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Epistemic Closure, Technology, and the End of Distance

April 7th, 2010 · 128 Comments

I’ve written a bit lately about what I see as a systematic trend toward “epistemic closure” in the modern conservative movement. As commenters have been quick to point out, of course, groupthink and confirmation bias are cognitive failings that we’re all susceptible to as human beings, and scarcely the exclusive province of the right. I try to acknowledge as much, and I’m often tempted to pluck some instances from the left just to show how very fair-minded and above the fray I am. (For instance, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to complaints about the coverage of the Tea Parties: Obviously there are both subtle and not-so-subtle bigots in the pack, but I doubt they’re representative, and it’s a huge leap to the dismissive suggestion that the phenomenon is nothing but a manifestation of racial anxiety.) Yet 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.

Perhaps some of that perception can be put down to the fact that I mostly write about the issues where I’m prone to agree with progressives—so I’m more conscious of it when Fox spins fantasies about the Patriot Act than when MSNBC spins on economics or health care—but I don’t think that’s the whole of it, since I feel like I see the same tendencies even on issues where I’m closer to the conservative position. So suppose it’s true that there’s a real asymmetry here—the obvious question, if we’re going to sideline the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded, is why this should be true now. I have a couple ideas, and (perhaps another bit of personal bias) they mostly focus on the effects of technological change.

The big obvious change is the democratization of media, where the idea that there’s a liberal bias in the journalistic profession has long been part of the conservative narrative. The effect of this is, I think, usually exaggerated, and the forms bias takes more complicated than the popular caricature. But it’s clearly empirically true that reporters are disproportionately liberals and Democrats, and I expect it’s even more the case at the networks and major national dailies. Cable and the Internet have, of course, opened things up dramatically.

But as Tucker Carlson won boos for pointing out at CPAC last year, the fact is also that publications like The New York Times fundamentally practice solid journalism. Inevitably, reporters’ and editors’ own views are at least subconsciously going to shape how stories are presented and which are seen as newsworthy in the first place however hard they might strive for objectivity. It’s still more likely when those views are shared by the large majority of the professional community.

Still, there’s a lot of institutional and cultural capital built up in those hoary outlets, which at least produces a set of norms and practices that create pressure toward more fair and accurate reporting—and some of that bleeds over into even the explicitly ideological ones. The output may have varying degrees of liberal slant, but The New York Times is not fundamentally trying to be liberal; they’re trying to get it right. Their conservative counterparts—your Fox News and your Washington Times—always seem to be trying, first and foremost, to be the conservative alternative. And that has implications for how each of them connects to the whole ecosystem of media: Getting an accurate portrait is institutionally secondary to promoting the accounts and interpretations that support the worldview and undermine the liberal media narrative. Perhaps ironically, the trouble is that the novel conservative institutions that have emerged as an effect of technological innovation lack that Burkean reservoir of evolved, time-tested local traditions.

There’s another explanation that’s related to the rise of what I’ve called the politics of ressentiment, maybe best illustrated with the help of an example in the news lately. Constance McMillen, as you may have read, is a teenage lesbian in Fulton, Mississippi who (with the help of the ACLU) sued for the right to bring her girlfriend to her high school prom, and to attend wearing a tux.  At first, the school planned to simply cancel the prom rather than afford Constance the basic equality a court agreed they should. But ultimately, there was an official “prom” attended by Constance and a handful of others, including a couple of the class’ learning disabled kids, and a real (but unofficial) prom sponsored by parents, to which she wasn’t invited.

Here’s what’s interesting for present purposes. A bunch of her classmates started a Facebook group called “Constance quit yer cryin” to ridicule her. The attitude of the students and parents who spoke up there was characterized less by overt homophobia than by a resentment of the effort, characterized as attention-grubbing and selfish, to upset local traditions and “force” the school to cancel the dance by demanding equal treatment. But then gay-friendly sites—including traffic behemoth Perez Hilton—began linking the group, bringing a tsunami of comments from people all over the world, in numbers vastly dwarfing the original membership. Almost all condemned the actions of the school and parents, and supported Constance.  Not a few doled out their own hateful stereotypes, heaping scorn not just on the school, but on southerners or Christians on the whole, as inbred rednecks. Photos were posted, and much speculation ensued about which rack at Walmart various prom dresses had come off.

Contemplate how vertigo-inducing this must be. You’ve got a local community where a certain set of cultural norms is so dominant that it’s just seen as obvious and natural that a lesbian wouldn’t have an equal right to participate in prom—to the point where the overt hostility isn’t really directed at Constance’s sexuality so much as her bewildering insistence on messing with the way everyone knows things are supposed to be. They’re not attuned to the injustice because it seems like almost a fact of nature. Except they’re now flooded with undeniable evidence that a hell of a lot of people don’t see things that way, and even hold their community in contempt for seeing things that way. There have been thousands of “outside” posts in a handful of days, with more every minute. (Think of the small-town high school quarterback getting to college and realizing, to his astonishment, that everyone thinks the “art fags” he used to slag on are the cool ones. Except without even leaving the small town.)

Fulton is an extreme case, but I think there are probably a lot of conservative communities that feel a lower-grade version of this all the time. So here’s a hypothesis: Epistemic closure is (in part) an attempt to compensate for the collapse of geographic closure. A function no longer effectively served by geographic segregation—because the digital equivalents of your local hangout are open to invasion by the hordes from New York and London—is being passed to media segregation, bolstered by the sudden demand that what was once tacit and given be explicitly defended.

On both explanations—and I think they’re complementary rather than competing—the shift toward epistemic closure is linked to changes in communications technology. Then the obvious question is whether it’s a short-term symptom of adjustment to that technology, or the start of a new equilibrium.

Tags: Journalism & the Media · Sociology



128 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Brian Gawalt // Apr 7, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Let’s imagine the Newsom SF gay marriage licensing from a few years ago as a Liberal Fulton. Imagine there was a “Hooray for SF Marriage” facebook group, and FreeRepublic sent shoals of new commenters to decry the local values. Why wouldn’t that create epistemic closure on the left? Why are conservatives MORE susceptible to the ressentiment explanation? Is susceptibility equal, but there are simply more cases of Conservative Fultons than Liberal Fultons?

    Do you suggest: that susceptibility to ressentiment is shared equally, but because of the “liberal media” belief, conservatives experiencing ressentiment are now more prone to wagon circling because a liberal would have the New York Times to reassure them?

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Gay marriage supporters already see themselves as engaged in a long-term battle, grounded in general principles, against a (rapidly dwindling) majority hostile to the idea. The FR assault wouldn’t really come as a shock, however unpleasant it might be—it would be regarded as the predictable death-rattle of history’s losers.

    The Fulton folks appear to have viewed their own norm as just “the way things are,” common sense. Like many such norms and traditions, the de facto closure created by geography was already playing a substantial role in sustaining it.

    Possibly there’s an analogy here to the early encounters between Native Americans and Europeans. Having lived in densely-populated (and filthy!) cities for generations, the Europeans had immunities to an array of infectious diseases that the natives lacked—because there’s not much occasion to develop them when the really lethal pathogens tend to die with their hosts before they have a chance to get exposed to too many others.

    The pro-gay marriage folks are, in a sense, already constituted AS an immunoresponse to conservative memes; the Fultonites aren’t. You might expect an asymmetry like this partly because liberals are more often urbanites, and possibly more media-saturated as well—though possibly something like this will be intrinsic in conflict between “conservatives” and “progressives” just as the upshot of what those terms imply.

