Archives for: July 2012, 09
Politicians who stand for something bigger than themselves don’t have to be perfect. But those whose message is essentially “Ecce Homo” — Behold the Man! — must be held to a different standard. Romney had better be ready to defend every wrinkle in that perfectly tailored suit and every shadow in that born-to-rule profile.
- Ed Kilgore, July 9, 2012
I confess I don't care that much for Woody Allen films. I get fidgety when a point is hammered home over several minutes that most anyone could have gotten in 30 seconds. I appreciate a lot of Woody Allen in retrospect. His cinematic moments join a vast collection in my life that I enjoy remembering but which I would not want to experience again. Your mileage may vary. Woody Allen is much more popular than am I.
One memory remains pretty good. Allen's conversation with Diane Keaton's character, Annie Hall, is interrupted by a loud blowhard standing standing behind them in a movie line. The bombast holds forth a monologue about media guru Marshall McLuhan. Finally, Allen provokes an argument with the pompous one. Allen thinks the man's views are, not to put too fine a point on it, without merit. The fellow is indignant.
"I happen to teach a class at Columbia University called ‘TV and Culture’" lectures the man. He holds forth his views as authoritative. "So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan have a great deal of validity."
So Allen responds. "Oh do you? Well, that's funny. I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here." He pulls Marshall McLuhan from behind a movie poster. "I heard what you were saying," McLuhan says to the man. "You know nothing of my work ... How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing."
Woody Allen turns to the audience. "Boy, if life were only like this." Here is a brief clip.
For a while, I have had occasion to refer to a proposition by conservative Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute. He describes an entire information system that forecloses any alternate view or information. As I read him, he observes fellow conservatives wrapping themselves in a cocoon, accepting as possible worldviews only those that fit comfortably into this system. He refers to the system of exclusive information as "epistemic closure."
I have sought to apply the Sanchez proposition to what I see as a sociological phenomenon. It seems to me destined to destroy the Republican Party as a credible national presence. Most disagreement with my own proposition is either personal (Burr engages in wishful thinking), or misapplied (lots of liberals are closed-minded, too).
I do speculate about why the left has not gone into an equivalent system of leftward epistemic closure. I haven't found a satisfactory answer.
I reject the wishful thinking objection as unresponsive. Anyone who thinks I am wrong does me a basic courtesy by explaining where my logic or evidence is flawed. Those who do not do me that courtesy might forgive me for thinking their refusal is based on inability.
Rejection based on "lots of folks are closed minded" misinterprets that message, I think. The issue I present is not based on closed mindedness, which is an individual characteristic. It is based on a larger phenomenon and borrows a bit from the controversy stirred by Julian Sanchez.
Even a review of the Julian Sanchez proposition by the New York Times a couple of years ago seemed to misapply the concept. The entire piece seemed based on whether conservatives are closed minded.
So, last week, I wrote a protest piece of sorts. The title pretty directly described the theme: Epistemic Closure Is Not Closed Mindedness. The response might lead us to believe the point was largely lost. Not entirely, though. There was one surprise.
My friend T. Paine wrote to suggest that I am guilty of epistemic closure. "The fact that you don’t see that liberalism, in general, is particularly guilty of this strikes me as your own personal iteration of epistemic closure, my friend!" Which either means that I am closed minded (sigh) or that we should strive for a more complex explanation.
This would describe a system of information that closes me off from liberal views that are in turn closed off from other views and data to the point of an alternate reality. My alternate to the alternate would be, I suppose, an epistemic closure that is entirely contained within, yet closed off from, the proposed liberal closure. Kind of a universe within a universe within the mainstream universe.
As I see it, either my friend T. Paine should go into a new branch of quantum physics, or he has actually conflated, once more, epistemic closure with an individual state of being closed minded.
Another close friend John Myste, writes to say that his contact with conservative debaters reveals to him an openness that is equivalent to that of liberals. If only my pal had left out one sentence, we could have explored a self-selective process. His contact with conservatives who consider his opinions shows that one hundred percent of those conservatives are quite willing to consider a worldview outside the conservative structure proposed by Julian Sanchez, which is to say that everyone who considers his opinion is willing to consider his opinion. Sadly, John included this: "On the conservative sites, liberals are considered intolerant of opposing views and on the liberal sites, conservatives are." So we are back to conflating a closed mind with the Sanchez observation of Epistemic Closure.
Fortunately, to my delight, Marshall McLuhan jumped from behind the curtain his own self, without my even speaking to the camera. After our publication of the piece and the comments in response, Julian Sanchez wrote to us a reply that may serve as a final word on what he meant.
FWIW, as I think I tried to clarify in a follow up post, I did not mean EC as a synonym for "closed-mindedness," or any other characteristic that could be ascribed to an individual. It was really a collective phenomenon: When you have enough ideological information sources quoting and referencing each other to constitute a full blown ecosystem. The "closure" happens when it's built up enough that any contrary information seems like an outlier that automatically discredits its source rather than prompting reevaluation. (At some level this happens with any information system, and can be useful: If a paper reported the earth was flat, you'd correctly decide you should ignore that paper from now on.) It has nothing really to do with individual propensities to open-mindedness; it's a description of an environment, not any particular people within it.
Boy, life sometimes really is like this.
More, much more, of Julian Sanchez can be found at his own site.