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But What If We're Wrong?

Cover of But What If We're Wrong?

But What If We're Wrong?

Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
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New York Times bestselling author Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we "overrate" democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we've reached the end of knowledge?
Klosterman visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who'll perceive it as the distant past. Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, But What If We're Wrong? is built on interviews with a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It's a seemingly impossible achievement: a book about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It's about how we live now, once "now" has become "then."
From the Hardcover edition.
New York Times bestselling author Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we "overrate" democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we've reached the end of knowledge?
Klosterman visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who'll perceive it as the distant past. Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, But What If We're Wrong? is built on interviews with a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It's a seemingly impossible achievement: a book about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It's about how we live now, once "now" has become "then."
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

    Copyright ©2016 Chuck Klosterman

    I've spent most of my life being wrong.

    Not about everything. Just about most things.

    I mean, sometimes I get stuff right. I married the right person. I've never purchased life insurance as an investment. The first time undrafted free agent Tony Romo led a touchdown drive against the Giants on Monday Night Football, I told my roommate, "I think this guy will have a decent career." At a New Year's Eve party in 2008, I predicted Michael Jackson would unexpectedly die within the next twelve months, an anecdote I shall casually recount at every New Year's party I'll ever attend for the rest of my life. But these are the exceptions. It is far, far easier for me to catalog the various things I've been wrong about: My insistence that I would never own a cell phone. The time I wagered $100—against $1—that Barack Obama would never become president (or even receive the Democratic nomination). My three‑week obsession over the looming Y2K crisis, prompting me to hide bundles of cash, bottled water, and Oreo cookies throughout my one‑ bedroom apartment. At this point, my wrongness doesn't even surprise me. I almost anticipate it. Whenever people tell me I'm wrong about something, I might disagree with them in conversation, but—in my mind—I assume their accusation is justified, even when I'm relatively certain they're wrong, too.

    Yet these failures are small potatoes.

    These micro‑moments of wrongness are personal: I assumed the answer to something was "A," but the true answer was "B" or "C" or "D." Reasonable parties can disagree on the unknowable, and the passage of time slowly proves one party to be slightly more reasonable than the other. The stakes are low. If I'm wrong about something specific, it's (usually) my own fault, and someone else is (usually, but not totally) right.

    But what about the things we're all wrong about?

    What about ideas that are so accepted and internalized that we're not even in a position to question their fallibility? These are ideas so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it seems fool‑ hardy to even wonder if they're potentially untrue. Sometimes these seem like questions only a child would ask, since children aren't paralyzed by the pressures of consensus and common sense. It's a dissonance that creates the most unavoidable of intellectual paradoxes: When you ask smart people if they believe there are major ideas currently accepted by the culture at large that will eventually be proven false, they will say, "Well, of course. There must be. That phenomenon has been experienced by every generation who's ever lived, since the dawn of human history." Yet offer those same people a laundry list of contemporary ideas that might fit that description, and they'll be tempted to reject them all.

    It is impossible to examine questions we refuse to ask. These are the big potatoes.

    Like most people, I like to think of myself as a skeptical person. But I'm pretty much in the tank for gravity. It's the natural force most recognized as perfunctorily central to everything we under‑ stand about everything else. If an otherwise well‑executed argument contradicts the principles of gravity, the argument is inevitably altered to make sure that it does not. The fact that I'm not a physicist makes my adherence to gravity especially unyielding, since I don't know anything about gravity that wasn't told to me by someone else. My confidence in gravity is absolute, and I believe this will be true until the day I die (and if someone...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 18, 2016
    Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat) conducts a series of intriguing thought experiments in this delightful new book about how we conceive of the future. He begins with a conundrum virtually all writers contemplate at some point: why do some writers achieve literary immortality while others are totally forgotten? From there, he works through similar questions with respect to rock music and then shifts to wondering which of our established scientific principles might be replaced in the centuries to come. This is pop philosophy, but Klosterman takes it seriously enough to bring in heavyweight experts such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and George Saunders. Klosterman also considers the long-term viability of the NFL and team sports in general. He asks, supposing that the ancient Egyptians had TV, which of their TV shows would interest us most—the Egyptian Breaking Bad? He argues that we’d want the most realistic portrait of society possible, and that level of realism is only achieved unintentionally. As usual, Klosterman’s trademark humor and unique curiosity propel the reader through the book. He remains one of the most insightful critics of pop culture writing today and this is his most thought-provoking and memorable book yet.

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But What If We're Wrong?
But What If We're Wrong?
Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
Chuck Klosterman
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