There has been a lot of blather about something called “epistemic closure” floating about recently, rather like dust motes in the rays of sunshine that manage to slip in between the moth-eaten drapes in those salons where the philosophes of pragmatism presumably congregate to lament the obtuseness and insularity of their tea-party inferiors.
The term is intended to convey the notion that conservatives who adamantly oppose Obama, the Democrats and big government are trapped in a closed information loop consisting of Fox News and a handful of radio talk-show hosts and right-wing blogs. The tea-partistas, these philosophes seem to be saying, are locked in an echo chamber in which the only thing to be heard is the reverberation of their own ideological prejudices and overheated rhetoric. How can they possibly expect to be taken seriously, when they do not listen to alternative voices? How will they ever be able to get the big picture?
I don’t know, how did people like David Brooks and David Frum and Matthew Yglesias manage to break free of the cultural snobbery and the cult of mindless centrism that afflicts so much of the inside-the-beltway punditry? Oh, that’s right. They didn’t. And never mind the middle-of–the-road fetishists, for whom the best solution to our political problems is simply to split the difference between socialism and capitalism (leaving us with the proverbial vanilla ice cream and dog-turd milkshake); what about hardcore leftists – like the President – whose sources of information give the appearance of being limited to the pamphlets of Norman Thomas and the demagogic speeches of Huey Long? Not fair, the philosophes say. The President also reads the Washington Post and the New York Times (Brooks might add, “And he even condescends to talk to me personally, from time to time”). Well, then, there you have it! The political spectrum of ideas from A to…B.
The arguments against the vigorous populist conservatism that are cloaked in the too-clever-by-half phrase “epistemic closure” are being made by people who suffer from their own form of tunnel vision. Make you a deal, Brooks et al: you guys actually listen to two hours of Rush Limbaugh, and I’ll actually listen to Obama’s next speech. Then we’ll compare notes.