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Charlie Rose honors Christopher Hitchens
April 16, 2012 7:51 PM   Subscribe

A Charlie Rose discussion about the life and work of author Christopher Hitchens with his friends and fellow authors: Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, James Fenton & Ian McEwan. Also featuring past Hitchens appearances on the show. (1 hr SLVideo)
posted by beisny (39 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's a rare occasion when a figure dies and I actually feel less sympathy for him or her after the usual round of condolences.

Loved Hitch on religion and hypocrisy in general, but it was painful to see him play the useful idiot for the neo-con project of never-ending war against brown people/"terrorism." Also, he was a Clinton-hater before hating on Clinton was cool.

Also, mildly racist re: his comments about Michelle Obama. Incredibly misogynist comments about Hillary to boot (i.e., Hillary could only ever be Bill's wife, not a successful political figure in her own right).

R.I.P. and condolences to his family, but all of his friends falling over themselves to say how close they were too him? What a pack of twats all around. And a perfect example of how fucked our media and journalism have become (it's not what you know, it's who you know and how "serious" D.C. media insiders decide you should be taken).
posted by bardic at 8:22 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm about 20 minutes in and enjoying the video quite a bit. I hope that, at the end of my life, I will have earned a circle of friends willing to overlook and laugh at my obvious flaws and love me anyway. That Hitchens was able to do so gives me a glimmer of hope.
posted by The World Famous at 8:27 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


My mother just loves Charlie Rose and Jay Leno.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:04 PM on April 16, 2012


Also, mildly racist re: his comments about Michelle Obama.

Please. I'm not entirely sure you read TFA you linked to. If you clicked on the link that lead's to Michelle Obama's thesis, you would find it unreadable as well. I'm trying to read it now, and it is quite unbearable, and I'm only 5 pages deep. Perhaps you're seeing it as a cheap shot to link to her bachelor's thesis? I'm not sure why you think this is racist.

Anyway, I don't want to start a derail or anything, but you'd be hard pressed to find a person who never made any mistakes. Hitchens made more than a few, but too many here dismiss all of his arguments saying "but he supported the war on Iraq" or "Neo-Con this and that", and it's the pinnacle of the ad hominem argument.

If the argument is good, it doesn't matter who's making it.

Whatever. On preview, what The World Famous said.
posted by King Bee at 9:18 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh please, the Jeremiah Wright bullshit was all part and parcel of the right-wing "Ooga-Booga Black Muslim President" meme and Hitchens was more than happy to play his role in it. There's nothing ad hominem about holding him accountable for what he wrote since, ya know, he was a freaking writer (as he and his very serious friends like to remind us, ad infiitum).

As for Iraq, let's be clear -- Hitchens staked his career on being a neo-con cheerleader, and he was 100% wrong. It's not as if the neo-con stuff was just a light essay he wrote, comparable to his love of G.K. Chersterton and travels with his good buddy Martin Amis, it was obviously what he wanted to stake his legacy on. The atheism stuff was IMO an attempt at some sort of rehabilitation but the damage was done and he knew it more clearly than anyone else.

Sorry, but he pretty much killed his own legacy with rancor, blindness, and yes, slight touches of racism and a more obvious misogyny (Dixie Chicks are "fat slags" and all that).

Like I said, there were some things about him I liked but as the ghoulish (and strangely hyper-competitive) hagiographies continue to pile up it's clear that his shortcomings were numerous and his actual contributions were minimal.

"Letters To A Young Contrarian" is nice though.
posted by bardic at 9:41 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


For a man who didn't believe in Life After Death, Hitchens is annoyingly immortal.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:46 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gotta love when threads run like this. It's kind of like reading a music thread where the first comment is "your favorite band sucks".
posted by hippybear at 9:52 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


The atheism stuff was IMO an attempt at some sort of rehabilitation but the damage was done and he knew it more clearly than anyone else.

Yeah. So it should totally be dismissed as garbage, right? I mean, that's what you're saying, isn't it? That these things should be dismissed because the guy who made the arguments was trying to "rehabilitate his image"?

The great thing about true propositions is that it doesn't matter who utters them. It doesn't undermine them. They're still true.
posted by King Bee at 10:35 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well it does undermine them. If he can argue so forcefully for something that is just plain bullshit such as the Iraq war, it of course calls into doubt his arguments for the other matters he writes passionately about. No one takes any other person’s arguments without any context, it’s always been (and always will be) the case that the credibility of the person making the argument is considered.

