Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


How to avoid epistemic closure

posted by Rod Dreher

Via Andrew Sullivan, I find a rather helpful list of suggestions from Will Saletan about how to avoid epistemic closure. The broader Internet discussion started as an inquiry into whether or not conservatives today can be described as closed to ideas they don’t already agree with, but in my discussion of the topic, I’ve tried to stay away from the political nature of it, and stuck with general principles. Whatever the particulars of the present moment in political culture, epistemic closure of this sort is part of the human condition. Saletan discusses his suggestions in a political context, because that’s where the broader debate has been, but I would insist that as we talk about it in the comboxes here, we stay above the political fray. I don’t want this to become a left-vs.-right pissing contest about who’s more epistemically closed.Anyway, among Saletan’s suggestions:

1. Treat insularity as a weakness. If you don’t seriously consider your opponents’ best arguments, you’ll be unprepared to answer them. If you don’t engage people whose premises differ from yours, you’ll never learn to persuade them and broaden your movement. If you don’t heed changes in the country’s needs and political climate, you’ll fail to adapt and survive. A conservative who matches wits with the New York Times every day is stronger than one who mainlines Fox.

And:

7. Look in the mirror. Some writers have turned the epistemic-closure conversation into a debate over which party is more smug. Conor Friedersdorf, a blogger at the American Scene, aptly mocks their hypocrisy: “There may be a problem in our thinking, but the important thing to focus on is that the other guys are worse.” Goldberg, a perpetrator of this blame-deflecting tactic, is right about one thing: Epistemic closure isn’t unique to any era or faction. It’s a problem “for all human associations and movements.” Challenging your community’s delusions is your responsibility, whether that community is CPAC or Jeremiah Wright’s church.

More:

5. Seek wisdom, not just victory. Some conservative bloggers, responding to Sanchez and his sympathizers on the right, dismiss conversation with the liberal enemy as a political trap. Creative policy ideas won’t bring Republicans to power, argues Jonah Goldberg, and “political reality” dictates that “when liberals control all of the policy-making apparatus, being the party of no is a perfectly rational stance.” Hogan, a blogger at Redstate, takes this argument further, reasoning that it’s OK to “distill” complex facts to propaganda “when you are at war” with the left. Such ruthlessness might be the surest path to power. But what’s the point of power if you haven’t learned how to govern? “An open mind seeks wisdom, first and last,” writes Millman. I can’t put it better than that.

Last one:

10. Overcome your urges. Hogan refuses to analyze opposing arguments in detail, arguing that he lacks “the desire” to do so. Perhaps he should brush up on the tradition he purports to represent. Real conservatives understand that desire is a lousy way to run a society. You don’t feel like working? Work. You don’t feel like supporting the kids you fathered? Support them. You don’t feel like challenging your biases? Challenge them. We’re all vain and lazy. In the electronic echo chamber, it’s easier than ever to shut out what you don’t want to hear. Nobody will make you open the door and venture out. You’ll have to do that yourself.

Read the whole thing. And think about it in context of USC management professor David Logan’s TED talk about “tribal leadership,” and how to really change the world, you have to talk to people outside your tribe. He’s not talking about “tribes” in any political, religious or ethnic sense; he’s got a specific definition in mind. The key thing is, you can’t get anything serious done if you don’t reach outside of your tribe. Pretty interesting short video:



Advertisement
Comments read comments(41)
post a comment
Bill H

posted May 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm


While I’m presuming that including #5 twice was a felicitous typo, please don’t change it. That can’t be repeated enough.
[Note from Rod: You can't imagine the trouble I've had with this post today, owing to the hard drive on my laptop wheezing its last. I lost the whole &*&^$ post TWICE, literally seconds before posting. Our IT department finally took the poor thing away for repair, and gave me a replacement terminal -- but it is really, really terrible. Big patches of black keep appearing at random places on my desktop. I tried to fix this post, but can barely work on it now, owing to technical issues. Sorry. -- RD]



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted May 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm


One point you left out, Rod, I would include as a highlight: Make your ideas falsifiable (i.e. as in the scientific method). I translate that to: Be prepared to be wrong, to learn from the mistakes, and come up with a better idea as a result.
The political divide is composed of fear. One side shouts down the other not because it has no ideas of its own, but because it is afraid that the other side just might have a good idea, and they will lose constituents as a result. This is hogwash, as any neighborhood association (worthy of the name) can attest: When people of good will debate the issues, agreement can occur on an issue even when people continue to disagree on other issues.



report abuse
 

Susan

posted May 5, 2010 at 2:48 pm


I wonder if small town life forces one to do some of these things as a matter of necessity. Everyone needs each other–the small town business owners, the banker, the farmers, the trades people.
I remember my father as someone who could talk to absolutely anyone. He was a farmer, but educated as an attorney. In our very small town (300 people), he was highly respected. He was probably the only person in our little county who read both Reader’s Digest and the New Republic.
People would come to my Dad with their problems, whether they were legal or just personal. They came to him because they trusted him, and viewed him as fair. His politics were moderate right of center (probably close to David Brooks), but our family never assumed where he would stand on any particular issue, except that he would want to do the right thing.
I think he was this way because he saw how people lived, and he had to interact with them. In many ways, we have become very segregated as a society. How many college educated people interact daily with someone who has dropped out of high school? In a small town, that happens as a matter of course.



