Monday, February 21, 2011

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter XI and XII

Letter XI


I trust I will lose none of your respect if I remind you once again that the forces of piety have always and everywhere been the sworn enemy of the open mind and the open book. Do not think for a moment that I have exhausted this point!

One must avoid snobbery and misanthropy. But one must also be unafraid to criticise those who reach for the lowest common denominator, and who sometimes succeed in finding it.

Letter XII

One is sometimes asked "by what right" one presumes to offer judgement. Quo warranto? is a very old and very justified question. But the right and warrant of and individual critic does not need to be demonstrated in the same way as that of a holder of power. It is in most ways its own justification.

To the question, Who do you think you are? I can return the calm response: Who wants to know?

The next one comes from A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right by Karl Marx. Usually this quote is shortened to Religion is the opium of the people. But that's almost out of context. Instead, here's the full text where it appears.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as te illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition that needs illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower.

One must have the nerve to assert that, while people are entitled to their illusions, they are not entitled to a limitless enjoyment of them and they are not entitled to impose them upon others. Allow a friend to believe in a bogus prospectus or a false promise and you cease, after a short while, to be a friend at all.

[I]f you decide to pass judgements and make criticisms and take forward positions, you both can and should expect a few hearings to convene on yourself. A welcome prospect, I trust. It certainly helps prevent the art and science of disputation from dying out amongst us.
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