In my last post I explored epistemic closure on the group level, using the observations from the former Czechoslovakian writer, artist, actor, and politician, Vaclav Havel. Today I’d like to focus on the personal dimension of this closed-mindedness. Havel used the term “post-totalitarian state” to describe a state which operates under a subtle totalitarian state-of-mind which purports to be completely open and honest, i.e. “free.” In this “Brave New World” prison, there is the surface belief of freedom but only because the bars which constitute the prison are so subtly imposed that they are not obvious to most. In this “benign” police state, the gears, wheels, and pulleys that orchestrate the bondage are so well-hidden beneath the surface they are not noticed, consisting in ideological subtleties that can only be seen by those who have the capacity for self-reflection.
The individual dimension of this epistemic closure operates in accordance with the collective version described last time. Individuals imprisoned in this, “empty world of self-relatedness,” are encapsulated in their own premises which are not subject to review because there is no “self” consciousness available to conduct such a review. The onset of such “self” consciousness would constitute a “splinter in the brain” which would be so catastrophic that internal, unacknowledged (i.e. “unconscious”) defenses would immediately intervene and rely on bromides such as the currently popular, “Fake News.”
But this “imprisonment” I’m describing is not necessarily as sinister as I’m making it appear. Any identity seeks to maintain itself, to cohere, which means it has a certain core that borders on the sacrosanct. In fact, “sacred” can describe this core as it is the very essence of our being and if this “essence” is not poisoned it will help us maintain a sense of integrity even in the face of conflict. But if real “integrity” is present then conflict is welcome as exposure to different view points facilitates the flourishing, or “unfolding,” of an identity, allowing it to contribute meaningfully to the context in which it lives. When this core is “poisoned,” however, any different viewpoint invokes that fear of “splintering” and leads to the creation of a false world in which any threats are minimized or prohibited. In the extreme, the result is psychosis in which one’s private prison has become so confining that reference to any feedback from the external world has been cut off and one is left with the aforementioned, “empty world of self-relatedness.”