Ignorance is strength

by John Q on May 8, 2010

The discussions here and elsewhere on agnotology/epistemic closure have established the existence of a set of mechanisms on the right[1] for propagating ignorance and protecting it against factual refutation. These mechanisms have some obvious benefits, particularly in mobilising resistance against policy innovations, and tribal solidarity against outsiders of all kinds. This is evident, for example, in the attacks on Obama’s health reforms, in the support that can be mobilised for anti-immigrant policies and in the promotion of anti-science views on climate change. Politically, it’s impressive that a party that made such a complete mess of every aspect of policy under Bush can be favored to make big gains at the next elections. At least in the short term, ignorance is strength.

But there are plenty of costs for the right as well. As Conor Friedersdorf observes

since 1995, movement conservatism and its new ally, Fox News, haven’t actually accomplished anything very impressive beyond improving the egos of some right-leaning pundits and making a lot of money.

Friedersdorf notes that Bush achieved little beyond an expansion of the Federal role in education and the creation of a new health entitlement.

There’s also been a big cost in terms of the intellectual support structures of the right. In the 1990s they were triumphant, and with some justification. The Soviet Union had collapsed. The ideas driving policy were coming from places like the Federalist Society and the American Enterprise Institute. And while Clinton won a couple of elections, he did so on the basis of capitulation to rightwing ideas, smoothed over by neoliberal(US sense) and Third Way rhetoric. As the agnotology debate has shown, all that is gone. The AEI is a sad joke, and the right as a whole offers nothing more than Trilling’s “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

And as the agnotology/epistemic closure debate has shown, awareness of these facts is increasing. As they become more and more evident, there has been a steady trickle of defections from the intellectual apparatus of the right, some of them quite surprising. With the facts now openly admitted, we can expect to see more.

What does this imply for the left, and particularly for intellectuals on the left? First, as I’ve said, I think it spells an end to any idea that there is value in engaging in discussion with smart people on the other side. It’s impossible to be a smart (and honest) movement conservative, since you have to assent (overtly or tacitly) to all sorts of stupid and dishonest things. Take, for example, a discussion of health care. Whatever arguments someone opposed to Obama’s policy might come up with, if they line up with the Republican position, they are relying on lies about death panels and socialised medicine, repeated by their most prominent leaders, to carry the day. There is simply no point in pretending to engage such a person in honest debate.

On the other hand, we can help to accelerate the collapse of the intellectual right in all sorts of ways. In particular it’s important to probe at the defense mechanisms that let rightwing intellectuals live with the fact that their side is reliant on obvious lies. One is the tu quoque argument I discussed here. Another is the distinction (here from Ross Douthat, but I’ve been presented with it by others in a way that suggests it has wide currency) between intellectuals who should be taken seriously and “entertainers” who can be expected to say whatever boosts their ratings. The intellectuals aren’t implicated in the lies of the entertainers, or obligated to refute them.

The underlying idea is that the role of, say, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin in the Republican Party is similar to that of Michael Moore or Jon Stewart in the Democratic Party. But this is obviously untrue. Senior Republicans who criticised Limbaugh have been forced into humiliating retractions. And while Levin is obviously unconstrained by truth, he doesn’t present himself as an entertainer and nothing in his vita (chief of staff to Ed Meese, Deputy Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior and so on) suggests he is anything other than a serious political figure.

More importantly, as I’ve argued, the appeal of ignorant tribalism can’t be overcome by centrist or apolitical managerialism. As the long defensive struggle of the last three decades comes to an end, the left needs, once again, to put forward a positive vision. So, that’s it from me on the agnotology debate. I’ll probably be quiet for a bit while I finish my book. Then I plan to return to a series of posts on the politics of hope.

fn1. I’m focusing on the US right, which is the leading producer and exporter of global ignorance, but the same tendencies are present throughout the English speaking world and (with somewhat different characteristics) in the resurgence of the far right in much of Europe.



alex 05.08.10 at 9:17 am

oops, close italics.


