Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Almost getting things right


An interesting problem with thinking is how often someone almost gets things right, yet, through this “almost”, fails. (Recall the saying “a miss is as good as a mile”.) Similar problems are common with more active actions too, in that almost doing the right thing might be no good.

A particularly depressing example, if one of a trivial nature, was a clothing advert that I encountered repeatedly in the very early 2000s or late 1990s (with reservations for details after some twenty, twenty-five years):

Most of the ad was pointless bullshit, as ads usually are, and very much targeted at the most superficial of teenagers, but it ended with a punchline that almost got things right and almost redeemed it—“It’s only fashion!”.

Now, if the ad had ended with “It’s only clothes!”, this would have shown a great deal of insight and self-perspective, might have helped the teens in the target group think a little, and could have given even the less superficial some openness to buying (e.g. on a “Finally, an honest advertiser!” or “Finally, an advertiser who does not treat us like idiots!” basis). In real life, we had “fashion”, not “clothes”, by which the makers showed that they understood nothing.

Below, I will look on some more serious and/or more important examples.


This page was written on two separate days with a number of weeks between them. This resulted in some inconsistencies in approach between days, some work from day one that I did not consider sufficiently early on day two, and similar. I have done some last-minute restructuring, but will not make all possible improvements, as I am currently stuck with almost a dozen work-in-progress texts and will prioritize completing them over completing-them-in-great-quality.

(One remnant is the presence of further examples in a section on reasons.)

The text might, then, have ended up being almost right. However, I hope, not in a problematic manner—not all “almosts” are actually problematic. Also note a semi-prophetic below excursion from the day one.

That the examples are mostly political reflects my interests over the last few years. The overall issue goes much farther.

The examples

Abolish nuclear power, keep fossil fuels

The German “Energiewende” put an enormous emphasis on “renewable” energy and similar—and at an enormous cost. Maybe, this would have been justified, if the gains would have been used to cut down on fossil fuels, which initially appeared to be the goal. As of 2024, however, the main priority has been to diminish and ultimately abandon nuclear power—something outright counterproductive in terms of keeping pollution, including various “greenhouse gases”, down. During parts of the Energiewende, the use of fossil fuels actually increased.


This could also be an example of how an apparent “almost right” actually reflects a much more fundamental error, which merely manifested at a point where it looked like an almost right:

The alleged “greens” in Germany had spent decades spreading fear of and hate for nuclear power in German society, often in a frothing-at-the-mouth manner. This opens questions like whether the abolishment of nuclear power might have been a calculated move by Merkel et al. to gain votes from the disinformed portions of the public or support from the “greens” in parliament—as opposed to a last minute wrong turn, e.g. in an irrational panic after Fukushima. (Despite often being political crackpots, the greens have repeatedly managed to become the third largest party, and their support can be highly useful when it comes to gaining and keeping power.)

From another perspective, it could even be argued that the entire green movement (in Germany? worldwide?) has been an almost right, in that it began with some important observations, like the benefit of preserving the environment for future generations, but ended up doing more harm than good to these goals through severely hindering the development of more and better nuclear power. (In Germany, with an abolishment as eventual result. Similar errors in other areas are likely, but it can be hard to say who caused what damage.)


The Energiewende also contains other examples of failures, but usually of a more off-topic kind, e.g. spending tax-payers’ money on building a solar-panel industry that was not able to compete with the Chinese, continually giving the government the choice between further bankruptcies in the industry and throwing yet more good money after bad. Henry Hazlitt would have had a field day with the approaches taken.

Democracy vs. civil rights

A common problem is a focus on democracy over civil rights, human rights, Rechtsstaatlichkeit, and various things in the same family that are more or much more important than democracy. Indeed, I would see the main purpose of democracy as making the preservation of the latter more likely than in e.g. a dictatorship.

(I will speak of just “civil rights” below, for the purpose of brevity and some potential inaccuracies notwithstanding.)

By failing to see the difference, great evil can result, up to and including the violation of civil rights for the (alleged) purpose of preserving democracy, instead of using democracy to ensure civil rights. In a twist, once freedom of speech is limited to those with the “right” opinions, is it really meaningful to speak of a democracy in the first place? (Ditto some other rights, like the freedom from political persecution by the government, freedom of assembly, freedom from political indoctrination.) There might be a voting system in place, but the choices might be so limited, or the voters so unexposed to “unapproved” viewpoints, that a de-jure democracy does not translate into a de-facto democracy.

