Jonathan Chait

Coffee Is For Epistemic Closers

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Christopher Hitchens deftly skewers David Mamet, the playwright who has converted to the Republican Party with the fervency of, well a convert:

This is an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason. In order to be persuaded by it, you would have to be open to propositions like this:

“Part of the left’s savage animus against Sarah Palin is attributable to her status not as a woman, neither as a Conservative, but as a Worker.”

Or this:

“America is a Christian country. Its Constitution is the distillation of the wisdom and experience of Christian men, in a tradition whose codification is the Bible.”

Some of David Mamet’s unqualified declarations are made even more tersely. On one page affirmative action is described as being “as injust as chattel slavery”; on another as being comparable to the Japanese internment and the Dred Scott decision. We learn that 1973 was the year the United States “won” the Vietnam War, and that Karl Marx who on the evidence was somewhat more industrious than Sarah Palin “never worked a day in his life.”

Hitchens' entertaining review does not concern itself with the question of just how so such a skilled observer of the human condition became such a mindless follower of cant. For that, you have to read Andrew Ferguson's   profile of Mamet, which is intended as a laudatory profile welcoming the convert int the fold, but is actually a disturbing case study in the operation of conservative epistemic cloture. Mamet is seen being introduced into the right-wing world, where he's given a series of conservative texts to absorb. Mamet accepts these as gospel, while shutting off all contact with information sources that might challenge his new dogma:

He told me he doesn’t read political blogs or magazines. “I drive around and listen to the talk show guys,” he said. “Beck, Prager, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved.”

This is reflected in Mamet's cartoonish understanding of liberalism. Here is Hitchens again:

Unfortunately, though, [Mamet] shows himself tone-deaf to irony and unable to render a fair picture of what his opponents (and, sometimes, his preferred authorities, like Hayek) really believe. Quoting Deepak Chopra, of all people, as saying, “Our thinking and our behavior are always in anticipation of a response. It [sic] is therefore fear-based,” he seizes the chance to ask, “Is it too much to suggest that this quote contains the most basic prescription of liberalism, ‘Stop Thinking’?” On that evidence, yes, it would be a bit much.

To explain the thinking of American liberals, Mamet reaches to Deepak Chopra who is not, in fact, an important influence on American liberal political thought. And almost certainly Mamet did not find the Chopra quote by reading Chopra directly, but was fed it by one of the counselors at his ideological education camp. He has entered a hermetically sealed world in which not a particle of independent thought can enter.

*I altered the headline after my brother suggested the current one, which I find irresistible.

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