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.
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.
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.
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: