No epistemic closure here!

One response to the debate over conservatism and “epistemic closure” has been to argue that, well, conservatism is ailed by no such disease. I highlighted Jim Manzi’s excellent takedown of Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny earlier, but the reactions to his post at The Corner really have to be read to be believed:

There is  heart and soul and years of experience in his book — and a heck of a lot more than cut-and-paste Google searching (!). He’s heard a lot worse and can handle his own battles, but as one who has followed Mark’s career, I found Jim’s tone deeply disappointing. Especially at a time when Liberty actually is endangered and Mark Levin is not to blame.

And:

But for now I would just observe that Jim Manzi’s post on Mark Levin’s widely acclaimed book is beneath him. No one minds a good debate, but Jim’s gratuitously nasty tone — “awful,” “Trilateral Commission,” “wingnuttery,” etc. — is just breathtaking. I’ve read a number of Jim’s articles and posts over the years, including more than a few involving exchanges with other writers. He has always struck me as a model of civility, especially in his disagreements with the Left. Why pick Mark for the Pearl Harbor treatment?

There you have it, folks. No arguments, no substantive responses to the original post, nothing more than assurances that Levin’s heart is in the right place and a reminder that we’d best train our fire elsewhere. Maybe I’m over-generalizing from a sample that is too small and too skewed, but the knee-jerk quality of National Review’s response to a challenging and level-headed post on global warming seems pretty damning to me.

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42 thoughts on “No epistemic closure here!

  1. Either you are part of the solution, or you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

    I’m not saying that, in theory, it would be impossible to disagree with Mark Levin. I’m just asking why, out of all of the possible people you might have chosen to disagree with, you picked one of the people who is trying to help.

    The best part about this argument is that you can use it for freakin’ ANYTHING.

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  2. Well, isn’t it a symptom of “epistemic closure” to not engage with criticism? Let’s put it this way–if you operate in a mostly closed system, you don’t believe anything that comes from outside that system (if, indeed, you ever even encounter “outside” information). But occasionally, there will be a criticism that comes from within the system. If the system is set up to reject and/or ignore certain information, criticism from within the system is a potential crisis. The best way to deal with the crisis is not to engage the criticism, because engagement would be an acknowledgment that the system is indeed closed, but to sow suspicion that the source of the criticism is actually from outside the system.

    So the response would be something like “Smith claimed to be a Trekker, but I think deep down inside he was really a Trekkie, don’t you think?” or “Smith was a solid Trekker, but somehow he’s been corrupted by the Trekkies.”

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  3. You don’t get it, do you? Don’t you see that Liberty is in danger!

    It’s a constant source of amusement when the same folks who mock Obama supporters for Dear-Leaderish behavior turn around and provide that same degree of unwavering and uncritical support to just about everyone deemed an intellectual giant in the conservative community.

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  4. But doesn’t this show… a lack of epistemic closure? This is an open debate on the Corner. When something similar happened to Yglesias, some lackey at CAP swooped onto the blog and took it over. Can you imagine someone at CAP or the American Prospect doing a Manzi and saying the DIDN’T believe in global warming?

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    • @Sam M, Care to demonstrate the part about this that is a “debate”? It looks to me like one guy giving a book review with many debatable points, and then a couple of his colleagues questioning not those debatable points but rather his conduct and motives. That sounds like the opposite of a debate, to me. I think it’s called demagoguery.

      I don’t read the Corner hardly ever (how’s that for closure?) and couldn’t care less what these people have to say, but it is certainly humorous that in a post on epistemic closure, their rebuttals have succeeded in proving the point.

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      • @Freddie,

        All, yes. Debate does involve those things. Levin said all this stuff. manzi read it and said, hey, all that stuff you said was wrong, and you you said it in a way that kind of makes you a dufus.

        That’s the debate. One person says something. Someone else disagrees. They didn’t take the post down. It’s still there. I just read it. And I read the responses. It pissed a lot of people off. Fair enough.

