An Interview with Peter Hitchens: Shouting into the Wind

“I didn’t arrange that,” Peter Hitchens blushes.  A stranger has just told him of her appreciation for everything he stands for and, for once, he’s been caught off guard, disarmed by praise.  The stone wall of rhetoric, dogmatic conviction and obduracy against which I’ve been fighting an attritional struggle for the past hour is felled in an instant.  And I can’t help feeling relieved.

We’re in Starbucks showing our solidarity with their tax avoidance – well, Hitchens is.  “I’m a very bad interviewer,” he opens, slipping into the rich baritone of the ‘Hitchens’ voice that so melodiously beguiles and bewitches, “partly because I’m usually more interested in myself than the other person.”  And he has reason to be.  After all, Peter Hitchens is a hell of a lot more interesting than most other people; I’ll give him that.  Columnist and blogger for The Mail on Sunday; author of five books on drugs and God, crime and politics; reporter from more countries than you can count on two hands – it’s a CV that would dwarf most.

But, if you’ll believe him, no one’s taking him seriously.  Never mind, though: the fact that they aren’t will hardly matter soon enough.  Indeed, the world as we know it is preparing for its final curtain call.  This is the end of civilisation according to Peter Hitchens.

Characteristically, Hitchens has been one of the more outspoken commentators on the recent Sandy Hook massacre that has reignited the debate on gun laws in the US.  “People don’t think about anything most of the time,” he notes about the arguments against gun ownership in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, “It’s just intellectually moronic to close your mind to the possibility that something other than guns are at issue.”  He’s thought, he’s decided, and I’m not about to change his mind: “I’m bored by this subject.  If someone produced a gun in here I’d be as scared as the next man – probably more so because I’ve seen what happens when a bullet passes through a human body.  It’s not nice, I’m not in favour of it.”

Hitchens rests his arm over the railing next to our table, as he attempts to deconstruct the myths of gun control.  To him, the reasoning is unsound.  Indeed, until 1920, he maintains, the UK’s very own gun laws “were so lax they made Texas look effeminate.”  And what about the rarely reported knife massacres in China?  Guns aren’t the only things capable of causing havoc, he argues.  “This problem of increasingly frequent gun massacres is new,” Hitchens goes on, “It’s not something that’s been going on during the entire period that the United States has had relaxed gun laws.  In fact, its gun laws have become increasingly restrictive over the past 30 or 40 years.”  His tone is such that it almost caresses me into submission.  Almost.  But I’m not convinced.  15 of the 25 biggest mass shootings worldwide in the last half-century have taken place in the US, a country with double the number of guns per person compared with somewhere like Yemen.  Hardly coincidental, I might suggest.

“It’s theoretically arguable that the existence of law-abiding gun owners in places where people start shooting provides some protection,” Hitchens digresses as I inwardly cringe, noticing the tell-tale signs of the strand of thought with which he’s aligning himself – the NRA honchos and their ‘more guns, fewer shootings’ claptrap.  For someone who prides himself on logic being his weapon of choice, this doesn’t seem awfully logical to me.  “Take the Anders Breivik incident,” he explains, “Had there been anybody on that island in possession of a legally owned gun, a law-abiding sane person, they could have dropped him from 300 paces, and that would have been the end of that.  Good thing, no?”  Well, yes… provided that you haven’t taken into account how many more Anders Breiviks might crop up if guns were readily available.

Yet still his claim is that the problem lies elsewhere: “It’s a case of the old saying,” he recalls, “‘When the wise man points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.’”  Focusing on guns is a lame distraction.  In the world according to Hitchens, we’d bite the bullet and scrutinise “a scandal as big as thalidomide” much more closely.  Most of these shootings, he’s convinced, have involved anti-depressants or illegal drugs (and sometimes both).  However, “the reason we don’t look there is because it’s fashionable to be against guns and it’s fashionable to be in favour of anti-depressants and marijuana.”  Hitchens takes a gulp of his coffee and shakes his head irately: “Fashion shouldn’t govern thought.”  I couldn’t agree more – but contrariness is fashionable too, I think to myself.

“The anti-depressant scandal is so huge,” and he’s cross with the failure of his trade to report it.  Hitchens carefully explains to me that it’s a “known fact” that the pills induce “suicidality, a tendency to feel suicidal,” but that nobody seems to care: “If people were constantly dying of a physical disease after having taken a pill that was supposed to cure them, the suspicion would be thrown on the efficacy of that pill.” But self-interest shuts the door to examination – on the part of “an awful lot of people in the media” who are taking these drugs, the “huge number of doctors” who prescribe them “out of laziness and a desire to get rid of patients,” and the pharmaceutical companies whose profits keep on soaring.

