“Be more afraid if you find yourself writing and writing and never changing your mind!”


At Rational Longevity right now there is the post Mini-Review and Miscellany, which addresses something I’ve noticed as a writer myself:

I was discussing the whole phenomenon of online writing with a friend recently. One of the concerns she expressed was the fact that if she writes something now and posts it publicly, what happens if she changes her mind later on about something she wrote? I responded by stating that if I were following the course of someone’s developing opinion set and self-concept over time, it would look a lot weirder if nothing about that person’s opinions or interpretations of events changed over time, than if their later writing and apparent mindset didn’t resemble their earlier material in the least.

People are not static entities, and as each of us encounters and integrates new information about ourselves and about the world, it’s perfectly valid and undeniably sane for our expressed opinions and observations to change in terms of their tone and content. Existence is Wonderful is barely a year old at this point, and already I can look in the archives and find examples of statements that sound both awkward and ignorant in comparison to my present understanding of things. I expect that to be the case for years to come, (and, more than likely, so should you if you’re in the habit of writing and posting your writing online). Though there’s nothing wrong with holding principles, and there are certainly points at which any person is likely to encounter a “best possible fit” explanation or an undeniable fact that continues to be true into the indefinite future, viewpoint evolution is part and parcel of existence as a dynamic entity, as a mind equipped with a feedback system.

So, in other words, don’t be afraid to write because you think you might change your mind later. Be more afraid if you find yourself writing and writing and never changing your mind!

I have noticed a lot of changes in my opinions and writing over time. Many of the articles I still have up on autistics.org, I don’t entirely believe in the ideas anymore, or have a more complex view on the topic than I used to have. But I leave them up because I think they have some idea that might be useful to someone, and because it’s a futile task to deny that I am in some cases eight years older and have eight years more experience and ideas, and eight years from now my views will have grown into something else entirely. If I wanted to decide not to write anything that I would later disagree with, I wouldn’t write anything at all, because I really hope a person would change their views as their experiences change and their perspective broadens.

I’ve written things that, frankly, I’m loath to even read for fear of what I’ll see, but I keep them published because if I didn’t I might as well not write any of what I’m writing now. Language is a crude approximation to begin with, it seems arrogant to assume that I have (and will then write) the absolute truth right now and will never find something more truthful, and arrogant to deny that humans are always in a process of learning and discovering new things, and never comprehending the whole of things with these little brains of ours. But the whole act of looking for the truth and communicating what we’re finding can be extremely useful.

Quakers (at least of the unprogrammed variety) hold our religious services by seeking the truth together, not one minister preaching to everyone else, but everyone coming together to pray. If we believe that the Holy Spirit has given us ministry to share with the rest of the meeting, we share it, where the entire meeting is supposed to, while also praying, test the ministry to see if it seems to hold part of the truth. It’s basically a collective search for spiritual truth (and I’m sure there are less clumsy ways of expressing it than I just did).

I view a lot of online writing as a secular version of something similar. A lot of people writing a lot of things, and influencing and being influenced by each other (and the rest of their environments) as everyone looks for the truth. Our version can (because of some fairly big differences between online discussions and the Religious Society of Friends ;-) ) take a lot of other forms, but I see the same sort of dynamic at times of people sincerely looking for what is true, and saying what they find to the best of their knowledge, while that is tested against other people’s knowledge, and it all gets refined (or not) as things go on.

I agree with the author of Rational Longevity when she says it’d be really weird, in this context, if someone never changed at all.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

5 responses »

  1. Yeah. Nodding along. And I seem to recall writing “Language is a crude approximation at best” in a long essay on something similar, back in the days when, based on some of your writing (though I generally agreed with its underlying rationale), I thought you rather a pain in the arse. : P

  2. Even if we are not writers, why should be so afraid of thinking and exploring? Interestingly, I think as I seek to deepen my understanding of something, I find myself realizing how little I know and how many more questions I now have than I initially had. I also become more conscious of my arrogance. In so many areas – politics, health care, education – I am most afraid of those who speak with arrogant certainty and are unable to question, explore, and yes, change their mind.