        What is it that you want from the other folks at the Corner? To demonstrate a lack of epistemic closure, do they need to offer Manzi a ticker-tape parade and a six-figure salary?

        I happen to think Manzi is right. But I can’t see how he has been muzzled by the Corner. He, uh… published his argument against Levin at the Corner. Saying how Levin and everyone at the Corner is wrong about global warming.

        Seems to me that everyone here is defining epistemic openness to mean “agrees with me about global warming,” or “agrees that Levin is a bad guy.”

        Or maybe not. But if a huge willingness to accept a diversity of opinion about global warming is a requirement for epistemic openness, I would be interested to look at the nation to see if they are publishing a lot of works from skeptics. I doubt there would be many. Nor do I think there should be.

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        • @Sam M, I think what people are saying is that it would be more conductive to an open debate if people had responded to Manzi by saying, “That’s like you opinion, man, but here are the reasons I disagree with you”, instead of, “Woah, woah, woah, that’s not appropriate”.

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        • @Sam M, that is a very good point…

          I would think that it’s a demonstration that “the corner” isn’t representative of the closure but, at least, the two responses to the post are?

          They ain’t talking about what he said, they’re talking about what kind of person would have said what he did the way he did.

          But… yes. That exchange is, in fact, happening there rather than *NOT* happening there. That is something.

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        • @Sam M, Lopez and McCarthy didn’t argue any points at all. I mean literally none at all; they did not refute or attempt to refute anything Jim Manzi said whatsoever. They simply said it was bad for him to criticize Mark Levin without giving a shred of evidence to suggest that what he said about Levin was untrue. Oh, and Lopez capitalized Liberty, because she’s a lady, and all.

          Wake me when they actually dispute an argument from Manzi’s piece, okay?

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          • @Freddie,

            “Lopez and McCarthy didn’t argue any points at all. I mean literally none at all; ”

            But neither are we. What we are doing is viewing a debate emerge between Manzi and Levin. A debate that is emerging at… the Corner.

            Some people who post there hated the tone of Manzi’s response and said so. Terrible them. Epistemic closure!

            People here hated the tone of the responses to the response and said so. Which for some reason we all think illustrates how open-minded and superior we are.

            I am not sure why I would be interested in all in Lopez’s views about the facts of global warming. You think her take on Manzi’s tone illustrates closure. I say the fact that she edits a website that is hosting a debate between Manzi and Levin illustrates something else.

            I’m just not sure why their tsk-tsking of Manzi is in some way worse that our tsk-tsking of Lopez.

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              • @Rufus,

                If people want to have that debate, sure. But the original post here has little to do with global warming. It has to do with epistemic closure.

                In fact, epistemic closure is a good topic for debate, too. I just find the evidence wanting in this case. Levin, in terms of reputation and popularity, is a right-wing figure with a ton of pull. They love him at the Corner.

                The same Corner that gave Jim Manzi a platform from which to launch a gargantuan tirade against Levin. I happened to love the tirade. I thought it was a brilliantly executed and much needed take down.

                I juat had a really hard time seeing how it illustrates the way the Corner is muzzling Jim Manzi.

                Let’s say First Things gave Christopher Hitchens a cover story in which he lambasted the pope for all is failings and encouraged people to be athiests. And in an editor’s note, the editor said, “Wow. That was kind of rude.”

                Would that be evidence that First Things is closed to dissenting opinions about Catholicism?

                I suppose the Corner could still fire Manzi. Which WOULD point to closure. But they haven’t yet. The Corner also publishes Derbyshire, who’s an anti-empire athiest and says so. It publishes people who hate immigration alongside people who don’t hate immigration. And say so. People who are for a VAT and people who are against.

                Ha ha! Closure!

                I just don’t see how it follows.

                I get it. Most people here disagree with Levin about global warming. But I think it says more about us than the Corner that we reflexively think that a writer lambasting Levin about global warming means the Corner is not open to debate.