Hitchens fidgets in his chair slightly, before candidly admitting: “My engagement with the argument about drugs is purely to point out that everybody is talking balls.  I don’t have the slightest illusion that anything I say is going to make a difference.”  It’s the first sign of Hitchens’ distaste for the modern world – and its distaste for him.  “It’s coming, it will come,” he prophesies, “If you’ve read Brave New World, soma [the hallucinogenic consumed ubiquitously in Huxley’s novel] is on its way.”  Illegal drugs, according to Hitchens, have been systematically decriminalised in recent decades by the UK.  He rubbishes my suggestion that Portugal has seen notable successes since decriminalising possession of all drugs in 2001, regarding the Cato Institute’s conclusions as self-serving: “The evidence is that they had an agenda.  Besides, Portugal hasn’t decriminalised to anything like the extent that Britain has,” he explains, swooping up his coffee mug and leaning back once more.

Regulation of the drug market is a cowardly kowtow to the “stupid people that take them,” Hitchens believes.  But what about the tens of thousands of preventable deaths in Mexico, or the Taliban-swelling destruction of Afghanistan’s poppy fields (the only crop that yields its farmers any sort of livelihood)?  “Well, they’re caused by the selfish cretins who encourage the trade.  They’re on their conscience.”  He disputes the idea that decriminalisation would, in one fell swoop, eradicate (or at the very least, significantly reduce) the nefarious effects of just these two examples.  The way I see it, prohibition has been ineffective – it’s changed nothing but the girth of the criminal underbelly.  Peter Hitchens has no time for such arguments, though – indeed, his writings deny the very existence of a policy of ‘prohibition’ in the UK – and he’s not afraid to show his impatience with them: “Oh it’s pathetic, sub-intellectual drivel!  Any thinking person would easily see through it if they were given half a chance, but it’s fed to them as truth,” he complains.

Lazy thinking is a bugbear of Hitchens’, not least when it comes to God.  Which is why I’m a touch surprised that he appears jaded by the conversation when I bring it up: “I’m reduced to repeating things I’ve said over and over again,” he sighs, “It’s a matter of saying that either this is a created universe, and it is therefore the product of a mind in which we live and move and have a purpose that is discoverable, or it’s a meaningless chaos in which nothing we do has any significance.”  Life without faith, for him, is necessarily devoid of meaning and happiness: “You live, you die, it’s over.  There’s no justice, there’s no hope, those who are dead are gone and we have no souls.  Why would you want that?”  The trouble is that Hitchens’ argument smacks of teleology, even though it’s dressed up as rationalism – he wants there to be a meaning, a narrative he can follow with his finger down a page, a universal and unalterable understanding that is discoverable.  Therefore God exists.  Persuaded?

Above all, what religion gives Peter Hitchens is justice and morality.  “I don’t care whether you need him or not,” he expounds in pugnacious style, “Human justice, as we know, is a completely fallible thing.  Yet we all desire justice – I bet you do.  If it isn’t happening in the temporal sphere, there’s only one sphere in which it can take place: the eternal.”  Hitchens believes that a world without religion would substitute morals for ethics.  And we’d be poorer for it: “Ethical codes change all the time.  What’s more, they usually change to suit powerful people who need them to.  But God does not change; justice does not alter.”  My mind wanders momentarily, and I wonder whether he would agree that Henry VIII’s divorce proceedings – on which Hitchens’ Anglicanism was founded – constituted precisely the kind of change to the Church’s morality (at the behest of a very powerful person indeed) that he’s disparaging in the secular world.

There’s no doubt in his mind, though, that the Church of England is in decline.  According to census figures, the percentage of UK citizens classifying themselves as Christian nosedived by 12.4 per cent between 2001 and 2011.  “Christianity has more or less talked itself out of existence,” Hitchens acknowledges, “It lacks confidence and in many cases is espoused and headed by people who don’t really believe in it anyway.” It’s a depressing indictment of his own dearly held faith.  “This will be an Islamic country in 60 or 70 years time, I think,” he continues, resting his hands lightly on the table, “When the fundamental religions of modern life – namely, uninterrupted economic growth and an endlessly expanding welfare state – have proved to be false, which they are doing as we speak, there will be a religious revival in the Western countries and Islam is very well placed to take advantage of it.”

