Friday, September 23, 2005

Political Taste and Punditry

The questions I suggested that we ask when reading a piece of literary criticism apply to a number of other things, precisely because the theory of taste applies to a diverse group of public discussions. As I've noted before, there is a political version of taste, with the same characteristics as all taste (someone with good political taste, for instance, is able to make comparisons with a broad range of experiences, to discern important features of situations that casual observers might miss, and to be self-critical). When we read or watch pundits, then, we should ask ourselves the same basic questions:

(1) Is this person helping me to identify aspects of the situation I could not otherwise see, or to develop the skills that are useful for doing this?

(2) Is this person informing me of interesting similarities or dissimilarities this case has with other cases, or giving me information so that I can do so myself?

(3) Is this person giving me insight into latent biases that are dangerous to fairminded and reasonable inference and evaluation?

Of course, to ask these questions properly we must also ask similar questions of ourselves, i.e., we should evaluate how well we are discerning, comparing, and self-critiquing in the process of listening to or reading a given pundit.

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