Life In The Bubble

As finite created beings, limitation is a defining characteristic of being human. The human is always confined, always constrained, never absolutely free. The horizon of our vision and experience, and the particular context that results, naturally creates a kind of existential bubble wherever we go. In this sense, bubbles are inescapable. No one is capable of experiencing anything from the specific vantage of any other person, or from any other vantage at all than his own.

But there are also various sorts of bubbles that are constructed for us and which we construct for ourselves. Whether they be political, economic, tribal, social, or personal.

Meryl Streep's daft lifetime achievement award acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, dedicated to attacking Donald Trump but also taking potshots at football and MMA, set off a small culture war spat on the matter of these sorts of bubbles. Though it's a perpetually recurring dispute.

In response to the speech, conservatives accused Streep of occupying a liberal-elite Hollywood bubble; liberals, in turn, declared that it was cloistered rural America that was the real bubble, exemplified by this inane tweet:

The pacifying moderates chimed in declaring that both sides occupy their respective bubbles.

While the moderates are correct in the sense that, as we've established, bubbles are inescapable, this fact by itself leaves a lacuna. Namely that there is a stark, empirically identifiable asymmetry in the respective bubbles that we occupy.

Traditionalists and conservatives are generally saturated by liberal culture, as it imposes itself on them when they watch television and film, send their children to public school and attend university, and in the structure and laws of the government. While they strive to maintain their own 'bubbles' of religion, tradition, and family, there are aggressive, hostile forces invading these bubbles constantly from every angle.

And the reverse is simply not the case, as conservatives do not operate the levers of power and culture in the way that liberals do. The liberal: conservative ratio of college faculty and professors has been at least two to one since forever, and recently has dramatically increased. The highly disproportionate liberal identification of professional journalists and news editors is an indisputable fact. And when conservatives do happen to ascend to power in government, it's always as controlled opposition, working according to the rubrics of a liberal-democratic system and paradigm.

Indeed, that structuring paradigm is essentially an omnipresent bubble covering the entire West, and much of the globe, expelling any contrary impulses with extreme prejudice. Ryszard Legutko, political philosopher and member of the Polish right-wing Law and Justice Party, puts it this way in his book The Demon in Democracy:

What we have been observing over the last decades is an emergence of a kind of liberal-democratic general will... we have been more and more exposed to an overwhelming liberal-democratic omnipresence, which seems independent of the will of individuals, to which they humbly submit, and which they perceive as compatible with their innermost feelings. This will permeates public and private lives, emanates from the media, advertising, films, theatre and visual arts, expresses itself through common wisdom and persistently brazen stereotypes, through educational curricula from kindergartens to universities, and through works of art. This liberal-democratic general will does not recognize geographical or political borders.

Given this state of affairs, to even breathe or exist in the West as a traditionalist is to perpetually have your own bubble punctured. If conservative, rural Americans are in any bubble, it's the same one Hollywood is in—that all of us are in—and which they attempt to carve small enclaves out of, often futilely.

In addition to the asymmetry between this enormous, all-encompassing bubble of the Left and the tiny bubbles on the Right which are constantly disturbed, there is another asymmetry of bubbles on the level of moral psychology.

In Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind he lays out research findings establishing that conservatives have a five-pillar moral foundation: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Sanctity, and Authority. While, by contrast, liberals have a two-pillar moral foundation consisting only of Care and Fairness.

The result is that conservatives, by sharing two common pillars with liberals, and despite emphasizing them differently, can more easily grok liberals than vice versa. Haidt writes:

The obstacles to empathy are not symmetrical. If the left builds its moral matrices on a smaller number of moral foundations, then there is no foundation used by the left that is not also used by the right.

When asked to fill out a questionnaire on moral foundations as if they were conservatives, liberals fared far worse than conservatives in the reverse situation. Liberals can't accurately put themselves into the shoes of a conservative, while a conservative can do the opposite with more success. Perhaps because conservatives are daily inundated with liberalism and, if they are not yet liberals themselves, it's only because they have to actively fight not to be. Intimacy with the enemy develops.

So not only must we deny liberals the comforting thought that it's the hillbilly, hick-racists who are the real bubble-dwellers (even they seem to know this is false), but we're also obliged to deny them any false equivalence between the respective bubbles of left and right. Examine the experiment devised at the latter link—supposedly revealing similar high rates of shutting out the other side by the left and right—and guffaw. Not only because the experiment is absurd and reveals nothing, but because however much conservatives would like to shut out liberalism, it isn't possible. While it's both possible and actualized that liberals are able to avoid being forced into anything but the slightest contact with conservative culture.

Trump, Brexit, and the global surge of success of some right-wing political parties, as well as the emergence of a New Media paradigm which is beginning to push back on the Old Media's institutional dominance, may be changing this to some limited degree—perhaps liberal bubbles are finally receiving some genuine piercings of their own. But I would argue it's quite limited. Even nationalist politics are democratic politics, and while The Cathedral has received a few damaging hits, it still looms over and surrounds us—like a bubble.