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February 07, 2004

Ideological Isolation

Alex Tabarrok over at Marginal Revolutions links to this study by Valdis Krebs.

[ See extended entry below for the image, which is very wide ]

Krebs created a network map of political books based on purchase patterns from major web book retailers and found that there is an almost total divide between left and right in America. (Surprise!) The two sides of the canyon are connected by only the thinnest of tightropes - the books Sleeping with the Devil and Bush at War. The incestuous amplification of the two solitudes is troubling, not because of some imaginary need to march to the beat of a common drum (see Jonah Goldberg's essay) but because this is indicative of a lack of intellectual cross-fertilization. Minimizing one's exposure to intellectual and ideological challenges leads to armies of sheep and the need to align oneself to a broad spectrum of clustered beliefs in order to find a home in one of the camps.

I really enjoy reading the trevails of Godless when he ventures into some leftist blog (Crooked Timber and CalPundit) and challenges the sacred cows. I think that this is an intellectually vigorous process that should be encouraged. I don't see many leftists charging into the midst of the rightest blogs and doing the same. There is much dogma that is accepted as scripture, on both sides, rather than for the pablum it is.

The network map of blue books and red books is indicative of a trend away from engagement and a move towards idiotarianism on both sides. With debate, what emerges from the heated forge is usually something to which I will give due consideration. Unfortunately, if one buys into a pre-packaged worldview, all one need do is learn by rote, the slogans and dogmas, and then one is sufficiently prepared to shout past his ideological opponent without understanding the nuance of the issue.

Most troubling of all is that this network map is focused on bookreaders, who would seem largely predisposed to being opinion leaders and thus very influential. The very people who should be most open to cross-fertilization are running from battle and finding succor and refuge in the midst of intellectual isolation.

How often do any of us come across people who will concede to a winning argument? I dare say not frequently. Usually what happens is a strategic withdrawal of the outgunned party, to wit the Battle of Godless and Democritus at Tactitus.

Now, I don't think that the other side (pick your side) are all a bunch of misguided idiots. It's just that most frequently it is idiots, who know their dogmas by rote, that are the most vocal defenders of their faith. The people who aren't idiots, and who could think for themselves, choose not to, and that's very distressing for they are misguided through apathy and ideological ossification.

I'm wondering whether the Blue-Red schism is really more a manifestation of intellectual apathy on the part of the populace and less indicative of the ideological differences.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:05 PM