I 'Can't Understand' all this Epistemic Closure on the Left
It's pretty much every talking head on CNN versus Rush Limbaugh, when Rush reads a passage from the UK Guardian that appears (very much appears) to be a trial balloon defending pedophilia:
Soledad O'Brien gathered a bunch of people to talk about my discussion on pedophilia. All I did was quote from a liberal newspaper in the UK, the Guardian. That's all I did. Well, I did one other thing. I said, "Remember where you were when you heard --" think of some outrageous social custom that's bitten the dust. "-- when you first heard that something might happen, like gay marriage, when you first heard gay marriage, what did you think? 'Ah, it'll never happen,' versus where are we now?" I said, "Here we go." The SUV. The Sierra Club back in 1997 said they wanted to ban the SUV to save the planet, I warned you SUV owners you're gonna become targeted. You pooh-poohed. What happened?
So a big UK liberal newspaper, mainstream -- not some fringe supermarket thing, but a mainstream left-wing newspaper with a huge, long story on how pedophilia is normal and should be considered normal, and quoting academics. And all of a sudden CNN discusses it as though I'm making the assertion. We got the audio sound bites. But the point is I had this unstated New Year's resolution, gonna be low profile. I think you'll have to admit here, folks -- well, you may not have to admit it, but I never try to get noticed anyway. It just happens. I never try. I'm not somebody that likes fame. I do not live and die by whether or not I see my name in the paper or hear myself discussed. In fact, just the exact opposite.
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If this had been discussed by Anderson Cooper, then they would celebrate Anderson Cooper. And if Anderson Cooper had done exactly what I did and just quoted the Guardian, they would have talked about it as revolutionary news or what have you. But because I brought it up, and why are they upset that it is I who brought it up? Because they think and they worry that I'm effective in persuading people. So after Christine Romans, the business reporterette, does that set-up, then we had a discussion with Soledad O'Brien. She had the Obama campaign traveling press secretary Jen Psaki, a New Yorker magazine correspondent, Ryan Lizza, to talk about this.
PSAKI: Why is he talking about pedophilia? It’s not exactly like there’s a massive movement talking about pedophilia.
O'BRIEN: Or normalizing pedophilia.
PSAKI: Right. Exactly.
LIZZA: Yeah, it seems to me that the movement here is to equate pedophilia in some way...
O'BRIEN: With gay marriage.
LIZZA:...with gay marriage.
PSAKI: Right, or...
LIZZA: That's what he's up to here...
LIZZA: ...which is absurd.
O'BRIEN: We’re trying to understand the mind of Rush Limbaugh this morning (laughs) which is a...
PSAKI: A hard thing to break into.
O'BRIEN: Scary proposition.
Why? Soledad understands the mind of Rev. Wright well enough to declare his 2008 speech to the NAACP a "home run." (And vice versa; Wright's a fan of O'Brien, as he admitted in that speech.) A 21st century call for classroom segregation and Separate But Equal education -- that's not scary to her. But "trying to understand" a talk radio host espousing mainstream conservative positions to millions of eager listeners -- a much larger audience than CNN, except on days when a national catastrophe such as 9/11 or an exploding Space Shuttle sends everyone to their televisions in shock -- is a "scary proposition."
This isn't the first time in recent weeks that O'Brien has revealed her self-enforced epistemic closure. After having John Lott on in the immediate wake of the Newtown shooting, Soledad concludes the interview by stating:
In case you don’t have the time to listen to all of the rest of the discussion, filled with her confused emotions and complete misconceptions and Lott’s facts, O’Brien ends it just the way she began it: “Your position just completely boggles me. Honestly, I just do not understand it.” O’Brien refuses to confront Lott’s argument (that in a country with a great deal of guns, killers seek out the rare gun-free zones and commit almost all mass murders there, so perhaps we should allow more guns for self-defense), and just continually says she cannot wrap her head around it.
It's a speech tick that, I think, seems to be much more common on the left than the right -- for example, when someone says, "I can't understand why you conservatives think that..." and then insert doubleplusungood crimethink stance on issue of the day, whether it's questioning gay marriage, defending the Second Amendment, or supporting the Tea Party, etc. But the statement that "I can't understand why" is incorrect -- you could understand perfectly well if you wanted to, but you're simply not prepared to ponder the topic in your mind for even a moment, lest you wind up in Room 101, or worse, lose your Jon Stewart fan club membership card, or receive a lifetime ban at Ben & Jerry's.