John Quiggin 05.08.10 at 9:33 am

D’oh! Fixed now.


Hidari 05.08.10 at 10:42 am

Yes but are there any serious right wing thinkers? I mean, way back in the day you had Nietzsche and Heidegger, although these are not the sort of thinkers, to put it mildly, who tend to prop up the copies of Ayn Rand novels on Republican bookshelves nowadays.

More recently you had Friedman, Hayek etc, (Quine in philosophy, although his ‘right-wingness’, so to speak, was never essential to his appeal). But who is there more recently? Whatever one might think of Hayek he was not a fraud or a charlatan, accusations that can be made, with varying degrees of accuracy, at almost all of the current crop of ‘righties’. As you point out, anyone with any pretensions to seriousness (John Gray, as one example, Andrew Sullivan as another) has bailed out. Those who have remained or moved to the Right (Christopher Hitchens is the oustanding example) are no longer taken seriously by thoughtful people.

So who is there to talk to?


Larry Tate 05.08.10 at 12:05 pm

Reminds me of that great essay by Thoreau on the “Diffusion of Useful Ignorance”:

We have heard of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It is said that knowledge is power, and the like. Methinks there is equal need of a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance, what we will call Beautiful Knowledge, a knowledge useful in a higher sense: For what is most of our boasted so-called knowledge but a conceit that we know something, which robs us of the advantage of our actual ignorance? What we call knowledge is often our positive ignorance, ignorance our negative knowledge. By long years of patient industry and reading of the newspapers—for what are the libraries of science but files of newspapers?—a man accumulates a myriad facts, lays them up in his memory, and then when in some spring of his life he saunters abroad into the great fields of thought, he, as it were, goes to grass like a horse and leaves all his harness behind in the stable. I would say to the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, sometimes, “Go to grass. You have eaten hay long enough. The spring has come with its green crop.” The very cows are driven to their country pastures before the end of May, though I have heard of one unnatural farmer who kept his cow in the barn and fed her on hay all the year round. So, frequently, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge treats its cattle.


Ken Lovell 05.08.10 at 12:56 pm

‘… since 1995, movement conservatism and its new ally, Fox News, haven’t actually accomplished anything very impressive beyond improving the egos of some right-leaning pundits and making a lot of money.’

Well if you are a right leaning pundit and/or someone who made a lot of money, that’s actually extremely impressive.

The ego/self-esteem aspect should not be under-estimated. Conservatives generally favour strong hierarchies and the maintenance of order through authoritarian government. Invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, sanctioning Iran, sending predators to blow away perceived enemies in Yemen and Pakistan, putting illegal immigrants in their place, giving liberals the finger by illegal wiretapping and detention without trial …. measures like these just make them feel good dammit.

What more can you ask from government than going to bed every night knowing the liberal scum are still unhappy ?


Proudhon 05.08.10 at 1:09 pm

How can Friedersdorf say that the Bush adminstration’s only accomplishments were Medicare D and NCLB? The erosion of civil liberties in the US after 9/11 counts for nothing? The addition of Alito and Roberts to the Supreme Court? Move along, nothing to see there! The virtual abandonment of labor law and job safety enforcement – what difference could that possibly make? And these are things the right truly regards as accomplishments. There were a few other things they would have enjoyed taking credit for, had they not been obvious disasters: financial deregulation, anyone? Remember the war in Iraq?


Roger Albin 05.08.10 at 1:13 pm

“In the 1990s they were triumphant, and with some justification. The Soviet Union had collapsed.”

How is this the case? The Soviet Union collapsed from the burdens of its own internal contradictions and 40 years of rivalry with the USA and its allies. The cornerstone of American foreign policy towards the Soviet Union was the Truman containment policy, erected by a solidly liberal administration. Your statement implicitly concedes the reality of the conservative-Republican view of Reagan bludgeoning the Soviet Union to death. This is not accepted by any creditable historian, even those (John Lewis Gaddis) of a somewhat conservative bent. The fall of the Soviet Union was an enormous political windfall for the Republican Party, and one they did little to deserve.


