THE WORST THING WE READ THIS WEEK™
This was so good:
“The trap waits for even the wary: start as a dissenter, develop into a crank, end up a dupe. One day you're Christopher Hitchens castigating the folly of the Vietnam War, the next, you're Christopher Hitchens praising the muscular daring of the Iraq invasion.”
But the claim that the American government would develop biological weapons in Ukraine is preposterous on its face. Just like developing nuclear weapons, that kind of thing is much too dangerous, both literally and politically, to do outside American territory. Even deploying such weapons to anywhere not under immediate American control would be severely risky. So it's an extraordinary claim, and extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, of which none has been presented for this one. Moreover, Ai Weiwei, of all people, should know that if you ever find yourself agreeing with Chinese state media, you should pause and consider very, very carefully. So although your general point is well taken - the vigilant skepticism called for by the fact that governments and other institutions continually lie can indeed be exhausting and occasionally disorienting - I'm not sure it applies here. Ai Weiwei is only 64, but as you note, he's had a hard life. Perhaps it's showing.
And you know, some dissidents live long but don't turn into cranks. To my knowledge, Andrei Sakharov, Jane Jacobs, and Vaclav Havel - to name three off the top of my head - never did. I'd guess that being a dissident per se wasn't central to their self-conceptions; they didn't take the positions they did just to be disagreeable or to attract attention. I suspect that other people, some of whom you've named, get confused by their own reputations or addicted to public attention and end as mere contrarians.
Thank you for this