How to escape a partisan echo chamber.

How you look at things.
May 3 2010 8:45 AM

Bubble Think

How to escape a partisan echo chamber.

(Continued from Page 1)

6. Distrust polarization. Conservatives who see the epistemic-closure conversation as a political threat describe politics as a "team" contest. They call environmentalism a "Trojan Horse for socialism," assert that Democrats are "for ever higher taxes," and depict a choice between "saying no" to Obama and saying "as you wish" to whatever he asks. "It is once again a time for choosing, and I choose to fight the statists," declares Hogan. On this view, everything is binary: Either you're with us or you're a tax-loving socialist. I've seen the same dynamic on the left, where internal critics are dismissed as "concern trolls." That's too bad. If you're seeing the world in black and white, you're missing all the color.

7. Look in the mirror. Some writers have turned the epistemic-closure conversation into a debate over which party is more smug. Conor Friedersdorf, a blogger at the American Scene, aptly mocks their hypocrisy: "There may be a problem in our thinking, but the important thing to focus on is that the other guys are worse." Goldberg, a perpetrator of this blame-deflecting tactic, is right about one thing: Epistemic closure isn't unique to any era or faction. It's a problem "for all human associations and movements." Challenging your community's delusions is your responsibility, whether that community is CPAC or Jeremiah Wright's church.

8. Beware abstraction. This was Bush's fatal flaw, and it persists in bloggers who boil down all disputes to "statists," "socialism," and who's "consistently conservative." Hogan's brush-off is classic: "Nor do I know if every statistic or number in Reagan's A Time For Choosing speech in 1964 was correct. I DON'T CARE. I know the facts were in the ballpark, and more importantly, the principles were timeless and correct." Really? "A Time for Choosing" was about the Soviet Union and the Department of Agriculture's takeover of the U.S. economy. Times and facts have changed. If you want to apply Reagan's principles today, you'd better adapt them.

9. Test your theories. One sign of a closed worldview is its refusal to risk falsification.
No fossil can debunk creationism; no atrocity can discredit the party; whatever happens is God's will or history's mandate. The surest way to puncture this stupor is to make your theories testable. Ezra Klein and David Brooks have brought this spirit to the epistemic closure debate, seeking data that turn out to  complicate the picture of who's closed and why. Douthat, too, has challenged the original theory by showing how politicians, thinkers, and interest groups behave differently. In the face of evidence, theories must evolve.


10. Overcome your urges. Hogan refuses to analyze opposing arguments in detail, arguing that he lacks "the desire" to do so. Perhaps he should brush up on the tradition he purports to represent. Real conservatives understand that desire is a lousy way to run a society. You don't feel like working? Work. You don't feel like supporting the kids you fathered? Support them. You don't feel like challenging your biases? Challenge them. We're all vain and lazy. In the electronic echo chamber, it's easier than ever to shut out what you don't want to hear. Nobody will make you open the door and venture out. You'll have to do that yourself.

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