Barry 05.08.10 at 1:30 pm

John: “The underlying idea is that the role of, say, Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin in the Republican Party is similar to that of Michael Moore or Jon Stewart in the Democratic Party.”

Considering how much and well John Stewart has criticized Democrats, this is ridiculous. It’s only true in the meaningless sense that if elected officials and corporate leaders acted with integrity, he’d be out of a job.

“Friedersdorf notes that Bush achieved little beyond an expansion of the Federal role in education and the creation of a new health entitlement. ” That article was largely full of it; IMHO he really couldn’t criticize too sharply, *and* he’s locked in himself, to the point where he has to find equivalencies and/or justifications on the left.

That article lowered my opinion of him; in his way he’s at least at closed. Medicare Part D was deliberately designed as a massive pork give-away to the pharmaceutical industry. The Iraq War gave hundreds of billions (is it trillions by now) in excess spending to the military-industrial complex, with a large amount in emergency/no-bid/cost-plus contracts.

Furthermore, enlarging the federal role in education is quite good on and for the right, if *they* can exploit it. As we’ve seen, the right really doesn’t like education (science, history, all that crap), and helping to destroy that is good for them. Furthermore, using things like No Child Left Behind, they can discredit public schools, and help private schools. Remember, if you want to destroy something, it’s good to have increased control over it.

Adding onto that, the right has substantially increased the powers of the Presidency, and has pulled acts like torture and imprisonment without trial into the values of – well, mainstream American, and definitely made them core values on the right. Considering that (a) any GOP president will use those more than any Democratic president, and (b) any president will act to maintain and increase their perks, and this is a major long-term gain for the right. Years from now, the legal writings of people like Yoo will be considered ‘mainstream legal thought’. And most of the people who did that will be back in the next GOP administration, at higher positions.

Wall St – it’s looking more and more like even moderate financial reform is not going to happen. That’s a huge success for the right – loot, trash, bail-out and then run against reform and the bail-out.

The very success of the right-wing media is important, because it shows that there is a lot of money to be made playing screamfest with the base.

I think that the major thing killing the GOP is the fact that they’ve defined themselves as the Party of Angry White Right-Wing Evangelical/Opus Dei (Confederate) Men, which is a declining fraction of the electorate in the USA.


David Kane 05.08.10 at 3:07 pm

A blog that occasionally bans commentators from the right is probably not the best place to opine about the problems of agnotology/epistemic closure. Just sayin’ . . .


Steve LaBonne 05.08.10 at 3:12 pm

A troll who “neglects” to point out that left-wing commenters have also been banned is an excellent example of the subject of the post.


Geoffrey 05.08.10 at 3:19 pm

David @9 – apparently you didn’t read the bit about there not being any reason to even pretend to engage such folks in honest debate. Especially with comments like yours . .


Bruce Baugh 05.08.10 at 3:34 pm

Like others, I’m boggled by the claim that the right wing hasn’t gotten much in the US. Religious power in the military’s up. Access to abortion is significantly reduced, in a degree ranging from “noticeable” to “severe” depending on the area of the country, and there’s firm support in national institutions for continuing to restrict it further. Labor gets more hosed all the time. The architects of financial disaster continue to flourish, and their brothers in health insurance are going to be doing very well for themselves. And on the broadest level, the principle of complete lawlessness is now the public, celebrated conventional wisdom of our governing hegemony – they know it, they like it, they’re happy to tell us all about it.

What really hurts is the sheer obvious inevitability of it all. When you deal with sociopaths (and people who’ve trained themselves to act that way), the only thing that matters is actual victories and defeats. Shame and respect don’t count. When the Nixon and Reagan administrations’ malefactors got away without serious hindrance, it was inevitable that people like Cheney and Roberts would keep it, taking it as far as they could go. Same thing this time around. We’ll be getting people who take Bush/Cheney practice as their baseline and push further from there.


