Stuff I was wrong about!

A friend of mine was talking about which public intellectuals change their mind, and which do not. It turns out most don’t seem to.

To be frank I don’t count myself as a public intellectual…but since some people have much looser criteria than I do, I thought I should review things I’ve changed my mind on since 2002 when I started writing on the internet.

– I used to think group selection was totally incoherent, but now think that is very useful in understanding cultural evolution, and perhaps in some other contexts. I probably fundamentally changed my mind between 2010 and 2015 when I looked more deeply at the cultural evolution literature.

– I no longer believe in a “cognitive great leap forward” 50,000 years ago in human evolution. I don’t know what I believe, but I think gradual and cumulative processes are probably more important, and the roots of human uniqueness as quite ancient. My views began to change around 2010, with evidence for archaic introgression.

– I am not sure I quite believe “Out of Africa” in a clear manner as I did in the 2000s. Everything is very muddled now.  Africa seems central to human evolution. But there are lots of specifics which are unclear to me.

– The neutral theory of molecular evolution was useful in its time, but I am much more of a selectionist now when it comes to genomic phenomena.

– My views in relation to religion were close to what was for a while termed the “New Atheism.” I don’t hold that view anymore. Around 2004 I moved away from this position and came to believe that the roots of religion were cognitive, and the social and cultural complexity required deeper analysis rather than plain dismissal.

– Connected to an earlier point (group selection), I think that some of the functionalist explanations of religious phenomena are probably not totally wrong. That is, religions may have adaptive value (I came around to this after 2010).

– On economics, I am far less of a neoliberal/libertarian than I used to be in the early 2000s. I would have laughed as “industrial policy” in 2005, but I’m not sure so in 2015. Rather than a new view on the right policies, I’m just uncertain about a lot. The neoliberal critiques of government direction and planning are persuasive to me, but 1999 did not usher in the age that we were expecting.

– The period between 2002 and 2004 made me much more skeptical of foreign intervention. Barring something major, I’ll probably be an isolationist for the rest of my life.

– I am far less sure that the liberal democratic consensus will persist in the American republic today than I was in 2015.

– Related to the last point, until the 2016 election I had assumed that the elites of both parties could keep a lid on populist energies. I was wrong.

– I was more bearish on Bangladeshi economic performance in the 2000s than what we see today (at current rates of growth Bangladesh may surpass India in per capita GDP in the late 2020s).

– I believed that the post-modernist fad would fade. I was wrong. Post-modernism isn’t talked of much today, because its general manner of analysis pervades our “discourse.”

– I would have been willing to bet a lot of money in 2002 that China would go through a major correction within the next 10-15 years. At some point, I will be right, but I think the robustness of the Chinese economy is greater than I would have guessed.

– I underestimated how “complex” complex traits were. I wasn’t totally wrong, but the factor was off.

– Like many people, I put too much credence in fMRI-based cognitive neuroscience. Should have ignored it.

– I was wrong about how much salience ‘racial politics’ would have in our public debate. The key here is debate and discussion. I think we’re arguably less racist as a country. But we are more conscious of racism.

– Did not guess that socialism would make a comeback. This relates to a misjudgment of how much elites knew and understood, and how much control they had.

– I accepted the stuff about the “Great Moderation.”  I specifically remember telling someone I knew all about it right before Lehman Brothers blew up.

– The “Frog Nazi” cultural moment ~2015-2016 was a total surprise to me. Inexplicable.

– Reading Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome transformed my views on this question. From agnosticism, I now believe that Rome did fall in a consequential and disruptive manner.

– Related to the above, I believe that some sort of complex ethical religious system was going to become dominant in the Roman Empire at some point. If Arbogast had won the Battle of Frigidus I think ultimately Christianity would still have become dominant within the empire (see the resistance to Buddhism in Tibet to envision a possible scenario).

– Migration and admixture in the Holocene are much more important for patterning of human population genetic variation than I would have thought.

– The north and south Chinese are much more similar genetically than I would have thought.

– I thought I would have stopped writing/blogging by now.

– I am far less of a certain Whig about human progress. I think regression is far more likely than I would have thought in 2002.

– I accepted evolutionary psychology in a classical sense (massive modularity, etc.) in the early 2000s. Not sure that the full package is necessary.

– Did not anticipate electric vehicles and much cheaper solar is getting.

If there is an overall theme, I think I was more optimistic about the future in 2002 than how the future has actually turned out. And I’m more pessimistic about the future in 2019 than I was in 2002 by a longshot.

What did you change your mind about?

51 thoughts on “Stuff I was wrong about!

  1. Forgot to add one more item I’ve radically changed my mind on:

    9 years ago, I was an adamant defender of an unrestricted internet and social media, and was enraged by what China did to Google.

    9 years later, I now see China’s ban on Google/Facebook/Twitter/YouTube etc., along with their general approach on the internet + social media, as probably more beneficial to their long term peace, stability, and welfare than even their economic transition to capitalism.


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