Have You Changed Your Mind Recently?

What have you changed your mind about? That was the question posed to dozens of scientists and intellectuals at the endlessly stimulating web site Edge.org. Paul Kedrosky took a stab at the question, too.

I love the question because it implicitly rejects inertia-powered living: believing something because you have always believed it, doing something because you have always done it, living today like you lived yesterday without stopping to ask why.

Questioning entrenched habits or beliefs is hard. It can result in uncertainty or self-doubt. But ultimately I think makes you a more rigorous and respectable thinker. Contra those who glorify "consistency" and pounce on any shift in opinion as "flip-flopping" or hypocritical, I pay attention to those who have clear uncertainties, those who have changed their political party affiliation in their lifetime, those who have a long list of sentences which begin: "In light of new evidence or new reflections I now believe…."

Since it's Inauguration Day and politics is on my mind, I believe inertia was the reason many smart conservatives (and I have many smart conservative friends) voted for McCain / Palin on November 4th. It was easier to hold onto old beliefs — around McCain's maverick-ness, around the Republican Party's so-called commitment to limited government — than confront new facts as they came in. Namely, McCain's pandering and politics-as-usual, his party's big-government ideas, the recklessness of Sarah Palin both as a person and in what his picking her says about him. No, close your eyes and chant in unison, "Personal responsibility! [What does that even mean?] Limited government! Fierce independent thinker! Democracy!" I don't mean to impugn the critical thinking skills of the tens of millions who voted for that ticket – many of them had rational, good reasons for their vote. But other conservative intellectuals who supported McCain / Palin showed a remarkable disinterest in reality as it was unfolding and instead clung to the facts of yesterday or abstract philosophical ideals no longer embodied by the candidate on the ground.

Hail the lifelong Republican who donated and volunteered for past Republican campaigns who voted for Obama. Hail the Obama supporter who voted for "progressive" policies and is now expressing anger at Obama's very-centrist appointments and statements to-date. Hail the person who's willing to base current beliefs off current facts, even at the cost of identity confusion.

Like so many of the ideas on this blog, I write about this aspirationally! I am as susceptible to inertia as the next guy. I get seduced by pursuing what's familiar without asking myself whether it's also right – sometimes it is sometimes it's not, but either way actively asking myself the question would go a long way to making better decisions.

Bottom Line: Have you changed your mind about something recently?

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