It has been the case since I had opinions on these things that I have struggled to identify my “favourite writer of all time”. I've thought perhaps it was Shakespeare, as everyone does – who composed over thirty plays in his lifetime, from any of which a single line would be so far beyond my ability as to make me laughable. Other times I've thought it may be Saul Bellow, who seems to understand human nature in an intuitive way I can't quite reach, but which always touches me when I read his books. And more often than not I've thought it was Raymond Chandler, who in each of his seven novels broke my heart and refused to apologise – because he knew what kind of universe we live in. But since perhaps the year 2007, I have, or should I say had, not been in the slightest doubt as to who my favourite living writer was – Christopher Eric Hitchens.
This post is not about how much I admired him. It's not about how surprisingly upset I was about his death (I have since said that I didn't know him except through his writing – a proposition something like “I didn't have sex with her except through her vagina”) - although I must say that even now thinking about this subject is having rather more of an effect on me than I would like. This post is about a rather strange change that has come over me since his death on the 15th of December. Before that time I was a staunch defender of the proposition that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq was an obvious boon to the human race, and that the war in Iraq was therefore a wise and moral undertaking. Since then, however, I have found my opinion softening on the subject – I have found myself far more open to cost/ benefit analyses that have come down on the side of non-intervention, and much less indignant when others disagreed. It still seems to me that there are obvious benefits that have arisen from the war in Iraq – by no means am I willing to admit that it was an utter catastrophe, as so many seem convinced it was – but I have found my opinion shifting toward the non-committal middle ground of “I dunno”.
Well, Mrs. Mason didn't raise all that many fools. It could be that what's happening here is I'm identifying closely with the Ron Paul campaign, and that since I agree with Paul on many things but not on American foreign policy (and, as it happens, I'm British – but consider myself internationalist enough that American arguments significantly influence my views), and so am shifting towards his point of view. But I think it's rather more likely – embarrassing as this is to admit – that the sheer fact that the Hitch could no longer possibly be my friend – could no longer congratulate me on my enlightened point of view, or go into coalition with me against the forces of irrationality – has freed up my opinions on the Iraq war, and I have dropped into the centre-ground of “Not enough information”. This, as I said, is embarrassing – whether or not the best writer in the world approves of your opinion is no basis for sticking to it. But this is the position I find myself in: weak; fragile; irrational – at least as far as politics go.
So here is my half-way solution: extreme and not perfect, by any means, but I think, given the unearthing of this appalling weakness, necessary: from this point onwards, until January 1st 2013 (yes, an arbitrary point in the future), I am not allowed to settle on a political or moral opinion (ethics – the question of what constitutes the good life - I consider comparatively easy, and so exempt). Even when presented with apparently knock-down arguments, I am forbidden from professing allegiance from any moral or political position for the rest of the year. Yes, it is going to be hard to prevent myself from deciding on moral questions, or on political questions – but I am hoping that if I can at least prevent myself from defending any position for the rest of the year, I will, at the end of it, no longer be emotionally attached to any particular ideology, and be able to assess the difference at least semi-rationally. I don't want to believe anything just because Hitchens believed it. I don't want to be motivated by perceived-but-illusory friendship. I want the right answer. And I'm hoping that depriving my brain of the reinforcement that becoming part of a team – no matter how small – gives, I will be able to consider the matter rationally.
Until 2013, then, this is it for me. No longer are Marxism, fascism, anarcho-syndicalism etc. incorrect. They're interesting ideas, and I'd like to hear more about them. This is my slightly-less-than-a-year off from ideology. Let's hope that it works.