Well, you know my answer: constantly.
It’s been especially hard socially. Althouse writes:
It’s my hypothesis that people take the positions that are comfortable to them. Living in Madison, Wisconsin, I often wonder about the depth of the political opinions that seem to be everywhere. To express an opposing view would take some effort and maybe even injure your personal life, so it’s easiest to go along and get along, even to adopt the views of the people around you and to avoid exploring the possibility of thinking something else.
These beliefs, then, which seem so entrenched, are actually shallow beliefs. The behavior patterns and commitment to getting along may be deeply rooted, but the ideas themselves are fairly insubstantial. The engagement with politics itself is insubstantial. Why pay so much attention to politics when deviating from your comfortable point of view would only expose you to pain?
Ah, my favorite topic—political opinions, why we hold them, and what could make people change them. I agree that a great many people—perhaps the majority, and (from my observations, anyway) the majority of today’s liberals—take positions that are comfortable for them in the sense that they are surrounded by people who hold the same position. In other words, it’s very easy and pleasant to dance in a ring with the others.
But I would slightly amend Ann’s characterization of their beliefs as “shallow” and say that the amount and quality of the logical reasoning behind those beliefs may be shallow, but the beliefs themselves are extremely and deeply entrenched—and that’s because, as she writes, “The behavior patterns and commitment to getting along may be deeply rooted.” For people who hold beliefs mostly for that reason, it’s a very powerful motivation.
In other words, as in the old saying, it’s hard to reason people out of beliefs that they weren’t reasoned into in the first place. Sometimes these sorts of beliefs can be the most tenacious of all because they rest on emotion rather than reason, and abandoning them causes an extraordinary amount of stress and even a loss of identity for a while. And since I believe Ann is correct that most people are not interested in politics all that much—at least not in digging down deep into the details, rather than just the sound bites or the headlines—it’s really not hard for most people to ignore evidence that might derail their beliefs and therefore their pleasant world of group agreement.
Of course, the opposite is true for those who already are at variance politically with most people in the community in which they live and especially the group with which they socialize. I’d be curious to know what the statistics for political change are for people who move from a community where they espouse the majority view to one where they are going against the general consensus. Do they undergo political change more often than people who don’t make such a move? Perhaps; I don’t know. And then of course we all are aware of what happens to many young people when they go off to college and are exposed to the relentless propaganda there from the left. But young people are in an especially malleable and impressionable state, as well as one in which the opinion of their peers is of the utmost importance, so they are particularly ripe for the leftist picking.
My change of politics in the intellectual sense was somewhat hard to go through, but nowhere near as hard as the social “coming out” later. I underwent my political change mostly in private (read the story if you’re interested). I was living in a new place, had recently been divorced, and was undergoing a very lengthy recuperation from surgery, all of which made for a large degree of social isolation and meant I had a great deal of free time on my hands. Furthermore, I was motivated (starting with 9/11) to do much more reading about world events and politics than ever before, and for the first time I was getting my news from multiple newspapers online rather than one or two delivered at home. I was probably helped along in the journey by the fact that I didn’t even realize I was now reading papers on the left and the right, ant that this was something I’d never done before (previously I had thought my main sources—the Boston Globe and New Yorker—were unbiased).
All of these factors helped get me to the point where, although I’d never really been “reasoned” into my previous positions, I abandoned them when faced with enough evidence to the contrary. My change was helped along by two things in particular: (1) logic and rationality are very important to me; and (2) I had previously moved in such a liberal bubble that I was unaware of the harsh way many liberals treat those who differ from them politically.
The naivete of that last part may really surprise you. It’s not that I’d never noticed liberal attacks on conservatives in the news. But those were public figures; I was me. My friends and relatives knew me and liked me, knew I was intelligent, kind, thoughtful, etc. etc.—one of the them. At least, I thought they did. So why would they be angry at me? I don’t think the possibility even entered my mind, in part because I’d almost never seen anyone in my circle disagree with the prevailing liberalism.