Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Inadvertent Wisdom of Christopher Hitchens

I'm not really sure whose ass to kick this morning. There are no unhatched ideas in my head clamoring to be born, no thoughts in search of a thinker. This happens every once in awhile, and when it does, I usually just hand the ball off to Bob's Unconscious and start typing. Which I will proceed to do.

I'm still stuck on the idea of intellectual heresy, and I wish more people understood and appreciated what I was talking about, especially the people whose asses I would like to kick. This has nothing to do with content, for example, science vs. religion.

Rather, this is a truly universal problem that cuts across all disciplines. In my opinion, it is the central cause of man's betrayal of himself, and undoubtedly the primary infirmity of the tenured. Some of these intellectual heresies only wound the person who commits them, while others are death to the intellect, and therefore aggravated cluelesside.

At the very least, the intellectual heretic participates in his own astral abortion. But the real miscarriage occurs if one is a teacher or in a position of influence, whereby one participates in mass murder, or at least attempted murder. In other words, since the soul is the form of the body, to commit soul murder is to destroy what is essential in the human being. When young people with skulls full of mush are the victims, then we're talking about mind-fucking, and therefore intellectual pederasty with intent to commit skulbuggery.

The other day I heard Christopher Hitchens on the Michael Medved show promoting his new autofelltatiography, and there is no question that this is an "intelligent" man. Nevertheless in five minutes he commits enough intellectual heresies to render his own intelligence impotent. He is so full of an externalizing pride and passion that he seems incapable of genuine self-understanding. He is also a vulgar and blustering intellectual bully, which is not wholly beside the point, since truth -- and the truth lover -- attracts. Truth, like goodness (or the Light it is), simultaneously radiates and enraptures; it does not "harden" and compress upon itself, thereby giving no Light. Which is why a Raccoon does not argue truth, only offer it.

For example, let us suppose that his gradual evolution from a man of the hard left -- a committed Trotskyist and true Useful Idiot -- represents some kind of evolution, or "growth." Exactly what has grown? Is he more intelligent today than he was then? Doubtful, if only because of the alcoholic toll on his brain cells. Is he wiser? I don't see how "wisdom" would be permitted in his narrow world view, for it immediately implies transcendence and therefore common cause with traditions and people whom he despises.

In other words, there is no "wisdom tradition" on the left. To the contrary, the left can only remain the left through a systematic blindness to mankind's accumulated and revealed wisdom. The left is and must not only be ahistorical, but irreligious, irrational, and dismissive of anthropology (in the sense of apprehending the transcendent and universal archetype that defines man).

Schuon writes that wisdom involves a combination of intelligence and character, and is ideally "represented by gnosis, which a priori is set on the restoration of the primordial perfection of man." So if Hitchens is a better man than he was 40 or 50 years ago, he is closer to that absolute perfection that makes possible the relative degrees of improvement.

In other words, in the absence of an implicit absolute standard, there can be no real "improvement" of any kind, only meaningless lateral change, or at best, better "adaptation" to the environment (and even then, only for the purposes of sexual reproduction).

Schuon further notes that wisdom "consists not only in knowing truths and being able to communicate them, but also in the sage’s capacity to recognize the most subtle limitations or hazards of human nature."

In other words, wisdom, in order to be wisdom, must recognize man's aboriginal infirmity, or risk committing the intellectual heresy of omniscience. Ironically, this is something the traditionalist is always mindful of, whereas the secular man regards it as a fable or fairy tale, which has the practical effect of collapsing the vertical and conflating man and God.

To put it another way, Hitchens obviously believes that man is not only capable of knowledge (and therefore truth), but even the ultimate knowledge that permits him to absolutely deny the Creator. Thus, in his own weird way, he insists that man's intellect is indeed an adeqation (or mirror) not only to reality, but ultimate reality. If man is uniquely capable of pronouncing on ultimate reality, what does that make him? Certainly not a Darwinian beast!

