Thursday, December 22, 2011

This man is a lot smarter than me...

I hope I don't do this too often, but I'm going to excerpt a long portion of Glenn Greenwald's post below:

In The New Yorker, George Packer, who vocally supported the attack on Iraq but criticized it when it starting failing, writes about Christopher Hitchens, who never deviated from full-throated support. Most of what Packer writes is, as one would expect, little more than the now-trite reminiscing about Hitchens we’ve heard from his thousands of media friends which Neal Pollack parodied so brilliantly here, but Packer’s concluding paragraph struck me as something worth highlighting:
Iraq led Hitchens to some of his worst indulgences—the propaganda trip to Iraq in Wolfowitz’s entourage, the pose of Byronic heroism. But perhaps the war and the enemies it made him helped give Hitchens the courage of his last years and months—the atheist in the foxhole. Hitchens was one of the very few people who could slash and burn you in print, then meet for drinks and talk in the true warmth of friendship, discussing a writer we both admired, garrulous to the very last. It was a sign of his essential decency that he didn’t make it personal.
Is it really “a sign of decency” to refuse to view any political ideas as not merely wrong in some abstract intellectual sense, but as a reflection of the person’s character? Obviously, there are many political disagreements — most — which can and should be conducted in perfectly good faith without the need for personal animus. Conversely, though, aren’t there some political views so repellent and sociopathic that “a sign of essential decency” is to make it personal, rather than refusing to do so? This line of thought strikes me as anything but essentially decent:
Sure, he was and remained a fervent, unrepentant public cheerleader for an aggressive, baseless attack on another country that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions more, and sure, he was very eager to fuel an Endless War that resulted in the deaths of countless innocent men, women and children that he himself never fought in, but I’m not going to hold any of that against him. I’ll argue with him as part of entertaining, invigorating political debate, but then will be happy to go out for drinks with him — he’s a really fun guy — and will proudly call him my friend.
In what sense does “decency” compel — or even permit — that line of thought? Packer, as he usually does, is simply giving voice to the standard mindset of Washington’s political and media class. As Charles Davis put it to me by email a couple of days ago when discussing David Corn’s expressed admiration for Hitchens — the irony that the Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones, of all places, waxed so effusive about one of the nation’s leading war zealots:
That’s Washington. Issues of war and peace — life and death — are just something you argue about from 9 to 5, and only when the cameras are on. Disagreeing on the wisdom of invading and occupying other nations is like disagreeing on whether the minimum wage should be $9.50 or $9.25: nothing serious enough to end a relationship over (see: Lake, Eli). And what’s a few hundred thousand dead brown people between friends?
The bottomless willingness of political and media elites to forgive each other of their sins, insulate personal relationships from everything else, and subordinate all other considerations to loyalty to their shared membership in those circles is not “a sign of essential decency.” It’s one of the leading causes of Washington’s rot.

Surprise, surprise, I think Greenwald gets this right. One reason I try to avoid political discussions (at least among my non-CU brethren), is that I have a very difficult time divorcing their political beliefs from their personalities. If you are the type of person who finds the permanent war-state to be necessary and continuous good, well then, you sir, are a bad person. If you can't support unemployment benefits because somewhere in the country a black person isn't "trying hard enough to find a job," well then you, ma'am, are a bad person. It's very difficult for me to pretend otherwise. The only way I can do so is if we avoid political discussions entirely. Now, granted, Greenwald would call me a coward because I'm still willing to have drinks with warmongers at cocktail hour (substituting the "hear-no-evil" approach for the informed consent approach), but at least it is tough for me to reconcile these differences. But unfortunately, I just don't have enough friends to act differently. So I admit my own dereliction of duty to cause. What's pathetic though is that, in the media, this reconciliation is actually celebrated, rather than disavowed, as a source of courage.  Thankfully, even I would never have enough "courage" to share Jaeger Bombs with Rick Perry, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin, or other chaotic evil individuals


  1. I'm not a big Greenwald fan because of his frequent willful ignorance of how political institutions work and how to pragmatically optimize results within them, but I agree that he is right about this. Though like you I have to swallow my dignity sometimes.

    There's someone who volunteers for the same film festival as I do who was talking about how Ron Paul is a moderate and he is only called right-wing because the country has slid so far to the left in the past decades and I so wanted to call her out on her bullshit but I realized it isn't worth burning all my bridges, especially with people who are acquaintances rather than friends. Living in Colorado Springs it just isn't very tenable to snap at every crazy conservative. Thankfully the conservatives that are closest to me are recognizing the Republican Party as increasingly extreme.

  2. Catching up on the Greenwald related news of this past weekend pretty much reaffirmed my belief that he is a massive tool.

    Anyway, leaving social media a resolution this year for you?

  3. My departure is only (theoretically) temporary - in essence, I'm quitting until I achieve some other major life goals. I need the motivation.