Posted by: Chris | April 21, 2010

The Corner and Self-Awareness

Jim Manzi has a great post (which everyone should read) on the Corner on how self-imposed epistemic closure harms the conservative movement, focusing on the global warming chapter of Mark Levin’s recent bestseller.  Levin apparently explains global warming as a giant con perpetrated by “Eco-Statists” to seize more power.  Jim Manzi (leaving the comparison with his work on the subject implied) argues that this notion, while it might be helpful at selling books, both renders conservative arguments unpersuasive and leads to poor policy decisions because it is so disconnected from reality.  In response, both Andy McCarthy and KLo, both with a “while I like debates” preface, called out Manzi quite unreasonably for his tone and for questioning the seriousness of Mark Levin, adding yet more evidence to the “episetmic closure” claim. 

I perused the blog for a bit to see what I have been missing out on since I stopped reading it regularly and found this nugget: Jonah Goldberg, author of this bookcriticizing someone else for misusing vague connections between modern political actors and WWII era tyrants.  Things seem only to have gotten worse since I left.



  1. Speaking of self-awareness, looks like Julian Sanchez is the source of the novel sense in which the chatterers are using “epistemic closure.” Originally, it stood for a number of related propositions about the extent of deductive knowledge. (Versions of epistemic closure, says the just-linked article, range from if S knows p and p entails q then S knows q to If, while knowing p, S believes q because S knows that p entails q, then S knows q.) Then Sanchez (by his own admission) got confused, misused it, and now its mother’s milk to everyone (not to mention, Chris).

    As the poet says: there’s not to reason why, there’s but to jargonize.

  2. CF, you really have been avoiding Andrew haven’t you?

    The phrase, its source, its original misuse, and its (mis)appropriation by all manner of people is all really old news, hence my cheeky reference in the Mooney thread. But I guess the sources of our information have diverged so significantly post-college that we both cannot muse about with the same lingo.

    However, as with the word “conservative,” these things have a life of their own and it’s best to just use them as the current shorthand rather than draw semantic lines in the sand (or I quess you can just act like one of those people who throw a tizzy whenever someone misuses “to beg a question,” just to show that you know what it really means). Thus, I used the phrase here as Jim Manzi used the phrase (and so on before him), as a mutual comprehensible moniker for a commonly observed phenomenon. But do continue with your excavation of chattering class memes. Who knows what other throughly digested information you might stubble upon?

  3. Yep. I don’t read any of those people.

    Nor do I have any particular problem with misusing “epistemic closure.” (It is worse to misuse “beg the question” because that actually expresses something it’s useful to express. Likewise with “conservative,” which has connotations that shouldn’t attach to certain groups. We’ve been over this before – But I do find it funny how people try to up their cred by jumping on the jargon bandwagon. (Epistemic closure? Sure, everyone knows what THAT is!)

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