Schuon asks, "whence comes this demigod who accuses, and whence his power to accuse?" For "if the accuser himself is right, this must mean that man is not so bad and that there exists within him a capacity for adequation" (emphasis mine).

Which is precisely the Raccoon's missionary position: that the human intellect is an adequation to reality, not a passive reflection of the Darwinian environment, nor a mirror of the "material world," whatever that could mean in the so-called "mind" of a materialist.

Hitchens' views on religion are not only wrong but absurd, and the only way he can maintain them is through his snarling contempt for religious doctrines that are even more stupid than his own (and fortunately for Hitchens, there is never a shortage of those, any more than there is a shortage of political, artistic, or cultural stupidity).

There is nothing in Hitchens' metaphysic that would permit "a sudden burst of intellectual and moral objectivity [to] come about in a merely biological and quantitative development" (Schuon). Rather, if man is capable of objectivity and adequation, it could not be explained by the radical contingency of atoms in the void or genes on the make.

There is so much more one could say about Hitchens' crippling infirmity, but this is obviously not about him; rather, it is about mankind and its proneness to intellectual heresy. For the fact that man's intellect is indeed an adequation to the Absolute -- something with which Hitchens, in his hubris, implicitly maintains -- then this is a "refutation of the ideologies of doubt" and cynicism. Rather, "if a man is able to doubt, it is because there is certainty," just as "the very notion of illusion proves that man has access to reality" (Schuon).

No mere animal could have the trajectory of Hitchens' life, at the end of which it reflects upon itself and thinks, "boy, I had a melon full of illusions 40 years ago, but now I finally know reality and the truth of my species!" Animals can only deviate from their archetype, not spend their life evolving toward it and becoming wiser.


greyniffler said...

I read that Rosie O'Donnell has said, more or less, "What did Helen Thomas say that was so wrong?" Now, both of these ruined beings may be so far below your moral event horizon that you're not aware of them, but I find it frightening to even try to think of the mixture of wanton ignorance and cancerous moral depravity that could allow O'D's reaction. (HT's is a familiar, but still horrible) species.

How many layers of ignorance and denial must a person, no different at the core from you or me, have in order to sink that far? What kind of damage must we endure, and accept as normal?

Gagdad Bob said...

Like I said, such people are quite literally zombies, in that their souls are dead (or severely wounded), and yet they are still biologically alive. Since they are existing outside the boundaries of the human soul, -- like a planet drifting out of orbit with no solar center -- they just fall and fall into more crude emotionality and inhuman thought. This is how genocidal tyrants such as Stalin or Mao become that way. They are literally "off the human map," and lost in the infrahuman swamp.

Gagdad Bob said...

But hating Christianity is nothing new for the proglodyte left.

anon said...

Hitchens is a man of letters, an agitator, a wit and raconteour, but hardly a deep thinker.

Although I guess engaging with him as representative of what you hate is a step up from Rosie O'Donnell and Keith Olbermann.

Try this on: there is an Absolute, but our knowledge of it is always partial and problematic.

For millenia the Absolute was represented as an invisible sky daddy. This became untenable in the modern era for a variety of reasons, not least because the idea was subject to political abuse from the very beginning. Literalist fundamentalism and atheism are two antiparticles ejected in opposite directions from this decaying mass of religion.

Honest people are groping towards the truth and acknowledge their ignorance. Scared people loudly proclaim they know the truth as they cling desperately to their image of it.

Gagdad Bob said...

Cooncur with final paragraph.

greyniffler said...

What confuses me is that the likes of Stalin and Mao were exercising power and had a real connection to the evil. They were focussed on it. Chesterton has a very good description of it in the bookending stories in The Secret of Father Brown, an intense focus on one desire, lit only from below by the fires of Hell. But O'D and HT don't seem to have that drive.

I'm reminded of the wasp that brain-damages a cockroach with its sting and then leads the roach around and plants its eggs in the roach's belly.

Gagdad Bob said...

BTW, anon -- would you mind revealing to us your favorite "deep thinkers," so that I might include them next time? Thx

Gagdad Bob said...


