Way back in the halcyon days of 2010, when hope and change were still things in the democratic party, blogger Julian Sanchez used the term epistemic closure to describe the crisis he saw on the political right in those days. Long story short, epistemic closure refers to the insulation of both a belief system and the media built up around that belief system against any further knowledge, ideas or lines of reasoning. Naysayers and dissenters are best ignored alltogether, or tarred by association with the enemy - whoever they are. But it goes deeper than that: once an ideological system is firmly commited to, lines of thought that even potentially threaten it simply can't be given even the slightest legitimacy. The rapidity with which the USSR unravelled after glasnost was introduced illustrates the risks invovled.
Hence epistemic closure. For the American conservatives, the Reagan Era only really ended when our favorite reality T.V star won bigly over the GOP establishment. Up until then, there was nothing a tax cut couldn't fix and the democrats were forever coming to take everybody's guns away. Argue with them about any of it, and you'd had the wool pulled over your eyes personally by Obama, Hillary or Nancy Pelosi, who were nothing but Marxists out to destroy all things American.
When Sanchez described this phenomina on the right, he saw little comparison on the left in 2010. As perhaps a foreshadowing of what was just around the corner, he cited liberal obsessions with racism as being the sole motivation of the tea party as the closest that the left, such as it was, came to its own brand of epistemic closure.
He would not have to wait long for the leftist equivalent to epistemic closure. Allow me to explain. Or perhaps I should say, allow me to voxsplain:
One of the most striking examples of this epistemic closure among liberal writers are their forays into “explanatory journalism.” The idea that many people might like clear, smart explanations of what’s going on in the news certainly has merit. But the tricky thing with “explaining” the news is that in order to do so fairly, you have to be able to do the mental exercise of detaching your ideological priors from just factually explaining what is going on. Of course, as non-liberal readers of the press have long been well aware, this has always been a problem for most journalists. And yet, the most prominent “explanatory journalism” venture has been strikingly bad at actually explaining things in a non-biased way.
The article also mentions the fact that most "voxsplainers" - the tired pontification of liberal canards to the ignorant masses as if they've never heard it before - cannot pass Brian Caplan's Ideological Turing Test, defined as the ability to convincingly and authentically relay their ideological opponent's position on the relevant issues.I am, of course, talking about Vox, the hot new venture of liberal wonkblogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein. It was already a bad sign that his starting lineup was mostly made up of ideological liberals. And a couple months in, it’s clear that much of what passes for “explanation” on Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise.
Perhaps the most quintessential Voxsplaining I've yet encountered is Aja Romano's protracted voxplanation of How the Alt-Right's Sexism Lures Men into White Supremacy. It's what you'd expect:
So called "manosphere" concepts are then used as a kind of gateway drug to interest socially isolated young men deeper into an esoteric politics of crypto fascism and white supremacy.In many alt-right communities, men are encouraged to view women as sexual and/or political targets that men must dominate. The men in these communities don’t see themselves as sexist; they see themselves as fighting against their own emasculation and sexual repression at the hands of strident feminists.
The alt-right and the manosphere are full of what the internet nowadays calls cancer - content that is light on intellectual content and heavy on cringe. But the deeper point here can be summed up in an old African proverb that warns that if you don't initiate your young men into the tribe, they'll eventually come back and burn your village down. Experts on gang, cult and extremist recruitment tactics have long understood this. Alienated young men with no roots in the community and little prospect for a good life are easy marks. Ironic then that the most strident on the alt-right, and their Islamic Jihadist nemesis, are ultimately drawn from the same ranks of humanity. Ironic, but hardly without precedent.
Absent from Romano's analysis of the Alt-Right and its origins is any prescription of actually countering this that might actually reduce the propensity of young men to be drawn to extremism. Targets are described as being sexually frustrated and often raised by feminist single moms, and the lure of being a real man as opposed to being weak and emasculated is what's used to draw them in. The only difference between "Sieg Heil" and "Allahu Akbar" in this case could well be whichever one gets to them first, and what color their skin is.
The article chides the alt-right for offering alienated young men no real advice for dealing with loneliness, emotional issues and relationship difficulties and instead simply scapegoating independent women and minorities for their personal problems. While this is a fair criticism, it's one that could as easily be leveled against Vox, and its countless clones across the internet. Apart from scolding young white men for their racism and sexism, what is the mainstream left really offering them by way of an alternative?
Especially since the Vox article traces the history of the Alt-Right through Donald Trump's victory, through the Brexit vote and back to the GamerGate online movement, and to the various segments of the "manosphere" that existed prior to that. The numbers and influence of these angry white dudes - the rank-and-file, or mooks - to use online video game terminology - of the forces of oppression only grew, despite all of the efforts made by Vox, Slate, Salon, Everyday Feminism, Occupy Democrats, Jezebel, The Mary Sue and other outlets of enlightened progressivism to tell them how very, very sexist, racist and fascist they were being all the while. In fact, how very Nazi they had always been simply by virtue of being white males.
And now they're surprised when these same angry young dudes turn out to accept and embrace an ideology that actually promotes racism, misogyny and fascism. They're surprised that the generation of young men these single feminist mothers raised have become exactly what single feminist women have been telling them they were since they were old enough to pluck letters off a computer screen: racist, misogynist and fascist.
Who would have guessed?
That, folks, is what epistemic closure on the left looks like.
Young white males are quite within their rights to reject the online left's obsessive and compulsive idealization of women and minorities. They are well within their rights to reject the ceaseless narrative of white male "power" and "privilege," especially when it comes from credentialed academics and pundits who have way more power and privilege than many of these young white dudes will ever have.
They are not entitled to have the women to whom they're attracted reciprocate that attraction. That much is true. But they are entitled to not have their natural instinctive urges tarred as misogyny, entitlement and objectification. They are entitled to pursue love in a culture in which all the weight of mass society is not behind the demonization of male sexuality and the equation of female rejection of men with female power and independence. And they sure as hell are entitled to not have to function in a society that brands their own similar rejection of women (or men passing themselves off as women) to whom they're not attracted as being misogyny, "fatphobia" or "transphobia."
Alternative online communities are not attacking "social justice warriors" because they're all - to the last, racist, mysogynistic and otherwise deplorable. People of all descriptions object to the SJW's self righteousness, their hypocrisy, their arrogance and their propensity to milk privilege theory and "power plus prejudice" rationalizations for all the self serving double standards and get-out-of-jail free cards they're worth. This, it would seem, is the real gateway drug to bona-fide fascism, racism and misogyny if indeed there ever was one. And that should concern us all.
Fighting the alt-right cannot be done by further pontificating to angry white dudes on how very deplorable their anger, their whiteness and their dudeness is. Perhaps the wisdom of Lao-Tsu could be of help to us - and the wisdom he conveyed in The Tao Te Ching, not The Art of War. Sometimes the way to victory is by not fighting, but by offering an olive branch; membership in the tribe before the village gets burned down.
The mainstream leftist media shows at best a mixed inclination to do this. Perhaps the real antidote to the alternative right is an alternative left. One that might think that full employment, maybe even a job guarantee, might be a more effective way to get young men out of their parent's basements than yet another lecture on girl power would be. One that has not yet succumbed to epistemic closure and is thus able to think outside the Vox.