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Admitting Your Views Have Changed Is Better Than Pretending Everyone Else Is Crazy
Here’s something I see a lot of right now.
A person with a history of certain public opinions will slowly begin voicing opinions that, while not explicitly contradicting their old views, are clearly in tension with them. These new opinions are evident to most observers, many of whom wonder when and where this person changed. But instead of offering insight into how their views have shifted, this person will insist that nearly everyone around them has changed in some way. Those who used to agree with them, but don’t often agree now, have (according to the person) drifted into some kind of error. Those who used to disagree with them, but often do now, have (according to the person) drifted in a better direction. Either way, the upshot is clear: “Everyone else has changed, and I alone have escaped to tell the world.”
Three quick observations about this:
1. We can and ought to grant that now especially is a time of great ideological fluidity and movement. People are ideologically aligned in all kinds of hard-to-believe ways. Some people have gone crazy and accused the sane ones of abandoning their post. But we need to apply the Taylor Swift principle: If the problem is always the other person, then it’s probably not, actually. It’s probably not the case that everyone around you who’s not a family member or an employee is jaundiced by tribalism, or has it out for you, or is infected by some viral disinformation. If you find yourself saying that everyone to the north, south, east, and west of you is wrong about you, then you need to take seriously the possibility that you’re not actually where you think you are.
2. Even people who try very hard to be reasonable and objective cannot remain wholly unaffected by things like political polarization or technologically-mediated epistemology. And being affected by these things is not a moral vice. Stated another way: we should not assume that admitting that our views have changed, that our sympathies have reordered, or that we are not as fond of the same ideas as we used to be is an admission of guilt. Of course, this is what social media in particular is good at: punishing people who get something wrong because it makes us feel better. I see two options. Either we can give in to this spirit, and respond by never admitting our errors and go down with guns blazing. Or we can simply choose to reject this value system, and say, “Hey, I now think I was wrong back then” as a confession of our limits. One of these options is good for winning pointless arguments. The other option is what Christians believe.
3. It seems to me that the leaders who will actually be capable of building things in the days ahead are leaders who admit their errors before those errors become scandals. Whenever an institution becomes mired in some big controversy, there are always people who talk as if the real problem is that the leadership made an error that other leaders wouldn’t. Most of the time, I think this is false. The real problem is that leadership made an error that they would not correct until the error grew to dominate them in some way. True, there are some errors that do this right away. But most don’t. What tends to sink people and places are errors that metastasize because they are never addressed, due to calculations that say fixing the error would cause more trouble than it would solve.
4. I think we can see that the dynamics in point 3 and point 4 are connected. That is to say, individuals and institutions become less willing to admit errors if they reasonably expect those admissions to be met with graceless outrage. So they cover up the errors, the errors become scandals, and guess what happens? Everyone gets outraged, except this time the outrage seems warranted. There is a vicious cycle here that has to be stopped by someone who is willing to take position of weakness: either the person who admits their error and takes the chance of being accosted, or the people who hear a confession of an error and choose not to ruthlessly punish it. It seems to that wherever you find people who believe in the gospel, you should find people who are both willing to confess their sin and to forgive it. That sounds an awful lot like what it means to be a Christian.
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