Sane man !

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nice one

It's worth sometimes trawling through the bitchfests happening in the comments of Crooked Timber, to find some pearls, like the Vaclav Havel quote, or this from "jasmindad":

All these questions about “what facts” changed Hitchens’, Cohen’s or Anthony’s opinions arise from a misunderstanding of the logic of political side-taking. Everyone here assumes, in a way that is flattering to themselves, that their own political positions are based on a relentless application of rational inference to the million facts about this or that. What in fact happens is that by various heuristic means, we organize the facts and assign significance before seriously processing them. One such means is use of templates we inherit from our peers with whom we feel comfortable or with whom we agree on other things. Another might be an earlier template that we felt comfortable with in a similar but different situation. And so on. What these templates do is help organize the facts in various ways, including assignment of credibility, significance and so on. This way one person might regard Blair as sincere in his expressed concern for democracy and human rights in Iraq—a fact—, while another one might view this simply a cover for other real motives. Facts get interpreted and collated and processed in different ways. The template does most of the work. This is why political discussions are so frustrating. We hurl “facts” at each other and are amazed that the other person doesn’t make of them what seems so obvious to us. The only explanation we can think of is idiocy or immorality.

Several things might happen to shake this up in individual cases. In my own case, e.g., I had long taken a certain political position on some issue, and that framework required that people who take an opposite position need to be some combination of cretin and moral monster. But then I met someone whom I dearly loved who was neither a cretin nor a monster, but who subscribed to the opposite view. This particular event reverberated through my template in a certain way that I became much more ambivalent about my own position in that matter.

So I’m willing to believe that an evening with a Kurd shook Hitchens up and tore up his template. But what I’d have hoped this event might have done for Hitchens is to make him question his own style of argument in which anyone who is not completely on his side on any political issue is a moron or a person of bad faith. It is also disappointing that he has not gone over his earlier political positions, once expressed with equal disdain for opponents, and given himself and others an honest account off how his earlier template had misled him, and perhaps express something like a regret for his earlier disdain for opponents. But as far as I can make out, he has always been right in every position.


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