|Kevin Zollman -- ``I am Liam's advisor|
and that's why I get this vaguely model
shot esque picture on his blog. Maybe
he can have a Phd now?''
This is just an instance of a much broader set of projects. Think, for instance, of the arguments that may be put forward or against ensuring that juries do not know certain things that lawyers and judges do know, or the complicated relationship between the desirability of independence of opinion among voters and their right to freely communicate ideas with each other. Call the state of having ensured that some set of inquirers are unable to learn of the results of other people's investigations `epistemic isolation'. Whether and when we should foster epistemic isolation is a serious, and seriously interesting, question for us social epistemologists.
There are occasions, though, where we think epistemic isolation has been fostered but are widely agreed to be harmful for epistemic or wider social reasons. First, there are cases in which a dominant group renders itself unable to learn about the true basis of its rule and the suffering this causes. Second there are cases where a subordinate group finds that, not being viewed as credible, they are unable to communicate facts about their own situations in a way that will gain any uptake from others. Presumably there is some relationship between these scenarios, and that indeed has been studied.
Ok, so far so good. We in social epistemology have noticed this interesting thing, epistemic isolation. We've noticed that it's not always bad, and thought about when and how one might want to foster it in cases where it's desirable. But nor have we developed rose tinted glasses, and as a community we've also been studying its darker side, and the negative social consequences that can accrue from epistemic isolation.
|Han Fei -- ``You like Machiavelli?|
That's cute, I guess. Me? I'm really
more into the hardcore stuff.''
For, exactly what Trump seems to me to be up to is creating the conditions for esoteric government by means of fostering epistemic isolation. He is trying to get about, say, a third of the country (a disproportionately well armed and represented on police forces third of the country, and enough support to govern with), in the following situation. Committed as they are to Trump and his regime, as the lies come thick and fast, to maintain their self-image and their loyalty to this group, they must disbelieve all other news sources outside of Trump and surrogates. And I really do mean `all'. It's Trump over the media, Trump over the schools, Trump over the scientists; Trump over their own lying eyes. His base are being epistemically quarantined such that they become entirely dependent on information sources favourable to Trump's regime. `Quarantined' sounds a bit too benign, mind you, that is how one might put it from the point of view of an advocate of Trump's regime -- those of us more cynical may say they are being subject to epistemic apartheid, kept apart from the better quality of epistemic facilities the rest of us have access too. (There is also something infelicitous about that terminology too; for although it is Trump's supporters who are subject to the epistemic apartheid, it is not just them but the rest of us who shall ultimately suffer for the full socio-political consequences of this.) They are epistemically isolated; and, as Han Fei points out, for that reason highly manipulable.
If we in social epistemology want to study epistemic isolation in its full ramifications we need to study not just situations in which it is imposed for the sakes of satisfying shared communal goals, nor where it arises organically in hierarchical social structures, but also those situations where the powerful impose it on some group of subordinates, for the good of the former and the detriment of the latter.