Charles, Prince of Piffle

100614_FW_CharlesTNChristopher Hitchens in Slate:

Discussing one of his favorite topics, the “environment,” he announced that the main problem arose from a “deep, inner crisis of the soul” and that the “de-souling” of humanity probably went back as far as Galileo. In his view, materialism and consumerism represented an imbalance, “where mechanistic thinking is so predominant,” and which “goes back at least to Galileo's assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion.” He described the scientific worldview as an affront to all the world's “sacred traditions.” Then for the climax:

As a result, Nature has been completely objectified—She has become an it—and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo's scheme.

We have known for a long time that Prince Charles' empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way. But this latest departure promotes him from an advocate of harmless nonsense to positively sinister nonsense.

We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge. None of these liberating undertakings have required any sort of assumption about a soul. That belief is at best optional. (Incidentally, nature is no more or less “objectified” whether we give it a gender name or a neuter one. Merely calling it Mummy will not, alas, alter this salient fact.)

In the controversy that followed the prince's remarks, his most staunch defender was professor John Taylor, a scholar whose work I had last noticed when he gave good reviews to the psychokinetic (or whatever) capacities of the Israeli conjuror and fraud Uri Geller. The heir to the throne seems to possess the ability to surround himself—perhaps by some mysterious ultramagnetic force?—with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.

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