Yes, that is because man is both will and intelligence. Those two had the power to exert their will, but the will is rooted in evil ideas. Rosie has the evil ideas, but not the power to exert her will. But in a recent comment she endorsed communism, so she would obviously like to transfer her will to a dictatorial leader to carry it out.

Gagdad Bob said...

And leftists such as Helen Thomas obviously support Islamist tyranny, again transferring the will to evil people who will carry out the idea.

Northern Bandit said...

anon sounds more mature than usual. Must have had a birthday recently.

Happy Sweet Sixteen!

Gagdad Bob said...

I might add that in classical liberalism the will stays where it belongs (insofar as practically possible), in the individual. We don't like the idea of the leviathan State being able to exert its will over us in a thousand ways -- a will that can only be created by millions of weak-willed (and yet childishly willful!) people transferring theirs to the State.

Mizz E said...

While waiting for "Mutiny on the Bounty" to begin Saturday night, we surfed the channels and landed on C-Span Book. In less than two minutes I could see Chris (he hates that name) Hitchens was a MESS, so when I saw today's title and first line, I said too myself, "This is gonna be good." Ok, going back to read the ass-kickin' or as wv suggests- With a nod to Drudge: strefest!

mushroom said...

I'm not one to pray for celebrities. I have enough to do just keeping up with myself and the people close to me. For some reason, I make an exception for Hitchens. Every time I read, hear, or see him, I am struck by a deep sense of pity, a sense that if ever there was a saint lost and a soul wasted, it is that poor bastard.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, like I said, he is quite obviously bristling with native intelligence, but has a very messed up program, not to mention the pride that prevents him from becoming a vertically open system.

julie said...

There was a brief interview with him in the NYT earlier this week.

Apropos the issue of his pride is this excerpt:

"Do you think your mother’s discomfort with religion pushed you either consciously or not to become a champion of atheism?
There is absolutely no traceable connection between Yvonne’s Jewishness and my early and continuing failure to be able to regard other primates as divine or as mammalian messengers of the divine will. The failure is innate in me."

julie said...

Talk about attacks on linking...

greyniffler said...

Bob, are you suggesting that the likes of HT and Thomas Friedman want to give their power away so that someone else might do something great (though not necessarily good) with it?

Such a desire is inimicable to personal liberty, no?

And it seems like there is a worship of power here. False idols and false devils, as Chesterton said.

Mizz E said...

Bligh and Hitchens, two remarkable pigs.

Court-martial judge to Capt. Bligh: Your methods, so far as this court can discern, show what we shall cautiously term an excess of zeal. We cannot condemn zeal. We cannot rebuke an officer who has administered discipline according to the articles of war but the articles are fallible, as any articles are bound to be. No code can cover all contingencies. We cannot put justice aboard our ships in books. Justice and decency are carried in the heart of the captain, or they be not aboard. It is for this reason that the Admiralty has always sought to appoint its officers from the ranks of gentlemen. The court regrets to note that the appointment of Captain William Bligh was, in that respect, a failure.

Gagdad Bob said...

Julie: Yes, as you can see, even any real curiosity is absolutely banished by his omnipotence. That's how it works. Suffice it to say that with that level of resistance, he wouldn't be an appropriate candidate for psychotherapy!

grey: Yes, it's the heresy of Hayek's "knowledge problem" again, as leftists simply do not understand that top-down control only results in more disorder and injustice.

Gagdad Bob said...

Mizz E:

Yup. No justice without prudence and temperance.

The Western Chauvinist said...

I'd love to see Bob's personalized spell-check dictionary. Heh - "cluelesside."

Have you or would you consider publishing Bob's Big Book of Words and Phrases, Bob?

walt said...

"I wish more people understood and appreciated what I was talking about..."

Took me a few days to mull over your description of intellectual heresies. The more I thought about it, and considered various people in relation to your list, the more sense it made.