report abuse
 

Marifasus

posted May 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm


Rod,
I agree with many, possibly all the criticisms I’ve read about epistemic closure in the current “conservative” world. (I use scare quotes because I hate using that noble term to describe NR and FNC types — I prefer to use it for people like, e.g., yourself, Larison, Sullivan… and T.S. Eliot, Russel Kirk, etc.)
However, I’d be interested in whether you think epistemic closure rears its head at all in the context of blogs with a particular political slant or agenda. For instance, if an especially compelling essay is written someplace arguing that abortion is immoral, or that Christianity is the only true path to salvation, or that blacks have inferior intelligence, or that society was better when women weren’t allowed to vote, do TAPPED contributors have some sort of responsibility to write posts saying “gee, I have to admit, this essay made me question some of my assumptions and beliefs?” (By the way, I’m not saying those final two hypothetical essay topics represent “conservative” positions, I’m just including them among topics TAPPED contributors would be highly unlikely to agree with.)
Do TAPPED contributors have some sort of responsibility to write posts along those lines? Or is it that they have a responsibility to at least sometimes search out such essays and try to read them in good faith and an open mind? If it’s the latter, what is the effect we’re looking for? — that the writers’ minds will be quietly, privately enriched — their thinking, sensibilities and sensitivities made more supple and subtle in ways which will affect their writing thereafter?
In any case, the reason I ask is that obviously you write a blog which, per the TAPPED example, has an explicit agenda: you often quote lengthy excerpts from scientists, philosophers and religious thinkers who argue for the “compatibility” (I use that word as a shorthand for the various concepts they cover) of spirituality and science, and/or who criticize the opposite position — but you never quote thinkers who disagree. And, hoo boy!, are they out there: it’s easy to find very smart philosophers and scientists who present cogent, mature, non-vituperative arguments for why your project is a complete waste of time and money, and in fact invidious. But one would never know they exist by reading your blog.
Again, I also wouldn’t expect to read radical, anti-carbon fuel essays on the BP website. Perhaps all I’m reacting to is the fact that you seem very interested in the epistemic closure debate, while writing a blog with an explicit agenda which conspicuously doesn’t provide opposing viewpoints. I’m wondering whether you think there’s any overlap between the two, or if they’re two entirely different and unrelated things.
Marifasus



report abuse
 

sharon

posted May 5, 2010 at 3:01 pm


What is meant by “epistemic” closure. The word is not in my American Heritage Dictionary. I will cop to being an uneducated hick, but it is not often that I run into words that I cannot find or understand.



report abuse
 

Marifasus

posted May 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm


Sharon,
Click on the second link in the first sentence of Rod’s post. It explains the term.
M



report abuse
 

CAP

posted May 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm


try this trick . . .
try to be the person on the other side of the debate, and then read/say/think their point as if you were them in all of their earnestness. you are them; articulating their point, and explaining to an imaginary arbiter, how they/you have come to their/your conclusion. basically, be them.
then stop and consider . .
was your interpretation sarcastic? a carictature of what you think they really think, even though they didn’t say it? did it shortcut, and fill in a lot of presumed facts and characteristics? did you make them sound more like hicks or snobs than they really do?
if so; well . . .



report abuse
 

Peter Clark

posted May 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm


Rod,
If you don’t want your blog to be a political blog, you should stop referencing and linking to things like the current debate over conservative “epistemic closure” in general or this Will Saletan piece in particular, as one specific contribution to that debate.
Or at least you shouldn’t do so if you’re not going to allow your readers to respond to the debate on the terms in which it’s being framed by the pieces which you choose to reference and to which you choose to link.
It’s really not fair to throw a partisan-political bomb like the Saletan piece in your readership’s face, if you are then going to deny your readership the right to respond in partisan-political terms.
I can see the value of a blog that isn’t partisan or political and I can see the value of one that is.
What I can’t see the value of is a blog that claims *not* to be partisan or political, when, in fact, it actually *is* — at least in the sense that it regularly tosses partisan-political bombs into its readership’s face, even if only at secondhand.
What’s not secondhand, though, and what’s clearly reflective of certain partisan-political stances on this blog’s part, is the refusal to allow its readership respond to those secondhand partisan-political bombs that are thrown into its face.
If you agree with the partisan-political intent of the secondhand bombs that get thrown, then the pretense of non-partisanship and apoliticality may not be such a big deal.
But if you *disagree* with the partisan-political intent, and are not allowed to express your disagreement in reciprocal and commensurate partisan-political terms, then that simply isn’t fair, it simply isn’t kosher, it simply isn’t cricket.
Which makes the blog’s pretense of non-partisanship and apoliticality hard to take.
I for one would much prefer it if you would simply own up to your own partisan-political stance in this case — which seems to be that you simply agree with Saletan and others that conservatives’ minds are “epistemically closed” and choose to use your blog to concur with and to publicize that view.
You’d be wrong in taking that view, but you’d at least be kosher, you’d at least be cricket, in owning up to what your view is and not pretending that you don’t have a view, when you clearly you do.



report abuse
 

cirdan

posted May 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm


Rod,
Excellent stuff, thanks.
Marifasus,
However, I’d be interested in whether you think epistemic closure rears its head at all in the context of blogs with a particular political slant or agenda. For instance, if an especially compelling essay is written someplace arguing that abortion is immoral, or that Christianity is the only true path to salvation, or that blacks have inferior intelligence, or that society was better when women weren’t allowed to vote, do TAPPED contributors have some sort of responsibility to write posts saying “gee, I have to admit, this essay made me question some of my assumptions and beliefs?” (By the way, I’m not saying those final two hypothetical essay topics represent “conservative” positions, I’m just including them among topics TAPPED contributors would be highly unlikely to agree with.)
Here’s something that speaks almost directly to that:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2010/Tale_Two_Blogospheres_Discursive_Practices_Left_Right. Left blogs, they say, tend to be more discursive, and more open to participation, so you’d expect, other things being equal, that they’d be less prone to epistemic closure.
I think there’s also direct comparison available for two of the issues you mention. Forn race and intelligence issue, it’s worth looking at conservative treatments of several recent pieces of research that putatively demonstrate that conservatives have lower IQ and are more prone to undesirable cognitive habits. Now compare them to liberal responses to the IQ and intelligence issue. Next, look carefully at the recent debate on the blogs about women’s freedom. Bryan Caplan defended the claim that the country was freer when women weren’t allowed to vote; the liberals opposed.