  • 3 hilzoy // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Julian: just a guess, but:

    I’ve always been struck by the fact that (best I can tell) views about the awfulness of liberals play a much larger role in conservative thought (at least as expressed on many conservative blogs, not yours, and by the people I know who are conservatives) than views about the awfulness of conservatives play in liberal thought. Liberals go on about the awfulness of particular conservative people, but ideas about conservatives in general and their motives play a much smaller role, I think. (Just try listening to Rush Limbaugh and ask yourself whether there’s *anyone* who’s even remotely popular who spends as much time as he does parsing each and every issue for further evidence of conservatives’ evil motives — the analog of liberals’ alleged hatred of America, hatred of excellence, disdain for conservatives and Real Americans, immorality, etc., etc. If there is such a person, I’m unaware of him or her.)

    The idea that one’s opponents hold their views because they have evil motives allows one to dismiss views one finds inconvenient by casting aspersion on the motives of the person who has them, without actually engaging their arguments. It was pretty striking, back in the Bush era, to watch each and every prominent Republican critic of the Bush administration get dismissed by the right on some such ground or another: if a critic was ever planning to publish a book, their criticism was just a way to gin up book sales and ingratiate themselves with the Liberal Washington Elite; if a critic had ever had any run-in with any member of the Bush administration, their criticism was just sour grapes; etc., etc., etc.

    If the only explanation for someone disagreeing with you is perfidy, and perfidy is all around you, then *all* you have to find, in order to dismiss someone, is something that can be construed as evidence of perfidy, at least if you squint hard enough.

  • 4 Ben // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Interesting post, Julian. Speaking as someone who went to high school in that state, the resistance to those that “make a ruckus” is pretty strong.

    Brian, there aren’t many places that are liberal that would be as insular as Itawamba County, Mississippi.

  • 5 mike farmer // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    You make it look like it’s this little school hunkering down against the rest of the nation, but it would be interestng to know how much support they had for their decision, then we’d know how widespread is this cultural bias toward heterosexuality at high school proms. I wonder how many high schools in the northeast allow open expression of homosexuality at high school proms. Since I don’t know anything about the different cultural norms expressed at high school proms across the country, I’ll await instruction.

  • 6 Julian Sanchez // Apr 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Speaking on the highly unscientific basis of what I’ve gleaned from friends who have or work with teens, my impression is that there’s a level of acceptance for sexual diversity in urban high schools that seems pretty incredible to me compared even with my own HS experience a dozen or so years ago. At this point I suspect there are few metropolitan-area high schools where it would even occur to administrators that “open expression of homosexuality” is the kind of thing one must “allow”—any more than they’d make a conscious decision to “allow” redheads.

  • 7 mike farmer // Apr 7, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    No, I agree it’s acceptable among youg people, and rightfully so, I just wonder if it’s a regional restriction for high schools or more general across the country – you don’t have to quote me with scare quotes — it’s not my view. I don’t care who expresses what.

  • 8 Julian Sanchez // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Sorry, didn’t mean to impute any such view to you—I was assuming you were on the pro-equality side, actually.

  • 9 mike farmer // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:27 am

    No problem, I misread the intention of the quotes. But reading Hilzoy’s response, I have to wonder how much MSNBC like the Ed Show, Matthews and Maddow you guys watch.

  • 10 Julian Sanchez // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Admittedly very little. I’ll check out a clip on the Web site when friends are on sometimes, but I don’t have cable, so otherwise I never see these shows. Still, from what I have watched, it seems like even the tendentious and unfair arguments are usually more tethered to reality than the stuff I’ve seen fly on Fox or talk radio.

  • 11 Daniel // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:49 am

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that an admirer of Nozick would reject epistemic closure.


    (Joking, if it’s not obvious)

  • 12 Julian Sanchez // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Yeah, after the first post in which I used it I decided to Google it to see if maybe I’d seen it somewhere before—realized it must’ve been rattling around in the back of my head since undergrad days.

  • 13 nitpicker // Apr 8, 2010 at 1:49 am

    “So suppose it’s true that there’s a real asymmetry here—the obvious question, if we’re going to sideline the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded, is why this should be true now.”

    Such an awful coach, sidelining the right player for the play.

  • 14 Minos // Apr 8, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Fascinating post, Julian. I think it’s especially important to remember that this is the “social conservative” right, rather than the “Republitarian-small government right” or “Anti-Soviet/National Greatness right”. If you think of the Reagan coalition, the latter two mostly got what they wanted…lower taxes and even Clinton declaring the end of “Big Government” and the emergence of a more market-friendly America, and the fall of the USSR and a more active US role/repudiation of post-Vietnam isolation and self flagellation. Ironically, not only did social conservatives not achieve any big goals, but the Washington Consensus and fall of the USSR created super-charged globalization. The “small world” being created by the conservative coalition’s successes are bringing global norms and eyeballs into every corner of the world. Small communities everywhere are finding their norms threatened, whether they are Saudi, Mississippian, or French. If the dissonance created is extreme, you get a fanatical movement. If it is minor, you get resentments of East Coast Elites and Liberal Media. If it is moderate, you sue Google or drive a tractor into a McDonald’s.

    My hunch is that the American social conservative right will be dragged, kicking and screaming along until a new conservative coalition can form, but with much fury. A group socially flexible enough to adapt to civil rights and women’s rights in two generations (not all that willingly, but without taking up arms) can handle a gay prom, Obamacare, and massive Hispanic immigration. The American right has had its norms shattered before.

  • 15 Matthew Yglesias » More Groups, Less Groupthink // Apr 8, 2010 at 8:32 am

    […] Sanchez tries to think through why the right is so loopy: I’ve written a bit lately about what I see as a systematic trend […]

  • 16 mike farmer // Apr 8, 2010 at 9:11 am

    “Admittedly very little. I’ll check out a clip on the Web site when friends are on sometimes, but I don’t have cable, so otherwise I never see these shows. ”

    I’m one of the most truly liberal people you’ll ever meet, but there’s a large faction on the left, represented by much of the rhetoric on MSNBC and progressive blogs, which is untethered from reality and just as close-minded as anyone on the right. I don’t know how to measure un-tetheredness, but if there’s a difference, it’s small — the main point I’m trying to make is that until we can fully accept the breakdown in reason and objectivity, it won’t matter if the left scores slightly better — there’s enough crazy on both sides to be concerned — it’s the crazy which concerns me, not which group has slightly more sane members. The left and right are too much influenced by their worst elements. This is not a mongrel-moderate position, but a call for a third way.

  • 17 stephen // Apr 8, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Ultimately groups form to compete for status and respect. Depending on how you define the groups in question you will see more or less group think and commitment to ideological purity.

    I also think using American cable news broadcasters as proxies for conservative and progressive epistemic differences is problematic. The sample sizes are small and there is too much selection bias. Journalist tend to be moderately left wing, as you have pointed out, and this is probably because left leaning people are more interested in working as journalists. But whatever the reason for the bias Fox was explicitly set up as a compliment, so naturally you see more wagon circling. Using Fox to make the argument that conservatives are naturally more ideological would be similar to using BET to argue that people of African decent are more interested in racial identity.

    Of course you may be right, I just can’t buy in yet.

