Epistemic Bubbles and Authoritarian Politics
Elizabeth Anderson (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

March 10, 2017, 10:30am - 12:30pm
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

32 Vassar Street
United States


Contemporary U.S. political discourse is structured by "epistemic bubbles."  From the viewpoint of social epistemology, an epistemic bubble can be modeled as a self-segregated sphere for the circulation of ideas, resistant to communication from outsiders.  Segregation tracks lines of group identity, which, in a polarized political context, also marks sharp divisions of trust and mistrust.  I shall offer some models of how epistemic bubbles may form, and how they threaten democracy.  One major danger of epistemic bubbles is that they can be invaded and taken over by charlatans and other liars, without containing within themselves effective means for correcting falsehoods.  Hence, the group in the bubble ends up avowing false, even absurdly false, ideas.  This danger is particularly acute in the context of authoritarian political strategies, which were extensively deployed in the 2016 election.  I shall explain how authoritarian strategies work, how they undermine the reasoning of those trapped in an epistemic bubble, and how democratic communication needs to be reconstructed in order to burst such bubbles.

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