Speaking as an atheist in the Hitchens/Dawkins mould myself.
posted by wilful at 11:14 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's also the irony of being an unrepentant smoker, talking about how he'd never stop smoking, bla bla bla, up until he actually caught cancer.
Gotta love when threads run like this. It's kind of like reading a music thread where the first comment is "your favorite band sucks".
I don't know, do writers have a responsibility for the things their write? If a musician was all about promoting the Iraq War through their music, don't you think it would be noted upon here? Would someone like Ted Nugent be discussed solely in terms of his hair band music? (or whatever he played)

What was annoying about Hitchens is that is that he constantly claimed some kind of intellectual heft, but his ideas were not really that solid, he seemed like someone who cared more about emotional appeals then thinking things through, and he seemed like he cared more about having a different opinion then whatever 'conventional wisdom' was -- kind of a Dunning Kruger effect. Except he wasn't smart enough to understand this. Maybe he didn't understand the difference between his gut feelings and the results of careful reasoning.

Anyway, my experience is that people who consider themselves "Contrarians" are more interested in feeling smarter then other people then being right.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


I used to get frustrated listening to his arguments: he seemed intelligent enough to make good arguments, but he preferred making cheap shots against his opponents and appealing to the audience for laughs and applause. This came through very vividly in a debate about theology I watched once: he introduced the Biblical story about Abraham being commanded to kill his son. "Oh," I thought, "He's going to get into the Socratic argument about whether things are good because God commands them, or whether God commands them because they are good; and he'll demonstrate that morality cannot depend on belief in a deity.

No. He raised the story in order to inform us that he would have said No to God. The audience liked it, but I don't think it really contributed to the debate.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:55 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


and his actual contributions were minimal

The Trial of Henry Kissinger was a worthy and needed criminal biography.
posted by clarknova at 4:14 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well it does undermine them. If he can argue so forcefully for something that is just plain bullshit such as the Iraq war, it of course calls into doubt his arguments for the other matters he writes passionately about.
posted by wilful at 7:14 AM on April 17


This is simply false, and you should try to understand why. An argument stands or falls on its own. The identity of the person advancing an argument makes no difference to the robustness or otherwise of the argument itself. None. A person's track record at argument might well make us approach his future arguments with more or less careful scrutiny, but those arguments will not be undermined - or, indeed, bolstered - by the identity of the person making them. That is not how argument works. It might be how rhetoric works, but not argument. If you say, "This argument is instantly undermined because this person is making it" you're basically committing an ad hom fallacy.

You know, most of us reason poorly some of the time, brilliantly at other times and all points in between. Hitchens was way off base on Iraq. To suggest that this undermines anything else he argued is nonsense. His atheism-related stuff was generally pretty solid, and his regrettable bulldog stubbornness with his Iraq error doesn't alter that in any way at all.
posted by Decani at 4:41 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's also the irony of being an unrepentant smoker, talking about how he'd never stop smoking, bla bla bla, up until he actually caught cancer.

I guess I fail to see the irony here. It's not like after he got cancer he went on an anti-tobacco warpath. I think the closest he got to saying anything close to this was in an interview with Anderson Cooper:

AC: So that question, "why me?", came across your mind?
CH: Well, you can't avoid the question, however stoic you are, you can only bat it away as a silly one. I mean, millions of people die every day, everyone's gotta go sometime. I came by this particular tumor honestly. If you smoke as I did for many years very heavily with occasional interruptions and if you use alcohol, you make yourself a candidate for it.
AC: You think part of that, the way you lived, is responsible for this?
CH: It would be very idle to deny it. And I might as well say to anyone who might be watching, if you can hold it down on the smokes and the cocktails, you might be well advised to do so.
AC: That's probably the subtlest anti-smoking message I've ever heard.
CH: Well, the other ones tend to be rather strident. And, for that reason, easy to ignore.

Sounds really just like someone's being honest about what he did and the way he lived.
posted by King Bee at 5:32 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's the pinnacle of the ad hominem argument

Attacking someone for the specific content of the public statements they make is the exact opposite of the ad hominem argument.
posted by mediareport at 7:08 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It might be how rhetoric works, but not argument. If you say, "This argument is instantly undermined because this person is making it" you're basically committing an ad hom fallacy.

Hitchens wasn't producing philosophical arguments in his writing about Iraq. He was attempting to persuade; he was producing rhetoric.

Or put another way, "if you can hold it down on the credulity and the idolatry, you might be well advised to do so."
posted by notyou at 7:15 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to see a discussion of whether Hitchens' assertions and arguments about Iraq should be seen as undermining or hurting his arguments and assertions on other topics - particularly on atheism and religion. I've seen a similar argument made repeatedly in discussions about science and religion, where people assert that they are unwilling or unable to consider credible any scientist who is not an atheist, based on essentially the same argument I see here. I'll grant that the parallel is not perfect, but it's about as close as such things ever get (it is notable, for example, that positions on political issues are not the sort of creatures of upbringing and cultural baggage that religion is, so a spurious political position probably speaks more to the general character and mental faculties of the speaker than does religious affiliation - not to mention the important distinction between a scientist who happens to practice or participate in religious activity in his or her personal life, on the one hand, and a popular writer and cultural commentator who makes a professional living writing and opining about the Iraq war, on the other, where it might be more reasonable - if not entirely logical - to question Hitch's professional integrity based on prior professional activity).

