The importance of being wrong

Christopher Hitchens’ mission, in his article in Slate on the “Lies of Michael Moore”, is as delicate a one as, say, the work of a police snitch. Hitchens shuffled off his leftist convictions and became a firm Bush supporter over the last couple of years, which some might call a conversion, and some might call a flip flop. But while he will allow himself the freedom of gaily adapting his opinions to suit his view of circumstances, he isn’t so tender minded about Moore – hence, the heavy sarcasm about Moore’s changing beliefs about the war in Afghanistan.

After demonstrating, to his own satisfaction, that if Moore’s pacifism is over-ridden by an unexpected hostility to Al Qaeda and Bush’s decision not to make a major effort to destroy it in the spring of 2002, then the change of heart must be prompted more by the vicious desire to hit out at Bush rather than any nobler motive, Hitchens gets down to what he takes to be lies in Moore’s film.

LI hasn’t seen the film, and doesn’t have a large stake in it. Hitchens thinks that it is proven that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD in 2002, that he was allied to Al Qaeda, and that the Bush administration’s interest in democracy has guided the entire American occupation. This is, nowadays, a pretty lonely position, and if the Lies of Michael Moore depend on the Truths of George Bush, I don’t think Hitchens is going to win the debate. But that isn’t our point. What interests us is a larger question brought up by his last paragraph:

“If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq.”

We will overlook – except for this catty aside – that Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq if Christopher Hitchens had had his way in 1991, since he, too, opposed the first Gulf War. So did LI. What is more interesting to us is whether we are supposed to judge someone’s belief’s by matching them, point by point, with their consequences. There are two themes here, actually. One is: how well does consequentialism work as an ethical – or, as Derrida would say, an ethico-political - theory? The other theme is more dialectical: is there a value in having and expressing an erroneous opinion?

We are gonna talk about that in the next post.