Tag Archives: epistemic closure

A quick thought about an application of the Folk Theorem

Has anyone noticed that the Folk Theorem is a great conceptual paradigm with a lot of explanatory power for the incentive structures that exist in the Republican party right now? Here’s the excerpt from Wikipedia:

It is possible to apply this class of theorems to a diverse number of fields. An application in anthropology, for example, would be that in a community where all behavior is well known, and where members of the community know that they will continue to have to deal with each other, then any pattern of behavior (traditions, taboos, etc) may be sustained by social norms so long as the individuals of the community are better off remaining in the community than they would be leaving the community (the minimax condition).

This is why ‘epistemic closure‘ has made the Republican movement intellectually moribund. Republican social norms enforce an intellectual strait-jacket because its intellectual incoherence mandates a kind of suspension of rationality.The Republican movement is in the transitional state where the Folk theorem no longer applies at a growing intellectual margin. Consider very specifically David Frum’s untimely exit from the American Enterprise Institute after the publication of his essay ‘Waterloo‘ in March. And Gary Becker, the Economics Nobel Laureate in 1992, notes in an essay last may the ‘intellectual deterioration’ of the conservative movement, noting prominently:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

I would also add the conservative opposition to gay marriage is another fracture point in the Republican meta-narrative. This is because legally speaking, marriage is just a package of contracts for specific things. In this light the debate over gay marriage is literally a debate over contract rights and if we can restrict them on the basis that only two people of different sexes can make these contracts. This puts Democrats in the same tent as the Libertarians on an issue of property rights, inasmuch as we can think of the restriction of the right to contract as a restriction on the kinds of property, both real and virtual, that you can structure through a marriage.

In any case, I think that this country loses something when the Democrats cannot be challenged by real, intellectually rigorous arguments from the Republican umbrella and there is no viable third party, at least not yet.

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