The most exasperating part of social media debates is when both sides blame each other for not keeping their minds open. There isn’t usually any hope in hell of settling this meta-argument about which party is open-minded, if either at all is. But the issue is a good introspective opportunity. How would you know whether or not you are open-minded? Of course, you think you are. But are you?
One good test is to see whether you have changed your mind in the last few years about any important issues. You may be so well-informed that you have never needed to, but statistically, most of us would not be in that group. Most of us would come across information or experiences which would challenge our existing understanding. So, it is a fair test to apply to yourself. Did you change your mind when it came to that?
I applied it to myself. I am happy to say that the exhaustive list of things I have changed my mind about is much longer. But talking about a couple of them is a good starting point.
This changing of mind comes about in two distinct ways. In one there is a clear moment of enlightenment. I can pinpoint exactly what idea, information or experience led me to change my mind. The other kind is more gradual, drawn out. There is no one moment of transition. But it isn’t difficult to know that the transition has happened. At one point of time in life my views are very different – even opposite of – what they used to be at another time in the past.
The latest experience is an example of the first kind. I was reading an article about Ambedkar and Gandhi and their differences over the issue of separate electorate for the Dalits. The compromise reached was reserved seats for them, but no separate Dalit electorate. Gandhi had to coerce Ambedkar into this compromise with one of his stubborn fasts. I had always thought that it was the right compromise and didn’t see any problems with it. It ensured a path forward for the Dalits without dividing the populace forever. But this article pointed out a problem there. Simply put, it is this. When Savarnas elect a Dalit candidate, they elect the one who will be convenient for them. If the majority of the voters are Savarnas, then even if the candidate is a Dalit his job is to woo the Savarnas and not the Dalits. In independent India, it ensured that most Dalit candidates elected were from Congress and not the Dalit parties – including Ambedkar’s. It was a lightbulb moment for me.
It doesn’t mean that the issues one sees with separate electorate disappear. But what it does mean is that there is a real problem the separate electorate was trying to solve, and this compromise does not solve it. So, I don’t know if separate electorates would have been a great idea in it is entirety, but reserving seats without separate electorate wasn’t the ultimate solution either! I changed my mind on the issue of separate electorate.
The other thing I have changed my mind about is the existence of God – God in a sense that most people find easy to justify. There has to be some power above us. How else is the world running? Humans can discover the formulae governing the physical world, but who made them that way? Even though I had given up on religion pretty early on, this concept of God was difficult to get rid of. If you keep asking “why” after every explanation, ultimately you run out of explanations. God was the only answer to the ultimate “why”. And living without that answer seemed impossible.
Unlike in the case of a separate electorate, I can’t pinpoint how or why my mind changed. But over time that necessity to have an answer to the ultimate “why” started sounding pointless, even childish. I was no longer demanding that answer. Because there was no right way of fulfilling that demand. Meanwhile, a lot of what was explained by God’s (rather inconsistent) ways could be explained better by evolution, probability, statistics, and the mechanics of human-made systems.
I used to think that what I came to believe was atheism. But someone better versed in philosophy than me explained that I was agnostic. That’s where I am. It has inevitably led me to believe that the world is purposeless. It is a difficult worldview to live with. But it is less delusional than believing in God. So yeah – I changed my mind about God.
What have you changed your mind about?