Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Christopher Hitchens and the Utter Creeping Moronism of Eloquence; and Towards a Definition of Martin Amis Neocon Disease

Posted By on Tue, Sep 23, 2008 at 4:45 PM

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It gets to a point, eventually, when you just love the way you can make ideas sound, are so impressed with the rhythm and authority, the impressiveness of expression that you can grant to all your thoughts, and the effortlessness with which your thoughts seem to organize themselves, that you just think in overpowering publishable sentences and circumvent the process of checks and balances that generally goes into working an idea into an expression.

What this leads to, generally, is the publication of every idiotic notion that crosses your mind.

This is a typical Hitch piece, more or less, making grandiose attacks and appealing to intimidating notions of rightness, making extravagant connections and leaving tantalizing links merely suggested (because surely we can all follow that avenue in lockstep to its conclusion and it's our failure if we can't), and positively eviscerating anyone who'd waver or hem and haw or try to point out nuances, because what fucking business do our painstaking, roundabout rationales have muddying up the righteous clarity of the Hitch (the man and the words).

To a certain extent this is merely a matter of the same kind of self-impressed windiness that befalls all of us (all of us? me and a lot of people) at times. But there's a particularly neocon strain to all this, too, which I am now going to talk about at great and possibly incoherent length, hurray.

Eloquence obliterates self-doubt; self-doubt, I think, is a key character trait of moderate, tolerant, consensus-based liberalism. And Hitch's political makeup is in a lot of ways akin to the postwar Leftists who were voraciously well-read and secular and eggheaded but ultimately turned to the right as much out of a sense of their own superiority — on account of being voraciously well-read and secular and eggheaded — as anything else, and then had sex with women who had babies who grew up to be Billy Kristol and John Fucking Podhoretz, nice one, guys.

And then of course there's the neocon movement's U. of Chicago connection, which is convenient because do you know who else was at U. Chi and ended up pretty far to the right because he was colossally eloquent and ultimately arrogant as a result of it? Saul Bellow. Saul Bellow, one of the literary and personal heroes of Hitch's BFF, Martin Amis.

(This is hardly to mention Martin's dad Kingsley, who made his own dogleg right, along with other exemplars of the English prose style and satirical sense of superiority, like Evelyn Waugh. The point is, there's actually a pretty elegant flowchart to be made of this.)

Martin Amis, of course, is one of the all-time great examples of the utter creeping moronism of eloquence; his political literature and public pronouncements, this decade, have been notable for a frothing reactionary conservatism predicated on the notion that There Is Evil in the World That We Must Fight Because We Are Smarter and Better Than Them, Can't You Blighted Pantywaists See? (that weird sort of secular synonym of our homegrown, Christian Manichaeism), and an ostentatious wielding of said ideas in the "provocative", quotable manner of the born rhetorician. (C.f. for instance: "Has feminism cost us Europe?" Which I submit is the stupidest thing said this decade. Like, yes, Marty, the thought has occurred to many of us that the ratio of birthrates of presumed future religious fundamentalists relative to the birthrates of presumed future secular humanists is worrisome. [Although that's giving him too much credit: he's not thinking "fundamentalists", he's thinking "Muslims", full stop.] But, you know, when you phrase it like that, you sound like an idiot. We used to have this thing called political correctness, not because we worried about offending people with our words but because we wanted to align our words with scrupulously balanced modes of thought. So just because it sounds so definitive when you say it doesn't mean that that's the right way to say it — the right way sounds a little more measured and watered-down, but also it isn't reductive or useable for purposes of sexism.)

So basically what we have is a conservative mindset founded on a rhetoric of superiority — you know, like the pounding rhetorical upsweep at the end of every paragraph Christopher Hitches writes. It's the kind of conservatism that comes from indulging your most half-baked, self-pedestalling ideas under the guise of a "thought experiment." We all do "thought experiments"; few of us feel that the workouts we give our consciences demand an audience. It's like an athlete demanding people pay to watch him fucking stretch.

And this, this absolute conviction in the rightness of the words coming out of one's mouth, it results in writing that sounds so fucking stupid, the wasting of words on ideas that don't deserve them. Just because you can make it sound good doesn't mean you can make it fundamentally true, or even consequential.

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