Friday, December 10, 2010

Hitch v. Beck

Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair on the mendacity of Glenn Beck and his Tea Party acolytes:

Having an honest and open discussion ... is not just a high priority. It's more like a matter of social and political survival. But the Beck-Skousen faction want to make such a debate impossible. They need and want to sublimate the anxiety into hysteria and paranoia. The president is a Kenyan. The president is a secret Muslim. The president (why not?—after all, every little bit helps) is the unacknowledged love child of Malcolm X. And this is their response to the election of an extremely moderate half-African American candidate, who speaks better English than most and who has a model family. Revolted by this development, huge numbers of white people choose to demonstrate their independence and superiority by putting themselves eagerly at the disposal of a tear-stained semi-literate shock jock, and by repeating his list of lies and defamations. But, of course, there's nothing racial in their attitude …

This? This is what happens when the exceptionally intelligent critique the exceptionally stupid.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, it's six to five and pick 'em whether I will, on reading a Christopher Hitchens piece, (a) agree vigorously, (b) find myself rethinking a position I'd had previously, or (c) be enraged to the point of apoplexy. This happens to be an example of category (a), but you've probably figured that out. But even when he pisses me off (as he pretty much did 24/7 in the lead up to the Iraq War), I keep reading him, because such a sharp mind (that expresses itself in such enviable prose) deserves to be read.

I'm an atheist, but not so militantly as Hitchens that I don't find myself offering up a prayer each time I read about his ongoing fight with oesophageal cancer. If the disease claims him—as he candidly grants it probably will, statistically—we will have lost a voice that always elevated the level of political and social debate, unapologetically so, in a time when public discourse sometimes seems locked in a determined race to the lowest and most hysterical denominator.

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