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The Walled Garden of Empiricism


So, by now maybe you've heard about this amusing little story where seemingly half of left-of-center Washington, D.C. belongs to a private, off-the-record listserv in which they listserv one another about various topics before going back to their blogs and making the exact same joke about China? It's basically nothing to get hung about, though I do think the National Review's Mark Hemingway has a mild point about disclosure. (Speaking of which, here's mine: I don't belong to any listservs, least I don't think so, though I irregularly participate in a couple of Facebook groups that have nothing to do with politics or Washington.)

The real fun in this story, though, comes in the pomposity of the participants. A selection from the Politico article that started it all:

Juice-box heroes

[Eric] Alterman said it's important that there are "people with genuine expertise" on the list.

"For me, it's enormously useful because I don't like to spend my time reading blogs and reading up-to-the-minute political minutia," he said. "This list allows me to make sure I'm not missing anything important." […]

"No one's pushing an agenda," said Jeffrey Toobin. […]

John Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, described JList in an e-mail as "a virtual coffeehouse" where participants get a chance to talk and argue.

"There is probably general agreement on the stupidity of today's GOP," he said. "But beyond that, I would say there is wide disagreement on trade, Israel, how exactly we got into this recession/depression and how to get out of it, the brilliance of various punk bands that I have never heard of, and on whether, at any given moment, the Obama administration is doing the right thing."

But the best comes in a follow-up post by listserv founder Ezra Klein (or, as new New York Times token-righty columnist Ross Douthat calls him, "the William F. Buckley of movement liberalism"):

The emphasis is on empiricism, not ideology.

To be sure.