• denial of the Absolute
• promulgation of relativism
• equality as the highest political value
• failure to discern the intrinsic relationship between truth and freedom
• ignorance of Hayek's "knowledge problem" in economics
• ignorance of Gödel's theorems
• nominalism i.e., that reality is just words
• materialism i.e., denial of the vertical
• humanism (replacing God with man)
• determinism (denial of free will)
• denial of the boundary between man and animal

So often I'll read or hear statements from someone like Hitchens, and I can smell the soul death, but perhaps not be able to put my finger on the exact cause of "death." Maybe I get a whiff of my own thinking and am unclear where the e-r-r-o-r lies (literally). Your list is a good tool in this regard.

Gagdad Bob said...


I would love to compile them, because many are actually useful. But there are so many hundreds buried amongst the 1500 posts, that it would be a real chore. Maybe Deepak could loan me one of his houseboys to do the job.

Susannah said...

"The failure is innate in me."

I've seen him make this statement in more than one interview. Methinks he doth protest too much.

You can't always tell from a subject's bluster how far he is from the kingdom of God. I've seen people come around I would have deemed hopeless, judging by outward appearance as I do (I don't have the divine inside view). So yes, mushroom, prayers are never a bad idea. :)

Isn't his brother a Christian? No doubt, praying as well.

It's no small thing to be pursued by the Hound of Heaven. "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me." wv: indeadr

Gagdad Bob said...

Indeed. Atheism can actually be good preparation for thinking about God, since it eliminates many of the stupid ways to think about God. It can serve as a kind of intellectual antibiotic. But carried too far, it kills the patient as well!

greyniffler said...

Another take on the desire of the likes of HT to give up their will (and power) to others is that they do not see that they bear responsibility for its exercise, and that their good exercise of it is of value. They don't value prudence in general, so they don't understand that their obligation is to exercise that will in the most effective way that their prudence can find. They seem to value effect, without understanding whether it is good or evil. Or as Chesterton had one of his protagonists say "It doesn't matter to them whether you are progressing to God or to the Devil."

Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely. So long as you are human, you are on the way -- either toward O or Ø, being or nothingness. It can be pictured schematically as:

Ø <---(•)---> O

(except it should be vertical, with O at the top)

black hole said...

Well, we see how intellectual heretics are bad.

But, how are racoons good? What do they do for the world?

greyniffler said...

For starters, they defend the truth.

anon said...

Bob said Cooncur with final paragraph.

Common ground at last!

and would you mind revealing to us your favorite "deep thinkers," so that I might include them next time?

Wow, that is a really good question and I don't have a good answer for it. Perhaps it is a lack of deepness on "the left" which is pulling me here, even though your version of the deep is quite unacceptable to me.

Part of the problem is postmodernism, which is inherently superficial. I never liked it, and too many contemporary leftish intellectuals went down that rabbit hole after Foucault (who may qualify as deep himself). A lot of more recent work in philosophy and literature seems to be trying to dig out. For instance, this area (which I just learned about recently) looks kinda deep to me, although I barely understand what they are talking about.

For improvements on Hitchens, hm.... in the atheism area, none of the new atheist writers seem to be very deep so I can't recommend them. Atheism is just not a very deep idea, whatever its other merits. There are a bunch of more-or-less atheist scholars who study religion with a degree of sympathy, even as they partly explain it away -- Pascal Boyer, Scott Atran, and before them Gregory Bateson -- who I consider deep.

In politics, there are similar problems. There haven't been any great systematizers on the left in a long time. Rawls I suppose was the last. Jon Elster? Bowles and Gintis? Pretty important thinkers but not exactly household names. Richard Rorty wrote an overview of 20th century leftist thought which is supposed to be pretty good. The best political insights I've seen recently are from primatologist Frans de Waal (his books include Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, and The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society).

Mostly for deep insights I look at fields where there is probing into human nature going on, although there are not necessarily standout individual thinkers there -- cognitive science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, economics even, and the areas where they overlap. I'm guessing you don't find this kind of stuff deep, and maybe you are right. Any individual bit of science is of necessity somewhat limited in scope -- but the overall picture painted by science is something else again, it's so deep that it can be quite terrifying.