Bruce Baugh 05.08.10 at 3:36 pm

Addendum: It’s true that the right wing is losing the battle for hearts and minds in a lot of ways. But the whole point of hegemony is that you don’t have to care about that.


Rich Puchalsky 05.08.10 at 3:46 pm

Bruce Baugh is right that the only thing that matters is actual victories and defeats, and I’ll add that they’ve changed the political system so that’s really what matters from all sides. Have as many Tea Party protests as you like, right wingers — they will be just as ignored as the left’s anti-war protests were. Oh, Fox News will cover them, but so what?

In that political environment, what the left has to do is use whatever tactical advantages is has to gain victories, and then let the victories change the public atmosphere. So, for instance: use temporary control of Presidency and both houses to get single-payer health care, single-payer health care once enacted defangs the right because people like it.

Where did that go wrong? In part because Democrats were bought off by various economic interests, in part because they never were to the left in the first place. But largely, and decisively, because of Obama. He appears to really believe in all the same things as the civility proponents believe. Bipartisanship, conciliating opponents, not taking unfair advantage because that harms the public sphere — all of that bullshit.

That’s why the main problem right now isn’t really the right. Or rather, it is, but there’s nothing we can do about them. The main problem is that part of the left that still clings to a world in which there were comfortable, middle-class, sane right wingers who they could talk to. They are the one who are going to sabotage it for everyone else.


ice9 05.08.10 at 6:18 pm

I disapprove of contractions in serious discourse. We have standards. Please use the full, uncontracted phrase in the future, rather than ‘d’oh.’ It almost sounds like something from a cartoon.



Gene O'Grady 05.08.10 at 9:08 pm

I’m curious about the association of Opus Dei with the evangelical right in no. 9 above. Many years ago, for complicated reasons that don’t really signify, I had some association with an Opus Dei group, and while I appreciated their kindness, good sense, and seriousness, after a couple of a months I decided it wasn’t the right place for me. On the other hand, one of the things that kept me coming back for a while was that in contrast to most liberal Catholics and indeed most middle class Californians in general there was a strong cadre of Hispanic professional men involved (as well I believe as some Asians) and I never got the common California sense that the other guys thought they were slumming to associate with them. So the association of Opus Dei and right wing white at least in my experience was hardly justified.


geo 05.09.10 at 12:28 am

Gene: yes, in my experience as well, Opus Dei members are generally kind, sensible, and serious. Because the organization was born and first flourished in the Spanish-speaking world, and is still strongest there, Hispanics are comfortable with it and vice versa.

Ideologically, though, it certainly is close to the evangelical Right. They do not accept strict separation of church and state, would definitely outlaw abortion, contraception, and probably even divorce, would censor textbooks at least as heavily as the Texas school board, would not permit sex education in public schools, and in general have not advanced an inch beyond Joseph de Maistre or the Council of Trent.


parsimon 05.09.10 at 1:11 am

Hidari at 3: Yes but are there any serious right wing thinkers? I mean, way back in the day you had Nietzsche and Heidegger

I had not realized that Nietzsche and Heidegger had become figures of the right.


Robert Waldmann 05.09.10 at 2:29 am

Another notable difference between Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin on one side and Michael Moore and John Stewart on the other is that Moore and Stewart are honest. One of the things that all conservatives think they know is that Moore’s documentaries are full of false claims. However, they can’t point to any. Recall Moore vs Gupta’s fact check on CNN. Do you really think that if Gupta tried to fact check Limbaugh, the one clear error of fact discovered in the end would be a false claim by Gupta about what Limbaugh had said ? The rest of the alleged fact check was presenting counter arguments as if they were proof of factual errors. Gupta could argue that Sicko wasn’t
fair and balanced, but he found no errors at all (while making a gross errof and accusing Moore of covering up a fact which was projected on the big screen by Moore and blocked by the CNN logo on the little screen by CNN claiming that Moore had hidden it). Here is an article in which CNN admits to two factual errors and yet says that facts are no big deal http://tinyurl.com/2uwv8re. I think to see that one of those errors was the only claim that Moore had made a factual error in Sicko, it is best to watch the video http://tinyurl.com/3bdru6
. Also Krugman’s take is worth a look as usual http://tinyurl.com/84uskm.

