Monday, 29 December 2014

A response to Peter Hitchens.




Well, it was a pleasant surprise to find my short piece on Peter Hitchens has drawn a response from the man himself. You can read his article below, and I’ll now proceed to respond accordingly.

 
The main problem, as he sees it, with my observations is the implication that he yearns for a return to halcyon days, and of course these days never existed. To be fair, I was referring more so to the reactionary press in general when I wrote: ‘Fortunately, it is too late to turn back the clock on the progress achieved in our attitudes to sexuality, gender and race. The malaise of the reactionary press is really down to this harsh reality.’ In retrospect, I should’ve been sharper on this distinction and avoided the conflation.

On an ironic note, it was the socialist movement which emerged out of the despair of the loss of the non-industrial pre-capitalist world, and in that regard it was backward-looking, while at the same time pushing forwards to a better world. It’s perfectly clear to my side that it’s the future we’re fighting over, and that it requires historical perspective to see this era as transient.

I should make clear that the purpose of my article was to convey the reasons why Peter Hitchens stands out from the commentariat - a herd of independent minds if there ever was one. It wasn’t intending to rehash the standard critique of the Hitchens brand of traditionalist conservatism. He’s right on several key issues: the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; civil liberties and free-speech. But it’s also the case that he’s wrong in much of his prognosis.

As Mr. Hitchens emphasises, in my article I observe: ‘the way he frames left-wing politics really comes from the position he takes on cultural and socio-moral issues. “It is because the left's ideas – by their nature – undermine conscience, self-restraint, deferred gratification, lifelong marriage and strong, indivisible families headed by authoritative fathers.”

Mr. Hitchens writes: ‘But he doesn’t say whether he accepts or rejects this, or even what he actually thinks about conscience (can he be against it?) or the other things I list as virtues undermined by the strong modern state.’

On conscience, I think moral values have a necessary role in any human community, as I’m a moral realist; but I wouldn’t say this is inherently ‘conservative’. We can still debate what constitutes right and wrong, though I will say that I do not know of any leftist who embraces moral relativism. It would be completely inconsistent as moral relativism cannot be expected to uphold any values, and certainly not egalitarian values.

As for deferred gratification, it was the liberalisation of credit which inverted this ‘deferral’ and left many people to spend first and work off the debt later. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case if the wage share of GDP for the working-class hadn’t been squeezed for the last 40 years. So this is not a monopoly of the middle-classes, but it has been turned on its head in recent decades. The picture is much more complex.

A great many people living on benefits, particularly those trying to raise children on benefits, practice forms of deferred gratification by effectively fasting. I know this because I come from a single-parent household, and I knew many others in similar circumstances, very often the lone parent will eat less and less to save up for Christmas. I don’t expect the Mail to portray this side of so-called ‘dependency culture’, but it’s revealing that they are so blind to it.

When it comes to monogamy, my own view is that it will outlast its competitors (particularly the fad of polyamory) due to its simplicity and mutuality. I don’t romanticise the institution of marriage, its clear strong relationships and families will be formed whether it exists or not.  I was somewhat sceptical of marriage equality because it was clearly a highly conservative proposal. Civil partnerships were the progressive innovation and offered a secular alternative free of a morally bankrupt and increasingly repressive state.

Understandably, Mr. Hitchens found fault with my dismissive remark: ‘He’s wrong on almost all cultural and social issues’. As I hadn’t set out to critique every one of the positions he’s ever taken I didn’t feel the need to go into specifics. But I’ll be forthright and specific here.

A perfect example of where Hitchens goes wrong: addiction. The claim that there is no objective basis for addiction is simply untrue. As medical professionals will tell you, the liver physically changes in the course of prolonged alcohol consumption and this can run alongside a psychological dependency on the drug’s effects. The answer is abstinence and therapy, but there is a very high recidivism rate. The denial of addiction is not only wrong, it is an unnecessary point to make.

The cases for/against the legalisation of drugs can be made without such a point. Likewise, it is possible to question the prevailing culture of hedonism without the presupposition that it is all a matter of ‘free-choice’ (a manifestly liberal point in itself). The only sensible hedonism was advocated and practiced by Epicurus. As long as it remains almost taboo to turn down a drink it will be likely for functioning alcoholics, let alone non-functioning ones, to emerge. But I doubt this will be put right by silly bans and regressive taxes.

To conclude, it’s only possible to rail against conventional wisdom once it has become convention. Mr. Hitchens is sincere in his wish to reorder society, but if he were to succeed he would not only make his work defunct, he would also provide the basis for it to be torn down all over again. That being said, I don’t see anything ‘radical’ in extolling fashionable hedonism.