I don' t think he's linked to story above involving CNN's attack on Rush (I found it via Ann Althouse), but this sort of epistemic closure among Northeast Corridor elite leftists is a topic that Ace has been exploring this week in multiple posts, beginning with a post on Piers Morgan, the WaPo's Greg Sergent, and their party-line stance on gun "control," in which Ace quotes from G.K. Chesterton and the Paradox of the Wall:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.
As Ace notes, "As they say, a good lawyer, one who really understands the issues of the case, can argue either side of it effectively. He may favor one side over the other, but he knows enough of both to make a strong case for either." For Morgan, Sergent and Soledad, guns are simply icky, and should be banned -- because they're simply icky. (Ditto conservative talkers such as Rush.) There's no time spent pondering why some people -- a lot of people, many more people than CNN has viewers on a normal night -- think that guns might be good.
But that notion simply will not enter "The Unburstable Bubble of Willful Ignorance of the International Self-Purported Elites," as Ace notes in his follow-up post:
I was just writing about this basic idea yesterday (and I've written about it a lot, and I'm sure you've noticed it plenty on your own).
As I mentioned with regard to Piers Morgan, there is a certain level of pride that attaches to being ignorant of those one considers his inferiors. After all, it's the natural duty of the simple shopkeeper to know the names of the Great Lords, but it is not the duty of the Great Lords to know the names of the shopkeepers. In fact, it's the Great Lords' class obligation to go out of their way not to know the names of the shopkeepers, because this Duty to Know flows in one direction -- upwards -- and hence ignorance of one's lessers tends to solidify and reify the assumptions of certain castes being superior to others. It makes certain that everyone understands who's important, and who's not.
(I know, I sound like a communist-- I can't help it. I have to agree with Dennis the Peasant -- "I mean, class is what it's all about." I guess I would say I'm agreeing with the communist critique of the rigid reification of class structures, but I happen to think the communists and their pink fellow travelers have largely captured the upper classes. I guess by my theory they're so good at this because they've spent so long plotting vengeance for the exact same slights (which they largely imagined). In a similar way they've gotten quite good at blacklisting and guilt-by-association, eh?)
At any rate, it is your duty to know the values and customs of living of Piers Morgan, but due to his high station (ahem) he is proudly ignorant of yours. As is so often the case in our increasingly dysfunctional and nasty politics -- in which certain parties refuse to even admit that their opponents are free citizens entitled to have beliefs at all -- the Out-Classes are deemed all-but-officially Beneath Notice.
Of course, the problem isn't exclusive to CNN, "Stephen Colbert Curses Out NRA's Wayne LaPierre," rather than lowering himself to attempting to understand his position:
LAPIERRE: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. (END VIDEO CLIP)
[ Laughter ] [Cheers and applause]
COLBERT: Folks, I don't know about you folks, but I agree with Wayne LaPierre. You, sir, are f—ked [bleeped] in the head.
Curiously though, I've yet to read for Colbert to call on Viacom to remove the security guards in the studio where Colbert shoots his television show. Or for Mr. Obama or NBC's David Gregory removing their kids from the same guarded school.
On the other hand, it is important to keep those ideological blinkers screwed on as tightly as possible, lest this happen to you:
Glenn Loury talks about people he's known for 40 years who won't say hello, who won't look him in the eye because he USED TO BE a black conservative. USED TO BE! John McWhorter talks about those who think "it would be wrong to even print my name. They think of me as Satan. And that's just how it's been."
Satan? You mean the guy that Hillary and Obama's mentor dedicated his best-selling book to, right?
Update: "If conservatives are on one side of an issue, liberals feel obliged to weigh in on the other side," Stacy McCain writes. "Therefore, if Rush Limbaugh warns against the dangers of an effort to normalize pedophilia — a very real movement, and one which the administration of Columbia University evidently approves — liberals must therefore declare that the movement is not dangerous." Read the whole thing.