And I agree with the assertion that such a dismissal is both based on an ad hominem fallacy and, frankly, ridiculous.

To say that Hitchens' positions on religion are undermined by the fact that he showed bad judgment elsewhere is problematic, to put it lightly. If I were to come into this thread and say that one of your arguments here should be disregarded based on something you wrote on a completely different topic elsewhere on MetaFilter, I would be correctly shut down quickly.

Now, as noted at the beginning of this comment, I acknowledge that such dismissal is actually common, and it is not necessarily explicit in every instance. Nevertheless, it is logically spurious and unsound reasoning.

No, I think Hitchens' anti-religion rhetoric - and all of his rhetoric - can be safely and thoroughly addressed on its own terms and based on its own flaws and problems. But I'm not sure I'd even characterize the majority of Hitchens' anti-religion screeds as "arguments," for the reasons already discussed above by delmoi and Joe in Australia. Hitchens was a great cheerleader, writer, and (I'll take flak for this) entertainer. But in the end, I'm not sure he was all that persuasive to anyone other than those who already agreed with him and those who didn't have the patience or resolve to really listen to and think about his rhetoric.

Nevertheless, none of that really jumps out at me from the linked video. What really strikes me is the contrast noted by his friends and colleagues between his outward, obvious actions in public and private, and his private conduct toward friends and, indeed, mere acquaintances. He seems to have had a sharp, quick tongue (and pen) but a generous, giving demeanor on a much deeper level. His friends' affection toward him does not seem to spring from a love of his rhetoric or agreement with his various arguments and causes, but from a love of a man who, underneath it all, was generous, giving, thoughtful, and true. It's easy, when talking about Hitchens, to just say "man, that guy was a jerk." And such an assessment is beyond genuine dispute. He was a jerk. What I hear from his literary colleagues and close friends, though, is that if you really got to know him - which wasn't really all that difficult - he was not only not a jerk, but was a true friend and ally. That's a rare thing.
posted by The World Famous at 9:39 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It might be how rhetoric works, but not argument. If you say, "This argument is instantly undermined because this person is making it" you're basically committing an ad hom fallacy.

Hmm, I think this critique depends on a distinction between rhetoric and argument that was just not actually present in Hitchens' work. The guy was a fantastic prose-writer when it came to persuasive argument – so it's fair to ask "am I being persuaded by his style and verve when in fact the factual basis for his position is questionable?"
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:42 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The identity of the person advancing an argument makes no difference to the robustness or otherwise of the argument itself. None.

You live in a different world to the rest of us.

For most of us, reputation is very important. When Sarah Palin says something, I just ignore it - when Mr. Obama says something, I examine it with a great deal more care.

Certainly, the underlying truth or falsehood of the statement is independent of the speaker. But no human has the time to investigate every claim or argument made. We have to rely on reputation even just to decide what to read. Without some such rule, you're requiring me to give as much time to analyzing Fox News as Daniel Dennett.

There's a secondary effect that some people have done things so morally awful that even mentioning them degrades the conversation. I'm sure there are all sorts of robust arguments in "Mein Kampf" (it's quite likely Hitler's premises that are flawed, instead) but as everyone knows, bringing them up will simply terminate a rational conversation.

Knowing that Christopher Hitchens bent logic in order to advocate a murderous war that killed hundreds of thousands, I avoid quoting him on things where he might be correct. There are many other thinkers who have said similar things who do not have blood on their hands.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:45 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


> To say that Hitchens' positions on religion are undermined by the fact that he showed bad judgment elsewhere is problematic, to put it lightly.

Is this the way you really behave in your personal life? If you had an employee who stacked the cans on top of the eggs, wouldn't that later affect your decisions about what tasks to use him for? If your boss was constantly railing about "the Jews" would you really invite him to dinner with your black friends?

Part of the argument of modern atheists is "Good without God" - an argument I agree with. By arguing strenuously in favor of evil acts - that is, wars of foreign aggression - Hitchens undermined that argument as a tool for his use.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:59 AM on April 17, 2012


Is this the way you really behave in your personal life? If you had an employee who stacked the cans on top of the eggs, wouldn't that later affect your decisions about what tasks to use him for? If your boss was constantly railing about "the Jews" would you really invite him to dinner with your black friends?

Instead of extreme examples that don't logically follow what we're discussing and that are inapplicable, let's use one that's an exact parallel:

If I'm litigating a case with a lawyer who vocally supported the Iraq war, it would have no effect on my assessment of the arguments that lawyer makes in a brief about, say, California wage and hour law. If an opposing counsel, in support of an argument in a summary judgment motion, cites a U.S. Supreme Court case where the majority opinion was written by Justice Scalia, I would not respond in my opposition brief by citing a completely unrelated Scalia opinion to argue that Supreme Court precedent written by Scalia should be given less weight than those written by other justices, based on his unrelated other opinions.