  • 18 More prom news | deadissue.com // Apr 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

    […] prom news As somebody who saw prom as a hassle I am uniquely ill suited to talk back about it, but… A bunch of her classmates started a Facebook group called “Constance quit yer cryin” to […]

  • 19 JM // Apr 8, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Isn’t part of the problem that some of the best/most popular conservative ideas have been stolen by Democrats via Clintonesque triangulation? I would argue that the political atmosphere of the country has moved in a decidedly conservative direction since Clinton was first elected, and one reason is that every time a conservative comes up with a sane, workable idea, business-oriented Democrats have claimed that idea as their own (welfare reform, NAFTA, balancing the budget, and more recently, Heritage-style health reform), forcing conservatives to move a little further to the right, just to be distinctive. There are only so many sane, workable ideas in the universe, and if the other side claims them all, you’re left with only insane, unworkable ideas. In reality, the conservative side won, and in a big way, but since the team that got credit for the win was wearing a Democratic jersey, conservatives can”t believe that they really won. This dynamic doesn’t look like it will change under Obama, who seems very much in the Clinton mode as far as stealing good ideas goes.

    One solution would be for conservatives to start taking credit for their ideas. So on health care, say “thank God Obama has followed _our_ sensible, conservative ideas and not those of people like Howard Dean.” Given the adversarial nature of Democratic/Republican politics, any idea that is good for Republicans must be bad for Democrats, and Democrats would predictably move further to the left to distinguish themselves.

    The real question is: what constitute good, conservative ideas these days? If the “other side” can change the answer to that question just by supporting those ideas, then the movement is in real trouble, because it has no principles.

  • 20 JBJ // Apr 8, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Good discussion. About Fulton, MS: I don’t know about conservatives everywhere, but in the South they have decades of experience at this kind of bait-and-switch. One institution is opened up, by judicial force, to a previously excluded group, so a parallel institution sprouts to take its place. The public schools were forced to integrate, when lo and behold, a segregation academy appeared on the edge of town where people of color were not invited. And in every case, the insiders felt they were obeying common sense.

  • 21 andrew // Apr 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    great article! i feel a bit of sympathy for the type of conservative you’ve identified, and i feel that a great solution would be flying those guys all over the world. it’s hard to continue holding outdated and false ideas about cultural superiority when one meets people from other parts of the world

  • 22 K. Chen // Apr 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I agree with your analysis to the point where communication is making epistemic closure more dramatic, but I think you’re missing a few pieces. First, much of modern conservatism defines itself in opposition to the left – a left that prides itself on open mindedness and pluralism (irregardless of how well it holds up to those ideals).

    More importantly though, regardless of the underlying causes and vulnerabilities in the conservative mindset, part of the reason that the right is further down the rabbit hole than the left is that the right – or at least pundits and politicians in the right – are trying to go further down the rabbit hole. It is how they make their money, and how they preserve their power.

  • 23 Eunomia » The Triumph of Ideology // Apr 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    […] I am skeptical that the movement conservative mind was ever open in quite the way that Millman or Sanchez means it. The conservative mind of the sort described by Kirk is one that is both grounded in […]

  • 24 John Thacker // Apr 8, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    “Isn’t part of the problem that some of the best/most popular conservative ideas have been stolen by Democrats via Clintonesque triangulation?”

    You cite NAFTA, but most Republicans did vote for NAFTA, and were proud of that vote. In the years since NAFTA, Democrats have moved far, far away from free trade. (And a majority of House Democrats voted against it anyway.) In the recent Senate elections, nearly every Democratic gain, especially in the Midwest, was gained as an anti-free trade vote.

    I don’t understand the claims that Republicans are more likely to see Democrats as evil than the reverse. I consistently see mainstream Democratic politicians call identical policies evil when advocated by Republicans, in addition to calling the Republicans supporting those policies evil. Certainly the same thing happens in reverse, but no one’s doubting that here.

    Democrats supported larger Medicare cuts than what they called evil under Republicans. Same with NAFTA. Democrats mostly shrug at the idea of Obama killing suspected terrorists when the idea of holding same suspects in prison or eavesdropping on them was pure evil.

    I think that partisan hatred actually can increase when the opponent is bipartisan or centrist. If your policies are nearly the same, it becomes even more important to have a reason why you oppose that side. The New Republic tends to support “workable, sensible” conservative ideas, even while giving lots of space to writers insisting that Republicans are evil and not to be trusted, so we need Democrats to implement Republican ideas.

    George W. Bush governed in a very bipartisan, moderate way. (Some evidence: http://keithhennessey.com/2010/02/23/bipartisan-successes/ ) Even the PATRIOT Act is something that when it was first passed, Joe Biden claimed credit for writing it, saying that it was the same as his bill after Oklahoma City that foolishly wasn’t passed. And yet he was widely acclaimed as evil by Democrats, just like Clinton with Republicans.

  • 25 John Thacker // Apr 8, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Or take Governor McDonnell’s proclamation (stupidly) not mentioning slavery. For many liberals, this seems to be an obvious sign that he’s evil. Yet Jim Webb can go much, much farther in defending the Confederacy ( http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0608/10994.html ) and any criticism is muted.

    I’ve always felt that Democrats are far more motivated by the idea that their opponents are evil. That’s probably because I interact with a different sort of Democrat.

  • 26 Mary Kay // Apr 9, 2010 at 8:24 am

    You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. My family & the people I grew up with are the people you’re talking about. They do indeed, believe that everyone everywhere thinks like them — believes what they do. And if they don’t they ought to! Part of this isolation is down to the fact that mostly they have only right-wing controlled media easily acessible to them. It’s complicated by the fact that, while not actually stupid, they completely lack the intellectual curiosity to go looking for other, less or differently biased, news. It’s a very claustrophobic and stifling atmosphere to anyone who *does* have intellectual curiosity and so we leave ASAP.


  • 27 Balloon Juice » Blog Archive » The origins of epistemic closure // Apr 9, 2010 at 10:47 am

    […] Julian Sanchez has a good piece about how the conservative misinformation loop got started in the first place: […]

  • 28 Essential reading… « Alix Reads Too Much // Apr 9, 2010 at 10:56 am

    […] 9, 2010 · Leave a Comment This is a much blogged about post by Julian Sanchez about the right wing echo chamber. He tried to find the reason for it and comes up with some […]

  • 29 The shrinking world and the closing of the conservative mind - E.D. Kain - American Times - True/Slant // Apr 9, 2010 at 11:20 am

    […] Sanchez dissects the modern conservative mind in light of the Fulton, Mississippi prom scandal. He describes how […]

  • 30 mdb // Apr 9, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Being in liberal Boston, I have to say – there is plenty of this on the left. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with neighbors where the conclusions are assumed to be correct simply because they know X. Left or Right – I see no difference other than priorities.

  • 31 John Thacker // Apr 9, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Regarding people who are moderate being the most viciously partisan, don’t forget that it was David Frum who penned an article about “Unpatriotic Conservatives” for opposing the war in Iraq.

  • 32 RobertRays // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Unable to cite the source here, but a recent survey found that unlike others, self-identified conservatives, when faced with facts contrary to their beliefs, are likely to cling even more strongly to those beliefs. Another, which I saw ina psychology textbook (sorry, can’t cite that one either), found that more than half of conservatives suffer nightmares of being attacked, as by bears, or of their loved ones being so attacked, whereas only about 20% of liberals suffer such nightmares. So it would seem that most conservatives live, consciously or not, in a constant state of anxiety about threats to what they hold most dear…maybe apt to see them where others don’t…and who would not play loose with factuality when life and all one holds dearest feel constantly threatened?

