Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Missing Hitch's Superior Intellect

It's been a month since Christopher Hitchens passed away. The world has probably grown a little darker in that time. Major war in the Middle East is potentially a bit more likely given the escalation of tensions between Western countries and Iran, the irrational clown show that is the Republican primary electoral process continues, and some of world's major economies seem no closer to solving their long-term problems. But, with the loss of Hitchens, the world grew slightly darker simply through lack of his incessant demand that arguments appeal only to reason. Hitchens was known for eloquently blowing arguments out of the water. If he didn't agree with your position, you had little chance of looking like much other than a fool when engaging in a debate with him. But, this was not only because of his incredible intellect and seemingly limitless knowledge, but primarily because he always structured his position in a reasonable, rational manner. This is not something that most people do. Most people pick a position on an issue, and then try to justify it no matter whether their justification is reasonable or not. The very reason Hitchens was so effective in his arguments, and in dismantling others' arguments, was his rational approach. He zeroed in on the main thesis of an opponent and generally dismissed their case while showing them and the audience how foolish it was to even have that position in the first place. All of this he usually did without getting personal (there are exceptions, such as his infamous post-mortum description of Jerry Falwell: "Falwell was so full of shit that if you gave him an enema you could bury what was left in a matchbox.").

In this light, here's a classic Hitchens moment in which he dismisses his opponent's "argument" in support of the divinity of Jesus:

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