Let's address your specific questions, just to make sure I've answered them:

If you had an employee who stacked the cans on top of the eggs, wouldn't that later affect your decisions about what tasks to use him for?

How is that a relevant hypothetical here? I mean, I agree that, much of the time, Hitchens' opinions are just about as dumb as stacking cans on top of eggs. But that's neither here nor there.

If your boss was constantly railing about "the Jews" would you really invite him to dinner with your black friends?

That depends. Are my black friends Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan? I'm being facetions there, yes. But your hypothetical has nothing to do with what we're talking about. Whether my boss' opinions would have bearing on my decisionmaking process relevant to social etiquette is irrelevant.

Part of the argument of modern atheists is "Good without God" - an argument I agree with. By arguing strenuously in favor of evil acts - that is, wars of foreign aggression - Hitchens undermined that argument as a tool for his use.

Nonsense. The "Good without God" argument does not rely on the premise that every godless person is necessarily good or that it's impossible to be bad without God. Unless, of course, the person making the argument also argues that bad conduct by theists constitutes an argument against the existence of God. But those are both such outrageously stupid arguments that I don't think there's any point in caring whether Hitchens undermines either of them.
posted by The World Famous at 10:15 AM on April 17, 2012


> If I'm litigating a case with a lawyer who vocally supported the Iraq war, it would have no effect on my assessment of the arguments that lawyer makes in a brief about, say, California wage and hour law.

We're not talking about a professional who does something else on his days off. We're talking about Christopher Hitchens, professional writer. Some of his professional writings contain hate speech and logical fallacies. This calls his other writings into question.

Perhaps I wasn't clear when I said: "But no human has the time to investigate every claim or argument made. We have to rely on reputation even just to decide what to read," or mentioned that Hitler had no doubt many correct arguments.

So let me repeat. Clearly the truth or falsity of one argument made by an individual is logically independent of the truth or falsity of their other statements. But practically speaking, reputation is very important, simply to decide what statements deserve in-depth evaluation.

Each statement Sarah Palin makes is logically independent of the others - by your argument, each one needs to be taken individually, seriously, and evaluated, no matter how many other of her statements have been shown to be false.

Once I read Hitchens' writing about Iraq, I simply stopped reading him. His professional misconduct in that matter called all his writings into question.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:33 AM on April 17, 2012


We're not talking about a professional who does something else on his days off. We're talking about Christopher Hitchens, professional writer. Some of his professional writings contain hate speech and logical fallacies. This calls his other writings into question.

When reading a 9th Circuit opinion written by Judge Bybee, I don't call into question his reasoning based on his memo about torture. How's that?

So let me repeat. Clearly the truth or falsity of one argument made by an individual is logically independent of the truth or falsity of their other statements. But practically speaking, reputation is very important, simply to decide what statements deserve in-depth evaluation.

Reputation is important, and it has bearing on our willingness as humans to objectively consider someone's positions. Nevertheless, if we objectively consider Hitchens' positions on one topic, we must not bring his reputation, personal merits, or arguments on other topics into consideration. If Sarah Palin shifts careers and pursues a PhD in paleontology, her political career should not be taken into account by the panel in considering the merits of her dissertation.

Once I read Hitchens' writing about Iraq, I simply stopped reading him. His professional misconduct in that matter called all his writings into question.

That's an important distinction from considering his arguments on other topics to have been discredited. You stopped reading him. You didn't start disagreeing with his other arguments. You didn't read Dawkins and discount any argument that he makes in common with Hitchens based on the fact that Hitchens also made the argument.
posted by The World Famous at 10:42 AM on April 17, 2012


When reading a 9th Circuit opinion written by Judge Bybee, I don't call into question his reasoning based on his memo about torture. How's that?

Not very good. Of course you call his reasoning into question. You read the opinion v-e-e-e-ery carefully because you you've seen that his reasoning can go badly awry.

It's like Tony Romo. He can be putting up heroic numbers and making game winning plays all year, but late in the season and into the playoffs, you still get nervous.
posted by Trochanter at 11:10 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Nevertheless, if we objectively consider Hitchens' positions on one topic, we must not bring his reputation, personal merits, or arguments on other topics into consideration.

Why "must we not"? Who's setting these rules?

I'm an expert in a couple of fields. The way I got there was by being right almost all the time. I'm often very cautious when I express my professional opinion - people ask me why and I say, "Because I care about my professional reputation" - if I made some prominent mistake in public I would expect that people would take what I said less seriously.

Let me ask you a question. Suppose I started a sentence with "Sarah Palin said that...". Are you claiming that wouldn't disincline you to be deeply skeptical about the rest of the sentence - that you'd simply ignore the source and concentrate on the content?