A distinct sense of resignation penetrates nearly everything Hitchens says.  He appears to see himself as a modern-day Cassandra, shouting truth into the wind whilst everybody else’s back is turned.  There’s a certain earnestness in his voice when he laments that he has “absolutely no influence over the politics of this country.  Maybe you do,” he offers.  “The existing political system is incredibly intolerant of dissent.  And it keeps me out,” he notes as though he’s living in 1984, but still he keeps fighting his corner, “I’m treated as a sort of licensed lunatic.  Nobody reads my books; nobody listens to anything I say.  All I can say is that I’ve tried.”

And just when I think we’ve reached the nadir of this conversation, he hits back with a sucker punch: “The jig is up, the country’s finished, Western civilisation’s over.  It’ll be the Chinese writing the history of this place.”  His advice?  Emigrate: “If I were you, I’d leave tomorrow.  But I’m too old, I couldn’t make a living abroad now.  I’m stuck.”  He tells me how he’d board the first plane to Canada, because “it’s a sensible, well-governed place and its people have a good sense of humour.”  But that does nothing to take away the sour taste of his doom and gloom end of days story.  “We’re watching the end of an ancient and once rather wonderful civilisation,” he meditates wistfully, “You’re watching the end of it.  It’s how these things go – neither with a bang nor with a whimper, but with the country sinking giggling into the sea.”

At length, we get up to leave.  Maybe it was something in the coffee, but I felt sure I’d walked into Starbucks feeling about five feet taller than I did now.  We shake hands, and I watch as he flings a scarf over his shoulder and strolls back to another day at the office, another day in the world of Peter Hitchens.  It’s all well and good, but the trouble is that I’m not quite sure the world that Hitchens thinks he lives in really exists.  At least, I hope it doesn’t.

 

 

This article also appears in Varsity.
This article also appears in Varsity.
This piece also appears on The Daily Opinion.
This piece also appears on The Daily Opinion.

Comments

  1. Belsay Bugle

    What a smug little piece. Without any attempt to understand the arguments that Hitchens makes, or even to credit that anything he says could be true.
    No thought, no interest in the truth of history, just a confirmation of the modish opinions that are currently popular amongst what passes for an intellectual class.
    In a word boring and oh so terribly predictable.

    1. Perspective

      It would be of benefit to you to practise your useful and constructive critiquing skills. This comment says a lot more about you than it does the post. How did you feel after you typed those words? Good? Powerful? Better? Find another hobby which is going to make you less angry.

    2. Adam

      I hardly think it fair to describe someone’s writing as “smug” purely on the basis that you disagree with their view. The writer clearly HAS understood the arguments Hitchens makes, and subsequently poses his own counterarguments where he feels necessary.

      As for the insulting remark about “what passes for an intellectual class”, who would you suggest is superior in that case?

      Oh, and I’m pleased you were able to predict the writer’s opinions from the outset having essentially come into this article with the inherent bias of Peter Hitchens attached to your mind at all times. You may not agree with the points made, but insulting the writer and his personal thoughts is hardly productive and certainly unnecessary.

      1. keith

        I have always thought that ‘productive’, just like ‘helpful’, is a strange criterion to keep in mind when commenting. It suggests that we are heading towards something, perhaps a point of agreement or at least understanding. Personally I just want to express my view. The idea that I am engaged in some communal project doesn’t enter my head, as doesn’t the degree of productivity or the helpfulness of my comments.

        1. Adam

          And with that comment, you admit then that you have little interest in ever changing your opinions. There’s a word for those who do not change their opinions and do not wish to engage in debate for fear of doing so; I’m pretty sure Gordon Brown got into trouble for saying it not too long ago.

          1. keith

            Why would I want to change my opinions? I simply want to have the right opinions. If I thought I was wrong I would change them. But if I thought I was wrong I wouldn’t hold these opinions in the first place. And none of this has anything to with with ‘productivity’. Please make sense.

  2. Stephen Bailey

    Yes there is now no (real) point in debate with the left-liberal hegemony.I’ll repeat myself again-these people have a project that they are going to force through irrespective of any legitimate counter-argument.Simply winning the debate is pointless as they will ignore you and plough on.A more robust approach is called for.What that approach is,I can’t yet divine.Any suggestions anybody?

  3. keith

    To cringe is not a counter-argument to lax gun control. It’s what girls do when they brush up against something they don’t like (or want to show their friends they don’t like). Parading your left-wing sensibility and thereby trying to gain the moral high-ground (in your eyes) shows just how cock-eyed your approach to the interview was. You should at least have tried to convince us readers that you made a fist of seeing Hitchens’ point of view. Cringing like a princess indicated that from the start you had only one eye on Hitchens while the other was winking knowingly at your imagined audience. In doing so you did neither him nor yourself any favours. Instead you came across as mean-spirited and sophomoric.

