I got started blogging and writing columns almost entirely because Senator Glenn Grothman writes press releases. I assumed that none of his constituents were actually reading these things because, if they were, there's no way they would ever vote for the guy.
I was, of course, completely wrong about part 2.
The original headline was "Senator Grothman's epistemic closure"... too scary, probably.
And so, a 720 word excursion into the Great Wide Empty that is the political vision of Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman.
Grothman invites us to put on security corps blinders
Philosophy doesn’t often make the national news, but during the last few weeks Washington heavy-hitter political wonks have been throwing around the phrase “epistemic closure” like a hammer, like napalm, like brass knuckles.
The real definition from logical set theory is a bit complicated for a Saturday morning paper, but the political meaning here boils down roughly to this: Don’t get closed in by your own worldview or, more colloquially, the goldfish doesn’t always remember it’s in a bowl.
Julian Sanchez from the libertarian Cato Institute started things rolling when he trotted out this phrase from his undergraduate philosophy days as a clever way to describe the “ideological intolerance and misinformation” currently infecting conservative rhetoric. Many conservatives, he noted “have developed a distorted sense of priorities and a tendency to engage in fantasy.”
When a guy from the Cato Institute blows the whistle on current rhetorical excesses – like the birther and death panel fantasies – you have to pay attention. Even Bruce Bartlett, an old hand with impeccable Republican credentials, a man who worked for Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, has suggested that the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation have gone from “presenting informed policy analyses to pumping out propaganda.”
None of this is surprising to anyone from the left of Attila the Hun, but it is refreshing to hear a thoughtful and coherent conservative voice say “enough.”
That’s national news but, locally, Sen. Glenn Grothman provided a first-rate specimen of epistemic closure in his April 16 press release following the tax day Tea Party protest in Madison.
He trumpets that in July 2008 candidate Obama promised to create a civilian national security force as powerful and well funded as the military. Grothman then twists a quote or two to make it sound as if Obama was planning to organize some form of sinister national security Gestapo rather than expand AmeriCorps and – watch out America! – the Peace Corps, which is what Obama was explicitly referring to in the speech Grothman cites (one given at the University of Colorado).
“My constituents,” claims Grothman, “are demanding the Legislature fight back.”
Well, not all of us. Personally, I’m not worried about the Peace Corps being turned into Black Shirts – but I am interested in whether Grothman’s press release is an example of epistemic closure or merely political fear-mongering.
Factcheck.org tracked down this particular misrepresentation to a November 2008 interview given by Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia to the Associated Press in which he warns that President Obama was planning to organize a Marxist security force to place America under a totalitarian dictatorship. It wasn’t difficult to find a mountain of press releases and clarifications about this story, so I have to wonder why Grothman felt compelled to issue a press release about a story he must know is nonsense, a year and a half after a Georgia congressman played political origami with an otherwise perfectly mundane stump speech?
If Grothman does not believe what he’s written in his press release, then these bits of borrowed political excess are simply irresponsible mechanisms designed to stir up politically exploitable fear. If, on the other hand, we take him at his word and assume Grothman does believe what he’s written – a notion almost impossible to accept considering anyone can go online and read the original speech – then this would be a perfect example of epistemic closure: The goldfish’s angry insistence that its little bowl is the whole world.
In either case, Grothman’s freedom of speech – or his freedom to spend our tax dollars writing irresponsible and ludicrous press releases – does not mean he has the right to impose his epistemic limitations on anyone else. We don’t have to climb into the bowl with him.
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Dunk me for a good cause: The fundraiser for victims of the fire at the Stonebridge apartments is being held between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at Jansen Family Park, LLC. (3745 Schuster Drive, West Bend, WI 53095; 334-0429). The organizer tells me that they’ll have a bouncy house, a silent auction, Cousins subs, a fire truck from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and lots of other games for the kids. The administrator from Samaritan will be taking pies in the face and, I’ll be a sitting in the dunk tank from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. I imagine a few readers might like to dunk me for a good cause. Come on out this Sunday and lend your neighbors a hand.
Here's a link to the original "press release." It's actually a bit worse than I was able to capture in a few sentences.
And so it goes.