report abuse
 

Marifasus

posted May 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm


cirdan,
I appreciate the effort you put into your reply to my post; the parts of it you focus on are certainly a valid topic for discussion.
However — purely for my part — I really only intended them as a ramp-up to the final two paragraphs, which constitute a direct question to Rod about his own blog. The Templeton bubble of this blog has bothered me a great deal since the beginning, because I’m hyper-aware of the opposing viewpoints, which I find _extremely_ compelling. Ultimately, as much as I respect Rod and enjoy his writing, I think the Templeton project is a complete blind alley.
-M



report abuse
 

Marifasus

posted May 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm


Peter Clark,
You did a good job of imitating dispassion up until the concluding sentence of your final paragraph, where you say “You’d be wrong.” That’s just obnoxious and petulant. Among other things, you don’t get to simply declare a person right or wrong and retain any respectability in the mind of a reader.
Your post is also fundamentally incorrect (and I’m about to explain why — I’m not just declaring you incorrect) because Saletan’s post is very clearly addressing this problem of “epistemic closure” on the part of both right-wingers AND left-wingers who’ve drunk their respective Kool-Aids.
So, you’re left seeming _awfully_ sensitive about criticism of whatever may be your view of conservatism (apparently it’s one you feel has come under attack).
-M



report abuse
 

CAP

posted May 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm


i found the political discussions that rod sheparded to be unusually open and informative. when i first started following crunchy con, there was a really good mix of articulate respectful conservatives and others. as a ‘liberal’, i learned a lot from many conservative posters. it’s kind of a shame that the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. most of the contributors that i first encountered were very good at self-policing, and running off the bomb-throwers (or as john lennon said on the dick cavett show; ‘the buumb-threwwas’.)
i kind of miss it. because generally, i live in a bubble of like-minded people. and it’s good and healthy to hear well-meaning perspectives about the world we live in from different quarters.



report abuse
 

hlvanburen

posted May 5, 2010 at 4:54 pm


This is a good post. Yes, the example that you use is partisan, but I suspect most of your readers are able to set that aside and sift the relevant pieces from the article with little effort.
And while the author of the piece uses conservative examples, it’s not difficult to find examples of each point on the liberal side. As you correctly point out, this is a problem with human nature that transcends political/philosophical beliefs.
I’d be curious to see this topic explored in more depth as it pertains to religious belief, but that topic is probably best left for a different blog at a different time.



report abuse
 

John M.

posted May 5, 2010 at 4:56 pm


Love this post! Rod, I’ve read your blog for about 3 years now and it has been my primary way of avoiding the said condition. I’ve since branched out to other conservative sources, some hard-right, some more reasonable but still definitely not my tribe.
I agree very much with CAP on trying out the other side’s argument without sarcasm or contempt, assuming honest intent on their part.
While I am still very much a progressive/liberal, I have been changed by this experience, and I have come to understand the difference between propaganda and genuine argument.
Thank you!



report abuse
 

SteveM

posted May 5, 2010 at 5:11 pm


Re: “#1 A conservative who matches wits with the New York Times every day…
Considering the NY Times opinion stable includes half-wits Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert and the “Mustache of Understanding” Tom Friedman, the conservative wit matching should be a piece of cake.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted May 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm


So let me get this straight: when confronted with high-decibel right-wing r-soles, our only choices consist in deciding whether to take them as scholars on the one hand, or as “mere” entertainers on the other?
Whatever happened to good old honest, wholesome, Mom-and-Pop savage mockery, satiric ridicule and blistering contempt?
In an age in which an overgrown two-year-old with a golden microphone has convinced 15 million Americans, some of whom are capable of doing small sums and running backyard barbecues, that he is the political True North, and his leading acolyte in the bronze-mike division has, when not doing a more than passable on-air imitation of an eight-year-old girl – I swear I’m not making this up – actually nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize, why should the more grown-up sort of conservative allow his “friends” in the movement to tie his hands behind his back, and leave all the fun to the Stewarts and Colberts of the world?
Truth is, there really isn’t a genuine conservative tendency large enough in size and in caliber to be worthy of the name in the United States, which is and always has been a fundamentally and overwhelmingly “liberal” country, whatever the rancid and decadent disguised radicals of talk radio and NRO would have you think.



report abuse
 

Max Schadenfreude

posted May 5, 2010 at 5:29 pm


How to avoid epistemic closure you ask?
Avoid watching technicolor musicals at the Prytania Theater with Ignatius.
Oh, and get some descent geometery and theology.



