Saturday 9 March 2013

Any Time

Can this be love? Those of you who enjoyed my recent argument with the Roman Catholic journalist Damian Thompson will undoubtedly have fun with his latest contribution to a national newspaper, here, in which he says :

Did you know that the late great Christopher Hitchens … had a younger, less talented, journalist brother called Peter? Me neither – until I was asked by the Spectator to debate the subject of addiction with this gentleman, a chap in a blazer who reminds me of the Viz character Major Misunderstanding. I’ve taken a lot of flak for arguing, in my book The Fix, that addiction is behaviour, not disease. But Hitchens believes that addiction does not exist at all – that it’s an excuse for the illegal behaviour of “selfish” people.

‘This is scientifically illiterate – people can become involuntarily addicted and their brain chemistry changes. But Hitchens was having none of it, banging on about “the worship of the self” in the way that self-obsessed folk often do. Alas, I lost my temper and was rude to him. Now I’m wondering whether I should send him a peace offering. I’m told he adores cravats. Anyone know where I can lay my hands on one?

Well, as Rudyard Kipling once noted ‘The dog returns to his vomit, and the sow returns to her mire, and the fool’s burned, bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the fire’. Having lost his argument with me while I was there, he seeks to rerun it elsewhere, but in my absence. This is quite understandable, if silly,  but  I can only wonder if Mr Thompson isn’t perhaps overly concerned about me, or even perhaps in some way beguiled by his first actual meeting with me after contemplating me from afar for so long.

This encounter has, for instance, so confused and discombobulated him that, though - when we met - he appeared to recognise me on sight, and said he had read at least one of my books, he now says he had never heard of me before our encounter last Wednesday. He has also imagined my apparel. I last wore a blazer when it was a compulsory item of school uniform, at the age of 14.

Perhaps this is all just an excuse to publicise his new book (what is it called, again?). But amid all the flattery which he heaps upon me personally, he accuses me of being ‘scientifically illiterate’ on the subject of ‘addiction’. To this, I must object. In our discussion, it was plain that Mr Thompson, like so many other advocates of this bogus concept, is also  deeply confused about it. He refers to behaviours as ‘compulsive’, while admitting that in fact they are matters of choice. I am not sure what Mr Thompson’s scientific qualifications are (I have none) but, as in so many questions where pseudo-science is used to muddy the waters, the problem is a simple one, of facts and logic. Compulsion cannot co-exist with freedom to choose.

Someone who chooses to take an illegal drug, with a reputation for being habit-forming and also for being rather damaging,  may well alter his brain and body chemistry by doing so. But he still did so as an act of choice. What’s more,  every cigarette smoker knows that, while it is very hard to give up something which is habit-forming, it is not impossible to do so. And as long as it remains possible to give it up by an act of will, and there is much evidence that this is the case, the resort to some implacable, uncontrollable force called ‘addiction’ is not permitted to anyone who respects either truth or logic.

I’d also note a very striking thing about the article – the use of my late brother, Christopher, as a weapon against me. The heart sinks at this feeble, playground stuff.  I am accustomed to the screeching, foam-flecked fanatics of the Christopher Hitchens Fan Club, who openly call for my death and make invidious comparisons between me and my sibling to which it is of course impossible to make any reply save silence, as they know instinctively (rather than intellectually – they’re usually not very bright) .

But what do we make of the fact that some supposedly conservative and even religious commentators, in many cases people who would not give me the time of day, pile such praise upon my brother, who was a Bolshevik to his last breath and who hated and mocked the Christian religion which Mr Thompson espouses; and who reserved a special loathing for the Roman Catholic church to which Mr Thompson belongs. One day I must sit down and think this through. I’m sure Mr Thompson hasn’t.

The funny thing is that I enjoyed my meeting with Mr Thompson, and still enjoy his articles. I was rather disappointed that he made his scene, as I had thought it would be pleasant to chat to him over coffee after our discussion. This currently seems unlikely. But he’s welcome to get in touch, at any time. So far, my sense of humour has survived the encounter.

1 comment:

  1. I would disagree with the saintly Peter on one point: Thompson is not a Roman Catholic journalist, he is a journalist who happens to be Roman Catholic.