  • 33 RobertRays // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    One’s impulse, under such perceived threats, ought to be to gather more facts, exercise ever more exacting judgment, and make more nuanced statements, to be more certain of the existence and dimensions of the threat. But perhaps more partisan conservatives believe that this is no way to win over masses of people to their agenda…

  • 34 mike farmer // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    “Another, which I saw ina psychology textbook (sorry, can’t cite that one either), found that more than half of conservatives suffer nightmares of being attacked, as by bears, or of their loved ones being so attacked, whereas only about 20% of liberals suffer such nightmares.”

    That sounds like Russophobia — I have a recurring dream where I’m a weiner traveling through the Lincoln Tunnell — what does that mean?

  • 35 Ramiah Ariya // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    One of the important ways in which conservatives and liberals differ is this: conservatives look for explanations of events (such as the subprime mortgage crisis) based on the personal actions of a large number of individuals (such as blacks or Hispanics buying houses they can’t afford). Liberals look for systemic explanations (such as laws passed 10 years back).
    Liberals usually approach history or current events as an unfolding of complex interactions between (say) law, social mores, economic pressure and so on. For example, you don’t see liberals blaming slavery on the INDIVIDUAL preferences of white people – tey tend to approach slavery through economic lenses.
    Conservatives, on the other hand, simply are blind to systems acting on individuals and encouraging or discouraging behavior – conservatives see personal behavior as the root cause of trends in society.
    Therefore, it is no surprise to me that conservative talk show hosts spend a lot of time blaming individual liberals – it is a feature of all conservative societies (I live in India, and I see it as a feature in our society).
    You DO have liberal equivalents – it is just that the liberal equivalents concentrate on economics or sociology – that, again, is a world view of liberals.
    Liberals see systems to the exclusion of individual actors; conservatives see individual actors to the exclusion of systems.

  • 36 Julian Sanchez // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I think Ramiah’s point is important and basically right, though I think there are other areas where the individual/systemic tendency flips. (Viz: Listen to a moving story about this person who needs help vs. what incentives are created if we help all such people?)

  • 37 Barry // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    “That sounds like Russophobia — I have a recurring dream where I’m a weiner traveling through the Lincoln Tunnell — what does that mean?”

    It has very different interpretations:
    (a) You are finally achieving a lifelong goal by entering the tunnel, and your cameraview switches to exploding fireworks and ocean waves crashing up on the shore.

    (b) As you enter you realize that there’s a portcullis built into the tunnel; you awaken screaming as the portcullis comes crashing down.

  • 38 Robert Waldmann // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    I have a quibble. I will advance it by ruthless elision. You wrote

    “however hard they might strive for objectivity … The output may have varying degrees of liberal slant”

    I think that this is a fair summary of your view, although it is only technically a quotation. It seems to me that you assert that however hard liberals might strive for objectivity their output must have a liberal slant. I don’t think this is true. I think it is possible to be more than fair to the other side.

    It isn’t very hard to make sure one doesn’t have a liberal slant by making sure one has a conservative slant.

    Less extremely, it is possible that the New York Times has a conservative slant because they go a little bit too far in their efforts to avoid a liberal slant.

    Needless to say many liberals, for example, Matthew Yglesias assert exactly this. They present evidence. Why do you dismiss their claim ?

  • 39 Don SinFalta // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    “…if we’re going to sideline the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded…”

    “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.” -John Stuart Mill

  • 40 Hugh Williams // Apr 9, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    A better question to ask the Mississippi homophobes, especially the adults, is “Why would it ever be morally acceptable to be cruel to anyone, especially a child?”

    From Rush sneering at Michael J. Fox’s Parkinsons, to Breitbart and his accomplices falsely editing tape and costing people their jobs to make a partisan point, to opponents-of-HCR’s nearly universal shrug of the shoulders regarding people dying from lack of care, the right seems completely unmoored from that ancient moral truism “Don’t be a dick.” (That Andrew Breitbart is able to falsely ruin people’s careers in the service of a lie and suffer absolutely no consequences is itself is an indictment of our feckless political culture.)

    Our political tribalism and bloodsport has wrung the milk of human kindness from a large swath of our polity. It’s a shame in and of itself, but those cruel, heartless people should never be given the levers of governmental power.

  • 41 Who closed the conservative mind? « Later On // Apr 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    […] 12:27 pm by LeisureGuy Noah Millman has a very interesting post under the above title. It begins: Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias are only the latest to wonder about a topic that ought to matter to folks who […]

  • 42 Hugh Williams // Apr 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I should have said “the hard-right seems completely unmoored” above. There are principled conservatives who regard their fellows busily collecting liberal scalps with a disfavorable eye.

    The principled conservatives have broken from The Movement and started speaking out: Eubanks, Frum, Bartlett, etc. For our good, I hope they’re heard.

  • 43 Julian Sanchez // Apr 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Clearly, journalists also do sometimes get gamed into overcompensating by people who play on their fears of seeming biased. It’s a big media world; many things can happen. I doubt there’s any objective way to really assess which is more significant on net. To the extent you can talk about an overall direction of “bias,” I think it’s more complicated than “liberal or conservative,” but that’s another post. My point isn’t really to validate conservative complaints about liberal bias, just to say the initial rationale for wanting the conservative alternative is intelligible.

  • 44 Jim Bales // Apr 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    My thanks to Mr. Sanchez for a thought-provoking post (and thanks to Noah Millman via Brad DeLong for linking and commenting on their blogs). I can shed a little light on a few of the comments above.

    @5 Mike Farmer writes: “I wonder how many high schools in the northeast allow open expression of homosexuality at high school proms.”

    While not directly addressing the prom question, I’ll note that the Massachusetts Dept. of Education has a webpage (href=”http://www.doe.mass.edu/cnp/GSA/OutAbout.html?printscreen=yes&”) under the heading “Nutrition, Health and Safety” entitled “Gay/Straight Alliances: A Student Guide”. Also, students at Brookline (MA) H.S. staged a counter protest against the Westboro Baptists lunatics who staged an anti-gay, anti-jewish protest at Brookline High.

    @17 Stephen writes “I also think using American cable news broadcasters as proxies for conservative and progressive epistemic differences is problematic.”

    Consider the repeated examples of Republican legislators and other major Republicans who have criticized or marginalized Rush Limbaugh and then retracted that criticism within days.
    (http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/photofeatures/2009/04/rushing-to-apologize.php?img=1). I cannot think of a single reporter/pundit/talking head with such power over Democrats, but if anyone knows of one, I’d like to hear who it is.

    @ 19 JM writes:
    “[E]very time a conservative comes up with a sane, workable idea, business-oriented Democrats have claimed that idea as their own … forcing conservatives to move a little further to the right, just to be distinctive.”

    Is it really the case that Republicans would rather be distinctive than be right? That they would harm our nation so that they can be distinctive?

    JM continues “There are only so many sane, workable ideas in the universe, and if the other side claims them all, you’re left with only insane, unworkable ideas.”

    This argues that it is the case that Republicans have chosen to be insane rather than correct. I think there may be merit to the argument.

    @24 John Thacker writes of Obama getting a pass on doing essentially the same things Bush got slammed for.

    I think there is significant merit in the observation that the Obama policies on, e.g., detaining “enemy combatants” are given an unwarranted pass by Democrats who opposed these policies when Bush did them. I think that having people like Glenn Greenwald speaking out just as forcefully against Obama as they spoke against Bush is a good thing.

    Mr. Thacker also writes:
    “Democrats supported larger Medicare cuts than what they called evil under Republicans.”