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted May 5, 2010 at 6:25 pm


Max, I think I know what descent theology is (The Fall, Dante, etc.), but would descent geometery be about falling into colorful choral arrangements and calculating how long it takes to hit the low note? ;-D
Marifasus, well said, all of it.
Beating on my original drum: If each individual took it as an obligation to test the assertions of each side — the one he is on as well as the one in opposition — then those that are falsifiable will rise to the top and further inform the debate. Those based on assumptions of fact (or worse) can easily be discarded.



report abuse
 

MikeW

posted May 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm


Thanks for the link to the Ted talk, Rod! Reminded me of Vonnegut’s admonition to graduating college students…join a tribe!



report abuse
 

Random Nickname

posted May 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm


There was a pretty funny example of epistemic closure today at the Washington Post. In a moderated online discussion, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips was invited to answer questions about the Tea Party movement. One would think he would take the opportunity to convince those who are unfamiliar with, or disagree with his movement, that they are not crazy. Here’s what occurred:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2010/05/05/DI2010050502168.html
The parts that get me are when he is challenged on specific numbers and facts about the Reagan administration, and claims the facts are simply wrong. Impartial sources and links are provided, and he refuses to yield ground. He decides to compare Democrats to sex offenders, responds to questions with one liners about people on the left being unpatriotic, and comes across as sort of unhinged.
I had a similar experience back in 2004 with the Howard Dean campaign. I wasn’t a supporter of him or anyone else, really. I figured with the war on Bush would win against anyone. I did kind of want Dean to get the nomination because I thought it would make for a more interesting and honest presidential race, unlike the one we had that ended up being all about Vietnam. But in attending meetings and reading the grass roots websites at the time, I would occasionally ask, “So if Dean doesn’t get the nomination, who’s your #2 pick?” Just because I honestly wanted to know. Somehow I was throwing negative energy into the discussion, I was jinxing it, or it was a 100% certainty that Dean would win the primaries and the election. Or I was an evil Republican sent to disrupt things, or perhaps worse during the primary, an evil John Kerry supporter.
Things got real ugly towards the end as various Democratic candidates teamed up against Dean, and he eventually lost. Lots of disillusionment, lots of pain at what appeared to be an inevitable truth turning out to be false.



report abuse
 

Rod Dreher

posted May 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm


Marifasus, this blog doesn’t attempt to be comprehensive, nor could it ever be. It is a part-time gig for me. On a day like today, when my laptop’s hard drive melted down, and I had a long planning meeting, I was only able to post two blog entries. On my most active days posting, I post between six and eight new entries. I tend to post things that I’ve come across in the reading I have to do for my job, or that I’ve done for pleasure. If I were doing this blog as a full-time gig, I’d probably be broader in scope. But I do the best I can in the time I have. Nobody at Templeton tells me what to blog, but I did agree when I took the job at JTF to quit blogging about politics and to avoid hot-button culture war issues. That I don’t blog something here doesn’t mean I’ve closed my mind to it; it only means that I didn’t have the time or the inclination to post something about it, for whatever reason. This blog really is a far more casual thing for me than you might think. When I was at the Dallas Morning News, my daily reading included a lot of syndicated columnists and political analysis … which is one reason a lot more of that showed up here. Now, I rarely read the blogs and websites that used to be part of my daily routine, simply because other sources occupy that same time and space.
I should add that I do not believe that a principled disagreement is the same thing as epistemic closure. No one lives as if everything he believed in were always up for renegotiation. You couldn’t. The best any of us can hope to do is to arrive at our convictions thoughtfully, and to defend them thoughtfully, always being open to the possibility that we need to revise them. I would say, for example, that I am epistemically closed to the arguments against the existence of God. But in my own experience since I became a believer, I have become more aware of how difficult it is to believe in God, and have become, I think, more understanding of the problems people have with religious faith. I am a different theist than I was when I first believed — and have become that way because while the existence of God was non-negotiable for me, I have come to understand better why people lose their faith, or never come to faith at all. I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been in some way epistemically open on the God question. Does that make sense?
Peter Clark, it ought to be clear to you that Saletan’s piece is not any sort of partisan bomb, but is his entry in what has become a popular discussion topic across the blogosphere. That’s why he uses conservative examples, and quotes largely from conservative sources. You know by now that I’m not doing politics on this blog … but you don’t have to be a political partisan to see “epistemic closure” as a problem that is not concentrated among political people, or among one subset of political people. I think it’s certainly possible to discuss this issue without starting a political fight; even in Saletan’s piece (you will have seen the quote), he suggests that liberals have this problem too, to a certain extent, e.g., “Jeremiah Wright’s church.” I have been posting here on the general topic of how we know what we know for a long time. I do believe that there is a terrible problem of epistemic closure on the Right at the moment … but I also believe it exists on the Left, and have seen it up close and personal. More broadly, I believe that this is increasingly a problem in our society as we become more fragmented, in part by changes in media culture. I will keep blogging about this, and do my best to keep the discussion from being sidetracked into an ideological pissing match. If you are spoiling for a political fight, and it often seems from the tenor and substance of your comments here that you are, this is not the blog for you.



report abuse
 

Erin Manning

posted May 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm


If I wrote what Scott Lahti did above, substituting the coyly-hidden identities of liberal shrillmongers for the deplorable “conservative” ones Lahti has listed, more than a few commenters here would nod their heads in solemn affirmation, saying, “Yep. Epistemic closure, exhibit A.”
Which confirms, to me, that whatever “epistemic closure” might be in the scholarly realm, in the world of public opinion it becomes the next hot buzz-phrase (remember “confirmation bias,” anyone?) with which to tag one’s opponent and thereby render his discourse (whatever it might be) as intrinsically and fundamentally unworthy of the attention of thoughtful people.
Which is pretty damned ironic, when you think about it.



