Things I have changed my mind about — Part 1

My friends may not believe this, but with great internal turmoil and struggle, I often change my views about things. What triggers such changes are overwhelming evidence (or lack thereof), and comprehensive logical reasoning addressing several facets (scientific, philosophical, political, social, cultural) of issues. A life led without a change of views is a life led without questioning your own beliefs and biases.

Following economist Tyler Cowen’s post on economics changing his mind, I am listing out a few things I’ve changed my mind about. The following list is not exhaustive, of course. Since this post is the first of its kind I’m writing, it only lists out a few larger issues. Other views — on narrow or specific theories or positions — might be tackled in future posts. I think there is some value in understanding how our views change over time, and how we respond to new evidence. This is an attempt to document these changes. Here goes.

  1. I used to believe the universe was very small, lonely and wet. Then I was born and was presented with evidence to the contrary. I don’t really remember this, but it is probably how it would have played out.
  2. When I was around 14, I started questioning everything we are taught about the very origin of life and the universe. The supernatural explanation raised more questions than it answered. After years of furious reading, calm reasoning, headstrong debating and frequently switching views, I concluded that the natural explanation of the universe is far more reasonable (and far more fascinating). I’ve since lived a content life without belief in the supernatural. A — without. Thé — God. Atheist /ˈeɪθɪɪst/ noun.
  3. The academic culture in Hyderabad made me believe the most academically successful students are terrible at socialising, relationships, life outside books; that the ones good at these things were terrible at academics. Delhi taught me the exact opposite is true. I now know that both generalisations are unfair, although I lean towards the latter.
  4. After an initial period of support for ‘Youth for Equality’ and heated debates with its opponents, I’ve come to understand my privileges, and the socio-economic and political landscapes of caste in India which exist to this day. I now support caste-based affirmative action — and want it to stay, at least until matrimonial sections in newspapers become free of caste references. Solve caste before you solve reservations.
  5. I used to believe that free speech should be applied universally. Then Ajita Kamal and John Stuart Mill taught me about the harm principle and offence principles. Blasphemy is okay, but hate speech is not. I now also understand how language has its roots in culture, and as a consequences, in the bigotries of bygone eras. I now try to unlearn un-inclusive language structures as much as I can, because it matters.
  6. Economic efficiency matters. Economic liberty matters. Human nature will ensure social collectives fail without adequate liberties and protections. The allocation of resources cannot be successfully controlled by committee. I did not appreciate the importance of economic liberties to this extent before I entered the labour force — and I feel this way keeping cognizance of my socio-economic privileges, not because of it.
  7. I now understand there can be as much or more exploitation of labour in mom-and-pop retail stores, as in organised retail. But we will never hear about the former because those stories are far too fragmented.
  8. After a few years of reading, debating and reasoning, I’ve concluded that the world is better off with nuclear energy replacing fossil fuels (along with renewables), than it is without it. What you have learned about its safety is probably wrong.
  9. I used to judge people for their taste in music. I do not anymore. Listen to whatever makes you happy. (Except heavy metal. Really, that is not even music).
  10. I was wrong about politics when I was in school: I now understand it is important, even if messy. Development is a process, not a goal. In practice, we do not find ideal actors and actions: only the less wrongs. I’d rather be a part of the process than not.
  11. I used to compare the economic performances of governments and heads of state using macro data points. I now believe it is a fool’s errand because underlying factors change far too much over time to permit comparative analyses. And governments are far less in control than we think. I now stick to qualitative inquiries into how well they responded to issues of the day.
  12. I used to believe regions should be given political independence if a majority in that region does not wish to be a part of the larger state. I do not agree with this view anymore because the regression to ‘smaller regions’ in any geography ends only when we reach the individual. What I assign greater importance to now is the progressiveness and inclusiveness of the arguments and solutions being offered by each group.
  13. I moved homes a couple of years ago because my building had a cell phone tower at the top and I was concerned about the radiation. A year later, after consulting studies and experts, I realised that there’s no causal link between cell phone radiation and cancer. Cell phones are safer than bananas.
  14. I used to have heroes. I do not anymore. Give enough time and they will all let you down.