    I would note that by giving up Medicare cuts under the recent health care act Democrats secured affordable heath care for tens of millions of Americans, and ending the abominable practice of recision. Democrats can reasonably claim that this was a good deal, and that when Republicans propose cuts in Medicare with no offsetting gains it was, in fact, evil, as it hurt some people without providing any comparable benefit to anyone else.

    Jim Bales

  • 45 Mark // Apr 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Regarding: “…the overt hostility isn’t really directed at Constance’s sexuality so much as her bewildering insistence on messing with the way everyone knows things are supposed to be.”

    This explanation may make sense for the older people in town who cannot conceive of a world where homosexual acceptance is a possiblity. However, all the young people in this town are well aware that many other parts of the country and world are completely accepting of homosexuality. They see a lot of the same culture we all do, and the rise of the internet and social networking has only increased their exposure to life outside their town. They have heard of Lady Gaga. They know who Ellen DeGeneres is. They watch American Idol.

    The key point is that these young people know that many, many people are completely fine with homosexuals, yet they choose to go along with the culture of their town. They could not have been nearly as surprised as their parents when witnessing the contempt directed at them in their facebook group.

    The high-school age students in this town are not insulated enough to support this hypothesis. I think their motives are simpler: selfishness and the desire to be part of the “popular” crowd.

  • 46 Julian Sanchez // Apr 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    It’s not that I think the kids have otherwise somehow remained hermetically sealed from the world in which Lady Gaga exists, but I don’t know to what extent it was felt as locally real. I’m aware of Tuvan throat singing, but it’d still be weird if people I saw around in DC started talking that way.

  • 47 The What-Have-Yous « The Regimen // Apr 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez, Matthew Yglesias and Jonathan Chait all ponder the causes of the ever-solidifying right-wing […]

  • 48 mulp // Apr 10, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Can anyone state for certain that a dividing line between man and woman exists and still be open minded?

    The world’s scientists haven’t provide the Olympics rules committee an answer three decades:

    “A judicial test defining sex by external genitalia will fail on citizens with ambiguous parts, of various descriptions.
    One that defines female as XX and male as XY will fail on any number of genetic anomalies.
    One that defines female as “having a womb” (or ovaries) will fail on men with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, people with cellular mosaicism, women with MRKH, and others.
    One that defines male as “having testes” will fail on CAIS women, 5-alpha-steroid reductase deficiency women, and others.
    One that defines male as “having the SRY gene” will fail on CAIS women, on SRY-negative XX males, and others.
    One that defines male by hormone levels will fail on CAIS women and others.
    One that defines sex by fertility will fail on (obviously) the infertile and on women past menopause. (Do we really want to define the infertile as neuter and forbid them from marrying? I hope not.)
    One that defines a person’s sex as “whichever sex the obstetrician wrote on the birth certificate” will fail on people whose botched sex-assignment surgery is corrected later in life, on people with some of the developmental anomalies cited earlier, and on transsexuals and similar. (See below.)

    There really are no workable tests. This isn’t just a technical problem that hasn’t been worked out: Remember, the best minds in the International Olympic Committee, aided by the world’s top doctors and scientists, tried to solve it for 31 years, and gave up.”

  • 49 Partisan Polarization and Conservative Groupthink // Apr 10, 2010 at 6:44 am

    […] Yglesias gives an alternative explanation to CATO’s Julian Sanchez personal blog post about epistemic closure currently infesting the modern conservative […]

  • 50 Consumer Unit 5012 // Apr 10, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    How can anyone claim the Corporate Media are “Liberal Biased” with a straight face? If that were true, George W. Bush would’ve been laughed out of the electoral race back in 1999.

  • 51 An open mind as process, neglected by both political wings « Belligerati // Apr 11, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    […] Sanchez (Epistemic Closure, Technology, and the End of Distance), Andrew Sullivan (The Closing Of The Conservative Mind: An Update), and Tyler Cowen (Is the […]

  • 52 Weekend link dump for April 11 – Off the Kuff // Apr 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    […] Epistemic closure. […]

  • 53 liberal // Apr 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    “But it’s clearly empirically true that reporters are disproportionately liberals and Democrats…”

    So? What’s much more relevant is the political leanings of the _owners_. See, there’s this thing called the “employer/employee” relationship.

  • 54 liberal // Apr 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    John Thacker wrote, “And yet [Bush 43] was widely acclaimed as evil by Democrats, just like Clinton with Republicans.”

    LOL! Well, see, Bush 43 did invade Iraq, a country which was of no threat to the US, at a cost of the better part of $1T and thousands of American servicemen killed or maimed. (Put aside the killings of hundreds of thousdands of Iraqis.)

    And the comparable evil committed by Bill Clinton was…?

  • 55 Close Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow « Around The Sphere // Apr 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    […] Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow Jump to Comments Julian Sanchez: I’ve written a bit lately about what I see as a systematic trend toward “epistemic […]

  • 56 Julian Sanchez // Apr 14, 2010 at 12:02 am

    “So? What’s much more relevant is the political leanings of the _owners_. See, there’s this thing called the ’employer/employee’ relationship.”

    Having worked as a journalist for several years, and knowing a shit ton of journalists at many and varied publications: Sort of, but no. Which is to say, of course, that makes some difference, but on the whole it’s the folks on the ground who influence how stories play out within broad parameters. If you know anybody who actually works in journalism and honestly believes owners exert more net influence than the guys on the ground, well, I’d like to meet them.

  • 57 Gerald Fnord // Apr 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Yes, the conservative sees his or her local norms as being the apt rule, and all else a rude exception.

    THEODOTUS: Caesar: you are a stranger here, and not conversant with our laws. The kings and queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood. Ptolemy and Cleopatra are born king and consort just as they are born brother and sister.
    BRITANNUS (shocked): Caesar: this is not proper.
    THEODOTUS (outraged): How!
    CAESAR (recovering his self-possession): Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.

  • 58 "Epistemic closure" and all that | No Bull. news service. // Apr 15, 2010 at 3:11 am

    […] I’ve seen several blog posts about alleged “epistemic closure” in the modern conservative movement. The claim is that the American right is substantially more […]

  • 59 "Epistemic closure" and all that | No Bull. news service. // Apr 15, 2010 at 3:11 am

    […] I’ve seen several blog posts about alleged “epistemic closure” in the modern conservative movement. The claim is that the American right is substantially more […]

  • 60 Mark // Apr 15, 2010 at 10:27 am

    After seeing the complete lack of critical thinking on the left during the Obama campaign last year, I don’t feel the left is in any position to criticize the right on closed thinking. It continues to this day as any criticism of Obama or his policies is immediately branded “racist” by the left. I for one am waiting for Neil Armstrong to be hounded back into his 40-year seclusion by Matthews and Olbermann for his obvious racism for daring to criticize Obama’s space policy.

    The point in the political spectrum occupied by the political left of today has never been an movement of ideas. It has always been a movement of passions and emotions. Clinton was an idea person, but most of his ideas were centrist (remember the DLC?).

  • 61 The Conservative Mind, Circa 2010 - Ross Douthat Blog - NYTimes.com // Apr 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    […] been taken in all sorts of interesting directions by Matt Yglesias, Noah Millman, Megan McArdle, Sanchez again, Jonah Goldberg, and Conor Friedersdorf, among […]

  • 62 Karim // Apr 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm


    You start by saying that you consider the notion that conservatives are closed minded “a cheap partisan explanation.” But your analysis of the lesbian prom crisis acknowledges that the community feels that their parochial values are being threatened by “outsiders” who are threatening their way of life. In addition, they feel that members of their own community who disagree with those values, such as Constance, are among the outsiders. In short, they are close minded.

