Is Epistemic Closure A Problem? Not So Much….

The term “epistemic closure” has been tossed around in conservative circles more than a few times over the last year. If you’re wondering what “epistemic closure” means, it’s basically just a fancy term for being close-minded. The people using this term almost inevitably turn out to be liberals or moderates who are catching flack from conservatives for their views.

So, do they have a point? For the most part, no, they don’t. Let me explain.

First off, conservatives are conservative, just like liberals are liberal, because they tend to believe certain things. If I walk into a room with 50 conservatives and 50 liberals in it and ask them about Obamacare, abortion, concealed weapon laws, and whether we should cut taxes or not, what you’ll find is that the liberals will heavily come down on one of all those issues while the conservatives will come down heavily on the other side. That’s not a shocker. People tend to have reasons for believing what they believe and if you understand the underlying principles, you can generally figure out where they’re going to come down on an issue.

Now, that’s not to say conservatives are never close minded. As a matter of fact, I’ve written about conservatives who cling to Reagan’s agenda instead of his principles. That’d be a mistake. Principles may not change, but agendas can and should change over time. That being said, there’s a difference between noting something can occasionally be a problem and trying to claim that the occasional problem is the rule.

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The reality is far different. As a matter of fact, although there’s nothing truly new under the sun, conservative beliefs and tactics have been widely debated, changed, and have shifted around quite a bit over the last decade. Sometimes that’s been helpful — and other times not so much. But, let’s consider just the last decade or so.

As a party, we moved from the Republican revolution, where conservatives forced Bill Clinton to balance the budget, to a more lackadaisical attitude, to the big government light approach of the Bush years. Speaking of the Bush years, how about the foreign policy shift from realism/containment to a more aggressive preemptive approach? The massive fight and shift in the party on immigration is rather noteworthy, too. The GOP went from being fairly divided between advocates of comprehensive immigration reform and a security first position to a dominant security first position. Then there’s the rise of the Fair Tax, embracing the idea of auditing the Fed : — and we can’t forget the Tea Parties. It wasn’t that long ago that conservatives, myself included, were saying, “Ah, we’re conservatives. We have jobs. We don’t do protests.” Well, guess what? We do protests now. You can go on and on with examples like this. The GOP and the conservative movement are not trapped in amber.

Of course ironically, that’s REALLY where the root of the “epistemic closure” complaints lies. It’s not that people are close minded, it’s that the movement is open minded and changing in ways that the people complaining about “epistemic closure” don’t like. Conservatives have looked at the Bush years and found them wanting on the domestic front. During the Bush years, not a lot was accomplished on the domestic front, conservatism wasn’t helped, and politically, it was a disaster. So, the reaction has been, “We can’t be 100% sure of what will work, but we now have a very good picture of what doesn’t work. Let’s not do that anymore.”

So, tactics have changed. There are Tea Parties, there’s a rougher edge to the movement, and new names like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck : have risen up. The movement has also ideologically taken a step to the right. Moreover, after watching moderate candidates lose and after being betrayed by people like Arlen Specter, Lincoln Chafee, and Charlie Crist — all of whom were backed by the GOP establishment — there’s less willingness to settle for mush-mouthed candidates who don’t believe in anything except career advancement. There’s also less tolerance for the bevy of mediocre careerists who flash their supposed conservative street cred and then make a name for themselves by criticizing conservatives. Still — disagreements over the issues? They’re not in short supply.:  : New ideas? They’re being discussed all the time. What’s popular with conservatives? It does change over time. So, epistemic closure? Not so much….

PS: Last but not least, there’s one more very important point worth making: if you want to see real “epistemic closure,” go look at the American Left. Setting aside their willingness to embrace technology (The GOP is too stodgy in that area), there’s no point where they’re more open minded than the:  Right unless you want to define it the same deceptive way that they do (I.E. Being open minded means agreeing with them on everything). If the argument is supposed to be, “Conservatives are much more open minded about the issues than liberals, but they’re still close minded,” it’s not really much of an argument.

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