Beliefs and evidence – El Financiero

Saturday marked the 20th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. You will have already read some of the avalanche of analysis, remembrances, anecdotes that have been published for that reason. Among all this, I perceive a certain willingness to identify that moment as a turning point, a fundamental moment of change. I don’t think that’s the case, and I think it’s worth commenting on.

Undoubtedly, that attack was something spectacular, which hit hard on the idea that they had in the United States of invulnerability, surrounded by oceans and allies (Canada and Mexico). It was also a cause of greater xenophobia in that country, and Islamophobia throughout the West. But from there it does not follow that it was a moment of change.

On the contrary, the United States not only launched an attack on Afghanistan in response, supported by all its military allies, but soon after succeeded in expanding it to Iraq. This does not mean that those decisions have been intelligent, much less that their results have been useful to the United States, not to mention “good”, which does not apply.

A couple of months after the attack, China was accepted as a member of the World Trade Organization, and it can be argued that that fact is much more important, in historical terms, than the attack on the towers. As traumatic as the terrorist coup was, it was actually China’s economic coup that laid the foundations for the political movement that ended up in Trump’s hands.

In the opinion of this column, even more important is the change that has occurred around our interpretation of the world caused by the emergence of social networks (Facebook, 2006; smartphones, 2007) and the collapse of Wall Street (2008). This is where social movements emerge in New York (99%), in Spain (15M, then Podemos), and nativist / nationalist perspectives are strengthened, such as in France (Le Pen), Hungary (Orbán), Turkey (Erdogan). ), and so on.

It is very difficult to identify the moments of rupture in the historical processes. Much more when they are contemporary to us. In this age of mass media and social networks, anything that is spectacular and endures a couple of news cycles seems like a “watershed” to us, as was said before. But something similar happens to us when we look at the past. Assassinations, the beginning of revolutions, seem decisive to us, when most likely they are only incidents in previously initiated processes.

It has become customary, due to the large presence of Marxist scholars in the social sciences, to think that history responds to economic processes, which sooner or later are reflected in political movements. It seems to me that it is a wrong interpretation, because all the great economic changes have been preceded by new ways of thinking, and not the other way around. This is true for the emergence of agriculture, of slavery, of the time of empires, of what we call “capitalism” too loosely or, for that matter, of the present age. I understand that this is not a popular position, but the evidence seems to support it.

By the way, a book by the American researcher Paige Harden called The genetic lottery. There is an interview with her in The New Yorker which, together with a talk by Jonathan Haidt from 2013 (which I barely saw two weeks ago), have helped me understand the virulent attacks that this column received a few years ago, when reviewing the book Blueprint by Robert Plomin. I was unaware that, for the progressives, both the measurement of general intelligence and heredity were taboo subjects. I understood those attacks as a political matter (we were heading for the 2018 election). It was, but on a deeper level.

But, well, trying to understand phenomena by attending to evidence, and not beliefs (ideologies), has its difficulties.

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