A Night of Epistemic Closure

And the winner last night is...
And the winner from last night is…

First, a confession: I did not watch last night’s misnamed “dialogue”. I didn’t need to. Nor did anyone else.

There was no point. We all knew exactly how it would go. Reading the accounts this morning, that’s exactly how it went.

Last night’s parallel-monologue (which is way different than a dialogue) exercise was useless for reasons that don’t boil down to the basic fact that the two sides just don’t agree on anything.

Not agreeing on anything can, under the right circumstances, be the starting point to a productive exchange. But only if some minimal conditions are met. Each side has to be partially interested in how the other side sees the world. Each side has to agree that it doesn’t own the truth, that there is a possibility of learning by confronting their own beliefs to a reality that’s sometimes recalcitrant, and to views it might find repugnant. Each side has to agree that dissidence is legitimate, and that truth matters.

We knew last night was a waste of time because it’s so gallopingly evident that those conditions don’t hold in Venezuela. But while the opposition has its problems with confirmation bias and groupthink, this is no time for specious parallelisms: the problem in Venezuela is a government sealed into a air-tight bubble of rigid ideological certainties that bear no resemblance with reality as the rest of the world knows it.

The opposition’s problem with epistemic closure is a spring breeze. The government’s problem is a category-5 super typhoon.

Fifteen years of sitting in front of a VTV screen have taken their toll. Chavismo has zero interest in reality outside the deep, cozy grooves of its ideological comfort zone. We’re talking about a movement that, when faced with a prominent figure claiming that Jews were using newspaper crossword puzzle clues to send each other coded messages, actually promotes the guy.

These people have all the power, all the money, all the rents, and all the guns. It’s going to take a lot more than having the Papal Nuncio sit through a six-hour meeting to get them to step outside that bubble.

In a way, chavismo doesn’t have an epistemic bubble – it is an epistemic bubble. The obdurate refusal to confront a reality it cannot control, to honor opposing points of view without necessarily sharing them, to treat others’ points of view as basically legitimate even if possibly wrong…these things aren’t features of chavismo as a belief system, they’re its essence.

Which is why, all told, there was just one figure who came out of last night looking relatively good: Maria Corina Machado, who called bullshit on the whole sad charade before it even started.

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