  3. There’s a whole host of reasons why someone might change their mind about something. Access to more information, a greater understanding of the information they already hold and a general change in beliefs are just three factors that would contribute to said change. To claim that a person’s views will never change is, in all probability, ludicrous.

  4. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff we’ve written that we hope people no longer think is representative of what we actually believe, and that we have trouble actually going back to read. We change the FAQ on our page periodically to reflect our personal changes in understanding (in fact, looking at it now, we see a lot of things that make us go “wow, we need to change that”), but other things, like the essays… I’ve thought of re-arranging the essays in chronological order rather than by author, actually, so people can see how our personal views have evolved over time. This isn’t to say that people should discard or dismiss the older writings if they find them useful; we’ve heard from several people who found some of the older ones useful, the ones which express opinions and concepts that we either no longer find very useful, or have discarded as reference points for understanding what’s going on with us, or so forth. So obviously they have merit to somebody, and that fact alone is worth keeping them up, even if what Shiu writes about himself in 2002 shouldn’t be used as any kind of reference for assuming anything about what Shiu believes about himself in 2007.

    I mean, I can see that we had our “angry ranting” phase, for instance, and one phase where we were seriously echolalic of another plural group we met online (in writing as well as speech), partly because they’d inadvertently managed to trip some of our “perceived authority figure” signals. (In the sense that an authority figure, to us at the time, was someone whom you’d better agree with or there will be problems, not someone who is necessarily right.) But both of those *were* stepping stones to getting where we are now. We started with crude approximations that borrowed big chunks of other paradigms; we slowly refined them to be less and less crude over the years, getting (we hope) closer and closer to a depiction of how we actually work through successive approximations. There’s more of our own stuff in what we write now, less stuff that was borrowed from others as a kind of stopgap measure in our desperation for reference points. But at the time, we had no choice but to use either others’ paradigms or very crude vague approximations; the understanding we have of ourselves now just wasn’t there, and time and a lot of small details of day-to-day living had to take place for that understanding to start happening.

    (As for the angry ranting phase, I think that also was important because it was our… formal declaration of throwing out the ideas that hadn’t worked for us and had caused us harm. If we had to rant about the same things over and over to loosen their hold on our mind, then that’s what we had to do.)

    Something we’ve been talking about with a few other people lately is the concept of memory as personal narrative. My experience is that people in general have a tendency towards coming up with a sort of “story” about their life, and autistic people aren’t immune to this. The fact that it’s a story doesn’t mean that it’s all false: but as I think we mentioned elsewhere recently, it *does* result in a tendency towards oversimplification when the truth may be much more complex, or attributing motivations and thoughts to your past self which may not have been so.

    We’ve had a lot of different “stories” of our life competing with each other at various points, all of which we believed partly or entirely at some time. Some of them were entirely the illusions of others, some started with others’ illusions that we actually abetted them in and helped to create because those illusions gave a picture of ourselves that we at one time wanted to believe in, some of them were illusions constructed by ourselves out of confusion and flailing around for reference points and grabbing what seemed like “the closest thing.”

    One of the main things we’ve learned along the way is how many things *aren’t* concrete and can’t be pinned down to words. But we’re also much more comfortable about having those grey areas and unexplainables in our life than we used to be. We used to operate under the impression that we had to be able to “fit everything into the story,” to be able to quickly explain it in words that most people would grasp, because we’d had a track record of people demanding those story-explanations from us, whether family, psychiatry, or even well-intentioned friends, and would get anxious when something didn’t reduce to words and assume it meant something was wrong with us.

    I don’t think we, or anyone else, will ever achieve The Perfect Understanding, but to have one that works enough for you, at any given time in your life, to allow you to mostly predict your own reactions to things, is good enough, I think.

  5. I’ve looked back at some of the articles I wrote years ago and they’re foreign to me now as I’ve grown and changed throughout the years. But to me, those articles are like the stepping stones in my life path…

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