    1. Chris Barton

      And in writing this comment you have come across as sexist and deeply dismissive of the writers honest reaction in the situation. In expressing the emotion he felt at the time, we get a much better appreciation of the interviewer as well as the interviewee which is important when analysing the piece.

      To cringe in response to an argument, especially that one finds distasteful or flawed, is a perfectly rational response and the writer goes on to detail some of his counterarguments in any case.

      1. keith

        I have to confess that on re-reading my comments I wished there had been an edit button to tone them down a bit. However, the supposed ‘sexist’ bit about cringing wasn’t one of the bits I would have revised.

        The best interviews are ones carried out by people we feel don’t have an axe to grind and can be depended on to depict things in a fair-minded fashion. Of course, if you already share the interviewer’s point of view then you’ll love all the cringing that goes on. If you don’t, you won’t. I didn’t, and didn’t.

        Perhaps you are one of those strange people who believe that men and women are not only equal in terms of the rights we’ve decided to extend ourselves, but also identical in every way. Maybe you would claim that men and women make equally good firefighters and riot police (ha ha!). Perhaps you also think that both sexes’ mannerisms and reactions to distasteful stimuli are the same. I disagree, and I don’t think there is anything sexist in that.

        Regarding cringing, if we see a person cringe that is one thing. If they decide to tell us after the fact that they cringed, that is quite another. The first is an instinctual reaction. The second is all about the interviewer and how his highly developed sensibility. I can’t picture Jeremy Paxman reacting like a California Valley High girl during his interview with Nick Griffin so why should Will Bordell do so with a pussy cat like Peter Hitchens?

  4. Ade

    Did you actually put your points to Peter Hitchens, or have you added them as an afterthought, to contradict his arguments? It reads as though you sat and listened to his answers, but didn’t engage at the time. And your counter-arguments read as though you’re not willing to engage with his views, just re-hash the left-wing liberal party line. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brave man who debates with Hitchens, but this sort of hit-and-run approach is just throwing bricks over the barricade, not really debating. Were you willing to have your opinions challenged, or even changed?

    1. John

      Yes, exactly what I was thinking. He churlishly sat on the sidelines through the interview rather than challenge the arguments put forward by Hitchens rationally as they unfolded.

  5. Nico Roberts

    I’ve never had an ounce/milligram of religious feeling, but I think that Hitchens usually knows his onions as far as political questions such as Europe are concerned. The only reason I’m sure he hits the target on subjects such as the damage caused by family breakdown and the dangers of even (supposedly) soft drugs, is because 1) I come from a disastrous family background, and 2) I have seen at first hand the once highly promising young life (of a Cambridge graduate) become dysfunctional through a short period of ‘soft’ drugs use. You write very well but the difference between your opinions and Hitchens’ is that he has formed his views on life after observing and experiencing many things in many lands over many decades. The fact that you haven’t had time to do this is not your fault, yet you still give your own views as prominent an airing as those of your interviewee.

  6. Nick Roberts

    Sorry, but while correcting my mis-spelling of my own name, I’ll take the opportunity to add my half-pfennig worth on the bizarre r/s the USA has towards weapons: guns easily available = very bad idea.

  7. Kevin mcgrath

    Hi

    Interesting interview…I think Hitchens is right..we are in terminal decline…all the indices show it, teenage pregnancy, educational attainment, drinking, drugs all the worst pretty much in Europe…immigration out of control and large swathes of the country riddled with crime and a feeble or non existant police. Major organised cover ups / news blackouts by BBC Guardian channel 4 etc.. all the time
    e.g.organised and widespread Muslim paedophile gangs, Hillsborough, etc then you get massive banking crime and no one jailed…the country is fucked though if you are well off or live insulated from what a big minority are experiencing then…you will not notice..but it will come knocking soon

  8. keith

    I teach Japanese university students and strangely they seem to intuit that there are ‘unknown unknowns’, as Donald Rumsfeld called them, things which are totally hidden from us because we are simply not aware of their existence. These students are aware of their youth and are equally aware that they really might have something to learn from older people with more experience. As Aldous Huxley said, ‘Their lack of knowledge is encyclopedic’ but Japanese students know it.

    Contrast this with the inability of some students at western universities to grasp the vast spaces of their ignorance which they have filled with other people’s opinions and then label their own. No sign of any humility there or what Buddhists call ‘Beginner’s mind’.