I am, I suppose, an old-fashioned guy. I fully expected that when Hitchens and all the pro-war writers made grossly incorrect statements that were shown in the fullness of time to be utterly wrong, that they would lose reputation, that some of them might even admit that they were wrong, and the people who were right about the war would gain credence.

This is not what happened. Exactly the same people who promulgated lies and deliberate errors to get us into war, the Serious, Sensible People, are considered authorities today. The people who were completely right about the war were considered Not Serious then, and are considered Not Serious today.

In my better world, people would be held responsible for their statements. Wrong statements would lead to a loss of reputation; many wrong statements and their reputation would be in ruins, and no one would pay attention them on any topic.

In my world, Hitchens destroyed his reputation through lies and hate speech - his word, on any topic, is worthless to me.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:14 AM on April 17, 2012


Could someone maybe point me in the directions of good, factual critiques of Hitchens's writings on Iraq?

I just read his memoirs recently, and I think he makes a good case at least in broad strokes that his opposition to Saddam Hussein is pretty much of a piece with his earlier opposition to South American dictators in Chile and Argentina back in the 70s and 80s. That is, Husein was violently oppressive to his people at least as much as Pinochet was. Husein fully invaded a neighbor country in 1990. He used chemical weapons on the Kurds in northern Iraq around 1988. I'm largely a pacifist myself, but I would agree with Hitchens that we made a mistake in not finishing the job in 1991.

So, philosophically, to an extent I can't really disagree with him that Saddam needed to go, and it's good that he's gone. We can argue about the timing, we can argue about what evidence was presented to make the case, and I certainly have misgivings on both those counts. Really my biggest issue with it is that it took attention away from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which seem to be the bigger source of Islamist violence these days.

Incidentally, as I recall in the memoirs Hitchens does express some - not regret, but "annoyance" I suppose - that Bush and Cheney bungled a lot of things in the Iraq war.
posted by dnash at 11:21 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not very good. Of course you call his reasoning into question. You read the opinion v-e-e-e-ery carefully because you you've seen that his reasoning can go badly awry.

Nonsense. You read every Circuit Court opinion very carefully. You don't hesitate to cite a precedent because you don't like the jurist, and you don't attack an opposing counsel's citation of authority on that ground, either. I can only imagine the response of a District Court judge to an attorney who asked that a 9th Circuit precedent be disregarded on the grounds that Judge Bybee wrote the torture memo. Ridiculous.

It's like Tony Romo. He can be putting up heroic numbers and making game winning plays all year, but late in the season and into the playoffs, you still get nervous.

Get as nervous as you want. The score is the score and is not revised based on past performance.

Why "must we not"? Who's setting these rules?

The definition of "objective" is setting the rules for what constitutes "objective" analysis.

Let me ask you a question. Suppose I started a sentence with "Sarah Palin said that...". Are you claiming that wouldn't disincline you to be deeply skeptical about the rest of the sentence - that you'd simply ignore the source and concentrate on the content?

I'm claiming that, given an argument without attribution then analyzed, the analysis should not change if the author of the argument is then revealed to be someone whose other arguments have been fallacious.

I fully expected that when Hitchens and all the pro-war writers made grossly incorrect statements that were shown in the fullness of time to be utterly wrong, that they would lose reputation, that some of them might even admit that they were wrong, and the people who were right about the war would gain credence.

You're in luck, because that's exactly what happened.

Exactly the same people who promulgated lies and deliberate errors to get us into war, the Serious, Sensible People, are considered authorities today.

Really? Who, specifically, are you referring to?

In my world, Hitchens destroyed his reputation through lies and hate speech - his word, on any topic, is worthless to me.

I agree. But that does not affect the merits of the arguments themselves. It correctly affects your willingness to consider them.
posted by The World Famous at 11:24 AM on April 17, 2012


> The score is the score and is not revised based on past performance.

Fascinating. So you're saying that the past results from an athlete do not help predict their future performance.

Do you have any evidence of your hard-to-believe claim?

> You're in luck, because that's exactly what happened.

Name ONE writer who was discredited.

> > Exactly the same people who promulgated lies and deliberate errors to get us into war, the Serious, Sensible People, are considered authorities today.

> Really? Who, specifically, are you referring to?

Hitchens. Krauthammer. Noonan. Pretty well any Washington Post columnist. I could probably go on as fast as I could type...

Perhaps you are too young to remember 2002, when all the newspapers were covered with op-eds pushing the Iraq War. The very same people are still writing in the very same newspapers.

> But that does not affect the merits of the arguments themselves. It correctly affects your willingness to consider them.

For the THIRD time, I write:

"Clearly the truth or falsity of one argument made by an individual is logically independent of the truth or falsity of their other statements. But practically speaking, reputation is very important, simply to decide what statements deserve in-depth evaluation."