Hitchens is not so bad a selection. Like I said, better you engage with him than Rosie O'Donnell. I don't start with Chuck Norris when I want to characterize conservatives.

ge said...

Bateson! kinda a hero to 'outsider' me majoring in Psychology in colegio....which reminds: Bob were you ever a Norman O Brown fan/reader? they were 2 borderline establishment types who nonetheless seeped into hip-ademia

Gagdad Bob said...

I read Norman O. Brown back before I knew better, I guess in the late 1970s. That was in that phase I was talking about a couple of days ago, when I had started devouring everything I could get my hands on in philosophy, psychology, spirituality, and all the rest. Since Brown was still fashionable, I assumed he was important, but now he's not even a footnote.

Gagdad Bob said...

And re Brown, I'm speaking only of his psychoanalytical forays. I know nothing of his other work.

Gagdad Bob said...


Thank you. I'm not familiar with some of those names, but I will be more than happy to demolish Foucault, Rawls, Rorty, Bateson, and de Waal when the occasion arises.

Gagdad Bob said...

BTW -- you do realize, do you not, that by acknowledging the Absolute (O), as you did above, you are infinitely closer to my metaphysic than any of theirs?

anon said...

I will be more than happy to demolish Foucault, Rawls, Rorty, Bateson, and de Waal when the occasion arises.

Think pretty highly of yourself, don't you?

I've found that with most philosophers and deep thinkers, there is no point "demolishing" even the ones I am inclined to disagree with. The right way to read them is to try to assume that what they are saying makes sense and then imagine what sort of world it is that they are making sense of. That's how I read your blog.

On the other hand, you and your follower Van seem to read with the purpose of getting pissed off, or of finding some kind of error on which you can hang the world's troubles on. Whatever floats your boat, although that attitude assigns philosophers more impact on the world than I believe they have.

julie said...

On the other hand, you and your follower Van seem to read with the purpose of getting pissed off, or of finding some kind of error on which you can hang the world's troubles on.


Project much?

Jack said...

Yes, perhaps philosophers as such have little least not directly on the vast majority of people. But these same ideas are still very powerful, to say the least.

I personally know quite a few people who having never stepped foot in a philosophy class, let alone cracked a book that even could be roughly labeled as "philosophical", who still attempt to explain to me "how the world is".

Their answer to the "meaning of life", such as it is, often comes suspiciously close to that of Foucault and postmodernism-- though I'd bet most haven't even heard his name or know the pedigree of what they are describing. Nonetheless ideas spread in the strangest ways and are often absorbed through cultural osmosis e.g. movies, tv, "objective" news reporting, through a more vociferous lefties in their social circles etc.

In my college town it is just *assumed* this shared postmodernism is "the way it is". Though to be certain they don't call this view "the truth" as they are sure there is no such thing. No where would they get such an idea? Did they all just spontaneously make it up simultaneously out of thin air?

It is considered "bad form" to point out the contradictions and absurdities of their viewpoint--as that is one of the big "sins" of postmodernism i.e telling someone they are just wrong or confused--oh, that is unless they are Conservative or Christian, of course. I have *my* truth and you have *yours*...why get all worked up?

I'm not sure the center can hold under such conditions, at least not indefinitely before REALITY starts having its say.

Mrs. Kissell said...

Medved appears to be returning to his past. He rejects calling evil evil.

Suggest "left" etc. replaced by "totalitarian" and "right" etc. replaced by "freedom fighters" or "liberty lovers."

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm not a fan of Medved, but I usually find him less irritating than Hannity... which is the choice here between noon and three.

Susannah said...

Has anyone ever caught Frank Gaffney? I only heard him once, but thought his interviews were informative. I find Hannity repetitive. Can't listen to radio much anymore, with kits around. Little kits have big ears!

Van said...

"I'm still stuck on the idea of intellectual heresy, and I wish more people understood and appreciated what I was talking about..."

