Welcome back. Your dreams were your ticket out.
A couple of years ago I named my fantasy football team “epistemic closure”. It was a few months after I had read about the term coined by Julian Sanchez here
It was like the first time I heard the term schadenfreude, which roughly means “taking pleasure in others’ misfortune”. Apparently the Germans figured this out and gave it a name. Epistemic closure was another abstraction that was familiar that needed defining. Sanchez described it thusly:
“Closure is the universal tendency toward confirmation bias plus a sufficiently large array of multimedia conservative outlets to constitute a complete media counterculture, plus an over-broad ideological justification for treating mainstream output as intrinsically suspect.”
In lay terms, it describes three separate concepts that when combined have a powerful effect. The first is a truth of human nature that when faced with information (fact and opinion) that confirms how one feels, that person will belive that information more than information which contradicts how one feels. Makes sense to me. No one likes to hear that they’re wrong.
The second is the scope and actions of the conservative media. The synergy between politics and media isn’t news to anyone. The information age provides multiple media platforms for political and ideological views. There are conservative (and less successful liberal) programs on the radio, TV, on DVD, etc. The internet allows a person to seek out an ideological viewpoint as well as “passive” exposure to viewpoints. Chain emails and Facebook are good examples of passive exposure. It is easy to build an ideological bubble. It is even easier to nestle in and stay there.
The third is the delegitimization of any source of conflicting information. This is commonly expressed as, “You can’t trust the liberal mainstream media/conservative Fox News”. The implication is that even if something is true, the source makes it suspect. One source is all truth. The other all lies or manipulations.
The combination of these three things creates a perpetual extremism machine. The crazification seems to grow exponentially for someone who is “closed”. To the closed person, everything become categorized and politicized. He spends most of his time basking in tribalism. Mostly this involves agreeing with his like-minded compadres or trashing ideological adversaries. Now, when confronted with information that differs from his viewpoint, he can simply ignore the information out of hand. Ideas harden, hatred festers and fear sets in. Although Sanchez coined the term with the conservative media in mind, I certainly acknowledge that the media conditions for closure exist for all ideological perspectives.
So, you may be thinking a couple of things right now. Like, “Aren’t you epistemically closed, good Sir?” Unfortunately, yes. I think that on a continuum of “Not closed at all” to “Closed like Chick-fil-A on Sunday”, I’m closer to the latter. But, I try. I have learned a lot seeking out other viewpoints. I learned about epistemic closure by reading libertarian blogs. The best lesson I learned was that the majority of people that I encounter when visiting another viewpoint aren’t enemies. They generally want the same results. Our differences lie in how to get there.
When I was in the fantasy football league I must have linked up with the game center on the ipad. Now, when I play a game a box comes up that says, “Welcome back epistemic closure”. Sometimes it makes me chuckle. Every time it makes me remember that I can choose not to be closed.