Saturday, January 9, 2010

Christopher Hitchens: Intellectual complexity and atavistic Islam.

Michael J. Totten: An Interview with Christopher Hitchens, Part I

I've had complicated feelings about Christopher Hitchens. I first encountered him back in 2002 via the film version of The Trial of Henry Kissinger. When I read the book, I was blown away by the quality of Hitchens' writing and thinking. He's definitely a heavy-duty intellectual for our times--comparable to, say, George Orwell. I also thought of him as an atheist version of C. S. Lewis because of his vivid moral clarity.

Unfortunately, I got rather disillusioned with him after that. Because he generally went all-in in support of George Dubya Bush's crass military adventurism in the name of "fighting terror," or whatever the fuck it was supposed to be. As annoyed as Hitchens was with theists in general, he seemed really afraid of atavistic Muslims--the kind who support things like 9/11, burqas, and other obnoxious extremities of Arab and Islamic culture. He got so obnoxious about it that he proclaimed that waterboarding wasn't torture.

I mean, that was puzzling! Why would he write such a damning treatment of Kissinger, but then turn around and support the same obnoxious bullshit 4 years later?

But he's had some encouraging rethought about some of these positions. The first thing is that he said, "you know, maybe I'll try waterboarding." Afterwards he said, "if that isn't torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

This interview also suggests he has a more clear idea of the sorts of things he's afraid of. The interview is worth reading, because it will restore your confidence in Hitchens if you are left-leaning. On the other hand, i worry a little that he is not critical enough of the civilization he defends--he freaks out about toxic ideas in Muslim culture, but he appears insensitive to similar ideas in our own culture.

Along these lines, I've been promising a critique of Hitchens' ideas and those of the other "Four Horsemen of Atheism" (Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett) for some time, ever since I've read Harris' pathetic offering, The End of Faith. I'm still working on it, though.

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