How I Changed My Mind About The Respected Columnist and Author
A wise man once said, “People are terrified of changing their minds. Changing your mind is a door you don’t want to open because you’re afraid of what’s behind it. Changing your mind means losing all your friends, it means a complete revolution in your life, it means publicly admitting you were wrong… People do not want to change their mind”.
The wise man in question is the British journalist Peter Hitchens. And his words were in reference to his transition from “a youthful revolutionary atheist” to a “conservative Christian”. For him, the interesting thing is “not why I did this boring and obvious thing, but why most of my generation didn’t”.
My first exposure to Hitchens came through an appearance of his on the BBC’s Daily Politics program around ten years ago. My immediate impressions weren’t great. The hitherto affable presenter was suddenly overcome with a sense of gloom at the
prospect of introducing the inimitable writer.
Meanwhile, a previously relaxed politician fresh from a gentle quizzing in the preceding segment, now appeared an increasingly befuddled and uncomfortable figure as Hitchens expounded on the issues of the day. The details of the following exchange have been lost to memory but my introduction to the uncompromising Hitchens has not.
When he wasn’t pulling a myriad of pained expressions at every superfluous comment, Hitchens was sitting impatiently, desperate for a chance to respond to whatever remark that had irked him the most. When his chance came, his harried answers battled in vain against constant interruptions, which ate away at the precious few seconds of air time he was afforded.
And when he spoke, the things he said! They were untrue, obviously. How can anybody actually believe these things? Was he being serious? Or is he a committed method actor? How could someone so well spoken be so wrong about almost everything he says? My questions were endless but thankfully, the program was not.
But like a compelling character in a book, I couldn’t get this obnoxious man out of my mind. For reasons unknown, the respectable BBC had allowed this strange person to appear on national television and say things that run counter to everything that I and any decent person, knows as truth.
I brushed him off as an extremist, someone the BBC are forced to include from time to time in order to satisfy some silly quota. But a few weeks later, there he was again! Arguing with everyone on BBC’s Question Time where, in a rare show of political bi-partisanship, he had somehow managed to unite the entire panel against him.
His opinions were usually met with howls of condemnation from his fellow guests, aghast at the audacity in which they were made. While the audience either groaned in disapproval or shrieked with laughter as Hitchens, without a shred of embarrassment, spoke forthrightly of his strong moral convictions and his sadness at the state of his beloved country.
Just like the array of figures from Britain’s political and media establishment, I casually dismissed Hitchens as some prudish, old-fashioned, middle-Englander type. His appearances on television and radio merely offered the audience an amusing look into the views of a country that no longer existed.
Like witnessing a wrecking ball crash through the room, I would take great delight in watching Hitchens cause chaos whenever he popped up on-screen. What will he say this time? Who will mock him today? I couldn’t fathom why he would continue to put himself through such an unpleasant experience over and over again.
There were the rare occasions when he did seem to make some sense, I had to grant him that. But I discounted these as mere blips, for even a broken clock is right twice a day. And while he seemed to be knowledgeable about an impressive number of subjects, how could he be right and everyone wrong?
Admittedly, there was something slighty courageous about him, and in spite of the occasional eye roll here and there, he appeared oddly dignified as he carefully made his case against a sea of disapproval. A case he made in a curiously lamentable manner that suggested he believed his efforts were being made in vain.
And it was to my great shock when I realised that Peter was the younger brother of the late Christopher Hitchens. Although there were some vague superficial similarities between the two, Christopher had the wit, style and vocal army of fans who had propelled him to great popularity, particularly in the United States.
In all honesty I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I was young at the time and had been fed an unrelenting diet of Marxist ideology from birth. The liberal media, entertainment industry and educational system had all played its part in socially conditioning me to believe, without question, in this very narrow worldview we know as ‘progressivism’.
There was no ‘red pill’ moment as such, maybe I just grew up. But as gradual as it was, I was unmistakably starting to question the conventional wisdom I had learned. A wisdom I hadn’t realised I had learned. For everyone just knows ‘social justice’ causes right? It’s so self-evident there is no reason to explain or argue against it.
For Hitchens was one of the bad guys, standing indecently at the door of social ‘progress’, trying desperately to prevent mankind’s rightful ascension to its Utopian destination. There was no need to address his views, he was to be silenced or ridiculed and at best, pitied.
Oh, how wrong I was. Not just about Hitchens, but about so many things inconceivable to my former self. Its amazing where an open mind can take you, so long as you are prepared to where it may lead, as not all wisdom is happily received. But if nothing else, changing your mind is a humbling experience.
Needless to say, the once objectionable Hitchens is now greatly admired. Far from being some archaic curiosity, I now respect him as a heroic defender of traditional moral values and as honest contributor to the public discourse. He has consistently proven to be one of the most reliable, persuasive and prophetic writers of our time.
And while my own views have moved further to the right beyond that of Hitchen’s apparent ‘civic nationalism’, I now know better than to casually dismiss his opinions as I once ignorantly did. For there lies the very real possibility that it is not his mind that needs changing, but mine.