Should anyone want to ask me a direct question, you can email me at: cainmosni@hotmail.co.uk

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

"A perfect example of where Hitchens goes wrong: addiction. The claim that there is no objective basis for addiction is simply untrue. As medical professionals will tell you, the liver physically changes in the course of prolonged alcohol consumption and this can run alongside a psychological dependency on the drug’s effects. The answer is abstinence and therapy, but there is a very high recidivism rate. The denial of addiction is not only wrong, it is an unnecessary point to make."


Have you read anything Peter has actually written on this subject?

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/12/the-addiction-fiction-my-response-to-dr-ellie-cannon.html

Wolfie said...

Hi Drifted in from Hitchens Blog, although I've never read it before…

Got to say, he has a point. I've read your repost three times now and I'm struggling to find a cohesive rebuttal in there. I think you need to work on that writing style a bit.

Just a couple of points before I go:

You - "it was the socialist movement which emerged out of the despair of the loss of the non-industrial pre-capitalist world"

Capitalism is as old as Civilization, the number zero was created in Ancient India as an accounting term [capitalism]. It helped early societies trade and plan through drought and enhance living standards. It has been an immense force for good but like all tools can be used for bad in the wrong hands.

You - "though I will say that I do not know of any leftist who embraces moral relativism."

ROFL! All my friends are nice is not an argument and it will make you look childish, especially when we such constructs daily in the MSM.

Keep thinking though and good luck.

JT White said...

Yes, I have Mr. Anonymous. I'm completely aware that Mr. Hitchens denies addiction exists. As he says in the article, which you've dropped here, "Show how we can detect its presence in an *objective, measurable and testable* way. The burden in such disputes is always on the advocate, not on the doubter." I've sat in case reviews where medical professionals have put forward evidence on alcoholism in the past.

Alcohol dependency takes a physiological and psychological form. You can detect this in small ways, your tolerance for alcohol consumption shifts as your liver adjusts. The answer for the physical is abstinence and the answer to the psychological is therapy.

As for the absurd presuppositions in the article, Hitchens seems to be applying Popperian standards which no serious scientist would apply. Why? Because it means you can't account for inductive reasoning. In plain English, you can't say that the sun will rise in the morning because if it doesn't you'll be wrong. That's the level of logic we're talking about.

JT White said...

To Wolfie, capitalism is not as old as civilisation itself. It actually emerges from very particular historical conditions in the fifteenth and sixteenth century as part of the enclosure of common land into private land. Capitalism comes out of the collapse of feudalism and slavery and its path has taken a different shape all around the world. Your points regarding numbers and the need to fight hunger are completely ahistorical.

A word of advice, don't quote out of context. I've made it very clear why moral relativism is incompatible with leftism - it undermines any basic normative commitment. You can't say you believe in equality if you just think that belief is the same as the belief that black people should be kept separate from white people. Plain and simple, it has nothing to do with "my friends".

Keep thinking and good luck.

Wolfie said...

Ok so you read Das Kapital and think you know what Capitalism is?

Really I thought even left-wing economic scientists left that behind in the late '80s. That's how we ended up with the neoliberals and the abomination of new labour, but that's another story.

Look sonny, the whole of Multiculturalism and its legal industry is based on moral relativism - its the last straw for the Labour party. Pretending that Islam can have any place in a modern egalitarian world. This clusterfuck of ideology is what paved the way for millions of Labour voters to dive into UKiP.

Hitchens has your number, every response is just a heavily worded variation on "no it isn't".

Get a girlfriend and grow up.


JT White said...

You first complain I didn't make an argument and now you basically demand that I say Peter Hitchens is right. Well, make up your mind.

Oh and you can't say Islam has a place in an egalitarian world if you're a moral relativist. If you're a moral relativist then you can't take a position on anything otherwise you override its stipulation that there are only different sets of values and truth-claims.

Stop asserting "multiculturalism is relativism!" like it's a meaningful statement and go read up on philosophy.

James Line said...

Good piece.
I have always enjoyed how Hitchens rightly criticizes Thatcherism and the disgusting desire among modern day 'conservatives' to just make money and privatise everything. Tony Abbott he rightly points out is a manifestation of this. He is also rightly critical of neoconservatives who want to shape other countries in our image using force and which are very interventionist. Hitchens always makes sensible and articulate arguments regarding immigration which the left do not like. He thinks about things and does not subscribe to dogmatic ideas. This was a thoughtful piece.