Let us praise the flip-flop.
Flip-flopping, as I intend to discuss it here, means changing your mind. It means adopting a different position from the one you previously held.
It does not mean abandoning core principles. I’m not talking about that.
Our society has flip-flopped on a number of important issues. We flip-flopped on the nature of the Earth, once we figured out it was round. We flip-flopped on the workings of the solar system, once we figured out that Earth orbited the sun rather than the other way around. We flip-flopped on the issue of human existence, once we discovered the evidence of evolution. We flip-flopped on the matter of creation, once science established the facts of the Big Bang.
None of those flip-flops, by the way, meant that we had to abandon a belief in God. Also, I should add that not everybody was willing to adopt a new belief – some hung on to old beliefs. That’s not because they were dumb or somehow bad people – they just were afraid, or stuck. Some probably went to their deathbeds believing that antibiotics were the work of the devil, and that leeches were the only true cure for disease.
I do wonder what would have happened had science brought forth the evidence on those matters in our current political and social environment. #DownWithDarwin, right? Podcasters would have concocted some sort of conspiracy between Nancy Pelosi and Galileo. Would Donald Trump have mocked Steven Hawking? Would the lefties have contended that somebody used the wrong pronoun, or that Big Science was too heteronomative, or didn’t represent the interest of minorities?
You know it. We should be embarrassed of ourselves, of this environment we’ve collectively created.
Our knee-jerk reaction is to attack the opposing view, or more particularly attack the person espousing the opposing view. The key to any progress is to actually open oneself up to the possibility that the “other side” has a valid point. The key is to be able to change one’s mind. To flip-flop.
Facts do emerge, through scientific research or historical experience, that ought to make a material difference in people’s opinions. Facts are stubborn, as they say. They’re not easily dismissed. They keep coming back.
The problem is that we’ve gotten ourselves into an environment where we escalate conflicts, and so backing down is not an option. The political parties act as a centrifugal force, pushing people toward the extreme. Social media creates a false equivalence of viewpoints, whether somebody is a clown or a PhD. And our institutions have failed so frequently that a lack of faith in them is entirely understandable.
So, in light of new facts, we...what? Make up our own “facts”?
What to do? Heck, I’m just a newspaper guy in northeast Kansas. I don’t know. But I would say it starts with you, in your own mind. Try, as best you can, to understand that your viewpoint might change if new facts emerge. Try to think like a scientist, where hypotheses can be proven or disproved, and either outcome is good. Try not to escalate, knowing full well that you might have to back off. Try to listen, to understand, rather than shout.
And try, for the sake of our future together, to understand that flip-flopping probably represents progress. That’s certainly true in the long run