Selections from Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens.
Alain, in Martin du Gard’s Lieutenant Colonel Maumort says that the first rule — he calls it the rule of rules — is the art of challenging what is appealing.
It is very seldom … that in debate any one of two evenly matched antagonists will succeed in actually convincing or “converting” the other. But it is equally seldom that in a properly conducted argument either antagonist will end up holding exactly the same position as that with which he began.
We still inhabit the prehistory of our race, and have not caught up with the immense discoveries about our own nature and about the nature of the universe. The unspooling of the skein of the genome has effectively abolished racism and creationism, and the amazing finding of Hubble and Hawking have allowed us to guess at the origins of the cosmos. But how much more addictive is the familiar old garbage about tribe and nation and faith.
Marx was right when he stated in 1844 that ‘the criticism of religion is the premise of all criticism.’
Noam Chomsky, a most distinguished intellectual and moral dissident, once wrote that the old motto about “speaking truth to power” is overrated. Power, as he points out, quite probably knows the truth already, and is mainly interested in suppressing or limiting or distorting it. We would therefore do better to try to instruct the powerless.
However, Hitchens continues:
I am not sure that there is a real difference in this distinction. Ruthless and arrogant though power can appear, it is only ever held by mere mammals who excrete and yearn, and who suffer from insomnia and insecurity.
Sound advice in any election season:
… don’t allow your thinking to be done for you by any party of faction, however high-minded. Distrust any speaker who talks confidently about “we,” or speaks in the name of “us.” Distrust yourself if you hear these tones creeping into your own style.