About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
What's the matter with Christopher Hitchens?
Which brings me to Hitchens' blunder: his continued support for the Iraq war. I just can't wrap my mind around it. I've read several of his articles in Slate, and the guy seems to be living in a parallel universe. In a piece published on 10 April 2006, for instance, he kept arguing about the Niger connection to the alleged attempt of Sadam Hussein's regime to start a nuclear weapons program. Although Hitchens admits that at least some of the documents used by the White House to make its case were forgeries, he still thinks there was something there, because it is inconceivable that a high-level emissary from Iraq went to Niger just to get help in breaking the flight embargo against Iraq. Perhaps, and that justifies an invasion and occupation how?
Hitchens engages in almost comical exercises of mental gymnastics to maintain his position in spite of all available evidence, as in the following gem from the April 10 article: “the Bush administration only ever asserted that the Iraqi regime had apparently tried to open a yellowcake trade in Africa. It has never been claimed that an agreement was actually reached.” Right, so we went to war with a nation that hadn't even managed to establish trade involving one of many components that go into making a nuclear weapons program, while we keep talking to one that does have and openly threatens to use nuclear weapons (North Korea), and are staunch allies of another that is using the nuclear threat against its close neighbor to resolve border disputes (Pakistan). Some logic, Mr. Hitchens.
I could go on and on with in-depth analyses of the Hitchensian position, but the point is that Hitchens has fallen prey to the same sort of reaction that got hold of the late Oriana Fallaci and turned the former radical liberal, who risked her life to fight oppression in Mexico, into a vicious racist obsessively preoccupied with the fall of western civilization at the hand of the Muslim infidel. In both cases we have intelligent and clearly well-intentioned people who are jolted into an irrationally dangerous position by a dramatic event. 9/11 certainly did change the world as we (especially Americans) know it. But much of that change amounts to a realization of things that were there before, such as the disastrous consequences of decades of American foreign policy, including the support of dictators like Saddam Hussein and former allies like Osama bin Laden.
What we should have learned from all this was that exporting democracy is not accomplished by bombing people and occupying their country, but rather through the steadfast refusal to support oppressive regimes around the world just because they happen to be helpful either politically or economically (the list is long: Pakistan, Iraq, China, El Salvador, Chile, Panama, South Vietnam, Egypt, and so on and so forth). I sympathize with Hitchen's and Fallaci's rage. And rage is a good thing, because it gets people to do something about horrible situations. But the problem with rage unaided by understanding is that it often makes us react against the wrong enemies, or by adopting the wrong means. A mistake that one expects from simpletons like Bush and devious beings like Cheney, but not from sophisticated intellectuals like Hithens and Fallaci. Oh well, two down against intellectual sophistication.