report abuse
 

Indy

posted May 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm


Part of the challenge in listening to different viewpoints is to identify who won’t torpedo himelf (or herself). And to not let your personality differences with them come to represent the causes for which they are advocating. If a blogger or columnist is too irritating, search out another one with a similar ideological viewpoint so that you can learn about it without the distraction of gritting your teeth. You have to learn to separate the people from the positions and to look for better spokesmen when you run into ones that do a poor job.
I haven’t had time to post on your “books by the bedside” thread. As one of the other posters is, I’m reading David Remnick’s book about Obama (The Bridge). I’m interested in political figures of both parties and often read books about them. I’ve worked with managers at high levels of organizations, people who have displayed some of the same characteristics as some presidents. So I sometimes think about what I’ve learned about one as I analyze the other. I’m put off by snarkery of the type a Daily Kos blogger named Angry Mouse displayed last week, when s/he said of Laura Bush’s new book, “Laura Bush Writes Book, Clutches Pearls, Loves Ralph Nader.” I glanced at the blog post and rolled my eyes at the tone. That’s not to say I’m a big supporter of everything George W. Bush did while he was president. I just thought it was silly of the blogger to snark about the former First Lady the way he or she did (opening with, “Oh how cute. Laura writes a book.”) Needless to say, the blogger helped me make up my mind. I decided I would buy and read Mrs. Bush’s book.
Different people are drawn to different personality types. Maybe that has something to do with how they were raised, how their parents treated them, what workplace cultures affected them when they first started work. I’m a true independent who sometimes has voted for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats. Like many moderates and centrists, I lean a little right on some issues (I’m sympathetic to calls for fiscal prudence) and a little left on others (areas involving social justice). I am somewhat persuadable on some issues. But manner of presentation counts matters to me, a lot, because I am a moderate and not in either camp. As I told Crustacean on your old blog, I’m somewhat like Barack Obama in temperament.
Again, I think it’s important to recognize when someone simply has weaknesses as a representative and to look for other sources. I friend pointed me this evening to a Q&Q in a newspaper (the Washington Post) today with Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation. Phillips totally lost me by his manner and his concluding comment, which was in answer to the following question:
“I am a hard-working middle class American and I don’t agree with anything you are saying, and I have a right not agree with you. But you spliting the citizenry into classes of ‘elites/political class/Washington insiders/liberals’ vs ‘real Americans’ is just plain wrong! and that’s the problem with your movement.
Liberals are just as American as you are and you and your movement has no right to question people’s patriotism or Americanness just because they disagree with you.
Judson Phillips: Yes we do. You folks in the left do far worse. Patriotism is not something that cannot be measured. It can be. And you folks on the left, as a general rule are not patriotic. You do not love this country. You are embarrassed by us.
I hate to tell you this, but those of us in fly over country are the real americans.”
That doesn’t mean I’m not open to listening to calls for reducing the deficit. I just have to search for more effective spokesmen than Phillips (or the Daily Kos blogger on some of the social issues that interest me).



report abuse
 

Indy

posted May 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm


Rod, I just submitted a comment which resulted in a “submitted to moderator” message. It might have been the length or something.
In the meantime, I’ll p0ost another comment while I wait for that one to appear.
CAP, I know what you mean about Rod’s former blog. But I totally accept that “we hard working Americans who are committed to holding jobs, doing them properly and supporting ourselves and our families” typically accept some limits or constraints on conduct, inside, sometimes even outside, the workplace due to our jobs. The need to follow a code of conduct or to face sanctions. The need not to blab about trade secrets. The need not to place one’s employer needlessly in a situation where he faces litigation. The need to be aware of our representational function in certain scenarios. The latter affects Rod’s new blog. I totally respect that.
Rod, David Logan’s piece was interesting, he made his points well. Part of the problem with epistemic closure, in the sense you and Sullivan use it, lies in the fact that people often are poor representatives of their viewpoints because they seem stuck at level 3. What Logan describes as “I’m great, you’re not” stage. One really sees that at some blogs (NRO’s The Corner on the right, Daily Kos on the left) and definitely on many message boards. So you have to search hard sometimes to find good representatives of different viewpoints.



report abuse
 

BobSF

posted May 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm


I would add:
11) If you once found yourself utterly WRONG on an important issue, remember those who agreed with you at the time and those who didn’t. If you find yourself again agreeing with the same group on a subsequent issue, especially fervently, and find yourself disagreeing with the same “crazy people” you disagreed with before, pause and reconsider.



report abuse
 

Mac S.

posted May 5, 2010 at 8:37 pm


If I wrote what Scott Lahti did above, substituting the coyly-hidden identities of liberal shrillmongers for the deplorable “conservative” ones Lahti has listed, more than a few commenters here would nod their heads in solemn affirmation, saying, “Yep. Epistemic closure, exhibit A.”
And you think no one did the same to that post? Really?
Also, that link to the Tea Party Nation founder’s chat was straight out of The Onion. But I am not not laughing…it’s almost frightening that it is NOT a joke.



report abuse
 

TTT

posted May 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm


That interview with Judson Philips was a coat of paint on my epistemic door, as it vindicated everything I have ever believed about his sick “movement.” His glib and flippant remarks showed that he knew utterly nothing about the topics he was screaming about and that he had pure contempt for anyone who dared to contradict him on matters of basic documentary fact. And his closing line was no different from the boilerplate of the Westboro Baptists Church.
Bonus points for his explicit glee in pushing all moderates away from his movement. Whoever compared him to the Yippies was too kind; I’d sooner have suggested the Weathermen.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted May 5, 2010 at 9:06 pm


