Could it be my age that makes me less convinced about things that I took once for granted? Perhaps.
Could it be that having watched certain events unravel unexpectedly push me along the road of seeing things differently?
That’s for sure. The downfall of the USSR, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, my success as a parent, the peacemaking visit to Israel of Sadat, the election of Trump, the collapse of reliable information on most topics-certainly all of these have shaken previous beliefs that I have held.
However, and it is a big however, I have always made an effort to try to think differently about people, events, and ideas. I do so very systematically as well. I read differing opinions and seek out people who disagree. I acutually get bored speaking with people who agree with me. I love probing the motives and cognitive structure of opposing views.
Here are a few challenges I have posed to myself and sought out, systematically, to understand all points of view. 1) Why do so many Americans oppose abortion? 2) Why was/is Trump appealing? 3) Why does the Israeli right oppose all compromise on the Palestinian issue? 4) Why are so many very smart people so faithful whilst I have no religious faith whatsoever? 5) Why does OD (my profession) not acknowledge that so many of its values are now irrelevant? 6) Why doesn’t political correctness not collapse in face of the facts? 7) Was all colonialism bad? 8) Are some cultures inferior on all counts? 9) Why did so many British spies really identify with ideology the USSR?
And I can go on and on.
In my profession as well, I try to see why certain axioms may not be so axiomatic. If, for example, everyone is so sure that the Sales force is demotivated, I will generally start by ignoring this and looking at product quality. I never buy the company line until I have crawled into every nook and cranny to disprove it.
I actually love learning all sides of issues. I read a lot of things I do not agree with; I meet with people (and actually like them) who disagree with what I believe in. When someone disagrees with me, I engage more and more.
Have my academic endeavours and personal interactions changed my opinions? Absolutely. The more I studied Middle East history, the more pessimistic I became about any long term settlement. The damages and disadvantages of the global economy are clearer to me than ever. Democracy is so deeply flawed that it may not be sustainable with widespread ignorance-and perhaps better that it should not be under certain circumstances.
And more. Most of my opinions are “for the time being”.
Maybe even once I utter something, it is already outdated.
I consider this mindset, or skill, as one of my better assets, which I hope compensates for my chronic lack of patience, my outspoken manner and infrequent lack of decorum.
And finally, books that have impacted my opinions recently.
Adults in the Room Yanis Vardufakis (Greek debt crisis and role of Germany)
Stalin’s Englishman Andrew Lownie (motivations to support USSR in Cambridge 5)
The Righteous Mind Jonathan Haidt (Conservative thinking explained)
The Matrix of Race Rodney Coates et al (systemic view of racism)
Motherland Paul Therroux (American south as a 3rd world state)
Little Man, what next Hans Fallada (the impact of WW1 on Germany)
Islam Bernard Lewis (basic religious beliefs)
How to be a Conservative Roger Scruton (core beliefs of conservatives)
Crazy like Us Eithan Watters (on exporting mental illness)
Strangers in ther own land Arlie Hoschchild (on Trumpism)