Two Epistemic Closures: The GOP and Israel-Critics

January 25, 2013 12:49 am 0 comments

What do Tuesday’s election results remind us of?

They should recall the result of November’s U.S. elections.

Against all evidence – and here I do mean all evidence – Mitt Romney and Republicans of every stripe, from Tea Party to establishment, genuinely believed that they were going to win. Strictly speaking, this was not a case of epistemic closure. It was more a case of confirmation bias, of false-consensus bias. Against consistent evidence of how most Americans view their nation and the role of government, in the face of polls that all year had shown, however marginally, Barack Obama invariably leading Romney across the broad swath of polls, Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate favored Romney.

Because conservatives had for decades succeeded in the rhetorical and perceptual warfare that had slanted voters’ reception of the vocabulary of liberalism, conservatives persuaded themselves that the United States is a center-right country. All that was ever required was to pay attention to what Americans want from their government, and for their own lives under the purview of that government, to know that the U.S. is actually a center-left country. Americans, as do the citizens of most developed nations, want a social-welfare foundation and safety net; they want protection of their individuality, and for their variant personal and group identities, in how they live their lives. Conservatives’ inference for themselves, from their own first principles and rhetorical arguments to others, that the nation is center-right constitutes the epistemic closure.

What did the Israeli election results show?

Western liberal Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the Israeli electorate was moving, if it hadn’t already so moved, in a far right – even, hysterically, fascist or theocratic – direction. Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the evidence demonstrated this.

Whom do I designate by “Israel-critics”? Anyone who criticizes Israel? No. Israel-critics are liberals who are neither, at the farthest extreme, open or barely concealed anti-Semites, nor, somewhat less vilely prejudicial, anti-Zionists, nor “peace and justice” frauds who, pretending to critique Israeli policy and governments, are actually advocates of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian victory rather than of negotiation and compromise.

Israel-critics are otherwise mainstream liberals who have been epistemically seduced and corrupted by the ideological distortions of postcolonialism. Their first principles in regard to concepts like power, marginality, race, and geopolitics direct their reading of history and events so that they dramatically invert the history and confuse the causality of the events. They have persuaded themselves – against all evidence – and repeat to insanity in light of that evidence, that the settlement project, however misguided, however much an irritant and an excuse, is the cause of intractability in the Israeli-Arab conflict, when the history, like the polling for President Obama, makes manifest that it is not even remotely so.

From Walter Russell Mead:

The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYTWSJBBCNBCTime, ReutersGuardianHuffPoSlateSalonAl Jazeera, and countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.

That didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there’s a strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud, center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.

How did the MSM get this so wrong? TAI editor Adam Garfinkle noted that the media is prone to a simple psychological fallacy: “We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon) what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we’re sure that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will not see evidence of it until too late.”

Edited: Overzealous intern now living in house of pain.

Wrote Remnick:

Meanwhile, Israeli politics continues its seemingly endless trek to the right. Every day, the Web carries the voice of another leader of the settler movement who insists that the settlers are the vanguard now, that the old verities are to be challenged, if not eliminated. Early last year, Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh, told a Chabad paper, Beit Mashiach, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”

Of course, the epistemic error in Remnick’s piece began with his decision to profile Naftali Bennett and not the man who turned out to be a greater story of the election, Yair Lapid. This error by Remnick, however, arises from a prior error, inferences post Camp David and Taba that boggle the understanding of those who recognize their gross distortion no less than the GOP’s Romney delusion is a marvel to those who could see it. Wrote Yossi Klein Halevi,

Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

In response to Remnick and all the others like him, Josh Block wrote,

Last night, a centrist country, rooted in liberal, Western values identical to our own, gave its vote to parties clustered around the political center. Those who predicted a different outcome will now have to ask themselves which of their assumptions, or their agendas, led them so far astray.

We know from the reaction of the GOP since November and from the long world history of political delusion that no partisan of any mistaken set of ideas “will have to ask themselves” anything. The truth may set you free, but it is also often another country not easily reached. The greatest challenge is for those who have a foot in only one of these two countries. They need to do some high steppin’.

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