A very telling example is Germany pre- and post-Hitler. Towards the end of the Weimar republic, Hitler used mostly democratic means to gain power—and then proceeded to abolish civil rights. After Hitler, a new (and very dubious) constitution was drawn up. This constitution had written in stone that Germany is and must forever be a democracy, while failing to make sufficient provisions for civil rights. (Indeed, the word “Rechtsstaat” and its variations might be entirely absent, despite this being a German text and despite the experiences with Hitler, while at least Article 14 contains portions that are incompatible with basic civil rights and would be very serviceable to a second Hitler. Note “Eigentum verpflichtet”, etc.)


But would not ensuring democracy prevent someone like Hitler from acquiring permanent power? Would he not have been gone in yet another election, had Germany remained a democracy?

No. It might be an obstacle, but by no means a preventative one, as can be seen in the many nominally free and democratic elections that serve to give some politician or party a pseudo-legitimacy. Even the word “democratic” is open to sufficient historical re-interpretation that someone could see Germany as a democracy while going radically against the (presumable) intentions of the authors. (Note e.g. the takes on both democracy, as such, and on elections in the old GDR/DDR—the German Democratic Republic.)

In contrast, a preservation of civil rights might have made it much harder for Hitler to keep in power, e.g. through allowing dissenting voices to be heard in public without fear of repercussions.

Also consider how many leaders have been genuinely popular, for one reason or another, while violating civil rights, proving that this is not necessarily an obstacle even in a real democracy; and how someone in power can, and often does, use governmental resources to push his own popularity. (My use of “more likely” in the first paragraph is very deliberate.)

Above all, with an eye at modern Western politics, note how civil rights put constraints on the power of elected politicians, while democracy is what enables them to gain power. This likely goes a long way to explain the misprioritization.

Likewise, U.S. military interventions have often had a motivation of “spreading democracy”, where the countries at hand would have been much better off with basic civil rights. Civil rights might help them develop into greater prosperity and create more liberty and justice for the respective peoples. Democracy alone is not very helpful to them and, worse, often let unsavoury elements gain power. Look e.g. at the post-Saddam Iraq: What has democracy (as of 2024) achieved and what might have been achieved by an equivalent of the U.S. “Bill of Rights” (assuming sufficient enforcement)? I would not even rule out that instituting democracy requires some tradition of e.g. free speech and a corresponding mindset, and that democracy might have to wait for, say, a generation after instituting corresponding civil rights in order to be successful.

The anthropic principle

Consider a version of the “anthropic principle” like: (a) The existence of humans is extraordinarily unlikely, because so many things would have to align exactly right. (b) If humans did not exist, we could not ponder our own existence. (c) Ergo, the low likelihood of human existence need not concern us.

On the outside, this remains unsatisfactory. Yes, to some degree, it is true; no, it is not usually an argument that achieves what the proponent wants to achieve. (But what is to be achieved can vary from invocation to invocation and version to version.)

Consider instead the idea that if matters had been just slightly different, some other type of intelligent life might have been present.

For instance, if the Earth had been just a little bit too close to the sun, current humans would not have been able to take the heat—but this is because humans evolved on Earth as we know it. On an alternate Earth, given that life arose at all, other creatures, more adapted to the heat might still have prospered, even developed into intelligent beings. They would not have been human, true, but they might still have been civilization builders.

For instance, with natural laws just slightly different, we might not have had DNA, but who is to say that another mechanism would not have come in its place? (To equate DNA and life would be foolish indeed.)

For instance, some other alternate reality might not have allowed carbon-based life. But who says that life has to be carbon-based?

(Those familiar with sci-fi should have had plenty of exposure to alternate ideas of life relative that found on Earth. Consider e.g. Fred Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud”.)

Here, we have a more worthy candidate for an anthropic principle (possibly, under a less anthropic name): That it might be less the low probability of human/Earth/whatnot life that is an issue and more that we have a preconceived opinion about life based on what we, ourselves, are.


Similar statements apply to variations of the “argument from design” theme, e.g. that the world seems designed for humans; ergo, it must be designed (by God) for humans. While the idea has some overlap with the anthropic principle, the nature of this fallacy is sufficiently different to make it off topic for this text. (In reality, all species, humans included, have been shaped by evolution to fit into the world and with each other.)

