Late last night whilst I was watching a video of Christopher Hitchens speak at The Festival of Dangerous Ideas, a news item flash on my desktop, “Christopher Hitchens has died”, for a minute I just sat here, this was a man whose writing played a significant role in my life.
To many Christopher Hitchens was a masterful critic, impossibly blessed writer, rabid atheist and a dogged contrarian. He died of pneumonia after being diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer. As Christopher humorously put it, “there is no stage five”!
To me, he was many things, I subscribed to many of his articles on Slate, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair and his large catalogue of books. Most of all Christopher taught me to think for myself, make my own mistakes and learn from them. His book, Letters to a Young Contrarian is perhaps the one great turning point in my philosophical life. The final pages still give me a feeling of freedom that is hard to describe.
Many think in his final years as an outspoken critic of all religions that he created a clear distinction between those believers that despise him and the non believers that love him. This is not true in any sense, his friendships and admirers come from all sides of this particular philosophical argument. He was a hero to many and to many he was a very worthy adversary. Twitter last night exploded across the world as news spread and he is on the front page of just about every main newspaper in the world today!
I remember one ending of a debate where members of the audience were asking questions of panel and one male stood up and proclaimed, “Christopher, I agree with everything you said”, Christopher’s quick response came back with a “that does not impress me in the slightest”!
This to me encapsulated everything you need to know about Christopher Hitchens, even his closest friends always knew that when in conversation with Christopher, if you are going to take a position, it would always be wise to have some facts to back it up and some vingar to go with those facts.
He was once the darling of the left and left many of them bitter with his support of the war in Iraq (he had a long kinship with the Kurds) and then the right took him onboard only for him to disintegrate most of their extreme right positions and idols, in short, he took positions based on his knowledge of each individual issue. His pen in print took to task many idols of both left and right, Mother Theresa, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Gore Vidal and Michael Moore to name just a handful, here is a selection of his quotes on a few of them!
“Europeans think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they’ve taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities.”
“Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
“A good liar must have a good memory. Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory.”
So I will leave you with selection of quotes from the master himself and tonight my good friend Luke will bear the brunt of my first night in a long time drinking Johnny Walker BL!
On his opnion
“I don’t need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.’
Everybody has a book in them
“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”
On the cure for world poverty
“There is only one cure for world poverty that has ever been found or ever will and it’s very simple. And it could be phrased very simply too. It’s called the empowerment of women. Go to Bangladesh or Bolivia – I have to ask you to hold your applause though I love you – go to Bangladesh or Bolivia, give women control over their reproduce cycle, throw in a handful of corn if you can, make them not just the beasts of burden and the beasts of childbearing that they’ve become and the floor will rise, it just will. It never fails anywhere. Against this one solution, the Catholic Church has set its face. The efforts of the missionary Church in the Third World mean more people die, not less. It’s as simple as that. More famine, more disease, more ignorance, more random and avoidable death.”
and lastly my favorite
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”