    So what distinction are you making here?

  • 63 The Party of Less Thinkin’ and More Whinin’ : Lawyers, Guns & Money // Apr 17, 2010 at 11:10 am

    […] an unpopular politician on his party’s side. I suppose this is also a subset of the “epistemic closure” phenomenon… Share and […]

  • 64 dragonet2 // Apr 18, 2010 at 1:29 am

    I just thing that none of the stoopid people in that small town have ever thought through the fact of ‘how is this a problem to me?” truly. They all seem to want to think that ‘this is going to screw up my community because of .”

    My ultra-conservative, Rush-Limbaugh-listening mother (85) once said, “Why are people so upset about gay people? It doesn’t hurt the people who are upset, gay people don”t bother other people that aren’t interested in it about that stuff.”

    Which says it all in a nutshell.

  • 65 The Desert Lamp » Campus » Morning Links, 19 April 2010 // Apr 19, 2010 at 6:21 am

    […] an attempt to compensate for the collapse of geographic closure.” Almost everyone should read more Julian Sanchez, and everyone should be cognizant of the risk of epistemic […]

  • 66 The Semipermeable Liberal Bubble « The Innocent Smith Journal // Apr 19, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    […] fragmented by the identity politics of greens, labor types, feminists, and other groups. Sanchez butted back in, contrasting the liberal media (“The New York Times is not fundamentally trying to be liberal; […]

  • 67 A Coda on Closure // Apr 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    […] the past couple of weeks, a pair of posts I wrote about what I dubbed “epistemic closure” on the right kicked off a surprisingly […]

  • 68 The Coffee Party: It’s About Hate : The Other McCain // Apr 25, 2010 at 11:27 am

    […] for example, of the doomed Ned Lamont campaign.This is the obverse of Sanchez’s “epistemic closure” thesis, you see. Michael Brendan Dougherty has noted a tendency of conservatives to argue, […]

  • 69 No Closure in the ‘Epistemic Closure’ Debate - ArtsBeat Blog - NYTimes.com // Apr 26, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    […] in recent weeks for a vigorous debate on the right about the movement’s intellectual health. Julian Sanchez, a libertarian at the Cato Institute, was the first to use “epistemic closure” to refer to what […]

  • 70 All the Talk About Epistemic Closure // Apr 27, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    […] linked above, Sanchez has since written two other articles about this topic that you can find here and here. In that third one, he provides what I find to be the best definition of the phenomena. […]

  • 71 Mael // Apr 28, 2010 at 5:58 pm


    I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece of Epistemic Closure quite like yours outside of something by Noam Comsky. I think the critical mistake you make is that you start out from a world view that assumes the arguments of “progressives” are valid or that the field they describe presents the only one that is viable. When you say that NY Times is just trying to “get it right” you lost credibility and I really wonder if you have read the Times.

    I’m surprised you call yourself a libertarian given your expressed bias against the right of a community or individual to establish their own behavioral norms and maintain their freedom to associate. Being sexually novel is not like being a red head or black that you would make such a weak argument is puzzling given your propensity for such deep reflection. I’d think you would be able to see the view points of others and consider that it is not just an expression of closed mindedness that such things are pushed back against. I’d also like you to consider that one can not stop being a red head (hair color aside) and the vast majority of schools throughout this land do not encourage same sex proms. Some have them but it is pure ignorance on your part to suggest otherwise but that is a typical tactic of the epistemic closed.

    They first try to cast the debate as if their opponents are just stupid louts. Then they set up straw men to knock down taking the weakest arguments and tying them together with twine and paste and setting them to the torch of their obvious superior intellect not unlike religious offerings to an unseen Gods except the God these offerings are delivered to is often simply themselves or an ideology as tenuous as that of any man.

    You remind me of so many who think themselves intellectuals who are in fact just populist writers for the status quo. It is exactly because I have immersed myself in the intellectual drivel of the progressive left that I find it so intellectually and viscerally repulsive.

    I can only hope that America is not doomed to the dominance of pseudo intellectualism because that is what we have in most of our colleges, politics, media, and corporations and the derision of coarse hewn conservatives who may not be always eloquent but still very right in their skepticism and bitterness in a progressive elite that continues to fail us all will only prevent any reform towards libertarian or fiscally conservative principles. What it will accomplish is we will end up with a European style debate where the electorate is offered the same choice of big government or very big government and where the individual liberties end where the air you breath begins.

  • 72 Man Bites Blog » Blog Archive » One More Try On My Problem with the Sabermetricians // Apr 29, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    […] Which is a nice way to preach to the choir, but probably not such a great way to win converts. Can we say “epistemic closure?” […]

  • 73 on conservative groupthink « // Apr 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    […] more about the conservative argument for a ‘liberal media bias’1: The big obvious change is […]

  • 74 People and Monoliths | Professor Mondo // May 14, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    […] a way, this ties in to the epistemic closure misnomer/meme that a number of folks in the blogosphere have been trying to make recently. The argument (that debates over the nature/direction of […]

  • 75 Almost as Good as ‘Epistemic Closure’ : The Other McCain // May 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    […] discussion about what it is conservatives should be doing with New Media. All we need now is for Julian Sanchez to weigh in, get Glenn Greenwald and David Frum involved, and we’ll have another pointless […]

  • 76 8 Car Pile Up // Jun 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    […] Perhaps comments will help clarify things. That said, all I can think of is Julian Sanchez’s epistemic closure: Contemplate how vertigo-inducing this must be. You’ve got a local community where a certain set […]

  • 77 Canada, freeeeedom, and epistemic closure. « 8 Car Pile Up // Jun 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    […] Perhaps comments will help clarify things. That said, all I can think of is Julian Sanchez’s epistemic closure: Contemplate how vertigo-inducing this must be. You’ve got a local community where a certain set […]

  • 78 Redefining the Political Spectrum « Contrarian Moderate // Jul 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

    […] their team, rather than evaluating policies and arguments on their merits. This is a world wherein epistemic closure can take hold, where no one actually engages intellectual opponents. Policy arguments are presented […]

  • 79 Naked careerism in action | A Walk On The Dark Side // Oct 20, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    […]  If anything, I’m even more firmly entrenched in my views than before (a sure sign of epistemic closure on my part if I ever seen one), and terribly keen to discuss and debate these ideas and What Brands […]

  • 80 The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks, #5-1 | Patrol // Dec 1, 2010 at 11:50 am

    […] would have been great except … it wasn’t ironic. If you want a walking embodiment of conservative epistemic closure who isn’t named Jonah Goldberg, then David Limbaugh is your man. It’s hard to imagine […]

  • 81 Kaelri - Rebutting The Slacktivist // Dec 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    […] Epistemic closure is alive and well. But I reject the notion that its cause is the unwillingness of journalists to draw moral conclusions about the stories they cover. It is their unwillingness to pursue truth at all. Yes, if a reporter refuses to express judgment on a killing spree or a troupe of rescued miners, we would rightfully castigate her laughable phobia towards the slightest risk of controversy. But when a CNN anchor refuses to contrast Mitch McConnell’s stated position on the deficit with the factual, causal implications of his own tax policy, it is more than just a coarse misconception of political neutrality. Such cowardice fails both the standard of goodness and the standard of truth. […]