Misconstrued sayings

Misconstrued or distorted sayings is another source of examples. Above, I mentioned “a miss is as good as a mile”, and I found myself pondering the oddness of that saying, especially compared to the Swedish “nära skjuter ingen hare”—“[a] near [hit] shoots no hare”. A brief Internet search revealed that older forms had a different shape, reflecting a sentiment of a miss by a small distance (e.g. an inch) being as bad as a miss by a mile (or ell). This is a valuable and insightful claim, and one easy to understand without additional context. (But it is not always correct—sayings rarely are. The minor and the major miss can have different side-effects and the one or the other might be better in some contexts.) In contrast, the distorted version requires some context or a prior knowledge of meaning for an understanding. Similarly, the Swedish version, while not perfectly clear either, requires less interpretation and is more readily understood on a first encounter.


It is reasonably likely that a guess would bring the right interpretation, but there is no guarantee and guessing can often leads us astray. I have, for instance, seen two explanations for the saying “feed a cold; starve a fever”. In the one, it is an instruction on how to treat colds and fevers; in the other, it is a warning that those who feed a cold will later be forced to starve a fever.

An interesting counterpoint, however, is that a vagueness of meaning can have an indirect positive effect through making us think about possible interpretations and thereby gain more insight.

A better example, and one that has remained with me for a long time, is “the proof is in the pudding”. Not only is this a completely nonsensical claim—it is also often seems to be used with no true meaning behind it, as just a funny thing to say, a bit of filler, a pointless cliché, whatnot. However, with almost the same words, arranged in an earlier manner, we have something insightful: The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

If the eating is poor, it does not matter how nice the pudding looks, it does not matter that the best of ingredients were used, it does not matter that the recipe was followed to the last dot. Likewise, if the eating is good, who cares that the apprentice chef scraped together whatever was left in the cupboard for something improvised.

Now the saying makes sense and has a wide applicability. For instance, when faced with two candidates for an open position, a prospective employer might be wise in hiring the applicant who appears the better fit, but doing so is just an application of heuristics. There is no guarantee that better-seeming candidate gives better value for the money once hired—the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Stretching the interpretation a little, the saying might even apply to the topic of this text, in that a nice seeming idea that is almost right does not pass the test of (metaphorical) eating.

So close, yet so far away, on privilege

A common problem is reasoning like “Because X is in the majority, X is privileged!” or, e.g., “[...], X is to blame!”. Even when each such “X” is taken alone, this is simplistic, but it is often extended to include several independent factors, e.g. in that White men, White Christian men, White heterosexual Christian men, or some such, are in focus. (Also note WASP, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, for a group often put in the same position in the past.)

I had long been annoyed by a fundamental flaw in the reasoning at hand, namely that the allegedly privileged-because-of-being-a-majority group was usually a minority. Even a restriction to White men in today’s (2024) U.S. might be somewhere between one quarter and one third of the overall population. (Note the great problems with definitions, borderline cases, self-identification, etc.) Add further restrictions, e.g. for heterosexuality, being Christian, being of Anglo-Saxon decent, whatnot, and the proportion grows smaller still.

One day, I was reading some blog comment, where someone pointed out that men are actually less than half the population, Whites are only some X percent, there are plenty of homosexuals even among White men, etc. (Speaking in principle: I do not remember the exact examples used.) Finally, I thought, someone else who actually gets the point. Then the moron turned around and announced something along the lines of “So all you racist, sexist, homophobic, [whatnot] White men should just go check your privilege—you are not the majority!”.

So close, yet so far away.


While it is true that some gains can be had from belonging to several dominant or close to dominant groups (and that dominance might be about more than numbers), the application to e.g. privilege is, at best, thin for groups like White men in the modern West. (And note that the above “almost” did not fail through implying an advantage but through implying an imagined mentality, as if White men felt superior, entitled to privileges, or whatnot, because they saw themselves as a majority—while the corresponding thinking is actually applied to White men by various woke and whatnot groups.)

For instance, many commercial businesses might cater to the largest market segment. (Often to their own detriment, when everyone tries to get a thin slice of the largest segment instead of large slice of a smaller segment.) This, however, does not imply that they are targeting men: There are more women than men, women spend more (be it through different priorities or through a higher likelihood of being in charge of household purchases), and women are more likely to fall for advertising tricks. The result: women are prioritized well above men. (The typical ground floor of a department store often shows this taken to an extreme.)