If Isaac Asimov wrote something (as non-fiction), I'm willing to uncritically accept it as an expert opinion. If someone asked me, "How do you know (some fact about history, science, etc) is true?" I would be willing to say, "I read it in Isaac Asimov." I consider Isaac Asimov an authority (though of course some of the science has become outdated).

If Hitchens wrote something, I cannot do that. Because of his poor history of accuracy and his lack of willingness to print corrections, I cannot accept any statement of his at face value. He is no longer an authority - his words do not carry the weight that those of an honest person do.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:40 AM on April 17, 2012


Nonsense. You read every Circuit Court opinion ... a 9th Circuit precedent be disregarded on the grounds that Judge Bybee wrote the torture memo. Ridiculous.

Well friend, you started the lame courtroom analogy. Hitchens wasn't a jurist. He was a public commentator. You may be legally obliged to consider carefully what Bybee says on an issue he's legally engaged to decide, but you're not with Hitchens.

The correct conclusion to your analogy is that Bybee is disbarred for the torture memo, because respect for the quality of his reasoning is destroyed by it. And you're never legally obliged to listen to his opinions again.
posted by Trochanter at 1:12 PM on April 17, 2012


> The score is the score and is not revised based on past performance.

Fascinating. So you're saying that the past results from an athlete do not help predict their future performance.


I can't imagine how any rational person could ever interpret what I wrote the way you did, so I'm going to assume you're kidding.

Name ONE writer who was discredited.

Hitchens.

Perhaps you are too young to remember 2002, when all the newspapers were covered with op-eds pushing the Iraq War. The very same people are still writing in the very same newspapers.

Ah. See, I thought you were asking about people who were discredited, not people who no longer have a career in writing. I'm going to assume that no rational person could possibly twist a line of reasoning the way you have unless they're kidding and assume that you're kidding.

For the THIRD time, I write:

If I agree with you on that point for a third time, will you stop this (what I'm charitably assuming is a ) joke?

Well friend, you started the lame courtroom analogy. Hitchens wasn't a jurist. He was a public commentator. You may be legally obliged to consider carefully what Bybee says on an issue he's legally engaged to decide, but you're not with Hitchens.

I suppose you're free to jump to conclusions and employ spurious reasoning if you like, sure. But it seems like you're either not actually reading my comments above or you're just not getting it. Either way, I really don't see the point in engaging with someone who approaches the discussion with your tone.

The correct conclusion to your analogy is that Bybee is disbarred for the torture memo, because respect for the quality of his reasoning is destroyed by it. And you're never legally obliged to listen to his opinions again.

It's like someone offered a million dollars for whoever can miss the point the most thoroughly and you and lupus_yonderboy are convinced you have a shot at it.
posted by The World Famous at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2012


How was Hitchens "discredited"? Did anyone stop printing his work? He continues to be one of the figureheads of the new atheism movement, and it's considered "rude" to point out his Iraq gaffes. His articles continued to be published in the largest periodicals in the world until the day he died.

> Ah. See, I thought you were asking about people who were discredited, not people who no longer have a career in writing. I'm going to assume that no rational person could possibly twist a line of reasoning the way you have unless they're kidding and assume that you're kidding.

Yes, I meant people who could no longer publish. Yes, I was serious.

Academics are discredited for poor work - what happens to them? Do they continue publishing? Do they get to keep their jobs in high-powered universities and research facilities (modulo tenure)?

Politicians are discredited - usually these days that means a sex scandal because no one cares if you start wars or that sort of thing - and they generally resign and leave politics.

I have no idea what you would mean by "discredited" where someone suffers not the slightest consequence in the real world. There's a big, big gap between "criticized" and "discredited".

(By the way, you're a very rude person.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:51 PM on April 17, 2012


Yes, I meant people who could no longer publish.

Ah. To the extent that "discredited" means "can no longer publish," I'm not sure anyone is ever discredited for anything, ever.

Academics are discredited for poor work - what happens to them? Do they continue publishing? Do they get to keep their jobs in high-powered universities and research facilities (modulo tenure)?

I've seen nothing to convince me that Slate and Vanity Fair would turn them down.

(By the way, you're a very rude person.)

My apologies. I was responding to two comments that completely ignored what I had written, made straw men of my comments, and then mocked them. I hope that you will set aside your personal opinion of me in order to objectively analyze what I've written, rather than assuming that, because you don't like me, my comments must be without merit.
posted by The World Famous at 4:17 PM on April 17, 2012


Mike Daisy was discredited - he was forced to publicly apologize and has at least for the moment vanished from the media.

John Edwards was discredited - he was forced to publicly apologize for his actions and left politics.

Eliot Spitzer was discredited - he was forced to publicly apologize for his actions and left politics.

Misha Defonseca (a writer) was discredited. She was forced to publicly apologize and as far as I can see has not published again.

Now, please explain what happened to Hitchens - or any other commenter on, say, the Iraq war - that you could possibly describe as being "discredited".