  • 82 What we have and haven’t learned from ‘Climategate’ | Wealthywaste.com // Feb 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    […] Link Summaryhttp://www.grist.org/…-11-28-on-climategatehttp://www.grist.org/article/series/skeptics/http://www.research.p…ings_Mann_Inquiry.pdfhttp://www.scholarsan…cusations-shriveling/http://dotearth.blogs…lias-climate-lessons/http://www.guardian.c…ked-email-uea-inquiryhttp://www.grist.org/…long-live-climategatehttp://www.oig.doc.go…orts/2011/001688.htmlhttp://www.oig.doc.go…2.18_IG_to_Inhofe.pdfhttp://epw.senate.gov…af9-7bce-c09203f891dbhttp://trueslant.com/…hacked-stolen-leaked/http://online.wsj.com…?mod=rss_opinion_mainhttp://blogs.abcnews….ann-off-the-hook.htmlhttp://dotearth.blogs…07/gate-fever-breaks/http://wonkroom.think…limategate-watergate/http://www.grist.org/…something-much-largerhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnotologyhttp://crookedtimber….11/02/17/shibboleths/http://www.juliansanc…-the-end-of-distance/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibbolethhttp://www.grist.org/…ause-wired-extinctionhttp://www.grist.org/…her-to-global-warminghttp://www.grist.org/…-slashing-epa-funding […]

  • 83 Craig Hubley // Feb 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Perhaps the most effective tactic to deal with these closed loops is to invoke undisputed history. On the specific “issue” of same-sex unions, for instance, one can observe that they were only banned several decades into the Christian era in Rome – meaning they were practiced up until then, including by Christians.

    Making this whole business a legislative not religious matter.

  • 84 Craig Hubley // Feb 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    A bigger problem than these loops is the tendency to pander to them by commenting on them, Julian.

    It would be better to create tight but still quite open loops favouring scientific themes and open to scientific styles of evidence and argument. That is, rather than talk about Republican idiocy at all, just focus on the debate between Greens and Democrats about how far to go on what issue when… and where they are both wrong according to the science, based perhaps on other science-based legislative arguments in other countries.

    Ignore the right wing loop and focus on better decisions and fewer compromises with evil, and the right will find its own ways to destroy itself.

  • 85 Craig Hubley // Feb 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Oh I did not mean to exclude Libertarians from that rational discourse, many are well aware that any ideology of respect for personal autonomy and property implies paying for harms done to the entire planet, specific ecosystems that make “land” or water rights valuable at all. Dan Sullivan wrote on this and differentiated “geo-libertarians” from a “Royal libertarian” who ultimately subscribed to some colonial notion of property and power via deeds from ancient Kings who took the land by force.

  • 86 What we have and haven’t learned from ‘Climategate’ | Daily News // Mar 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    […] complicated right has combined a closed epistemic loop containing millions of people. Within that loop, a extravagance or ascendancy of a explain itself […]

  • 87 Daniel C. // Mar 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    An interesting thesis, but it seems to lean on the assumption that conservatism is predominantly a rural phenomenon. In fact there are many millions of conservatives who live in suburbs and work in cities, so geographic isolation has never really applied. I think this article is just reformulating the old problem (perceived by liberals) as to why conservatives are so “closed-minded” (i.e., unable to accept liberalism). Having lived in Massachusetts, I can attest that culturally entrenched and uncritically accepted values are not peculiar to conservatism.

  • 88 Hall of mirrors: the lost art of conversation | Madroño Ranch // Mar 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    […] or at most, a member of the speaker’s monolithic tribe. I recently read a great blog about the “epistemic closure” in much current conservative thinking—the tendency to accept evidence only when it reinforces […]

  • 89 The Epistemic Closure of Joe Bageant : The Other McCain // Mar 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez might be bothered to examine all these eulogies for Bageant in the context of “epistemic closure.”Of course, he won’t. Criticizing progressives is beneath Sanchez’s […]

  • 90 Mark LaRochelle // Mar 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Are conservatives really more susceptible to epistemic closure than progressives? I don’t know, but I’d have to see some data before I swallowed that assertion.

    Among journalists, liberals outnumber conservatives 4-to-1 by admission, and Democrats outnumber Republicans 99-to-1 in campaign contributions.

    In such an environment, it’s impossible to keep groupthink from shaping news judgment. Every bit of laziness, sloth or ignorance allows the story to slip unconsciously into a familiar, predetermined narrative template. It’s not that journalists intend to spin the story, it’s that without a more ideologically diverse and balanced newsroom they can’t avoid it.

    Before the rise of Rush Limbaugh and conservative AM talk radio, Fox News Channel and the Internet, the mainstream media were virtually the only mass media. This in a country where conservatives outnumber liberals 2-to-1.

    Conservatives are exposed to mainstream media, dominated by liberals, whether they like it or not; they thus tend to be familiar with liberal arguments, and have developed certain immune responses to them. Liberals are not similarly exposed to conservative media; they must intentionally seek them out.

    Not having been exposed to conservative arguments, liberals lack the immune responses conservatives have been forced to develop, and have no defense but to retreat into epistemic closure when they confront one. In this sense. conservative are more “cosmopolitan” than liberals.

    Anecdotal evidence: I cannot tell you how many times I have explained to a liberal that minimum wage laws harm the unemployed, or that zoning laws harm the homeless, or that tariffs harm the poor, only to have my interlocutor reply, “You must be a Republican! Since when do conservatives care about the poor, anyway?”

    These are sophisticated, educated, cosmopolitan people, who have somehow managed to obtain advanced degrees and powerful positions without ever having to consider the possibility that conservatives might be something other than stupid or evil. That is epistemic closure.

    The entry of conservative media into the discussion has broadened the spectrum of opinion in public discourse. It has given voice to the plurality of news consumers who have been woefully underserved by the mainstream media.

    As circulation and ratings of mainstream media outlets decline, many liberal journalists I know see the problem and are fighting to fix it. But they are fighting enormous inertia, and it is far from certain that they can right the balance before the MSM founders altogether. That would be a tragedy.

  • 91 What is Post-Truth? And what is the Post-Truth Era? « The Post-Truth Journal // Jun 9, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    […] of information.  Typically they’re the ones caught up in complex post-truths.  These people are epistemologically closed and build up an internal logic that is alien to objective reality and resistant to “hostile […]

  • 92 Epistemic Closure | The Western Experience // Aug 18, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    […] mind’s problem with being open to the influence of contrary ideas or opinions. Here’s Julian Sanchez: One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which […]

  • 93 MyTurboPC.com // Aug 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Thank you for being our mentor on this niche. I enjoyed your own article a lot and most of all appreciated how you really handled the areas I thought to be controversial. You’re always really kind towards readers really like me and let me in my everyday living. Thank you.

  • 94 Palestinian U.N. Statehood: Global Media and Diasporas « From the 6-4-0 // Sep 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    […] erupted on the issue of confirmation bias, dubbed, “epistemic closure”. It all started here, but I highly recommend you google the phrase as pretty much every prominent political blogger […]

  • 95 プロペシア通販 // Sep 24, 2011 at 12:33 am

    thanksan interesting blog

  • 96 Anti-science vs. epistemic closure in climate science denial « Praj's Blog // Oct 13, 2011 at 1:08 am

    […] Joe Bastardi is your only news source and you never hear about the IPCC. If Julian Sanchez’s “epistemic closure” thesis is true, Republicans’ don’t have an aversion to data per se. It’s that a […]

  • 97 フィンペシアの効果と副作用 // Nov 12, 2011 at 1:21 am


  • 98 ロゲイン効果 // Nov 12, 2011 at 3:21 am


  • 99 » Statism, Identity Politics, and the Conservative Predicament James Poulos // Dec 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    […] ungenerous but plausible account adds to a string of important musings, kicked off by Julian Sanchez, on the capture or near-capture of a certain kind of movement conservatism by the political […]

  • 100 Never Yet Melted » The Real Reason Obama Isn’t Coping // Dec 11, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    […] year or two ago one of those guys who’s supposedly a libertarian but seems to make his rent attacking conservatives posited […]

  • 101 フィンペシア // Jan 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

    but seems to make his rent attacking conservatives posited

  • 102 Lauvaux // Jan 24, 2012 at 12:10 am

    I want to BBQ me some ribeye at the next Hindu wedding I attend. What? Not allowed? To heck with that … call the ACLU! Are they so blind, the Hindus, so epistemically closed off to my rights? Oh, the injustice!

