January 16, 2014

Christopher Hitchens - Encouraging signs of polarisation

In his book, 'Letters to a Young Contrarian', Christopher Hitchens said (here and here):
"I have a dear friend in Jerusalem, that home of rectitude and certainty that is so often presented to us as “holy” for no better reason than its unenviable position as “home” to three (highly schismatic but self-described) “mono”theisms. His name is Dr. Israel Shahak; for many years he did exemplary service as chairman of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights. Nothing in his life, as a Jewish youth in pre-1940 Poland and subsequent survivor of indescribable privations and losses, might be expected to have conditioned him to welcome the disruptive. Yet on some occasions when I have asked him for his impression of events, he has calmly and deliberately replied: “There are some encouraging signs of polarisation.” Nothing flippant inheres in this remark; a long and risky life has persuaded him that only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity. Conflict may be painful, but the painless solution does not exist in any case and the pursuit of it leads to the painful outcome of mindlessness and pointlessness; the apotheosis of the ostrich."

He said in the video here and above:
 "Polarisation and the dialectic is what clarifies things."
He also recounted the story of Dr Israel Shahak during a 1993 panel debate here. In that debate he said of confrontation:
"Confrontation. The only thing that brings life to politics and or to thought."

There is no point bemoaning and besmirching polarisation and partisanship. Polarisation and partisanship is the natural and best state of affairs, just as labour and difficulty is a stern but fair master. Partisanship is as labour is to the body. It gives you an opponent, wehreby you can sharpen and refine your argument. This is the formula by which left right politics operates. The alternative is a single party state, uniformity and homogeneity.
This cannot be said of green and orange politics. Right and left politics generally has a first person plural aspect. They have certain shared values and goals. However polarisation based on nationalism and religion is a mutually exclusive confrontation - their clash will ensure the destruction of one or the other, or boths.
Neither tradition offers answers to the fundamental question of politics and the existential matters that face society and households. Of how to control the market, the state and how to guarantee basic protections, education and health provision.

However, there is one thing we can all agree on. As the 35th U.S. president John F Kennedy said in a 1953 speech to the American University:
"[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal."
My previous posts on Hitchens on Northern Ireland here, on segregated schools here and on the "parasitic class" here. On Albert Camus and "the rats" here. On Northern Ireland's "barbaric, sectarian leaders" here. His comment that anti-semites are "mentally and morally unwell" here. On Vaclav Havel here. On the US First Amendment here, on the US as an empire and clas-based society here, and on how to succeed here. On women and poverty here. On the US Declaration of Independence here. Christopher Hitchens explained that he left the UK in part because of the libel laws, see here. Christopher Hitchens spoke here about the authority of bloggers and online writers (7m30s) (original video in full here). Hitchens on "being bored" as the worst sin here. On why Hitchens is such a compelling writer here. On cliche here. On socialism here. On Iran's "Baby Boomerang", see here. On the need to defend the principles of the Enlightenment here. On thought crimes here.

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