Email Message
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    « Common intellectual mistakes | Main | Sojourners, lackeys and power players »

    Julian Sanchez -- A stubborn misunderstanding

    I take issue with Julian Sanchez's recent blog post regarding a carefully constructed strawman -- constructed mainly by members of the political class, and uncritically accepted by too many people who apparently have unexamined biases. First of all, there isn't a common conservative, just as the "common man" doesn't provide much useful information except the broadest of similarities. We can speak of conservative ideas because they've been recorded and it's fairly easy to poll and determine how many people hold enough certain ideas to call them conservative, but it's much more difficult and perhaps impossible to determine how they came to accept these ideas.

    It's also impossible to claim that a large group of people hold conservative ideas and ignore conflicting ideas. It's possible that this group holds ideas they've weighed against other ideas and have chosen the ideas they find more acceptable. Regarding a certain group of conservatives, Sanchez claims -

    "Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted."  

    Is it not possible that these conservatives reject what they believe is untrue and wrong-headed? Is there really any question that the MSM is mainly liberal-minded? Sanchez then states that these people believe anyone who disagrees with the conservative position is obviously "liberal". But there's no way for Sanchez to know if these conservatives think disagreement comes from liberals, progressives, socialists, Marxists, libertarians, atheists, etc. Don't we all have disagreements throughout the spectrum of ideas?

    Sanchez goes on to write:

    This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter.  If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation. A more intellectually secure conservatism would welcome this, because it wouldn’t need to define itself primarily in terms of its rejection of an alien enemy.

    I will call the group to which Sanchez refers the IICs -- Intellectually Insecure Conservatives -- not because I believe his analysis, that they are intellectually insecure, but because it's simpler to distinguish them from others whom I assume Sanchez believes came about their ideas in a more intelletually open way. According to Sanchez, the IICs have hermeticaly sealed their conservativism to prevent the intrusion of external or internal criticism. In other words, the IICs no longer listen to moderates or others who criticize the IICs' version of conservatism. I'm not sure how Sanchez reaches this conclusion. Again, is it not possible that the IICs have studied all criticisms and found them wanting? Perhaps some the IICs don't have a full understanding of opposing views, but then I find some progressives and moderates who don't have a full understanding of libertarianism -- they dismiss libertarian ideas out-of-hand based on some cartoon version they heard somewhere in their hermetically sealed universe.

    Sanchez's ideas regarding the IICs' charges of moderates "selling out" to gain respectablity rather than be associated with what the IICs fear is their lower cultural status are, I believe, misguided. Read his words below, carefully.

    No, the insinuation is always that they’re angling for respectability, because even “one of us” might be tempted by the cultural power of the enemy elites, might ultimately value their approval more than that of the conservative base. It’s a much deeper sort of purported betrayal, because it’s a choice that would implicitly validate the status claims of the despised elite. You’re supposed to feel as though you’ve been snubbed socially—discarded for “better” company—which evokes both more indignant rejection of the quisling and  further resentment of the liberal snobs who are visiting this indignity on you.  In a way it’s quite elegant, and you can see why it’s become as popular as it has.  But it’s fundamentally a symptom of insecurity—and a self-defeating one, because it corrodes the kind of serious discussion and reexamination of conservative principles and policies that might help produce a more self-assured movement.

    This is amazingly misguided. To start with, Sanchez takes way too much liberty with his psychological diagnosis of "insecurity". This is a specious way to spin the IICs displeasure with the moderates and the faux-elites, and who knows if it's true for any given individuals -- but to assign this diagnosis of insecurity to a large group of people is amazingly misguided -- enough so that it makes me want to do a psychological work-up (this is my old line of work) on Sanchez, but I like him -- what I know from his writing and interactions with commenters --  so I won't take such liberty.

    Let's see if there might not be an alternative analysis of the IICs' conservative position and displeasure with the internal criticism. All the people I know who might possibly fall within this group of IICs listen to MSNBC, read lefty blogs, take in all the moderates'  trashing of Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, Coulter, Levin, Hannity, Fox News and whatever other IIC-media outlets there are out there in IIC-land. I don't how many people I've talked to, or heard on radio talk shows or tv shows, who are basically common conservatives, who have said they don't agree with everything said by Limbaugh, Beck, etc., but they believe that most of the mainstream media have unfairly attacked them and have not fully addressed their ideas. This seems like a pretty reasonable assessment.

