Yesterday, I rambled on about the difference between what I’m calling loop mistakes and glitch mistakes.
Today I’d like to carry on with this bullshit.
The reason that I find it interesting to think about what exactly makes a “mistake” is that mistakes, like any word, are a painfully elusive thing to identify unambiguously. If I type in “mistake definition” on Google, I get “an act or judgment that is misguided or wrong.” Which seems simple, but isn’t.
Let’s assume, with the dictionary, that a mistake is simply an act that was misguided or wrong, like taking an alternate route to work because you thought it would help you beat the traffic, when in fact it made you even more late. Your boss now hates you, and wants to kill you. “I made a big mistake,” you tell yourself. “I shouldn’t have tried to be clever. I regret using an alternate route that I wasn’t very familiar with. Now I may even die because of my mistake.”
But what if, because you’ve taken that alternate route, you meet someone on the way to work, with whom you strike up a conversation (hey, you’re late anyway), and whom you end up marrying? Was taking an alternate route to work really a mistake, in this case? Or will you, in time, rationalize it as DESTINY, FATE, THE HEAVENLY DESIGN, or, more humbly, the “luckiest mistake you’ve ever made” or whatever?
It’s an obvious example, but it shows that one of the problems with identifying mistakes is that it all depends on your understanding of that mistake: how it fits into what you think your life is about. When we look back, all of us can think of things we’ve done that seemed like massive fuck-ups at the time, but which led to wonderful things. Mistakes that we wouldn’t take back now even if we could. Give it enough time and we can rationalize our way out of the most depressing situations that originally arose from our mistakes. Or at least we learn to live with them.
Nothing is objectively a mistake. It seems a fairly inarguable point, if you think about it that way. Except that, if you say that 2+2 = 5, somebody is bound to tell you, with a raised eyebrow, that 2+2 = 4. That, it would seem, is objectively a mistake. But maybe this kind of mistake — I don’t have a cute name for it yet — doesn’t really fit into our neat little schema, so let’s leave that question aside for now. The point is that the meaning of making a mistake like 2+2 = 5 (its consequences, like accidentally using shitty math while designing a space rocket) is what matters. That’s what would make it a mistake in the sense I’m using here.
All these mistakes, however, seem to fit under the glitch category. That is, they are one-offs, in which we find no immediate enjoyment. And as I said yesterday, glitches can shatter our sense of ourselves. Because of this, we work overtime to reinterpret our mistakes, to acquire some kind of control over them. If they are significant enough, they become part of the grand story we tell ourselves. “Mary left me because of the way I spoke to her sister. It was a huge mistake, and I’ve had to live with the consequences.” So forth.
It seems that glitches lend themselves naturally to evaluation: trivial or serious, ultimately good or even more disastrous than we’d thought. We think of glitches as events in our lives. Hence we talk about the time we fucked up in Paris, or that stupid thing we did last week. We change our minds about the significance of particular fuck ups. These glitches, then, become a sort of currency, something we keep negotiating with our past selves. They become building blocks of who we are, if the original mistakes were big enough, or just something to deal with so that life can go back to normal.
Loops don’t work that way. If a loop is a pattern of mistakes in which we are somehow invested, like binge eating or getting drunk all the time, then clearly not all of the incidents which collectively make up the history of that loop will be significant. If I got stupidly drunk fifteen times last month, I am not likely to regret one of those times in particular (unless it led me to a serious and unique problem as a direct consequence of getting drunk that time, in which case that becomes a glitch). The whole “getting drunk all the time” thing is the problem, the loop, and that’s what people will reprimand me for.
I think this is because loops or mistakes that we make in order to maintain our sense of who we already are. In a way, a loop is a series of mistakes we make in order to create the illusion that we can control which mistakes we make. Regular infidelity, as a way of dodging commitment, is a prime example. So are some kinds of gambling.
So, a glitch cracks you open for a bit, and asks you to incorporate it into your life — one way or another. A loop, on the other hand, does the opposite. It makes you feel like you have some control over whether you have to crack open or not.
I’m beginning to feel like an even less convincing Malcolm Gladwell than Malcolm Gladwell himself, so I’ll give this a rest for now.