    Regarding the momentary wandering of the interviewer’s mind onto the subject of Henry VIII (yeah, my mind often does that too) I couldn’t help wonder whether this mental stroll was manufactured several hours after the interview. If it really did happen at the time as we are led to believe, why didn’t he, you know, simply ask his question and make his point? Too shy? Somehow I doubt it.

  9. Brooks Davis

    Mr. Bordell, I’m a regular Canadian contributor to Peter Hitchens’ blog, and I like to see intelligent young people such as yourself show that they have an interest in serious current affairs and that they can write well about them.

    I hope that you will consider Mr. Hitchens’ point about the link between mind-altering drugs and massacres in the last 4 decades. There is a remarkable correlation between the killers and the fact that each has been taking drugs, either prescription or illegal. These facts are usually easily obtainable. Perhaps you, as a young man who could be embarking upon a career of some public influence, can be the one to finally draw widespread attention to a sensational scandal that few in the world know about or want to address.

    I wish you well on your future career, whatever that may be.

  10. Mike

    Hitchens is an interesting chap. Whilst I don’t know you from Adam, and therefore have no idea whether you are interesting or not, I can tell you that anyone reading an interview has little interest in the interviewer.

  11. Farlsborough

    Nothing like giving yourself the last word.

    You’re a young chap and I wish you well in the world of journalism; I do hope that one day you will have the courage to investigate claims independently and go against the grain of fashionable views if necessary (you presumably feel you are a “freethinker”, given your résumé?. In future reflections, think about what you can learn from such an experienced journalist as PH; even if you disagree with him his integrity and courage are things to be admired. The “counter arguments” you espouse I’m afraid show no discernible “free thought”, merely a parrot-like regurgitation of the current vogue in left wing opinion. But there’s time for you yet, good luck.

  12. mev

    When you’re a lot older than your vast 18 years, you may lose some of that ‘oh-so-superior-all-knowing-and-understanding’ style and you might even feel very lucky to have interviewed someone like Peter Hitchens. Oh the arrogance of youth – I do vaguely remember it.
    Perhaps you might save some of your scorn for those immoral careerist politicians who crave power, money and career (over principle), not someone who genuinely cares for the victims of the welfare state and the post 60s liberalism such as kids brought up in broken homes without fathers, those who are forced to live next to unrestrained louts on lawless sink estates and those who foolishly experimented with recreational drugs and lost their sanity as a a result. Those are the people Hitchens is trying to help with his conservative views.

    (ps for an insight into directing your scorn at those who really deserve it – perhaps you could listen to podcast number 66 on lewrockwell.com ‘Rothbard, Ron Paul,and Public Leadership’ – one of the finest short political interviews I’ve ever heard).

  13. Adam

    I direct this towards ‘keith’, unfortunately the option to reply to his comment directly does not appear:

    You have missed the point entirely, again. Of course, if we thought our opinions were wrong we would change them. But what you are doing is refusing to even consider that you may have mistakenly believed something to be true. I believe my opinions to be correct; but if someone were to present to me ideas that effectively contradicted my ideas, I would consider changing my thoughts. You on the other hand, when presented with arguments against you, or rather against a man you blindly follow, have turned to insulting an extremely well-written piece – and more importantly, because it is entirely unnecessary, the author himself.

    As for productivity, I would really hope that we are all aiming towards a common goal – the right answer to any given question. So when I say your comment is counter-productive, I quite clearly am saying that everything you have said, the insults and the subsequent nonsense, do very little (and quite possibly harm) any kind of progression of ideas, either towards yours or someone else’s opinions.

    In future, please refrain from commenting on these kind of things purely with the intention of being rude. It’s very frustrating, and harms any kind of argument that you could potentially make against the writer. I certainly don’t agree with everything Mr Bordell has said, but when I do come round to voicing my concerns (which will happen once I’ve finished dealing with trolls like you) it’ll be in a constructive way, both for the development of the ideas themselves and for the development of the writing abilities of a young, aspiring writer.

    1. keith

      Adam,

      There is so much wrong with what you wrote that it is hard to know where to start. First, I can assure you that I would change my opinions if I found other ones more persuasive. But in this case I can’t change them because I didn’t actually read the whole article. I got stuck on the ‘cringing’ bit and then suspected I knew where it was leading. Had I managed to get to the end of the piece Will Bordell might well have convinced me he was right. I just never got that far. That is one more reason for an interviewer not to demonstrate is loyalties so clearly.

      Various things Peter Hitchens says I find silly, especially his views on religion and how we need Christianity to put the world to rights. I am far more in agreement with his brother that the opposite is probably nearer the truth. I wrote and told Peter Hitchens this but he didn’t answer. He probably gets sick of people like me contradicting him. Whether this constitutes blindly following him I will leave it up to you to decide.