(Do remember also that hundreds of thousands of people died needlessly because of the Iraq War.... something that puts Mike Daisy's lies or Spitzer's tarts into a very clear perspective...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:43 PM on April 17, 2012


We're getting into an area now where you and I wholeheartedly agree, lupus_yonderboy.

As I thought I made clear in my previous comments, the issue I was addressing was the contention that Hitchens' support of the Iraq war and his writing on that topic weakens or harms his subsequent arguments or positions on other, unrelated matters - not his personal credibility, but the integrity of the arguments or positions themselves.

Regarding the effect of Hitchens' writing on political topics, I wrote:

"I agree. But that does not affect the merits of the arguments themselves. It correctly affects your willingness to consider them."

And I wholeheartedly agree with you that Hitchens' outrageous comments on those topics should be held against him in terms of considering his general credibility and his willingness as a writer to engage a topic less out of a desire to uncover truth or to affect positive change and more out of a contrarian impulse. Nevertheless, to rebut one of Hitchens' assertions about atheism, for example, by citing his prior writing on other topics and pointing to his credibility as a writer is to engage in a logical fallacy and to not genuinely address the topic at hand. Quite frankly (as I said above) Hitchens' assertions (I won't even call them arguments) about atheism are often ridiculous enough on their own and don't really need any help from an ad hominem attack based on Hitchens' other writing.

As to your various examples, before I even get into them individually, I think there's an important thread that runs through them and Hitchens. That thread is the discredited individual's sense of shame and willingness to accept the discredit that they have brought upon themself. Hitchens famously had very little sense of shame, and simply refused to back out of the public eye in light of being wrong on Iraq and other things.

Getting to your specific examples, each of them deals with very particular acts of personal dishonesty that discredit not the credibility of their analytical framework or their capacity for rhetoric and sound conclusions, but their very credibility for giving truthful firsthand accounts. Each of them was discredited not for supporting something outrageously offensive or for being wrong about a political or rhetorical position, but for lying about matters of which they had direct personal knowledge and that were at the very core of their professional sphere. If there's some act of equivalent dishonesty by Hitchens, I'm unaware of it, and I would welcome you to direct me to it, because I'm just not seeing the equivalence here.

Now, to your examples:

Mike Daisey was discredited for presenting a patently false purported firsthand account - for lying about what he claimed to have seen. Mike Daisey is still working and is still putting on his stage show. He's not likely to get a gig as a reporter any time soon. But his sin was not that he was wrong, but that he lied.

John Edwards, like Daisey, lied about facts of which he had direct personal knowledge. How are John Edwards' lies equivalent to Hitchens' articles? Hitchens' analysis was bad, his conclusions wrong, and his premises often incorrect. What did he lie about?

Eliot Spitzer, likewise, lied about facts of which he had direct personal knowledge. Where's the equivalence to Hitchens? Oh, and Eliot Spitzer is the host of his own nightly news and commentary program.

Misha Defonseca, again, was guilty of fabricating a firsthand account of events that did not take place. How is this equivalent to anything Hitchens did?

(Do remember also that hundreds of thousands of people died needlessly because of the Iraq War.... something that puts Mike Daisy's lies or Spitzer's tarts into a very clear perspective...)

If the Iraq war was fought as a result of the Bush Administration's reliance on a false firsthand account given by Christopher Hitchens, I could see your point. I'm not aware that that is the case. Is it? If so, can you explain?
posted by The World Famous at 5:08 PM on April 17, 2012


This is simply false, and you should try to understand why. An argument stands or falls on its own. The identity of the person advancing an argument makes no difference to the robustness or otherwise of the argument itself.


That's only true if the argument itself can be mathematically verified. A mathematical proof would be true regardless of whether or not someone had submitted 100 incorrect ones. But, had they people might not be too interested in looking at it, since the would expect it to be a waste of time.

I don't think anything Hitchens ever said qualified as being "mathematically sound" in any sense, which that in terms of pure logic they were all false.
I guess I fail to see the irony here. It's not like after he got cancer he went on an anti-tobacco warpath. I think the closest he got to saying anything close to this was in an interview with Anderson Cooper:
That was after he got cancer. I said hew as an unrepentant smoker before he got cancer.
Attacking someone for the specific content of the public statements they make is the exact opposite of the ad hominem argument.
No, its actually an example of why "ad hominem" is a stupid rule when you're not talking about purely mathematical logic.
If I'm litigating a case with a lawyer who vocally supported the Iraq war, it would have no effect on my assessment of the arguments that lawyer makes in a brief about, say, California wage and hour law.
And I assume you'd have no problem hiring a lawyer who'd lost every case he'd argued? Good luck with that.
posted by delmoi at 6:07 PM on April 17, 2012


Did no one actually watch the video? I really enjoyed it. It was a wide ranging and enjoyable discussion by Hitch's closest friends about what he was like as a person, a friend, a wit, an insulting jerk, a writer, thinker, how he lived his life and how he faced death.

