To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Friday, September 13, 2013

Epistemic Closure Is A Bitch---And A Besetting Sin Of The US-Israel Debate.

In a previous post, I pointed out the notable symmetry between a Wall Street Journal column by Bret Stephens on US policy toward Egypt and the basic thrust of the official Israeli diplomatic effort that had been just launched, as reported by Jodi Rudoren of the New York Times the same day. Stephens, with impeccable connections to the Israeli government right, most likely knew about that worldwide Israeli diplomatic drive, although he did not reference it.  

Now comes a piece by fellow pro Israel hawk Eliot Abrams in the Weekly Standard that echoes Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu calling Israel an “Island of Tranquility” in the otherwise tempestuous Middle East, although Abrams doesn't seem to have remembered quotation marks from the Jerusalem Post.  

Abrams, in the Weekly Standard September 9, dateline Jerusalem, with the headline "Island of Tranquility":

Egypt is an unruly military dictatorship, Syria is at war and will soon be hit by American bombs, the government may fall in Tunisia, Libya has no real government, Lebanon is now seeing growing Sunni-Shia strife, Jordan has a half-million Syrian refugees and the flow continues— one could go on. The “Arab Spring” seems to have led to a summer of tornadoes.

And there in the middle sits an island of tranquility, Israel—indeed one could even say Israel and the West Bank. No political instability, no terrorism, no war….  

And Netanyahu, in the Jerusalem Post on September 8, also datelined Jerusalem: 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the occasion of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday to praise Israel as “an island of tranquility [amidst] the storm raging around us.”

Not to make too much out of the recycling of a fairly common phrase, but one of the major reasons conservatism is in such poor intellectual health is the tendency it has to operate in an intellectual cocoon in which conservatives talk only among themselves as they spurn input and criticism from outside sources—“the closing of the movement conservative mind,” as it’s been described. A fancy-pants term for this is “epistemic closure, ” although to be more precise, the parallelism in the two pieces above is more a matter of “recursion.”

Either way, you’d think these two very smart guys ---Stephens and Abrams---could be more original, both in their analysis and in their choice of words so that they made themselves at least appear less obviously in the Likudnik tank. Ever since the idea of US-Israeli “shared values” became a hallmark of Israeli hasbara in the mid-1990s, the rhetoric of the Israeli right has been echoed by sympathetic neocon journalistic operatives in the US in ways both large and small. This tendency may not warp the US debate on Israel as much as other things that encumber that debate, such as the demonization of those deemed hostile to Israel or those who question the lack of boundaries in the US-Israel alliance. But it does underscore how certain journalistic organs of the American right have let their standards slip, becoming outlets for Israeli propaganda, often in the clumsiest of ways.  

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