      It would be lovely if we could all talk for a while and finally agree that the truth of the matter lay somewhere in the middle or that one of us was 100% right. But in the real world this is not what happens. In fact I don’t think I have ever seen anyone persuaded, even by overwhelmingly powerful arguments. Just look at the people who still refuse to accept Darwinism. But this inability to change people’s minds won’t stop me commenting. I comment for my own satisfaction and because I like to have my say. The idea that all comments must be ‘productive’ and working towards some kind of mutual agreement I find naive.

      As to who the rudest person here is, I’m not sure I could say with any certainty. Calling someone a troll simply because he disagrees with you hardly counts as polite. I was in no way trying to derail the topic. I merely wished to point out that productivity is not an essential ingredient in a debate, though many people like yourself like to pretend that it is and that we are all inching towards some kind of mutual understanding. Even without my ‘unproductive’ remarks, do you really believe that to be the case here? Do you believe that Will Bordell was ready to have his opinions changed. The little I read didn’t suggest so.

  14. Post
    Author
    Will Bordell

    To clear up a few queries and qualms…

    It goes without saying that I appreciate all your comments and opinions.

    I think it’s quite clear from the interview that I did listen to what Mr Hitchens had to say. The fact that I disagreed with him on many (but not all) points has nothing to do with that. Actually, I think I try to take as balanced a view as possible of the arguments he made, giving him room to explain his thoughts whilst qualifying them or prodding at them with some of my own. At no point in the interview do I arrogantly claim that my views are in any way superior to his, I simply wish to voice my counter-arguments (which I most certainly did register at the time – more often than not to receive belittlement rather than patient and cogent explication).

    For example, I agree with some aspects of his concern about over-medication, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Alex Jones-style rants about “mass murder pills” and “suicide pills” are convincing arguments – Mr Hitchens would probably agree with me on that point. I agree with Brooks Davis that “There is a remarkable correlation between the killers and the fact that each has been taking drugs, either prescription or illegal,” but there are also remarkable correlations between guns and mass murders. Guns are not the only problem by any stretch of the imagination (to think that would be naive), but they play a massive role. In terms of policy towards drugs, I’m not a supporter of drug use or abuse. That doesn’t mean that I believe that there is (and has been) no policy of prohibition in the western world, and it doesn’t mean that I can’t believe that the sensible implementation of decriminalisation could solve a lot of drug-related issues.

    Sticking me in a “left-wing” box is reductive and unhelpful. I don’t demonise Mr Hitchens as the ‘Other’ in the interview (although I do respond to his characterisations of himself as such), so why do commenters (who don’t know the first thing about me) think that putting me in a very broad category – against which they evidently have an enormous amount of bad feeling (prejudice, I might suggest – and the kind that they are claiming people ‘like me’ have against them) and to which I don’t entirely belong – is a way of starting a constructive debate? It simply has no bearing on the issues under consideration.

    I don’t claim to be infallible, but nor is Peter Hitchens. Mr Hitchens and his supporters seem to be acting hypocritically. To suggest in a superior and all-knowing manner that I have come across as superior and all-knowing is pretty incomprehensible to me. There is no moment at which I suggest that I have all the answers – I don’t believe I do. Mr Hitchens, both older and wiser than me, thinks that he does. It is a complete misreading of my writing to suggest that I present the interview as a debate which I won. I leave it, quite clearly, to the reader to decide. I believe in conversation and dialogue, and am not unwilling to change my views, to reconsider evidence, to be persuaded by cogent argument. On the basis of my experience of him, Mr Hitchens is (although my own debating skills can hardly be expected to rival his).

    Whilst I do not want to be patronised, using my lack of experience and my young age against me seems to be stating the obvious. I am learning. I respect Mr Hitchens’ vast knowledge, his extensive experience and his skills of rhetoric and argument. Of course I can’t compete with that. And I’m not deluded enough to try to, as some have implied. The interview taught me a huge amount, as every encounter with someone of Peter Hitchens’ calibre should. I hugely appreciated him giving me the time that he did, and I’m extremely grateful for it (it says a lot to his credit). But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to have my own views, and express them.

    1. Brooks Davis

      Dear me, I wasn’t aware that there is someone with some fame ranting about “mass murder pills”. I think that it is too serious an issue to be trivialized. I will just point out that a drug-induced alteration to a state of mind that would cause violence should deserve more attention than the means used to carry out the violence. Even if the government of a free country could effectively ban firearms, the effects of drugs should still be a very important political issue even if the numbers of victims would be limited by knifes, poison or strangling. For example, there was a father at our neighbourhood church who was taking anti-depressants who drowned his daughter in their bath a few years ago.

