Monday, 12 March 2018

William Hazlitt on Public Opinion (and a little Kitty the Hare story_

Not only is it spurious and hollow in the way that Mr. Locke points out, by one man’s taking up at second hand the opinion of another, but worse than this, one man takes up what he believes another will think, and which the latter professes only because he believes it held by the first! All, therefore, that is necessary to control public opinion, is to gain possession of some organ loud and lofty enough to make yourself heard, that has power and interest on its side; and then, no sooner do you blow a blast in this trump of ill-fame, like the horn hung up on an old castle-wall, than you are answered, echoed, and accredited on all sides: the gates are thrown open to receive you, and you are admitted into the very heart of the fortress of public opinion, and can assail from the ramparts with every engine of abuse, and with privileged impunity, all those who may come forward to vindicate the truth, or to rescue their good name from the unprincipled keeping of authority, servility, sophistry, and venal falsehood!
...... and drop into an English reading-room hard by: what are you the better? You see a dozen or score of your countrymen with their faces fixed, and their eyes glued to a newspaper, a magazine, a review—reading, swallowing, profoundly ruminating on the lie, the cant, the sophism of the day! Why? It saves them the trouble of thinking; it gratifies their ill-humour, and keeps off ennui! Does a gleam of doubt, an air of ridicule, or a glance of impatience pass across their features at the shallow and monstrous things they find? No, it is all passive faith and dull security; they cannot take their eyes from the page, they cannot live without it. They believe in their adopted oracle (you see it in their faces) as implicitly as in Sir John Barleycorn, as in a sirloin of beef, as in quarter-day—as they hope to receive their rents, or to see Old England again!

When Kitty Holland of the Irish Times in the interests of Ethos, Pathos and a little light Logos told the world about her two abortions offers a story about how in a nailed down liberal vote bank like Dublin South there is uncertainty about repeal of the Eight Amendment:
kitty holland
I find that I too am shocked by such an obvious fable. Remembering Holland’s coverage of the Savita case which has been disputed as to its veracity I wonder what is the point? Are pro-life canvassers being misdirected to where their efforts will be in vain away from the working class areas where there are undecided voters? What was also being promoted by Pat Leahy a senior political correspondent in the same paper this morning was the plea for respectful disagreement. Ah the soothing muzak of political liberalism. Sweet reason and compromise must prevail.

Philosophers will, by reducing this intractable conflict to a discussion of personhood etc miss the point completely. The issue is not a matter of definition or what can be teased out and agreed on. It’s instinctive or a gut feeling about what is at the bottom of the abortionist’s bucket.

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