After that episode, to compare Moore’s honest to the standards of integrity of CNN is already libelous. To compare him to Limbaugh is absurd. Yet you implicitly concede that he is like Limbaugh. He is like Limbaugh in manner and he profits by appealing to a huge audience. However, he is honest and a source of reliable facts — definitely more reliable than Gupta anyway. Oh and after that Obama considered Gupta for surgeon general proving your point which is, however, not a tenth of it.

I think much more highly of Stewart than Moore. He is very entertaining. However, he is much more worthy of consideration as a serious thinker than say Douthat.

In your post telling us to buck up and stop conceding too much, you concede much too much.

I (don’t)blush to admit that when I started reading the post I had neither any idea what “agnotology” means nor indeed any inkling that there was such a word.
Elsewhere I have objected to the overuse of “epistemic” and I beg you don’t agnotize me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m agnotized.


Robert Waldmann 05.09.10 at 3:01 am


Right wingers who have something to say
Richard Posner (has been wavering)
Plenty of economists. Many aren’t especially fresh water (e.g. the inventor of the phrase — Robert Hall — a salt water righty).
Eugene Volokh et al

Your right. Either I am ignorant or they are few.


Neil 05.09.10 at 5:18 am

Reported on Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (though not as an instance of bad science): Nyhan and Reifler (2010) gave conservatives information about Iraq and WMDs. Half of the subjects were told that the claim that there were WMDs in Iraq had been proved false, giving details about the Duelfer Report. The subjects were then asked whether there were WMDs in Iraq. Those who had been presented with the claim, backed up by reliable sources, that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that there WMDs).


John Quiggin 05.09.10 at 5:34 am

Bruce, if you compare the achievements of the right since, say, 1994, either to their hopes at that time or to what they got done (and even more, how thoroughly they triumphed ideologically) under Reagan, I think you’ll see that from their point of view, things aren’t that good.

For example, access to abortion is perhaps a little tighter than it was in 1994, but the prospect of significant legal restrictions is further off than ever.

On the other core Christianist issue, the right has unambiguously lost ground and is set to lose more. Reagan banned gays from the military. The class of 1994 viewed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as a disgraceful Clinton compromise. Now they would be glad to keep it, and if they look ahead, they ought to be able to foresee a fight on provision of married accommodation to gay service couples.

I think the same points could be made on other issues.


garymar 05.09.10 at 6:07 am

@20 Neal

Those who had been presented with the claim, backed up by reliable sources, that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that there WMDs).

Good lord, don’t keep us in the dark! Is the missing word were or weren’t?

I’m betting on were.


magistra 05.09.10 at 6:54 am

There are more depressing scientific studies on the advantages of ignorance from a study by Serge Gallam (Public debates driven by incomplete scientific data: the cases of evolution theory, global warming and H1N1 pandemic influenza (2010) . He’s done a lot of work on modelling opinion dynamics, which seem to show that if you have a reasonable size proportion (around 20%) of inflexible people on your side (those who will never change their opinion) you will always end up with that side’s opinion prevailing overall.


Tim Wilkinson 05.09.10 at 1:01 pm

JQ: The discussions here and elsewhere on agnotology/epistemic closure have established the existence of a set of mechanisms on the right[1] for propagating ignorance and protecting it against factual refutation.

Has it? There undoubtedly is such a set of mechanisms, but those threads didn’t improve my understanding of them at all. They were so heatedly adversarial that al course.

