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'Epistemic Closure' & Conservative Anti-Intellectualism

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posted on Mar, 30 2011 @ 08:18 PM
First, I want to start off by saying this is my first thread. Secondly, I want to make it clear that this is not a "left vs. right" thread either. Although it discusses criticism on a particular ideology, I want to make it clear that it's not an "attack" thread...I merely want to bring up a trend that's been pointed out by both liberals and conservatives in order to start an intelligent "intellectual" discussion on the issue. For interest of disclosure, and in case some of you choose to overlook this and claim I'm some kind of "conservative bashing liberal"...I'm actually a registered independent, I did not vote for Obama, nor do I approve of the job he's doing, I also happen to have political opinions that would fall into both progressive and libertarian/conservative I would appreciate it if this thread did not devolve into an irrelevant "left vs. right" attack thread...I want to keep it on the topic of the issues that are mentioned in the articles at the center of this debate. Thank you. So now, on to the discussion.

For those of you who may not remember, there was a heated debate circulating among the conservative blogosphere, a little less than a year ago, when Julian Sanchez termed the phrase "epistemic closure" (aka, anti-intellectual, close minded) which he saw as a "systemic trend in the modern conservative movement". The debate quickly spread around the blogosphere and online conservative media.

Mr. Sanchez wrote at — referring to outlets like Fox News and National Review and to talk-show stars like Rush Limbaugh, Mark R. Levin and Glenn Beck — have “become worryingly untethered from reality as the impetus to satisfy the demand for red meat overtakes any motivation to report accurately.”

[Patricia Cohen, "‘Epistemic Closure’? Those Are Fighting Words" Source]

Sanchez also felt, that while there is stupidity on both sides:

"I can’t pretend that, on net, I really see an equivalence at present: As of 2010, the right really does seem to be substantially further down the rabbit hole."

[Sanchez, "Epistemic Closure, Technology, and the End of Distance" Source]

Sanchez offers his reasons for why he believes this to be true, namely online media sources that tend to insulate like minded people from opposing opinions. However, I was more interested that, despite all this talk of conservatism's "anti-intellectual" bias, it was actually founded by a group of intellectuals.

David Brooks had wrote an editorial a year before, again for the NYT pointing out that the "godfather" of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley, was very much an intellectual, and that conservatism was "founded" by a movement of "dissident intellectuals".

Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind.

[Brooks, "The Class War Before Palin" Source]

Brooks goes on to discuss, that part of the rapid spread of conservative ideas, was due to the funding of intellectual think tanks. In fact, conservatives were the first political ideology to adopt this strategy as a way of promoting their ideas to the world. Papers were authored, debates were had, and ideas spread, generally in the foundation that they were intellectually sound. Problems were solved, not by picking only from the ideas on one side of the political aisle, but taking the best ideas, from both sides, and forming solutions that reflected "the best of the best".

While not everyone agreed that the conservative mind had been "closed" seemed that most of the articles I read, did acknowledge that something had changed since conservatives intellectual heyday of the 70's.

Brooks, points out that conservatives started moving away from their roots towards a form of class warfare:

over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

[Brooks, "The Class War Before Palin" Source]

Another article, by Mark Lilla "The Perils of 'Populist Chic', What the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition." seems to reflect many of the same ideas. Lilla lamented how editors of "The National Review" and "The Weekly Standard" both publications who present themselves as "the heirs of Wiliam Buckley and the bookish seriousness of the New York neoconservatives" had endorsed Sarah Palin in the 2008 election. He stated "After the campaign for Sarah Palin, those intellectual traditions may now be pronounced officially dead."Source He also seems to be in agreement with Brooks, that the success of conservatism owes much to it's intellectual roots:

For the past 40 years American conservatism has been politically ascendant, in no small part because it was also intellectually ascendant.

[Mark Lilla, "The Perils of 'Populist Chic', What the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition."Source]

He also notes that the current state of affairs is the result of conservatives moving away from their roots:

"It's a sad tale that began in the '80s, when leading conservatives frustrated with the left-leaning press and university establishment began to speak of an "adversary culture of intellectuals."...Over the next 25 years there grew up a new generation of conservative writers who cultivated none of their elders' intellectual virtues -- indeed, who saw themselves as counter-intellectuals."

[Mark Lilla, "The Perils of 'Populist Chic', What the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition."Source]

Many of the articles point to modern examples of this conservative "anti-intellectualism", that the populace seems more concerned with the talking points of Glen Beck and Limbaugh, than with facts. The health-care debate was mentioned, and specifically how many conservative talking points that were pushed during the debate, were based on myth...things like "health care will be rationed, leading to death panels", "illegal immigrants will get free insurance", "public funding will be used for abortion" etc. David Frum wrote an article entitled "Waterloo" criticizing how conservatives handled the health care debate saying "“We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.”, he was branded as a liberal apologist, and was subsequently fired from his position at The American Enterprise Institute (Source)...something, sadly, that I think is evidence of how The American Enterprise Institute was being close minded and firing Frum simply for not toeing the popular conservative line.