I feel your pain.

"At the very least, the intellectual heretic participates in his own astral abortion."

Zombies... soul dead and stalking the halls, looking for someone to spread the wealth to...

"...But the real miscarriage occurs if one is a teacher or in a position of influence, whereby one participates in mass murder, or at least attempted murder."

... looking for anyone to put the ideal 'bite' on, sinking their textbook teeth into the minds of their students. For the wackademic, schools are a buffet, a moving feast... and the infection spreads.

'Happy days are...'
... ahh... shaddup already.

Van said...

Greyniffler said "And it seems like there is a worship of power here."

Leftism is the desire for and adoration of power. The willingness to not only deny others the right to make their own choices, but to actually force them to abide by your choices, is nothing but naked power worship.

black hole said...

I agree with anon. Van is combative.

Van has been Bob's friend for a long time here. They are in thick together.

What I like about Van is that he has an appreciation for armed force and its place in the scheme of things.

Yoiu could call him the militant wing of racoon leadership.

That being said, I challenge him and his redneck hordes to come into San Francisco and clean out the metrosexuals and welfare mommies.

After snapping up surplus Mosin Nagants and Turkish Mausers from Big 5 and training at the municipal range, we'll give you the what for. We'll give you Stalingrad, we will.

Your boys rule the woods and fields but the cities be ours, player. So there.

black hole said...

And true lefties aren't hung up on Foucault, either. We don't buy into that weird #$%^hit.

Deconstruction is a joke designed to disorient the squares, and that's all it. It's psy-ops hocus-pocus.

Anyone who really believes deconstruction is a chump.

PMS tonight.

Van said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Van said...

(sorry about that... gotta remember to clear notepad first...)
anone said "Rawls...Richard Rorty"

Fits. Foul, but fits. Technicians of power, and of rationalizing it. Knowthing and nothing more.

"cognitive science, evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology, economics even, and the areas where they overlap. I'm guessing you don't find this kind of stuff deep, and maybe you are right."

Such technology is interesting... as are engine mechanics, and in the same way, but they are not intellectually deep, they involve facts but not truth. Truth can be explored, delved into and endlessly pealed back to reveal still ever more, and all of it integrated with the next and every bit of it reveals more of yourself to you as you go.

Technology is just technique and efficiency, bits of this and that, and though it can be fascinating, it describes itself, not yourself.

"Object-oriented ontology ("OOO" for short) puts things at the center of this study."

Nothing more need be said.

"your follower Van seem to read with the purpose of getting pissed off, or of finding some kind of error on which you can hang the world's troubles on."

Now that's funny.

"Whatever floats your boat, although that attitude assigns philosophers more impact on the world than I believe they have."

If you ever manage to assign some importance to reality, you might begin to notice that how you behave within it is a reflection of the ideas that you hold about it, yourself, and your relation to others.

Where do you suppose those ideas come from? You may not read them yourself, or explicity recognize them around you, but they are everywhere throughout your day. From the marketer who says "Perception is reality", to the type of humor you find appealing, they have their source, deep within and out of sight, but fully in control, in philosophy.

Generals and dictators by the thousands have come and gone, but only a few philosophers and religious leaders rule the world, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Christ, Confucius, Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx... not a complete list, but the majority of them. Some Good, some interesting, some mistaken, some evil, but from them, if you look closely, you'll find the shapers of your unconscious notions and preferences in their ideas.

The only escape from them (or on the other hand the proper appreciation of what is true), is through discovering and understanding them, only then can you truly identify and agree with, or protect yourself from them.

Van said...

bh said "Yoiu could call him the militant wing of racoon leadership."

LOL! My mistake, now that's funny!

ge said...

re Norman O. Brown: i admire the way he kept evolving [from his earliest Marxist-mythological days through a Freudian phase onward-inward-upward via Joyce-Vico-Blake-Bataille-sufism ...i recommend his last book
Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis
[he even salutes the Dionysiac Hendrix there!]

Mizz E said...

A vision from the deep:

Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.