Epistemic Closure and the Left
Anyone who has been following the epistemic closure debate would do well to check out the recent Bloggingheads spot in which David Frum and Glenn Greenwald revisit the topic. It is a truism in the liberal blogosphere to claim that conservatives simply ignore evidence that conflicts with their biases. At the 35:50 mark, Greenwald makes the case that liberals have tended to do the same with respect to their own, pro-Obama bias:
I remember very vividly when, in the last few years of the Bush administration, beginning in 2005 (which is when I began writing about political issues) the kind of rhetoric that would issue whenever the subject was Bush’s terrorism policies and civil liberties policies: things like detaining people without charges; using war theories to claim that the entire world is a battlefield, that the president has war powers in the entire world whenever the word terrorism is uttered; the assertion of secrecy in order to prevent courts from adjudicating executive lawbreaking and the like. I recall the kinds of things that were said by progressives about those policies: that it wasn’t just wrong and bad and misguided, but that they were grave threats to everything we know and hold dear, and that they were examples of shredding the constitution, and declaring war on the rule of law, and fundamentally and radically altering our political culture . . . and now you watch, not more than a year later, when there is a democratic administration in office . . . that the vast bulk of those policies that caused so much controversies among progressives in the last decade . . . are ones that president Obama, the Obama administration, has adopted as well — not just failed to abandon, but affirmatively embraced and adopted as their own.
Have liberals been taking to the streets in protest of Obama’s counterterrorism policies? Of course not. Epistemic closure — tuning out sources that challenge one’s ideological orthodoxy — is a temptation limited to no particular party or sect.
The point may seem obvious, but Greenwald is the first liberal I have heard make it. Kudos also to Frum for acknowledging truths suppressed by the conservative side: that Bush lied about Harriet Miers’ qualifications, and that there is no compelling argument for stripping the Times Square bomber of his rights as a US citizen. We need more open and honest discussions like this!