The Children of Intellectual Incest

It is a time of rampant intellectual incest.  The majority of publications aim to reinforce the opinions of their audience. This habit has strongly reinforced political self-segregation.  I read a survey suggesting significantly greater aversion to romantic partnerships with those who disagree about politics than one who practise a different religion – a fact which does not speak to the health of either.

Almost everyone holds that a large portion of the population is deluded. Everyone agrees that there is no possibility they are among them.  Since this implication is carried by any disagreement, people are incredulous when their ideas are disputed.  Many people are eager to avoid any such discussion and are ready to shun those don’t.  Our culture is thus deficient in practical experience in handling sincere disagreement.

Consensus is emerging from localizing alternatives. This serves illusion the argument was won when it never happened, that the conflict is decided when it has only begun.

When public debates are held, it is assumed neither side will be persuaded.  The results are parallel narratives contesting for attention, not comparison. Unfavourable associations, minor errors and moot points become the primary interface between the debaters.  When one disentangles polite applause from visceral reaction, the impression of parallel discourse is only amplified.

Our economic and political leadership is taught about political opponents in a manner specifically designed to discredit them. I would venture two main reasons. First, the cosmopolitan strata of western culture is disproportionately liberal. Speaking about dissidents is more likely to serve the interests of those hostile to them.  The other is more basic: We would rather disputes happen on our own terms.

Even careful effort to accurately depict opponents tends to be somewhat mechanical, rapidly occluded by political imperatives, engrained prejudice and methodical misrepresentation.  There is also, of course, the possibility of becoming typecast as one who sympathises with the enemy.

It is true that conflicts of interest underlie intractable political disputes.  Disputes over resources, survival, dominance and time preferences are inevitable. If an advantage can be achieved by engaging in conflict, the feedback loop of isolation and hostility should be actively managed from the outset. Preparations for conflict are far less costly before social collapse than than after.

Our cultural segregation is not being well managed.  If our populations is to become culturally and ethnically segmented, internationalization of conflicts becomes more likely as we see in Syria.  People are becoming acclimatized to the assumption that argument is intractable.  this is preparing the ground for a very rapid transition from civil order to violence.


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