In the comments of this post reader Duffy asks the following wholly reasonable question:
Can I ask, what was the last Big Thing you changed your mind about after doing some research?
He went on:
I ask because in my experience most people decide first and rationalize afterwards. Whatever facts don’t fit the preconceived idea are discarded in favor of confirmation bias.
I had to think about this for a while, but I thought Duffy deserved a proper answer. The best example I can think of is the role of the US military around the world, and specifically what changed after the Iraq War.
There were some very reasonable arguments opposing the US and its allies’ decision to launch the Iraq War, and there were some incredibly stupid ones as well. One of those that fell somewhere in the middle is one I have changed my mind about. Before the invasion took place there was a school of thought that went something like this:
These brown folk are primitive. They don’t know how to get along with one another, they need a strongman like Saddam Hussein to keep them in line. They’re not ready for democracy, it doesn’t work for the likes of them.
The reason why I didn’t subscribe to this view was I thought it would be a massive injustice to an oppressed and brutalised population to just assume that the person who was standing on their necks was doing so for their own good and they’d be worse off without him. I couldn’t think of anything worse than living under such conditions myself and the people who could do something about it telling me that I was incapable of running my own affairs.
I supported the Iraq War for several reasons, one of which was I thought the Iraqis deserved the chance to be free of Saddam Hussein and run their country without him. I genuinely thought they would seize the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Arabic people are not incompatible with democracy and, so thankful that Saddam Hussein is gone, they would make a pretty decent effort to make things work.
Instead they tore each other apart and did everything they could to demonstrate that those who dismissed them as savages that needed a strongman to keep them in line were right all along. I think this was probably the most depressing aspect of the whole shambolic affair. I still think the Iraq War should have gone ahead because I believe it solved two security issues which I think the US would have found much harder to manage in future: the security of the Saudi oilfields and finding out for sure whether Saddam Hussein had chemical or biological weapons that could be used in a future conflict. I’m also certain that had the Iraq War not happened a bloodbath would have occurred at some point anyway: either the Arab Spring would have been tried in Iraq, or it would have been dragged into Syria or another conflict with Iran. Whatever might have happened, I don’t think an Iraq under another decade or two of Saddam Hussein & Sons would have been a stable, happy place.
But the one issue I changed my mind on was that the US (or British) military should no longer be brought to bear for altruistic or humanitarian reasons. It is rather depressing, but I am now a firm believer in the premise that a population generally deserves the government it gets. No longer would I support a war that is not prosecuted for clear strategic reasons that are indisputably in the national interest. So all those suffering under the jackboot of oppression? Sorry, you’re on your own. We tried our best and look where it got us.