Obviously, the issues are still wide open to debate...but I'm interested to know what others on ATS think. Do you think there has been a trend towards anti-intellectualism within the modern conservative movement? What effect has the Tea Party, and popular figures like Sarah Palin had on intellectualism with regard to conservatives? I'd love to read other reports or studies, if anyone knows of any, on this subject...I'm sure a lot of people have an opinion on this, but actually I'm mostly interested in analysis (yes, I'm being an "intellectual" snob) please give as many citations, links, evidence as possible...I'm a big fan of backing up what one says with evidence. Thanks for reading. My first thread. Be kind.

For reference, and further reading, the relevant articles for this thread:

posted on Mar, 30 2011 @ 08:55 PM

Do you think there has been a trend towards anti-intellectualism within the modern conservative movement?

Sorry but I don't think you will get much responses, this subject has been done to death on this site, and I think they might be getting a little tired of it all, at least for now. But really it's not about intellectualism or Anti-intellectualism, whatever that is. It's really simple it's about power and control, and everything else is just talking point's and a lot of hot air, and the ball must be kept in a constant state of rolling, because when it stops, there is nothing more left to say. And when they got nothing left to say, they might actually have to do something.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Joseph Goebbels quote

Really if you just repeat anything often and for a long time, in a lot of mediums such as the media and all other forms of communications including the internet, they will eventually believe it.
So till tshtf, the show must go on.

posted on Mar, 30 2011 @ 09:04 PM
reply to post by galadofwarthethird

I'm sure it has been done a ton...I guess I didn't think much about that...At least, I know the whole left vs. right has been done a million times, but I rarely see people talking about any analysis and not bringing their own personal bias into it (as hard, and maybe unrealistic as that is). I don't know if these specific articles have been discussed before, but I'm sort of interested in the history, and where we are going, because, I personally feel Obama is doing a crappy job and probably won't get re-elected, meaning, our government is becoming more conservative whether we like it or not...So, I was sort of hoping to get the opinion of some "old school" conservatives or liberals on the subject, how they feel about the "rejection of science" attitudes displayed among members of congress, for example...Often I just hear whining about "lefties are sooo this" and "righties are soooo that"...I'm sick of it too...But you're probably's nothing new here.

posted on Mar, 30 2011 @ 09:47 PM
Excellent post, OP. I once considered myself a conservative republican. They lost me when they become the party of anti-intellectualism, ignorance and superstition.

posted on Mar, 30 2011 @ 10:18 PM
Interesting thread - a bit about myself - I have a masters in political theory, economics, international relations - I am a progressive and I am someone who understands the deep nuances of subtle propaganda, driving forces behind marketing agendas and PR campaigns (Hills and Knowlton, Edward Bernaise etc). Basically I am not a light weight.

So to address your position - the fundamental difference between right and left is, and always has been - control of society by powerful interests (the right) and the desire to resist that control (the left).

That is the fundamental difference, and is visible anywhere you look, once you understand it in those terms world history is significantly easier to understand.

For example communism itself is a distinctly left wing agenda a proposed in Marxist philosophy, however what it manifested itself as was anything BUT what Marx had proposed and was in fact a Stalinist attempt at imposing top down social order for control and personal gain - the very opposite of communism - right wing.

The same situation occurred with Wiemar Germany - which had as its nomenclature a distinctly left wing name in socialist democracy - however was anything but socialist and certainly not democratic.

Basically the left tends to be in the interests of the people, the populace, the common man - while the right tends to favor the interests of the controlling elite, the powerful, the masters of society. And, it is because of this very point that the right will always tend to say, preach, offer, proffer, bargain and bribe with what ever they THINK the common man wants - the lowest common denominator, the stupidest, ill-informed sheeple masses. They back this up with gestures to great and noble causes such as freedom, liberty and justice while also offering a tantalizing opportunity to join them at the pinnacle of society, to join them and become one of he masters of society ourselves.

So no, there has not been a shift - rather conservatives have always come from the less informed, less educated, more superstitious backwaters of any nation. Just look to the civil war - it was the North VS the South. This in itself is a political term - the north refers to (in modern political discourse) the educated elites the world over, Europe, while the south refers to the third world. It is based on the very notion of an intelligent progressive norther states vis a vis the backward conservative southern states.

What has actually happened over the course of the past 50 or so years, and most vividly over the course of the last ten years, is not a dumbing down of American conservatives - rather a shift to a more conservative CHRISTIAN outlook. This is a stated, clear and well planned objective of conservative America - has been for some time. Hence Bush had his vote in the heartland of Bible Belt America - which as you know is exactly where you are positioning the Jocks vs Coastal intellectuals comes from.

There are two secondary positions on this. Firstly the obvious one, which is that this revival of Christian political fundamentalism is very, very real and is the absolute reason behind the geographical positioning of things. But more importantly it is a reaction which goes back all the way to the hippy revolution of the 60's and 70's which shocked, abhorred and defined the minds of politicians like Bush, Cheyney, Regan etc. Their very incentive in life is (was) based in returning America to the wholesome goodness which preceded what they viewed as the destructive decadence of the 60's. They are what is termed Nostalgics. Their world view is not based on any reality but rather on a Disney version of a perfect world they grew up in (hardly perfect for blacks, jews, woman, etc).

