I learned a new word today…or pair of words—“epistemic closure.” Julian Sanchez used this term two years ago in conjunction with another term I recently learned and shared here—“confirmation bias.” To summarize, this refers to the human tendency to choose to believe what we want to, seek confirmation for that perspective, and shut out anything contrary. (See Sanchez’ observation at: http://www.juliansanchez.com/2010/04/07/epistemic-closure-technology-and-the-end-of-distance/)
Sanchez noted also that this is a human problem and not the exclusive province of any group or any ideology. But he did opine that it appeared to be a particularly egregious problem with the conservative movement in our country at that time; and, he would certainly agree that the problem is much worse in the intensity of this election campaign. This is becoming even more obvious in the past week, with Mr. Romney experiencing an hiccup in the polls, and the conservative press attacking the polls themselves, even Fox News.
The problem with this view of reality is the insularity. Feedback from the outside is discouraged and even in the greatest extremes forbidden. This always leads to madness. No, I’m not saying the conservative movement is mad; but I am saying there is madness on its extremes and these extremes have had too much influence on them. Even Karl Rove himself dismissed these extremists as “the nutty fringe.”
Emily Dickinson knew something about an insular life and her adaptation to this anguish was poetry. Here is an example:
The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.
Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.
I’ve known her from an ample nation
Then close the valves of her attention
The image of closing “the valves of her attention” is intense and vivid, cold and brutal. The person who does this has shut out the world and, like Hamlet, retreated “to a nutshell” and there comforts himself in “being king of infinite spaces.” Mental illness is a reference problem. When we have closed off all reference to the outside world, we are nuts. And on that note, Hamlet asked, “What is it to be mad but nothing else but mad?”