur as a rational consequence of the conditions of the present. This ends up being way off the mark most of the time, but nobody seems to ever take that into account. It’s a flexible future, of course, but the idea that the past is also flexible, bent by the eyes of those gazing back from the present is a little, well, scary.
The written word has enabled us to more or less keep our thoughts intact forever. “Forever” being a period of time determined by the intervals between modifications made by people of the present to the words of the past. Even if the words don’t change, the interpretations and meanings definitely do.
And so we muddle through with our patchwork understanding of what the hell happened way back when. When someone as fun to read as Klosterman points this out, it’s damned entertaining. Definitely recommended.