Friday, April 23, 2010

Epistemic closure--beside the point

John Cole cannonballs into the epistemic closure debate:
I see via DougJ that the epistemic closure wankfest is still in full effect, and while I’m really enjoying laughing at the shock the “conservative intellectuals” are having, part of me just wants to tell them to choke on a hamburger. Who do they think came up with all the bullshit that is coming back to haunt them? [...]

And now the “conservative intellectuals” are SHOCKED that conservatives have closed minds. You all spent the last 30 years turning every issue into a binary construct, and then lying about half of the god damned equation, and now you are shocked that people’s minds are closed? If I believed all liberals wanted to abort my baby, and then if it miraculously survived, teach it to be a certain sexual orientation, and then later on hold death panels to see if it would be allowed to have medical treatment, my mind would be closed, too. I’d be going to tea parties screaming about shit and chanting “I want my country back.”

Here’s what the conservative intellectuals are upset about- they spent years spreading this stuff, knowing it was nonsense, and now the people they convinced have no use for them anymore. Look at the poll a couple years ago about what conservative “intellectuals” and elites thought about evolution. PRO-TIP- they almost all believed in it.

So spare me the shock. You assholes made this mess, and if you read NRO or watch FOX or the rest of the right-wing media outlets, they are still spreading this bullshit and doubling down on the crazy for nothing other than political advantage. I missed all the “conservative intellectuals” calling Mitch McConnell a liar last week when he ignored the 200 pages in the financial reform bill that deals with dissolving failed organizations and instead characterized the bill as creating permanent bailouts. Did you all happen to catch any conservative intellectuals shooting that obvious lie down? I sure missed them.

So just spare me.

I'm inclined to be a bit more charitable here--Bill Buckley really did think that communism was really terrifying, and I don't think he was wrong. He thought public morality really was breaking down in a number of ways, which wasn't really wrong.

But I think John gets at something here that the conservative and libertarian writers miss: that epistemic closure on the right is a symptom of the real problem with conservatism in America, and not the cause. The Douthats and Sanchezes of the world--conservative and libertarian intellectuals, basically--are, in my opinion, trying to reduce conservatism to an intellectual problem because they are conservative intellectuals and they feel most comfortable engaging problems on that terrain. The real problem, put simply, is prejudice. And I'm not strictly speaking racially here. I'm not going to pull a Krugman and say it's all about race. I don't believe that and while race is certainly a factor in this problem, it's just part of the problem. Hell, George W. Bush didn't even bother with race-baiting when he ran for president (though John McCain did, just a little bit). More generally, though, conservatism has come to encompass a constellation of prejudices--prejudices against progressives, against "Coastal Elites", against women (here's a recent poignant example), etc.

Look, I'm not sitting in judgment here. Your average liberal no doubt has some prejudices against corporations, not uncommonly against vaccinations, and so on. The difference is that the progressive/liberal ecosystem is such that these sorts of prejudices aren't really encouraged (okay, maybe the anticapitalist stuff a little bit for populism, but there aren't many full-blown Marxists in the Democratic Party). My point is that Democrats just don't trade on prejudice to a huge extent. Republicans, though, don't see this stuff as something to be challenged, but rather as something to be respected (or at least indulged). This is why every Republican leader over the past half century, when confronted by some form of craziness or other from the right, has tried to go all Clinton with said craziness (i.e. "I feel your pain") instead of saying that they're insane for thinking it. From Goldwater to Scott Brown, it's the unflinching response of the right--the anger is there, and it's not to be challenged, but rather to be used as a driving force for conservatism. I mean, Scott Brown read the nutter who attacked an IRS building into the conservative movement! That's some indulgence toward anger. And what is it that drives that anger? What started it? It wasn't Milton Friedman's white papers on monetary policy. It was initially the Vietnam War, hippies, and blacks. And, honestly, it kind of still is those things that drive the right, just with different names.

And, ultimately, this is why I find myself more and more unimpressed with the likes of David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, etc. Some of them have interesting theories and ideas, but it's all academic, ultimately, since none of them actually want to deal with the real problems with their movement, and their assumptions about it are simply too charitable. There will never be a reform wing of the GOP until this instinctive rage is tamped down, until the feelings subside enough for there to be a conversation. And there are large chunks of the right that have much interest in keeping that conversation from happening. Do you really think that Grover Norquist would rather be held accountable about his ties with Jack Abramoff, instead of denouncing "socialism"? So long as those prejudices and that resultant anger persist, the right will never change. Epistemic closure is an interesting construct, but this conversation up until this point has been entirely intellectual, which perhaps befits a conversation among conservative intellectuals about conservatism. But hardly any actual conservatives come at the enterprise from an intellectual bent. Rick Perlstein's work is instructive on this point. Ultimately, this whole discussion feels like Ivory Tower stuff, instead of something real.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.