Retreat into defensive dogmatism is a natural reaction to the right’s flagrant abuse of fact and argument, but it may not be the best approach to public debate: until more headway has been made in understanding agnotogenesis on the right – and more widely – it’s hard to say, I’d have thought. I think this, from Lee A. Arnold @131 in the Agnotology followup thread, is apt:

in one part, the Left believes that it should not have to fight, because its ideas really ought to be self-evident. And in the other part, the Left believes that it is in a losing battle…The Right never makes this mistake. The Right understands that it is a class war and that it is continuous. They will even use easy falsehoods to try to win it. The Left is lazy and isn’t ready to fight. The Left does not appear to understand that the fight is almost entirely rhetorical. And the Left doesn’t know what is necessary in a rhetorical fight; they were taught that rhetoric is a lesser art. They feel helpless—yet engaging in politics is beneath them.

If one is to fight, the question is how to do it: earnest and painstaking engagement and advocacy is appealing; cursory ridicule may be effective in shaming those opponents capable of shame. A combination of both ought not to be impossible given a modicum of wit and hard work, given that the opposition’s position is so ridiculous to start with.

Another aspect of this question is the extent to which one follows the right in using misrepresentation or obfuscation of various kinds and degrees from deliberate whole-cloth falsehoods, through the more marginal, gap-papering, sort of noble-cause (of course!) corruption, to the ‘fours legs good’ style of simplification.

A fight-agnotopoiesis-with-agnotopoiesis strategy would explain and possibly justify the uncompromising, polarised response to the so-called ‘climategate’ revelations in those threads: credence in the integrity of the science is to be maintained at a strict, though absurd, 100%. Anything less is a hostage to the deniers and could even lead to back-sliding in one’s own camp.

This approach also presumably underlies the forceful rhetoric of Rich Puchalsky @230 about those from the left who responded to the the previous post:

…boring, vain, narcissistic, wrong, and in general the kind of person who would diss people on their supposed side for no good reason. It surely fills me with confidence, knowing that these people have my back.

This whole thing really isn’t necessary—that’s the lesson I wish that people would take away for next time. It is not necessary for the left to prove that they are fairer than anyone else and to form a circular firing squad to come up with ways in which we are supposedly wrong in order to prove our fairness, or to prove our individual freedom from supposed leftist dogma. It’s not something that marks you as someone who is taking politics seriously. On the contrary, it marks you as being a prat.
Perhaps ‘racist’ could be added as an additional incentive to hold the line?

There is a potential problem: adopting the oppositions’ dogmatic tactics obviously entails adopting its proneness to agnosis and BS. Those not cowed by that kind of doxastic policing, furthermore, are likely to infer that there is something to hide – and probably to overestimate or exaggerate the significance of the corruption involved.

For example, the behaviour of the UEA climate guys certainly casts some small degree of doubt on the integrity of their science in general.

To maintain the staunch line that there was nothing dodgy going on at all avoids making a concession which would undoubtedly be pounced on by the opposition.

On the other hand, taking the high moral ground and making the effort to explain that in the context of the relevant cost-benefit calculation, the small decrease in credibility has no practical consequence would avoid the need to adopt an ultimately unconvincing position which if discerned is likely to damage one’s case.

I suspect the latter approach might be better (I certainly find it more congenial), since it can actually change peoples’ minds rather than simply holding the line. That of course depends where the balance of power is to start with, the extent to which it is possible to change the minds of opponents or ‘floaters’, and the degree to which those on one;s own team can be relied up on to close ranks, ingenuously or not. I suppose there might also be general policies or rules that could affect one’s decision whether to adopt a ‘noble-cause corruption’ approach.

Actually, on second thoughts, that’s all wrong, a total misrepresentation and entirely wrongheaded. (Say no more, a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, etc.)


Tim Wilkinson 05.09.10 at 1:53 pm

(“They were so heatedly adversarial that al course.” don’t remember what that was going to say…)

Had a look at Magistra’s #24 and link which looks at some of the kinds of concepts that seems relevant to a proper discussion of the topic; even the same ‘floater’ terminology.