      Mr. Bordell, I am sorry for some of the abuse you have received here. I think that you have the potential to become an outstanding journalist or member of whatever profession you choose to end up in. Thank you for your response. Again, you have my best wishes.

  15. keith

    Will,

    I enjoyed your reaction so then took the trouble to re-read the first part and read the second part for the first time.

    Firstly on the ‘claptrap’ of the NRA. You may want to read these two article by Sam Harris. He’s by no means a hang em’ ‘n’ flog em’ merchant so he might convince you that there is nothing illogical in the stance of the NRA. The first article was Sam’s original piece followed up by him answering his critics:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-riddle-of-the-gun

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/faq-on-violence

    Short of their being no way to get all guns off the streets of America – we can’t even do that in England and we don’t have a border with Mexico – there is nothing intrinsically illogical about believing that guns in the hands of all people is preferable to criminals and maniacs having a monopoly on them. Here in England men who go on crazy gun sprees can keep going for several hours before they are finally stopped – by someone with a gun. And I have read that when an American city decided to try to haul in all guns, deaths by shooting went up rather than down, the reason being that bad people held onto their guns and they knew that they no longer had to worry about good people defending themselves either when they were attacked or burgled. The fact that there are far more burglaries in the UK than in America could have a lot to do with burglars knowing that British homeowners can’t shoot them. So tell me, even if you disagree, where is the ‘illogicality’ in all this and why is it so obviously ‘claptrap’?

    As for decriminalising drugs, this would certainly undermine the criminal gangs but it’s highly likely that drug use would increase rather than decrease. And would all drugs be decriminalised? If it were only soft drugs, criminals would simply concentrate on hard drugs. And since we are always being told that youngsters are drawn to doing whatever is prohibited, you have to assume that after soft drugs were legalised, teenagers would be forced to take hard drugs so as to ‘do the prohibited’. So for decriminalisation to work, you would have to decriminalise all drugs. Yet only in a world where people were sensible about how they used drugs would this be a good idea. When I see the pubs turn out on a Saturday night in my Midlands town, am I really being too cynical when I doubt that these are the kind of young people who would act responsibly with hard drugs?

    Oh, and not for a second do I believe that Peter Hitchens blushed at the compliment in the first paragraph.

  16. keith

    Will,

    “15 of the 25 biggest mass shootings worldwide in the last half-century have taken place in the US, a country with double the number of guns per person compared with somewhere like Yemen. Hardly coincidental, I might suggest.”

    Neither is it coincidental that a lot more black people live in America than in other western countries. If you factor out America’s black population, the incidence of murder in America is the same as that of Belgium. Looked at this way, it’s not a gun problem but a demographic problem.

    Oh, and the supposed ‘fact’ that most serial killers are white in America is also not true if percentage of each race is taken into consideration. Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be serial killers, as opposed to being seven times more likely to commit ordinary murders. And this is not due to racist policing. The same tendency remains when researchers ask the public about crimes for which the police didn’t turn up.

    Whether this comment is racist I find hard to tell. Is it racist to say that one racial group is more prone to crime than others if it is true? Is it sexist to say that men are generally bigger and stronger (and more prone to crime) than women? In my world it isn’t. In your world, maybe. I merely want to point out that there are many sides to American life and it’s dangerous to pick out just one as the villain. If all else were equal this might be possible, but all else clearly isn’t equal.

    1. Outraged

      “Whether this comment is racist I find hard to tell.” – that alone is really quite a worry, I have to say. I can tell you with certainty, that it is.

      Allow me to clear things up for you: the higher incidence of gun-crime amongst the black population in America is nothing to do with their skin colour or genetics. You could say it is a coincidence in some respects, although I don’t think this to be the correct word since there is an explanation for the correlation.

      It is not a racial group that is more prone to gun crime, and the suggestion is actually deeply offensive. Rather, it is socioeconomic deprivation that encourages such crime, and in America statistically the black population come from worse-off socioeconomic backgrounds than others.

      1. keith

        Outraged,

        I don’t think I stated my opinion as to why black people commit more crime than other races. However, you seem to assume that it must be because of skin colour or genetics. Well, I can assure you that I find the idea that skin colour alone makes people more prone to crime ridiculous. However, genetics is a different matter. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about it to say one way or the other, and I suspect you don’t either. However, I have read various books on the general subject of genes and how they influence behaviour, and the general consensus among experts is that genes do indeed influence behaviour. This includes a tendency to commit crime. You might have noticed that men are generally more violent than women. Do you think that male genes has nothing to do with this? I would be interested to know if you have ever read a book on the subject or whether you are simply talking off the top of your head? Maybe you even think that by not reading books about this subject you gain a strange kind of virtue. Then in your ignorance you can put people who actually have read them right.

