Sunday, January 16, 2011

Civility, Falsehood, and Dogmatism

So, it looks like people are finally acknowledging that the problem with the contemporary right is not just the incivility of their rhetoric, but also the fact that it's rife with falsehood. That's good, but now some are saying, roughly, that incivility isn't the problem at all, it's just the rampant falsehoods. (I can dig up links, but am too lazy right now.) That's not true. Incivility is a problem, as is rampant falsehood. Both, however, are associated with a rather more fundamental problem--or so I'd argue--and that's roughly dogmatism. The strident dogmatism on the contemporary right makes people incapable of being even minimally objective about their own errors and biases. One consequence of this is that they end up with more false beliefs, since they're not objective about the evidence and not willing to abandon even their most flamboyantly false beliefs. Another consequence is that they are driven to view anyone who disagrees with them as stupid and evil. Dogmatism is a common problem, and it's extremely common in politics...but its rampant on the contemporary right. My view is that it's always rampant among political extremists, and it's the fact that the American right has moved farther right that accounts for their dogmatism. As you probably realize, the extreme left (which exists in the U.S. only on college campuses) can be every bit as strident and dogmatic as the extreme's just that we don't have many far-lefties in American politics.

One might also argue, however, that it's not extremism per se that's at fault...rather, relatively centrist liberals and relatively centrist conservatives each have their characteristic failings. The characteristic intellectual vice of conservatives is dogmatism/closed-mindedness. The characteristic intellectual vice of liberals in some soup of indecisiveness/wimpiness/diffidence. (This is why one might predict that liberals would make better scientists, and conservatives would make better soldiers--they'd gravitate to niches in which their vices turn into virtues...) (Actually, these are claims that could be tested by cognitive scientists.)

At any rate, here's something vaguely along the same lines from Sullivan:

How Coulter Begat Palin


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