A word on Missing the Point

Peter Hitchens has written a lengthy piece in response to the latest islamist attack. It is a predictably thoughtful and eloquent article. It’s the most intelligent response I’ve seen. There is much in it to agree with. It is a shame our so-called ‘leaders’ can’t offer responses of this standard. Instead they call the terrorists ‘cowards’ and ‘losers’ when the killers haven’t lost anything and cowardice stifles action. It is our so-called ‘leaders’ who are the cowards.

Mr Hitchens asks on the question of the killers’ enthusiasm when stabbing:

‘I was struck by a particular report in ‘the Guardian’ on Tuesday, in which a London surgeon, sadly used to dealing with stab wounds, remarked on the unusual force of the wounds inflicted by these merciless human horrors on Saturday night. This seemed to me to suggest a level of cruelty and ruthlessness way beyond the ability of a normal person, even a normal criminal. What is the source of this? Some people will say ‘fanaticism’, and I will agree with them that it is a necessary condition in this kind of killing. But is it a sufficient one?  Well, how capable are you, or how capable do you think you would be, of real, homicidal violence, even in a cause to which you were committed? I am a former fanatic. I espoused a set of beliefs with homicidal implications. I am not a pacifist, and am ready to defend myself with force. But I was as incapable then, as I am now, of driving a steel blade into a human being.’

This passage is interesting because it is an example of Mr Hitchens abandoning reason just at the moment he was about to arrive at truth. His speculation begins promisingly, but the conclusion is drawn from a data-set of one. Himself. This is not how reason works. Does he miss the point because he doesn’t want to see it? Mr Hitchens is in good company in missing the point.

Orwell missed a similar point when trying to attack Auden for the phrase ‘necessary murder’ in his poem ‘Spain’. The stanza in question:

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The consious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting.

In the essay ‘Inside the Whale’ Orwell states:

‘…notice the phrase “necessary murder”. It could only be written by a person to whom murder is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. [..] To me, murder is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person.’

Auden had it right. That little phrase demonstrates the breezy ease with which those infected with absolutist ideologies murder their enemies. And that’s if they’re just in the way. If your ideology also tells you to hate them and their way of life then what’s so mysterious about enthusiastically stabbing some infidel scum?

(Read Maajid Nawaz’s evidence to the US Senate’s security committee on the Bolshevik-like political absolutism of ISIS ideology.)

Of course, Orwell was writing pre-Nuremburg, pre-Milgram, pre-Zimbardo and so on, but Mr Hitchens isn’t. The ‘sufficient condition’ is being an adult human, all else is refinement to the madness and savagery.

Is there a block in Mr Hitchens’s thinking? Could it be that he can’t (or won’t) see the true nature of the human because to do so will lead to the conclusion that humans were not created, but evolved?

Milgram’s famous switches are the least of it: he had people pushing arms down onto what they thought was an electrified plate. There is no excuse for not knowing that so long as the person thinks he has permission from his ‘authority’ he’s off to the races, and with terrifying and depressing ease do persons become ‘hands on’.

All it takes to get someone to fry another human with electricity is a white coat. What would they do if they thought they had God on their side?

There is no mystery.

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