Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

Known unknowns

I often worry about the filter bubble thing, that I surround myself with people who have similar opinions to mine. Equally I take pride in being open to changing my mind, but I'm not sure how much that's really true and how much I just like to tell myself that's who I am. And, well, I don't want to spend my time and energy re-examining everything that ever gets challenged by a crackpot or someone with an agenda other than establishing the truth about the world.

I think I have actually changed some of the core values that underpin my approach to the world, and having twelve years of blog archives does help to convince me that's really true, I'm not just fooling myself. I think the most substantial is that I've, to put it crudely, moved leftwards over my adult life. The main underlying shift is that I've started to accept systematic analyses of society rather than just assuming that everything is about individuals making personal choices. I'm still kind of right of centre in terms of what's usually called "politics" in the narrow sense, though even there I'm somewhat more inclined towards redistribution and centralization than I was.

I've definitely moved quite a long way left in terms of anti-oppression politics / social justice / whatever you want to call that. I started calling myself a feminist some seven years ago, having distanced myself from feminism before that. (PS there are deadnames in that link, so if you knew me under a different identity last decade, be aware.) Equally I was quite homophobic as a teenager and even in my early 20s when I understood myself to be bi; I keep reading things where people claim they've always been in favour of gay rights and marriage equality even back in the 80s, but I remember quite clearly that I was influenced by the context I grew up in and was slow to question that.

So I do worry that there is some other group of people I look down on now and in future I will cringe about the prejudiced opinions I hold. It's probably related to race in some way; I basically am and always have been a kind of useless white anti-racist. As in, I believe that all people are equal and that racial appearance and background should never be grounds for discrimination, but I'm not really doing anything very active about it. I know I'm ignorant about many of the specific issues affecting particular ethnic groups, both globally and for people living as visible minorities within white-dominated countries, and I wouldn't be surprised if I held subconscious prejudices. And perhaps moving towards a more systematic analysis, being aware of institutional and historical and societal racism rather than just bad people doing and saying individual racist things is positive progress there, but still.

So, anyway, what I thought I'd do is make a list of what I'm sure of, and look at the range between stuff which is on some level controversial but I'm confident I've seen enough evidence and really don't expect to change my mind, stuff I'm pretty sure of but could be convinced, and stuff I really don't know about.

Most sure
  1. Vaccines don't cause autism. Not only has the original study been shown to be a complete hoax, more than a decade of intense research has failed to find any sort of link. It's impossible to formally prove a negative, but this is so close to being proved that for practical purposes it might as well be.

  2. No race is genetically superior to any other. There are some people who call themselves skeptics who like to consider the hypothetical of, what if racial hierarchies were scientifically real? But really, people have been desperately trying for a couple of centuries to find a "scientific" basis for racist politics, and never come up with anything even slightly convincing. Again, can't prove a negative, but there's a massive body of evidence now. And frankly it's all too convenient a "what-if", so I don't think it's really skeptical at all, it's that some people really want to feel superior and justify their prejudices.

  3. Homoeopathy doesn't work. At least in the narrow sense; water doesn't have a memory, solutions that have been diluted many times do not have potent or indeed any chemical / medicinal effects. Some of the more general concepts that are sometimes associated with homoeopathy, such as approaches to improving health through changing diet, may possibly have some effect, but I think it's pretty unlikely, and if they do work it's some combination of coincidence and placebo effect.

  4. Gender is mutable, and mostly a product of individuals' reactions to their cultures. I reckon just about everybody is wrong about gender, partly because I suspect what gets called gender is lots of different phenomena which really need to be disentangled before useful facts can be established about them. But the post-modern everybody's gender is whatever they say it is camp are probably, it seems to me, less wrong than the people who think you can predict anything useful from the shape of an unborn baby's external genitalia on an ultrasound, let alone divide people into exactly two classes with distinct characteristics. I am somewhat open to the idea that there are some meaningful differences between genders on average, though clearly there's huge individual variation. I'm very aware that I come from a culture that's really prone to the bias that apparent gender differences are fundamental and innate, but it seems not completely impossible that some reported differences represent something real. There are some correlations between things like height, pelvis shape, shape of genitalia and so on, so it seems not completely impossible that some of those correlations extend to personality and skillsets as well.

  5. Individual actions impact on climate change. This is one area where I have changed my views; as a child I thought the whole environmentalism thing was just a fad. I personally try to make choices that minimize fuel consumption and pollution, but I am not absolutely sure this is worth it. I have seen arguments that the only real way to address climate catastrophe is at an industrial and international level, that there's no point consumers buying energy-saving lightbulbs when the national grid is powered by burning fossil fuels. And arguments that it's already too late, we're doomed anyway, so we might as well enjoy international air-travel and profligate first world lifestyles while we can. And both of those seem not completely implausible to me, but I hold on to the hope that it's worth doing what little I can.

  6. Microloans are a good way to tackle poverty. I want to believe this, cos it suits my capitalist mentality. I feel emotionally that if I were poor, what I'd want from philanthropists would be a loan to help me build my own business, so that I could feel self-sufficient, and if things went well I'd be able to pay the money back and not be indebted. When the idea first came out there were lots of reports about how transformative it can be. But lately I'm seeing convincing arguments that it's actually harmful or inefficient, partly because of the risk of usurious interest rates. And people are arguing that it's just plain better to give money to people directly with no strings attached. So I feel I'm approaching the point where I need to reassess making Kiva the main focus of my charitable donations, even though I'm reluctant to let go of doing that.

  7. The ancient Egyptians were Black (according to modern definitions of race). I have seen passionate and convincing arguments on both sides of this, so I have really no idea.

  8. There are other life-bearing planets. It seems unlikely that life arose in the entire universe exactly once, but to be fair I don't really know how to assess that probability. And we don't positively know of any such planets, obviously.

  9. Humans have free will. I would really like to believe in free will, but it's extremely hard to find evidence either way, and I accept the argument that the concept isn't really well defined.

Really no idea

So I guess I want to keep exposing myself to ideas that challenge my beliefs from lower down the list, and to keep on revising my views as I learn more about the world in my 30s and 40s like I did in my teens and 20s. But I don't want to waste a lot of time in environments where people insist on rehashing dated and almost certainly wrong sexist and racist ideas. Anyway, I've found it to be a useful exercise to examine some of my opinions and think about how certain I am of them.

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