Lest anyone feel confused after reading Erin’s and Mac’s slightly cryptic posts after my own thus, I was referring to Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin specifically, and though I do not presume to pronounce either of them “intrinsically and fundamentally unworthy of the attention of thoughtful people” – even thoughtful people, after all, enjoy a nice thinly-disguised cartoon in AM-band audio form – I do, as a temperamental conservative myself inclined to give thanks for this our American bounty, find them eminently worthy indeed of thoughtful attention of the sort suggested in my second sentence/paragraph, the better after veteran Warner Bros. animated set-pieces to bend their rifle barrels backward just before setting them up to pull the triggers on themselves: all it takes is retrieving their own archived broadcasts; the imagined sight of incredulity on their soot-blackened faces, seconds before they and their call-screeners cut you off after you fooled them into letting you through as a comrade is to think it Christmas every day of the year. That they, being as human as the rest of us breathing the rat poison that passes for fresh air in the houses of their more credulous listeners, are capable of taking a good joke at their own expense as the rest of us, goes without saying on-air.
Glad I could clarify.
Captcha: throats exactly; well-met here, wot?



report abuse
 

Erin Manning

posted May 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm


Mac S.–I’m not saying they didn’t. But no one posted any such reflection here, while I believe that plenty of people would attack a similar post if it appeared to be coming from a conservative poster.
Of course, that’s just my confirmation bias talking. No need to pay attention.



report abuse
 

meh

posted May 5, 2010 at 10:02 pm


Marifasus: “For instance, if an especially compelling essay is written someplace arguing that abortion is immoral, or that Christianity is the only true path to salvation, or that blacks have inferior intelligence, or that society was better when women weren’t allowed to vote, do TAPPED contributors have some sort of responsibility to write posts saying “gee, I have to admit, this essay made me question some of my assumptions and beliefs?”"
I would say ‘yes’ for blacks having a lower average IQ than whites (and a higher average IQ than Australian aborigines), because it’s an empirical fact, regardless of the moral values you hold.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted May 5, 2010 at 10:06 pm


if it appeared to be coming from a conservative poster.
And just what exactly, pray tell Mistress Erin, leads you to believe that the “poster” was anything other than conservative? “He” has no trail, paper, pixel or otherwise, within or without that comment, from which to affect anything other than partisan agnosticism; anyone who takes sporting with Messieurs Limbaugh and Levin, the Gary and Ace of the American right – after their own fashion, mind you! – for slam-dunk evidence of non-conservatism really needs to get out more – talk about “confirmation bias”!
Captcha: “little cults” – downright spooky



report abuse
 

Marifasus

posted May 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm


Rod,
You close your reply to me with the question “Does that make sense?” Just to get it out of the way, yes, your reply makes tons of sense and I’m grateful to you for writing it. I’d also like to apologize, or express my regret, for jumping on you on an obviously crappy day when you may have understandably been feeling test. (Not that it showed in your reply.)
Of the things you said, these especially caught my interest:
“This blog … is a part-time gig for me. … [It] really is a far more casual thing for me than you might think.”
This is a valuable reality check, to the effect that you’re not in fact sitting in a steel-and-glass penthouse office, enjoying a $250K salary, with 16 hours a day to craft a blog perfectly fitting Mr. Templeton’s most Machiavellian dreams. I’ll try to bear that in mind in the future.
“I should add that I do not believe that a principled disagreement is the same thing as epistemic closure.”
That’s well said, and I think exactly what I was looking for, whether in the TAPPED example, your blogs, or any discourse at all.
I do wonder if you’ve come across any of the better attempted refutations of the Templeton project — I’m not saying you haven’t, or for that matter that you’d find them persuasive, but obviously doing so is a prerequisite to having a principled disagreement with them. For anyone who may be interested, a good example is here–
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2009/06/23/science-and-religion-are-not-compatible/
–including the Russell Blackford post he links to in that post.
Also, various posts by Jerry Coyne indexed here:
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/tag/accommodationism/
(Note that one from 6/26/09 is called “Fighting back against Templeton.”)
Agreeing with the arguments those writers are making as to the incompatibility of science and religion doesn’t require giving up on a belief in God.
Marifasus



report abuse
 

AnotherBeliever

posted May 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm


A suggestion I make: if you are going to be heavily involved in a different part of the world with a different culture, you need to understand the whole situation from the perspective of the local population. Or ask counsel from someone who does. You need to get a basic grasp of their history, their grievances, their priorities, their very worldview. Because how they choose to react, or not react to your actions will make your reality on the ground.
Even if you aren’t planning to invade anywhere, it is very mentally and spiritually healthy to immerse yourself in a different culture for long enough to begin to see things from a perspective outside of your own culture’s worldview. Then will you begin to see clearly the strengths and weaknesses of your own society. It’s a way to get some wisdom “in a hurry” so to speak. (You also get wisdom from living for seven or eight decades of course – being around long enough gives you the context necessary to understand better what is going on around you!)



report abuse
 

Mac S.

posted May 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm


Apologies Scott L., I did read that last paragraph to be a rather ‘left leaning’ (not that there is anything WRONG with that) generalization and wondered to myself when someone would come out with guns, or snark, blazing about the example of said closure on the left. EM is too polite to do either but I understood her point.
I just went back and re-read your post it much more carefully, my mistake.
Original Captcha= Gaillard Republic – Ok someone HAS to be pairing these on purpose.



report abuse
 

Max Schadenfreude

posted May 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm


If my Captcha says “epistemic closure” do I win a prize?