        Even so, perhaps socio-economic factors do lead to more crime amongst the black population, though I doubt it. For one thing Jews and Asians arrived in America just as poor as blacks and were subject to just as much discrimination but they actually have a lower rate of crime than whites. Genes could well be at the bottom of this virtuous tendency, too. Is it racist to say so?

        Also, if poverty was a direct cause of crime, you would expect crime to increase in times of recession as more people fall into poverty, but that is not the case. Perhaps you already know that crime has gone down during this current recession. Also blacks committed far less crime before 1965, which is when their standing in American society started to change for the better. The more less discriminated against they became, the more crime they committed.

        My guess is that the higher crime rate among blacks is partly due to culture and partly due to genetics, though I’m sure saying so is also racist.

        Incidentally, are comments racist even if they are true? If not, then perhaps you should spend some time in negating my points rather than simply calling them ‘racist’. Or maybe truth or falsity doesn’t matter to you in Guaridan-land. Simply saying anything negative about a racial group must by definition be racist, regardless of its truth. I personally find this a strange idea.

        Anyway, thanks for putting me right on all this. But can I suggest a little less righteous outrage and a little more thinking?

        1. Outraged

          1) Men are more violent than women by reason of hormones. Last time I checked, people of different races tend not to have dramatically different hormones provided they are of the same sex.

          2) Jews and Asians most certainly did not receive the same kind of historical oppression as Blacks. Yes, they too had it bad, but the segregation was not on any kind of the same scale. More importantly, both groups very quickly earned themselves money (which Blacks for quite some time were unable to do because of inherent racism and segregative laws), thus detaching themselves from the socioeconomic conditions that cause crime to swell.

          3) Your point about crime falling during the most recent recession is laughable. Clearly you have little understanding of statistics, anomalies or patterns of behaviour. The general trend IS for crime to rise during a recession – our most recent one was an exception that came about as a result of other factors. Crime still felt an upward pressure from poverty. The countless books on the link between crime and poverty, and the much greater breadth and depth of statistics to support this side of the argument, should hopefully demonstrate your mistake to you.

          4) I did negate your point, and if you did not spot this then it is you and not I who is ignorant. I put forward to you the much more plausible response to the evidence presented, which you have chosen to dispute assumedly because you could not bear the idea of someone finally arguing back against you. I think the commenter Adam had it spot on when he implied bigotry on your part.

          5) Please don’t try and associate me with the Guardian. Not everyone mildly Liberal automatically reads their tripe. In any case, stereotypical readers of all newspapers (including you, the archetypal Daily Mail reader) are an unfair representation of overall readership.

          6) Evidently it is you who needs to do a little more thinking.

          1. keith

            Hi Outraged,

            1) The reason that men have male hormones is because they have male genes.

            2) You’re right, blacks did have it worse than Jews or Asians until the mid-1960s. But we have had affirmative action in favour of blacks and against Asians and whites for nearly 50 years and nothing has changed. This fact supports my hypothesis better than yours. I’m sure you will claim that blacks only fail in society because whites are racist, but how racist can a nation be that elects a black president not once but twice, even though he made a dog’s dinner of his first term? And how racist can a nation be that insists on having equal numbers of blacks and Hispanics in universities, public official posts and corporations, even though this often means putting non-whites in positions that Asians and whites are better qualified to fill?

            3) It isn’t only this recession but previous recessions too. And your point about there being a plethora of books out there that insist on the link between poverty and crime shows that you only choose to read one kind of book: those that support your existing view. Please read this article from the Wall Street Journal:

            http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703580904574638024055735590.html

            4) I have scanned your previous comment for a refutation of my points and all I found was this:

            “It is not a racial group that is more prone to gun crime, and the suggestion is actually deeply offensive. Rather, it is socioeconomic deprivation that encourages such crime, and in America statistically the black population come from worse-off socioeconomic backgrounds than others.”

            But this is just your claim that poverty is to blame in more flowery words. A claim doesn’t constitute an evidence for an argument. If it did, I could simply repeat all my opinions more verbosely and claim to have refuted you.

            5) Good, we both hate the Guardian. I take back my slur and stand corrected.

            6) I’ll hereby stop the name calling that I was probably more to blame for than you.

Comments are closed.