Tim Wilkinson 05.09.10 at 2:27 pm

The results sketched by Magistra seem for the most part intuitively understandable, which is a good thing since I tend to regard these kinds of models as abductive rather than inductive: the models are never anywhere near adequate (they are not simulations), so an initially surprising result might either be an artefact or provide a real insight, and therefore needs to be understood rather than taken as data. The 17% magic number, for example, might go either way AFAICT so far.

The setup:

One binary proposition, everyone has an opinion.

A population consisting of some of 3 kinds of subject: majoritarian (adopts local majority view), contrarian (adopts {local} minority view), dogmatist (never changes).

An initial distribution is generated.

Random groupings of subjects are formed, and views changed among its members according to type.

Presumably this is iterated until a stable distribution (at micro- or macro lebvel) appears to have been arrived at.

1. A population containing all majoritarians obviously tends to converge to the view with the initial majority.

2. (A population containing only contrarians, I would think, tends to work in favour of minority views and against majorities, the salient result being a 50-50 split, which is presumably the only one which can be stable.)

3. With Ms + a sufficiently small proportion of Cs, the Cs will tend to form a stable minority, which again seems intuitive.

3a. But with a suffiently large proportion of Cs, the result converges to the 50-50 distribution which I assume would be the All-C result. I can picture one way this might work with a small number of Ms: basically they are a minor perturbing influence to the dominant C-phenomenon of convergence to 50-50, and the stable result occurs just when the 50-50 distribution is reached and there is nothing to change either majoritarians’ or contrarians’ views. How the cases with, say, equal numbers of Ms and Cs, or other significant mixes would work I can’t quite see.

4. Dogmatists seem more simple. An all-dogmatist ditribution would be stable.

5. Evenly balanced Ds on each side, among a population of Ms, would presumably cancel out, allowing the 50-50 result to be reached.

6. A small enough number of Ds on one side would presumably slow or accelerate the process of majoritarian convergence (depending on whether the Ds are aligned with the initial majority.

6a. A large enough proportion of Ds, all on one side, would presumably dominate and drive majoritarians to agree with them, since if the D’s position gets a majority in any local grouping, it will ratchet up the Ds’ opinion

Going from Magistra’s summary, the magic 17% comes in to specify a threshhold relevant to 3/3a and 6/6a. To what extent this is a coincidence, and whether either instance of the 17% figure is artefactual (perhaps something to do with the size of groupings – though that doesnlt seem likely) rather than some naturally significant quantity, I dunno.

Better look at the paper I suppose…


Bruce Baugh 05.09.10 at 2:43 pm

John, I don’t quite see how someone can look at the shape of American politics and think that the prospect of further abortion restrictions is low. Our new health care bill adds some extra burdens, and the endless whittling continues in many states. Only the most egregious of offensive burdens ever get checked. (Take the situation in Ohio, or for Native American women.) According to the National Women’s Law Center (full article and stats), “The number of abortion providers nationwide has declined by 37% since 1982. The absence of health care providers trained and available to provide abortion services can endanger women’s lives and health. Across the country, 86% of U.S. counties had no abortion provider in 2000, and as noted in the National Report Card, 34% of women live in such counties. The lack of access to abortion services is particularly severe for women in rural communities. In non-metropolitan areas, 97% of counties had no abortion provider.”

And now we’ve got a Democratic president denouncing judicial activism on the part of the Supreme Courts that upheld abortion rights in the first place. So yeah, the picture looks very grim to me on that front.

I’m of course never going to need an abortion myself. But I know how much evidence shows that women’s rise from poverty rests on a foundation of education and reproductive authority. The US’s assault on both those things is part of why I so much lean these days toward John Emerson’s pessimism about our prospects.


Neil 05.09.10 at 6:03 pm

you win the bet.


Miriam 05.09.10 at 8:42 pm

We really can’t use their tactics. One error – not even a lie – and they swarm all over us like fleas. It doesn’t even have to BE an error – it can just be an uncertainty. Look at what happened to the climate scientists or for that matter any scientific theory that is being disputed in the literature.