report abuse
 

cirdan

posted May 5, 2010 at 11:44 pm


I would say ‘yes’ for blacks having a lower average IQ than whites (and a higher average IQ than Australian aborigines), because it’s an empirical fact, regardless of the moral values you hold.
Most non-conservatives don’t want it to be true. It may be true that not all conservatives want it to be true, but it’s safe to say that most of those who want it to be true are conservatives — my favourite recent example is Steve Kershnar; he argued that the racial IQ gap is proof that blacks have less intrinsic moral worth than white folks — and that most conservatives have no strong feelings either way (if it turned out to be true, they wouldn’t care very much.) So I’ll use the words conservative and liberal when I refer to opposing sides.
Conservatives, especially conservatives invested in deep racial differences, confuse the liberal hope that these claims are false with a lack of liberal engagement with the evidence. This just is not the case: from the elite-scientific (SF Gould, James Flynn, Cosma Shalizi) to the popular (all sorts of bloggers) there’s been very intense liberal engagement with the thing. It just turns out that what conservatives badly want from the IQ and race debate is surprisingly hard to get: you’d like it to be that blacks — and perhaps selected other classes of nonwhites — are less intelligent than whites; and that this difference is heritable and fixed. As gar as I can tell, the evidence just hasn’t fallen your way. But we can be sure that you guys will try, and hard.
Here’s a revealing contrast in the liberal and conservative approaches to the issue. There’s been a rush of recent material purporting to prove that conservatives are have lower IQs than liberals. Even on the liberal blogs, that received far less attention than the IQ/race debate, and unlike Kershnar, I know of no liberal scholar who’s published a scholarly book arguing that conservatives are have less intrinsic worth on account of their lower IQs.



report abuse
 

Erin Manning

posted May 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm


Ah, Scott. To have something I wrote labeled “cryptic” by you is high praise, indeed. :)
And as you are so accomplished a word-painter, I know that you are aware that even when a dabbler in the art uses a loaded phrase like “appeared to be coming from a conservative poster…” she is probably cognizant of the full implications of that phrase.
My point was obscure, though I meant it to be simple: If I had written your post with the names of liberal “professional opinionators” in place of the people you mentioned, it would be assumed by some of the people discussing this whole “epistemic closure” thing that I was doing so from what was originally described as the “bubble” of present-day undereducated conservatism’s epistemic closure.
The joke, of course, is that I agree with you entirely on Limbaugh and Levin, and have for some time. But *that* opinion, in light of my general tendency to describe myself as conservative, would be seen by some as proof that I was, after all, capable of independent thought–even though all I’ve really done (in one way of looking at it) is moved from the conservative “bubble” into the “bubble” of better-educated liberalism’s epistemic closure, which takes it as a foregone conclusion that right-wing talk radio is toxic and deplorable.
In other words (and, again, I apologize for the obscurity, which I didn’t mean) it is possible to blame the confirmation bias of liberals for seeing as independent thought any matter on which a conservative steps outside of the bubble of conservative epistemic closure in the direction of the left’s usual “take” on that subject, just as it is possible to blame the confirmation bias of conservatives for their sometimes angry rejection of the notion of the bubble of epistemic closure as an elitist liberal invention.
And *that* strikes me as ironic.



report abuse
 

Indy

posted May 6, 2010 at 6:00 am


I’m not a liberal but I don’t find the combox to be an uncomfortable place for moderates or, for that matter, a place populated primarily by liberals. Of course, Andrew Sullivan, to whom it makes a lot of sense for me for anyone to link, given his thoughtful, outside the box thinking, hardly is a liberal, either. He’s a brave, honest man who struggles openly with making sense of a lot of very difficult issues. Rod, shows those characteristics, too.
As to the issue of putting up one’s dukes, that’s a tactical choice. One thing I’ve noticed about the comboxes here is that overly aggressive people often defeat themselves. Nobody has to reach out and deck them. Such behavior sometimes shows up from one end of the political spctrum, sometimes from another. If you look closely, those people end up isolated as conversation flows around them. There are many ways to counter arguments, putting up one’s dukes or slamming back hard isn’t the only choice.
@Erin Manning, yours of 11:52 pm was very interesting, got me thinking this morning when I read it. I do believe it is important to distinguish between principles, temperament, and tactical decisions on communications. The problem with the Limbaughs and the Jonah Goldbergs and the Daily Kos bloggers lies in the overly broad brush with which they paint, in what often seems like a myopic fashion. The tools they use leave them unable to depict finer points or even to discern them. Those who exhibit those characteristics lose readers like me, whereas Sullivan and Dreher and David Brooks and Kathleen Parker do not. The fist pounders also come across to me as deeply insecure underneath all the bluster and bravado. I’m applying what I’ve observed among effective leaders in the workplace. And people I’ve bonded with within my family and among my buds. The really good ones aren’t the ones who bray and shout and force people to take on the masks of conformity, or else. They’re the ones who give people a safe haven to be themselves and while still figuring out out how to leverage their individual talents to move things forward.
As Rod pointed out, there’s a difference between holding fast to certain principles and keeping your mind open to what others are saying. It’s not an either or. Remnick’s book about Obama suggests that he early on, from a young age, developed an interest in engagement and hearing what others thought. In theory, there was no reason why a politician on the right with a similar temperament to Obama’s could not have come to the fore by 2008, to counter and to win over some of the moderates and lapsed Republicans who had moved away from party affiliation during the Clinton and Bush years. The “dude, here’s where I stand, wanna walk with me, great, wanna debate it, instead, great, too” vibe is not one that in and of itself is linked to any ideology.