  • 103 Overreach | The Angriest Liberal // Feb 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    […] is part and parcel of what Julian Sanchez , David Frum, Jon Chait were discussing all last year, the Epistemic Closure of the Republican […]

  • 104 Mr. anti conformist-left // May 18, 2012 at 3:36 am

    What a hot pile of smoothly transitioning 4-6 syllable words strung along to present an impressive wordsmith.

    Problem is, no matter how smooth you write, that if your position is utterly stupid and ignorant you will get no respect.

  • 105 The Technology-Culture Gap in Online Activism « shouting loudly // Jul 24, 2012 at 11:42 am

    […] read blog posts on the issues at the top of the media agenda.  It’s great for establishing epistemic closure.  But “click here to read more” is an awful means of growing your member list. […]

  • 106 On "epistemic closure" and other maladies of the Right // Aug 7, 2012 at 8:08 am

    […] blogger Julian Sánchez recently posted a very interesting comment on the “systematic trend toward “epistemic closure” in the modern conservative […]

  • 107 Newsweek’s Admission Illustrates Exploitable Vulnerability In The Media | flexosaurus // Aug 24, 2012 at 6:56 am

    […] Meanwhile, Newsweek's avoidance of fact-checking is just one example of a larger erosion of journalism, led by shrinking newsrooms, layoffs, and more. The erosion of the structures of journalism in turn fuels a growing lack of credibility for the media in general, and offers an opportunity for the conservative echo chamber to fill the gap. This trend is incredibly hard to reverse, largely because of what Julian Sanchez has labeled epistemic closure. […]

  • 108 Mike // Aug 24, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    You know I don’t think it’s the choice of journalists to be Democrats. It’s the other way around. There’s very little offered to educated people by the modern GOP, which at every turn disavows the lessons of history, scientific fact and economic wisdom and plays to the fears of the poor and uneducated to keep their votes against their best interest and further the goals of the rich business elite.

  • 109 Romney’s birther joke and the closed information loop – PostPartisan – The Washington Post « Ye Olde Soapbox // Aug 28, 2012 at 12:22 am

    […] causes that feedback loop, it doesn’t currently exist equally for both parties; Republicans have built their epistemic closure by systematically demonizing and discrediting the neutral press and encouraging their supporters […]

  • 110 The right’s climate denialism is part of something much larger | Grist // Sep 4, 2012 at 12:40 am

    […] the right’s climate denialism hasn’t been properly linked to the larger phenomenon of epistemic closure on the right. When Jim Manzi, everyone’s favorite sensible conservative, criticized fellow conservative […]

  • 111 lostto // Sep 29, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Hmm…very interesting point there, epistemic closure being related to collapse of geographic closure…being a many-years res of NorCal, but raised in Indiana, this rings true to me, and helps reframe some conservative ideology for me….still drives me nuts, but the insight lessens my exasperation.

  • 112 The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks, #5-1 | Patrol - A review of religion and the modern world // Oct 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    […] would have been great except … it wasn’t ironic. If you want a walking embodiment of conservative epistemic closure who isn’t named Jonah Goldberg, then David Limbaugh is your man. It’s hard to imagine […]

  • 113 The Mainstream Hits Hard | Blogging Change // Nov 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    […] in April, Julian Sanchez noted the following about the American media: [A]s Tucker Carlson won boos for pointing out at CPAC last […]

  • 114 お気楽なわたし // Jan 27, 2013 at 9:12 pm


  • 115 One Man Book Club: Cognitive Surplus, Chapter 7 | Donefer.com // May 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    […] one can only see the other side as pure evil. Julian Sanchez wrote what I believe to be one of the definitive articles on conservative* epistemic closure in 2010. The nut of his […]

  • 116 whatsapp // Sep 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm

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  • 117 Don’t feed the climate trolls | News // Mar 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    […] has sailed: Climate science is already thoroughly politicized. Personally, I blame conservative epistemic closure for this situation, stoked by anti-intellectual pundits and the vast wealth and power of the fossil […]

  • 118 Reports from Venezuela: Two views of the ‘Dialogue’ | Babalú Blog // Apr 12, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    […] opposition’s problem with epistemic closure is a spring breeze. The government’s problem is a category-5 super […]

  • 119 Wherein Republicans Believe Their Own Propaganda // May 9, 2014 at 7:53 am

    […] House subcommittee hearing; it matters quite a bit when it extends to governing capacity. A party incapable of seeing outside of its own propaganda bubble is unlikely to be able to govern competently. Republicans Stumble on Flawed Obamacare `Facts' – […]

  • 120 What's the matter with Scotland? It's full of Scottish people. » Spectator Blogs // May 29, 2014 at 5:54 am

    […] It is what, deep down, many Yes voters (nationalists or not!) really think. It reflects a kind of epistemic closure. There are no good or even vaguely plausible reasons for thinking differently; anyone who does so […]

  • 121 sourcewaterweb.com // Oct 8, 2014 at 4:34 pm

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  • 122 An Epistemology of Media Bias | s-usih.org // Oct 17, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    […] 2010, libertarian writer Julian Sanchez used the term “epistemic closure” to help explain the closed system of logic used by movement conservatives. Arguing that […]

  • 123 Violence and Euphemism - Freedom's Floodgates // Jan 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    […] support as horrible, or at least questionable. But if you form a bubble, if you move towards what Julian Sanchez calls “epistemic closure,” it becomes very easy to escalate your support for violence. You talk […]

  • 124 Violenza ed Eufemismi - Freedom's Floodgates // Jan 26, 2015 at 8:06 am

    […] la violenza. È però più probabile che accada se ci si chiude in una bolla, o in quello che Julian Sanchez chiama un “recinto epistemico”, dove è molto più facile trovare sostenitori. Parla con […]

  • 125 Violenza ed Eufemismi - Freedom's Floodgates // Jan 26, 2015 at 8:06 am

    […] la violenza. È però più probabile che accada se ci si chiude in una bolla, o in quello che Julian Sanchez chiama un “recinto epistemico”, dove è molto più facile trovare sostenitori. Parla con […]

  • 126 Why Do Good Politicians Do Bad Things? « ellen post // Mar 10, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    […] On the rise of epistemic closure, especially on the right, see, for example, http://www.juliansanchez.com/2010/04/07/epistemic-closure-technology-and-the-end-of-distance/; […]

  • 127 Sea Level Rise in Miami and Politics. Let’s just say no to the “deniers.” « cyndi lenz // Jul 31, 2015 at 8:09 am

    […] me that the right’s climate denialism hasn’t been properly linked to the larger phenomenon of epistemic closure on the right. When Jim Manzi, everyone’s favorite sensible conservative, criticized fellow conservative Mark […]

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