One of the most telling studies ever done into conservative thinking was a study called Dunning Kruger. Something I reference all the time and is the most important incite into people you will probably ever have - it goes like this. Conservatives tend to be far more certain in their beliefs than liberals, and the reason behind this is because conservatives tend not to be as intelligent as liberals. In other words, the more someone knows the less certain they become about their absolute positions - while the less knowledgable one is the more certain one becomes about their beliefs - conservatives are more certain, more absolute and less informed.

Here is a video from another thread I just posted - thread

Dunning Kruger

And an important graphic.

posted on Mar, 31 2011 @ 01:13 AM
reply to post by meeneecat

So, I was sort of hoping to get the opinion of some "old school" conservatives or liberals on the subject, how they feel about the "rejection of science" attitudes displayed among members of congress, for example...Often I just hear whining about "lefties are sooo this" and "righties are soooo that"...I'm sick of it too...But you're probably's nothing new here.

Hey dont be sad,
I'm sure your topic/thread will pick up, and then you will have more then enough people giving you there analysis, till it makes you think that there is no such thing as analysis's just personal biases, and you wished you never started it. Just you know as they say, timing is everything.

posted on Mar, 31 2011 @ 06:41 AM
I'm glad to see more people that value proper use of evidence/provides sources. However I regret I cannot do the same here since I am not well versed in American politics specifically. That said I think aristo has over simplifyed a bit. Conservative ideology serves to consentrate power and pepetuate a top down power structure, and for this reason it is pushed by those in power. Nevertheless the normal conservative probably thinks that the adgenda is genuinely advantageous for the majority. It is among these people were changes have been seen from intellectuals swayed by argument to people who only beloved this because of how they have been brought up/indoctrinated. Since they have no intellectual basis for their beliefs they have no problem attacking intelligence and science to put there polititions into power regardless of the cost to society.

It's hardly an expert comantary but till I can do more reading around American conservative attitudes outside Reddit its my best hypothesis.

posted on Apr, 3 2011 @ 02:54 AM
reply to post by Aristophrenia

Thank you for all that information, and to others as well who posted thoughtful replies, I very much appreciate it. And I definitely agree with Maddow's analysis of "authoritarian conservatism" vs. "libertarian conservatism"...But I think even within left and right there are degrees of this "top down" power structure that you mention. For example, in my opinion, the Democratic and Republican parties are very similar to the degree that they are both funded by big corporate interests, and thus both answer to those corporate interests...we have in essence become a country run by and for corporations. Therefor, I believe this scenario, whether it's the left or right we're talking about, is very much a "top-down" power structure (the "top" being people like the Koch brothers and big oil/energy on the "Republican/Conservative" side, and people like "Goldman Sachs"/Wall Street on the "Democrat/Liberal" side) Basically I see a lot of similarities in what we call "neo-conservative" in this country, and what the rest of the world generally refers to as "neo-liberal".

posted on Apr, 13 2011 @ 07:13 PM
reply to post by meeneecat

Yeah. if I cared anymore I'd attack conservatives like you just did, even though this isn't supposed to be an "attack" thread. That's ok though. Your are so totally right that Democrats and Liberals are so ultimately intellectually superior to conservatives. Sure glad I'm a Libertarian but I guess you and your buddies like Sorros and Bill Ayers and Obama will be coming after me next to enslave me to they're ideology. Let me know how that works out for ya kay? Oh by the way, please don't misconstrue that to mean this is "attack post". I mean, I didn't put any qualifiers in here like you did in your opening statement, It's not an attack. Next Sentence - Attack the "conservatives" - Nice.

edit on 13-4-2011 by CosmosKid because: spelling

posted on Apr, 13 2011 @ 08:25 PM
reply to post by meeneecat

As someone who has seen anti-intellectualism from both sides (on the liberal side: excessive bashing of conservatives on liberal blogging sites), I feel that modern conservatives are pretty much clueless as to the people they prop up. Why would the National Review support Sarah Palin after the things she said?

Anti-intellectualism is borne out of resentment for those who are better educated, likely make more money and enjoy a higher standard of living.

I believe it's possible to engage in a debate with a conservative. However, there are not many around that can bring a sense of class to such a debate. Rather, we see more Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/Sarah Palin types in this country.
edit on 13-4-2011 by The Sword because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 13 2011 @ 08:35 PM
When you have conservative media personalities like John Kyle making up facts and then having to admit his comments were not "... intended to be a factual statement", or Fox news repeatedly using lies over and over it just goes to show you they know their base isn't interested in the truth, they just want to be told what they already believe.

posted on Apr, 13 2011 @ 09:19 PM
reply to post by meeneecat

The conservative movement has always been littered with dummies because the essence of their philosophy is ethnocentric bigotry with little intellection behind its basic philosophy of love the rich and maintain the status quo for those who have already gotten all the wealth. There is little true intellectual heritage behind conservativism despite William Buckley’s huge vocabulary, for how can such a banal philosophy have much thought behind it.

Therefore it may be that the so-called intellectuals of the conservative movement are pseudo intellectuals who may have read more books than Sarah Palin but are at her identical moral level.

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