Rich Puchalsky 05.10.10 at 12:00 am

And here’s Tim Wilkinson again. Complete with his “You’re asking for so much dogmatic purity that you don’t want me to repeat false right-wing talking points. Oh dear me!”

Here’s something that Tim wrote:
“For example, the behaviour of the UEA climate guys certainly casts some small degree of doubt on the integrity of their science in general.”

What exact behavior do you think casts some doubt on the accuracy of their science? Please be specific, keeping in mind that multiple investigations cleared them of everything except possible FOIA foot-dragging, complicated by the uncertain FOIA status of their data. Surely you must have something serious in mind. I mean, acting with bad integrity is about the worst thing a scientist can do.

I’m not dogmatically defending the left here. I’m asking you to back up a serious accusation that you’ve made. Back it up with something solid or you deserve everything I’m going to say about you.

“There is a potential problem: adopting the oppositions’ dogmatic tactics obviously entails adopting its proneness to agnosis and BS. ”

Since you quoted me as an example, note that I didn’t tell people to believe in anything that wasn’t true. I told them something that should be obvious: people who diss people who are supposedly on the same side for no good reason are jerks. That’s a value judgement, not a false claim.


shah8 05.10.10 at 2:43 am

The ability to retain “eccentric” beliefs are a class marker. Not eccentric in the sense of “dance to your own beat”, of course.

The only cure for irrational beliefs by the borguosie is poverty. Sometimes that doesn’t work either. It’s just not really worth your time and effort to deal with irrational people if you can help it. And when you can’t, you pretty much have to start with the premise of not really respecting their personhood and go around, under, over or through them.


Robert 05.10.10 at 4:20 am

Presumably John Quiggin is still of the opinion that he and others of his ilk should talk to some who disagree. But I suspect he is lying to himself. Can we expect future posts in which he engages economists at, for example, the Levy Institute, New School, University of Massachusetts, and University of Kansas City at Missouri? Such Australian economists as Bill Mitchell, Geoff Harcourt, and Steve Keen?


John Quiggin 05.10.10 at 5:16 am

Hmm, an interesting list.

I engage pretty regularly with Steve Keen and work a bit with him in the Centre for Policy Development where we are both Fellows. Here’s one piece.

I haven’t talked with Bill Mitchell for a while, but only because Australia is a big place. I’m generally sympathetic to his approach. Geoff Harcourt is nearly 80, and I don’t think he is very active these days.

I’m a bit less current with the US scene, but I’ve often cited the work of Thomas Palley from the New School (also affiliated with the Levy Institute, I think). I get a lot of Levy Institute publications and know quite a few of the people there in one way or another.

Of course, as I mentioned in a recent post, it’s important for social democrats and liberals to engage more with leftwing positions that have been out of favor for some time. No doubt I’ve been remiss in this respect, while focusing on the defensive struggle against market liberalism, but not so much so as to deserve this kind of snarky comment.


Robert 05.10.10 at 8:28 am

It would help if I had written the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Graham White is another Australian economist who I find of interest. I only know your work from what bits I read on the Internet, and probably not all of that.


Ebenezer Scrooge 05.11.10 at 1:07 am

I agree that smart honest movement conservatives are impossible. But you can still have any two of three. The American Scene types (e.g. Reihan Salam, Conor Friedersdorf) are smart and honest, but they are not movement conservatives. Most movement conservative foot soldiers are as honest as the day is long, but they are not very smart. And the Karl Roves of the world are quite smart, if profoundly dishonest.


libertarian 05.13.10 at 6:38 pm

“irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

One could not hope for a more apt description of Quiggin’s periodic rantings.

Come November we’ll see who is winning the left/right argument. Somehow I doubt there’ll be a whole lot of tax-and-spend liberals left. But hey, self-anointed thought-leaders of the left: please do keep those shriveled, bitter minds closed. Not that anyone listens to you anyway, but at least that way you’re guaranteed to have zero influence until well-and-truly flattened by the oncoming bus.

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