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              • @Sam, I don’t know if “epistemic closure” means they’re muzzling him, but that they’re not actually responding to his arguments in their posts. I think the term has to do with individual level response to information. Actually, I think a debate about “epistemic closure” would be pretty worthwhile because it’s a term that sounds a lot clearer than it actually is.

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              • @Rufus,

                Rufus,

                I agree that nobody has responded to Manzi. But that doesn’t mean a debate is going on. It means that it’s Levin’s job to respond. As it should be. I look forward to it. I am excited to read it. And Manzi’s retort after that, which I suspect will be equally devastating. Almost as if… they are talking about am important issue in a serious way… and a way that might not actually adhere to conservative talking points. For that, I give them three cheers, not raspberries.

                In the meantime, yes, they have objected to the tone of Manzi’s response. Of course they have. It was an incredibly aggressive bromide agains one of the most popular right-wing pundits, delivered where that pundit lives.

                You don’t write an article for Mother Jones arguing that Howard Zinn was a hack and a liar and a fool and not expect someone to say, “Hey, I know that guy and like him, so stop talking to him like that.”

                But again, we would never see anyone publish something like that about Howard Zinn in Mother Jones. Or at least I wouldn’t think so. I’d be willing to view links arguing otherwise. But I suspect that outlets like Mother Jones are to… epistemically closed for that.

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              • Sam, I don’t know if I should keep going with this because we’re basically agreeing with each other and it’s going to get pedantic.

                Ahem! I don’t read Mother Jones and have to take your word that they wouldn’t print something like that. I did read a pretty devastating take-down of Michael Moore in Salon that impressed me. Anyway, it’s a point in the favor of Nat Rev. But, I guess my point would be that the people who responded to that Salon take-down (including Moore) with the argument that it wasn’t appropriate to criticize “one of our own” since “his heart is pure”, instead of addressing the argument, were themselves epistemically closed. Again, I see it as a descriptor for individuals more than for outlets. I would say that Salon, as an outlet, has become more closed in recent years. But I couldn’t say for the minds of their writers.

                But, of course, we’re probably in agreement on all that anyway.

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        • @Sam M,

          Well, I think that Manzi does do a fairly good job of pointing out that global warming skeptics ( a topic upon which I am agnostic) bear the burden of persuasion at this time. As a long time NRO reader, I have little doubt as to where the editorial staff tends to stand on that issue. It is another example of the increasingly dogmatic position of “Conservative, Inc.”. One sort of feels that one knows before looking what the line is going to be on all sorts of complex issues ranging from Net Neutrality, to Goldman Sachs and over to Health Care. To question the orthodoxy is to risk being subjected to The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Feather. If you dissent you either get ignored (Daniel Larison), mocked (Mr. Kain and Mr. Sullivan) or just flat out run out of town on a rail (Pat Buchanan, Frum, C. Buckley). I don’t particularly give a damn about how that effects the GOP, but I suspect it’s not all that good for the Nation.

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  5. This is exactly the same “debate” that preceded Chris Buckley and David Frum being given their walking papers. I am reminded of when the cool girls in high school cast one of their own out of the clique. I anticipate that tomorrow on of the big kids, i.e. Goldberg or Lowry will weigh in, totally agreeing with K-Lo and McCarthy but more in sorrow than in anger, etc..

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  6. Just out of curiosity, do you think if Manzi wrote another post, saying the same things but in an extremely friendly way, there would be a serious discussion about global warming on the Corner?

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  7. Is it really fair to call the reaction posts of Andy McCarthy and Kathryn Lopez “National Review’s response”? You could at least wait to see what Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry have to say (if they say anything about it).

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  8. Bob, most institutions do. That’s how people, donors, and personalities operate. Are you suggesting that the Center for American Progress or The American Prospect are bastions of free-thinking iconoclasm. This blog is rare, in that it tolerates a pretty substantial amount of disagreement.

    Also, not that it matters, but I like Chris Buckley more than comments above would indicate, although I still think they are somewhat accurate.

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