    It's a mistake to believe the IICs are malleable mushheads who hang on every Limbaugh/Beck word and see any opposition to their ideas as the enemy. To use Sanchez's words, it's "quite elegant" to spin it this way, and it's comfortable to dimiss the ICCs as close-minded, insecure zealots, but then doesn't this reduction speak to another form of insecurity? I mean, aren't the moderates just as resistant to criticism from the IICs -- are the moderates insecure in ther beliefs? Should I spin this to frame the moderates as some soul-empty Ayn Rand characters tremblng inside as they come up against, strong-willed, intelligent men and women secure in their form of conservatism? It would just as amazingly misguided -- quite elegant, but misguided.

    The fact is that American citizens have disagreemnts regarding the future of America. Yes, it's true that many of IICs have not likely read the list of books I've seen lately on different blogs, although some may have, but many of them are intelligent and are now turning their intelligence to politics -- many of them see through the facade of the faux-elite, and they aren't impressed. This is not to say there aren't many intelligent people writing and talking about politics wo could be considered elite in the field, Julian Sanchez being one of them, and their wisdom should be taken into account, but it's a huge mistake to take the caricature of the IICs as the real thing. And, I believe it's a mistake to think they are intellectually insecure -- some maybe, just as with the moderates or liberals, but as a group, they are equal to the task of political battles, and no more closed minded than moderates or liberals pushing their ideas.

    Let's discuss these ideas and move past the psycholgical analyses and one-sided charges of close-mindedness.



    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (8)

    Actually Sanchez's analysis was extremely insightful.....the metaphor of the Chinese being worried about breeches of their firewalls very apposite.....sorry if this sounds faux elitist

    March 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

    I didn't say Sanchez sounded faux-elitist. Your insistence on your take is a really good rebuttal.

    March 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterM. Farmer

    You don't understand Sanchez's point. It's not about the ideas of IIC's. It's about their sources of information. They don't trust anybody or anything that isn't within their closed loop of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, right-wing blogs, and a very very few other sources. They believe all sorts of bizarre facts that are simply not true, and they close their ears to anybody who tries to tell them that those facts are not true.

    It's not about values. It's about simple facts.

    They believe that Obama is a Muslim, and a Marxist, and wasn't born in America. They beleive that the government wants to institute death panels. They believe that the Census is a government plot to place conservatives in internment camps. All of these beliefs are ludicrous beyond belief. But their entire network believes them, so they believe them.

    There is no similar widespread phenomenon on the left. Maybe there used to be, circa 1968-1973 -- say the SDS and related groups. No more.

    I can't see how this is debatable.

    April 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkent

    "They believe that Obama is a Muslim, and a Marxist, and wasn't born in America. They beleive that the government wants to institute death panels. They believe that the Census is a government plot to place conservatives in internment camps. All of these beliefs are ludicrous beyond belief. But their entire network believes them, so they believe them."

    You have pretty much validated my argument.

    April 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterM. Farmer

    Wait, what? What argument?

    Are you saying that there isn't a large group of people who believe these clearly false ideas?

    Or are you saying these ideas are in fact true?

    Or are you just talking about a DIFFERENT group of people, who doesn't believe these clearly false ideas?

    If #1, you're empirically wrong. If #2, then I won't waste any more of my time. If #3, you're not being responsive to Julian Sanchez's point, nor mine, because you're not talking about the same group of people that we are talking about.

    April 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkent

    I don't know how many people believe these things, but that wasn't the original point to which I responded. How many people on the left believe that Bush knew ahead of time about 9/11, that Cheney set up Iraq for oil, that the CIA infused crack in the ghettoes, etc?

    If you are saying Julian is only talking about a relatively small group of kooks, then you are right, there's nothing much to talk about -- like shooting fish in a barrell.

    April 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterM. Farmer

    But it's not a small bunch of kooks! Do some research.

    says 45% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, and a majority believe he wasn't born in the US.

    says nearly half of Americans believe in the death panel smear.

    Admittedly these are quick and dirty searches I'm doing, but these are the first google results that come up under "obama is a muslim poll" and "death panels poll."

    Your "small bunch of kooks" is a huge % of the Republican party.

    April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkent

    These polls are rigged and useles. I imagine 45% of the American people believe that the government will set up panels to make healthcare decisions, and they will -- so it's a short distance for some dishonest pollster to apply "death panel" and make it look extreme. As for Obama being Muslim -- who was polled? what question was asked? You can't seriously take these polls as evidence of what Republicans believe, simply from a quick Goole search -- if you do, then your mindset and extreme views are the problem. I've seen polls which show that a majority of blacks, who are mostly Democrats, believe the CIA introduced crack into inner cities -- do you believe this poll? You have to use common sense, not doctored polls.

    April 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterM. Farmer

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>