report abuse
 

Scott Lahti

posted May 6, 2010 at 6:13 am


I’m happy that Erin spoke her meaning for my weak ears more loudly the second time round – you see, like the Icelandic honey who’ll do you now and then for a little dab of creamed brill, I’m a little whored of herring…
I do find it more than a little odd that, in our digital-age kaleidoscopic profusion of voices and outlets for opinion and analysis, many of us have allowed as if by default a fairly narrow band of Republican-identified media celebrities and declining flagship journals of opinion to so suck the air out of the conservative room at the national level that they come to define for many what the meaning of “conservative” is tout court. Thus in the eyes of many who’ve fallen for our set-piece, binary, with-us-or-again-us polarities, anyone, even of impeccably lifelong anti-leftist credentials, who presumes to roll his eyes over the serial and shameless imbecilities of the Fox News Channel and assorted radio talkers, or to enjoy Daily Show parodies of the latter without feeling the need to see in their showbiz crafters sworn enemies of his “team”, or to devote the lion’s share of his cultural diet to journals and writers outside the movement ghetto, is consigned to the ranks of de facto liberalism with a more-or-less don’t-let-the-door-hit’cha handing of your hat, as found many a center-right scholar who, after the truly agonizing choice between the Republican and Democratic tickets in 2008, had the temerity to give a slight nod after eight years of GOP misrule to a transitional changing of the guard in the White House.
What’s with this reflexive need to label people who aren’t on board with the authoritarianism and cults of personality characteristic of the latter-day media right? It’s as is the brightest strata of the larger “conservative”/libertarian movements, the hundreds of sober and scholarly non-household names over at Hoover, at ISI, at Cato, and dispersed far and wide over the country’s 3000 institutions of higher learning simply did not exist – if it hasn’t been duly blessed by the impresarios at EIB and Clear Channel, FNC, or NRO, and the cutesily-monikered bloggers lower down the food chain who richochet 24-7 their day’s pinballs, they might as well be Bolsheviks or, at the least, what the Brits used to call “parlour pinks”. And yet many of them have, as a result of their stout and lifelong defense of a classical, individualist, antiauthoritarian procedural liberalism that respects neither personality nor movement, and of an impersonal commitment to scholarly rigor and artistic excellence, taken lifelong ritual flak from the usual suspects on the academic, culturally-egalitarian and Democratic left. That the more purge-minded among today’s GOP hive mind have internalised the sense of victimhood, resentment and entrenched identity politics of their symbiotic foes on the left has become proverbial.
Once again, we’re seeing the fruits of an overpoliticized presentism that should and could be dispelled among more discerning folk on the left and right alike by even a cursory knowledge of the last 2000 years’ procession of great artists, writers and thinkers in the west who should be our deepest inspiration, many impeccably conservative in culture and morals, most of whom would be a poor fit for either of today’s soul-sucking parties. Can you imagine Cardinal Newman on cable anywhere other than on C-SPAN? Many of the greatest figures from the modern movement, such as James Joyce, were proverbially anything but on board with the left-progressive and egalitarian liberalism of their times. Dwight Macdonald spent forty years round the mid-century last, as had Orwell slightly before him, lashing mercilessly the leading avatars of the monolithic left-progressive liberalism of his time, on grounds of everything from verbal sloppiness to whitewashing of Stalin, all without being taken for a member of his era’s Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy; is it too much to expect from today’s right a few more grown-ups willing to be called rude names over the radio from a few rich and powerful entertainers whose hijacking of the “conservative” pedigree may well turn out to among the portents that the movement claiming it is in fact long past its sell-by date? The fact of the matter is that the movement has been in a terminal decline since midway through the second term of Ronald Reagan – with the latter’s decisive break with the faithful and merging with Cold War liberal realism via the Reykjavik summit with Gorbachev, in whom he saw, correctly, a harbinger of real change, and then the lame-duck phase marked by the Iran-Contra
affair, followed by Bush I and then the rise to dominance of the Limbaugh and Gingrich movement, right-wing conservatism, as opposed to a more sober, classical version yet to fully take shape, effectively became a boutique movement never destined to gain traction outside of its easily-serviced market demo.



report abuse
 

meh

posted May 6, 2010 at 9:33 am


Cirdan: “But we can be sure that you guys will try, and hard.”
Conservatives (or any other political or moral persuasion) don’t have to try hard at all. The black-white IQ gap is stubbornly persistent. Did conservatives “select” which classes of nonwhites are more intelligent on average than whites? Or did Nature “tell” us?



report abuse
 

Franklin Evans

posted May 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm


My application for a copy of the Broom of Sweeping Generaliazations ™…
The vast majority of people prefer to expend their intellectual and analytical capital on their daily lives. I submit that a common response to a question about the politics of the day would be a rejoinder: “Why should I care about that?”
They demonstrate rational competence on two planes: They consciously devote the effort needed to handle their daily tasks and challenges; they do so successfully.
From where I sit, they are the silent majority. The ones we hear from, in protests, on call-in talk shows, identified as the next Joe the Plumber, do not come from that majority. They are the ones most accurately labelled sheeple, who not only don’t know why they should care, but don’t have the rational tools to figure it out themselves. They are whom I imagine Aaron Sorkin had in mind when he wrote this line of dialogue in “The American President”: “He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”
Someday, a courageous pollster will ask a follow-up question some query about an issue of the day: How did you come to that opinion? Was it because you gathered the information about it and thought about it, or was it because someone told you to feel that way?
Epistemic closure seems to be a dead end, both as a concept and in the discussions around it. Today, this is my opinion/conclusion/feeling about issue A. If, in your disagreement, you wish to slap the epistemic closure label on me, go right ahead. Tomorrow, when I might change that opinion/conclusion/feeling, you will miss the show and quite possibly miss a chance to learn something about your own opinion/conclusion/feeling about that issue.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.