One might almost be forgiven for coming away with the impression that there was more to Hitchens than just his position on the Iraq war.

Hitchens was a larger-than-life, unrepentant, anti-totalitarian leftist and all around gadfly. If Hitchens hasn't angered you at some point, you haven't read him widely enough. The same is true for people who haven't found some common ground with him.

He had friends on the left and right, and argued positions that don't map neatly on one side of the fuzzy ideological divison in America's narrow political spectrum. Unforgivable (apparently)!

For example, Hitchens opposed torture, capital punishment, warrantless domestic wiretapping, opposed the war on drugs, was vehemently opposed to religion, and a champion of science and reason. And he held opinions that would even brand him as Marxist. And yet much of his work (e.g. the bulk of his most recent book, Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens) isn't political but literary.
__________________________________

Condemning Hitchens for one or two issues (usually religion or Iraq) seems to say more about individual's own rigid political intolerance and/or thin skin than the quality and breadth of Hitchens' work as whole.

In a nutshell, that mentality is not entirely dissimilar to saying "Screw Thomas Jefferson and everything he ever did or said - he owned slaves."

But alas, Hitchens committed the apparently unforgivable sin of opposing Saddam Hussein's murderous and crippling totalitarian regime supporting the war in Iraq, so he's frequently denounced, often superficially enough to suggest an intended audience prone to deep throated 'woofs' and fist-pumping.

But there's a reason why you seldom see a full and fair description of Hitchens reasons for supporting the war. The issue was never black and white. There were both good and bad reasons to support and oppose the war. But nuance is boring, and consistency of principles is usually incompatible with party affiliation so it's much easier to score points off Hitchens with strawmen and guilt by association than faulting him for his consistent anti-totalitarian principles.

A bit ironic, too, to see a Bush-like "you're either with us or against us" litmus test being employed in such a bullying, politically and intellectually dishonest way. Or have we missed the categorical and unqualified repudiations of the majority of Democrats who voted for the war, like Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Jon Edwards, Tom Daschle, and John Kerry?

Ah... but they had the good political sense to position themselves to exploit any outcome: express revervations, vote to authorize it, and be willing to change sides if things go badly. Politics trumps principles. And now this revisionist political history is being administered (inconsistently, it should be noted) as a kind of loyalty test that Hitchens obviously fails. Any mention of his name summons a mindless, McCarthesque mob moaning about the war like leftist zombies "braaaaaaains" "Iraaaaaaaaaq". Like the moral of any good ABC Afterschool Special, I think we found out who the real monsters are. :)

But seeing how subtlety may not be everyone's strong suit, let's reverse the game (of ignoring some of the agreeable principles behind Hitchens' support of the war, never mind the totality of his career) and let's instead cherry-pick only negative motives for why people opposed the war. Might we not then safely infer that opponents of the war were unrepentant supporters of Saddam Hussein? That, by extrapolation, they supported the continuation of the regime that gassed the Kurds, massacred 250,000 'Marsh Arabs', supported terrorism (Hamas), and manipulated UN sanctions such as to contribute to the death of perhaps 600,000 children? If so, would we also not be equally justified in writing them off as human beings and breezily dismissing everything else they've ever said or done, including things we might otherwise agree with? Oh, and while we're at, let's not forget to heap scornful contempt on their unimpressive intellects, too! (and check back later for tasteless mockery of their deaths!)

But of course that too would be absurd, unfair, intellectually dishonest, and perhaps even a bit petty and lazy. (I told you I wasn't going for subtlety).

Anyhoo... great video.
posted by Davenhill at 6:10 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I assume you'd have no problem hiring a lawyer who'd lost every case he'd argued? Good luck with that.

You're speaking to a different issue than I was discussing.
posted by The World Famous at 6:13 PM on April 17, 2012


Yes, I watched the video. The conversation got derailed when the first comment talks about how all the guys in the video are twats because Hitchens supported the Iraq war and is apparently a racist for posting a link to Michelle Obama's thesis.

That was after he got cancer. I said hew as an unrepentant smoker before he got cancer.

Again, irony is usually when there is a difference between what is supposed to occur and what actually does occur. The guy who smoked and drank a lot got cancer. That's expected. Afterward, he tells folks they might want to hold back. Also expected.

If you watched the video, you'd see that he was also asked if he regrets the smoking and drinking himself; he says he doesn't.

Again, don't see the irony at all.
posted by King Bee at 6:22 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"To say that Hitchens' positions on religion are undermined by the fact that he showed bad judgment elsewhere is problematic, to put it lightly."

Didn't say that. I actually agree and admire his writing on atheism.

Just saying that his chickenhawk cheerleading for the occupation of Iraq makes him a monstrous shitbag. Forever.
posted by bardic at 8:52 PM on April 17, 2012


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