For instance, politicians might well cater to the largest voter segments. However, again and for similar reasons, this gives women, not men, an advantage. Moreover, here there appears to be a greater gain to be had from prioritizing smaller interest groups. (Likely reasons include that smaller groups are often more polarized and that smaller groups can be given large per-capita bribes at a smaller per-capita cost for the majority.) Then we have issues like how any pro-man, pro-White, pro-whatnot catering is very hard to get away with in a climate where such stances have been condemned as sexist, racist, whatnot for decades (in a highly asymmetric manner).

For instance, some White men might have an inclination to hire other White men over, say, Black women; however, businesses are run for profit and someone who makes poor hiring decisions will see lesser profits than the competition. (And most White men, in my experiences, have no such inclination to begin with.) In contrast, over the last few decades, there have been an ever stronger drive to hire, promote, whatnot women for being women, Blacks for being Blacks, etc.

And so on.


Also note how this type of thinking puts undue emphasis on the group, instead of the individual. Many problems would go away if this type of thinking-in-groups disappeared and/or more if there was a greater openness to what group belonging might matter. Does, e.g., a Black engineer have more in common with a Black janitor than with the White engineer? Unfortunately, there is a virtual industry that thrives on pushing exactly such group emphasis, polarization between groups, etc.—not to mention the great number of votes that it brings the U.S. Democrats.

Complete reversal of conclusion (honorary mention)

My first plans for this page contained as an example a horrendous twist on how voluntary conformance with COVID-recommendations, which should have brought the conclusion “laws were not needed”, was turned into an absurd “so we might just as well put in laws”.

In the mean time, I had already managed to include this in another text. Moreover, this example might be best viewed as just a grotesque error—not the type of “almost right” that is the topic of this page.

The case is still of some interest to the current page, however, as it demonstrates the sheer extent of human stupidity, intellectually dishonest distortions, ideological blindness, or whatever the underlying cause was, with which the world is plagued—all reasons that could be behind or contribute to an “almost right” arising in place of a “right”.

On the reasons

As to the reasons, sloppy or incomplete thinking is often a sufficient explanation, while many cases, as with sayings, show some existing insight misunderstood or distorted. Two particular, partially over-lapping, examples of such sloppy or incomplete thinking:

Firstly, mistaking the direction of causality or mistaking correlation for causality. Consider the observation that there is (or, maybe, has been) a strong correlation between intelligence, capability, whatnot, on the one hand, and amount of formal education, on the other. A common mistake, especially among politicians, is to jump to the conclusion that more education will make us more intelligent, capable, whatnot—education is the cause and “We need more education for everyone!”. In reality, it is more often the other way around: the more intelligent have been more likely to gain a longer formal education. (When we look at other factors, it will depend on the details, but capability, e.g., often arises mostly as a side-effect of intelligence, especially in the long term and especially outside some specific fields, e.g. medicine.) The idea, then, is almost correct, but a miss is a miss—and this particular miss can be quite costly, if formal education is made a stubborn priority. (Also note some older Wordpress texts. TODO import and link.)

Related errors include going from a positive view of education to a positive view of formal education, including and especially school, and the assumption that a positive effect seen in the one student will be replicated in all students.

I do consider education a good thing, but the “return on investment” is far larger for some than for others and school is a poor way of getting an education. Contrast the flawed take with e.g. “We must ensure that everyone has easy access to the level and forms of education suitable to him!”, which is much nobler and much more likely to lead to good educational outcomes. (While, of course, still being an oversimplification of a complicated question.)

Secondly, failing to discriminate sufficiently, to realize that what holds in one case need not hold in a superficially similar case. Consider, as above, sending someone intelligent and someone unintelligent through the same college program—we cannot expect the result to be the same. Or consider migration, where a typical take is that “Immigration is good! We need more immigration!” based on experiences with immigrants from the one country, while the “more” is indiscriminately extended to those from the other, and/or with immigrants from the upper reaches of a country, while the “more” would extend to the lower reaches. From a German point of view, contrast the typical intelligence level, education level, cultural and value compatibility relative Germans, whatnot, of Poles and Somalis. Generally, contrast the level of the many highly educated Indians that move abroad with the average level of India.

Contrast the flawed take with e.g. “High-IQ immigration is good! We need more high-IQ immigration!”, which might well hold. (With some cautions for potential negative effects on the countries of origin.)


Those who move abroad are likely above average for most countries, but the issue is particularly important with India through its enormous population, the heterogeneity of the population, and the low average standard of living. There are, e.g., more humans in the Indian top-percentile than there are Swedes, at all and regardless of percentile.

