Flip Flopping

June 16, 2010 โ€” Every Sunday night in college my fraternity would gather in the commons room for a "brother meeting". (Yes, I was in a fraternity, and yes I do regret that icing hadn't been invented yet). These meetings weren't really "productive", but we at least made a few decisions each week. The debates leading up to these decisions were quite fascinating. The questions would be retarded, like whether or not our next party should be "Pirate" themed or "Prisoner" themed(our fraternity was called Pike, so naturally(?) we were limited to themes that started with the letter P so we could call the party "Pike's of the Caribbean" or something). No matter what the issue, we would always have members make really passionate arguments for both sides.

The awesome thing was that these were very smart, persuasive guys. I'd change my mind a dozen times during these meetings. Without fail, whichever side spoke last would have convinced me that not only should we have a Pirate themed party, but that it was quite possibly one of the most important decisions we would ever make.

The thing I realized in these meetings is that flip flopping is quite easy to do. It can be really hard, if not impossible, to make the "right" decision. There are always at least two sides to every situation, and choosing a side is a lot more about the skills of the debaters, the mood you happen to be in, and the position of the moon(what I'm trying to say is there's a lot of variables at work).

I think humans are capable of believing almost anything. I think our convictions are largely arbitrary.

Try an experiment.

  1. Take an issue, a political issue--the war in Afghanistan, Global Warming, marijuana legalization--or a minor everyday issue--what to have for dinner tonight, whether it's better to drink coffee or not, whether Facebook is a good thing or bad thing.
  2. Take a stand on that issue. Think of all the reasons why your stand is right. Be prepared to support your stance in a debate.
  3. Completely change your position. Take the other side. Think of every reason why this new side is correct. Be prepared to support this side without feeling like you are lying.
  4. Keep flipping if you want.

I think it's fascinating to see how now matter what the issue, you can create a convincing case for any side. And it's hard not to hear an argument for the opposing side and not want to change your position. Our brains can be easily overloaded. The most recently presented information pushes out the old arguments.

But at some points, survival necessitates we take a side. The ability to become stubborn and closed-minded is definitely a beneficial trait. Survival causes us to become stubborn on issues and survival requires closed-mindedness to get anything done.

Three men set out to find a buried treasure. The first guy believes the treasure is to the north so heads in that direction. The second guy heads south. The third guy keeps changing his mind and zigzags between north and south. I don't know who finds the treasure first, but I do know it's certainly not the third guy.

Oftentimes the expected value of being stubborn is higher than the expected value of being thoughtful.

Is flip flopping a good thing? Is being open minded harder than being stubborn? Does it depend on the person? Does success require being certain?

I have no idea.


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