In a next step, someone might (correctly) observe that there are enormously many highly intelligent and capable humans in India, and then (incorrectly) conclude that the typical Indian is highly intelligent and capable. The same misconception about Sweden is far less likely, even though Sweden appears to be ahead in terms of averages, as the same “enormously many” does not apply.

In a third step, someone might now encourage Indian immigrants and be swamped by those from lower or far lower percentiles. The same effect would be highly unlikely with e.g. Sweden: A country like Luxembourg might be swamped with Swedes; however, for most other countries, the proportion of Sweden’s population necessary to truly have an effect would be unrealistically large. In a reverse scenario, the entire Swedish population, should it move to India within the space of a single year, would be outnumbered even by the newly born Indians of the year of immigration—more than twice over.

Excursion on own missteps

When writing, I sometimes have a nagging feeling that I am treating the slightly wrong problem, discuss the slightly wrong insight, or similar—as if I listened to a melody that was almost a familiar one, that fell short of the familiar version, and left me with a similar sense of frustration. It has even happened that I began writing one text and ended up writing another, because that other text was, in some sense, more valuable or more rewarding.

A particular issue is that of generalization/abstraction, where I am sometimes uncertain whether I write on the right level. Going too far might make the text hard too understand (and there is no upper limit on how far generalization can be taken); not going high enough might miss the point. (TODO import and link to Wordpress text.)

(Here we see yet another complication: That writing choices often represent a subset of what is present in the mind and that a text that is, e.g., “on the slightly wrong problem” sometimes reflects a poor writing choice more than an insufficient insight. I should give others the benefit of the doubt more often.)

A very common issue is that I have a good idea and fail to come up with truly good examples, be it through a mental block, through having forgotten examples previously encountered, or through a slight drift in intentions. This includes some of the examples used in this text. (The weakest example is likely “a miss is as good as a mile”, but I could not resist the temptation after the coincidental use. Such choices are a different issue.)

The same applies even more strongly during my writings of fiction, where a slightly wrong choice today can have repercussions six months later, where the border between a character showing a certain personality and being a caricature of himself can be thin, ditto the border between the legitimately emotional and the soppy, etc.

Excursion on semantic mistakes

Someone might argue that some of the above is more a matter of semantics than anything else, and such examples do exist, e.g. in that a “minute of silence” might be better as a “minute of remembrance”, “[...] reflection”, or what might be most appropriate in the given case—but that this change of words would not fundamentally alter the idea.


Even here, however, some room can be found, e.g. in that the less insightful and/or very young are guided in the right direction, in that they understand that it is not a matter of silence for the sake of silence—or that those who suggest that minute see it less as a symbolic act of “doing something for the purpose of doing something” and more of a genuine expression of whatever feeling might be relevant.

(The potential scope of minutes of silence is large and the appropriate feeling, purpose, whatnot, can vary correspondingly. Consider e.g. a minute dedicated to, respectively, the 2023 victims of Hamas terrorism, the death from very old age of a great man, and the extinction of the passenger pigeon. While I have no recollection of seeing a silent minute for something not related to death or, otherwise, the end of something, even this is certainly possible, and even death-related minutes need not have a negative focus. For instance, if a great man dies of very old age, the minute might be spent in positive remembrance of his past accomplishments.)

In a twist, most of the silent minutes that I have experienced in person were likely at so young ages that none of us had any real insight into the matter hand, that the idea seemed silly, that the act was purely ritualistic and/or on a “because some adult said that we should hold a silent minute” basis, and even that a single minute simply might have been too long.

I would disagree about the above examples, however. Yes, I have seen some illiterates use “fashion” when they honestly mean “clothes”, but I very much doubt that this was the case here. (This, especially, as the clothing industry seems to deliberately push the ideas that customers need to be “hip”, “cool”, whatnot, and, above all, to regularly replace perfectly good clothes for the purpose of matching the latest, often highly arbitrary or industry created, trends.)

Likewise, some might well speak of “democratic values” or, even, “democracy” when they actually mean something like civil rights or Rechtsstaatlichkeit. However, this does not seem to be the case with the majority, let alone the majority of politicians. Moreover, in as far as the misuse is common, it feeds back into the fundamental misunderstanding that what we need is democracy and democracy only, while civil rights, etc., are mere trivialities that can either be ignored or would follow automatically once we have democracy. It is, then, the more important that we correct the terminology, think straight, and focus on what is the more important (viz. civil rights, etc.).