Sunday, December 18, 2011

No One Gets Out Alive

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011
Christopher Hitchens has died, and it saddens me.  I loved his work, with the exception of his atheistic screeds, but even those served a purpose in making us Christians reexamine the fundamentals of our faith.

The 21st century is sorely lacking bold thinkers, loud polemicists and skilled communicators like Mr. Hitchens.  His prose was beautiful artistry in written word.  I will miss his mordant wit and always interesting take on anything and everything.  He was an Orwell for our time, giving hell to "Bastards HQ" daily.  Liberty lovers everywhere should follow his example.  The bell has tolled, and his death indeed diminishes us all...

Suffering and Dying in Luxury

One of the many paradoxes of modern life: Medical care has advanced to the point where everyone, regardless of station, can now outlive their money.

In one of his last essays, Christopher Hitchens, himself enduring a long and very public death watch, reflected wryly upon the demise of atheist philosopher Sidney Hook:
Toward the end of his long life he became seriously ill and began to reflect on the paradox that—based as he was in the medical mecca of Stanford, California—he was able to avail himself of a historically unprecedented level of care, while at the same time being exposed to a degree of suffering that previous generations might not have been able to afford.
Hitchens concludes:
So we are left with something quite unusual in the annals of unsentimental approaches to extinction: not the wish to die with dignity but the desire to have died.
He describes not his fear of dying, but his fear of losing that which makes his life worthwhile:
I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true.
Tyranny Lives Forever

Today, we receive word that Eastern Europe's champion of freedom Vaclav Havel has died.  With each light of liberty snuffed, the world grows a little darker.

Young or old, we all must become dissidents and contrarians if we want to save our nation.  Final words from Christopher Hitchens...
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.  (Christopher Hitchens -- Letters to a Young Contrarian, p. 140)
Further Reading:
Christopher Hitchens:  Most Memorable Bon Mots
Vanity Fair – Christopher Hitchens Tribute
Slate – Christopher Hitchens
Matt Labash – A Hitchless World
American Spectator – Hitch-62
Christopher Hitchens: A Thank-You, of Sorts
Johah Goldberg Remembers Christopher Hitchens


Always On Watch said...

In several ways, various advancements in medicine have brought about more suffering for the terminally ill and the very old.

In addition, many of these advances leave behind an impoverish widow or widower.

dmarks said...

Hitchens got vilified by the Left for daring to speak out against forcefully againstSaddam Hussein's regime.

It's a big blast of common sense that too many on the Left lost sight of.

Anonymous said...

I loved Hitchens for his beautifully modulated voice, polished diction, uncanny eloquence and courage to spit directly into the faces of those he thought unworthy. Unlike most prominent American politicians, political analysts and professional commentators he was a great master of the language -- possibly one of the last to exist in this sad degenerate period of Western Decline.

I disliked him, however, for his everlasting contentiousness, cynicism and perpetually pissed off, accusatory stance -- and especially for his sullen, sour-mouthed campaign against Mother Teresa of all people -- a figure I can only believe he denigrated in order to draw attention to himself and secure his reputation as "The Bad Boy of Journalism." Hitchens was not above ostentatiously playing the hypocrite in order to aggrandize his career and further secure his self-defined, self-created position.

Shortly before his untimely death he announced that he was reasonably certain his lifelong addictions to alcohol and tobacco were responsible for the emergence of the esophageal cancer that destroyed his life. He was unrepentant about it, and said he would do the same thing all over again, even with foreknowledge of the tragic results, because he credited his use of alcohol and tobacco with releasing his capacity to think and write as he did, which was all he really cared about.

Addicts no matter how brilliant and accomplished are very selfish people. It's a thankless task to be married to one, and too often a wounding, inhibiting thing to have one as a parent or a teacher. The same may be said of artists. Very brilliant, highly creative people are loners by nature, and too frequently make servants and sacrificial victims of all who get close to them.

The hideous irony is that Addict-Artists most often become the greatest victim of their own willfully perverse, self-destructive nature.

Openly declaring war on Almighty God is sure to cast one in the role of Big Time Loser no matter how smart or brilliantly accomplished one might be.

I respected Hitchens a great deal, despite all that, for having the wisdom and integrity to abandon his former position as radical leftist after being confronted with the bumper crop of poisonous fruit that demented, delusive philosophy has produced.

That he remained always unpredictable and never became a typical knee-jerk Conservative after gradually abandoning his devotion to Marxism gave him a great deal of credibility and kept one reading and listening to him with interest-if-not-approval right up to the end.

I like to think his militant atheism was not so much an expression of hatred toward God as it was of the hateful, hellish, hypocritical, hash organized religion has made of The Word. In that I would have to say I agree with him -- and with Thomas Jefferson before him -- and all other thoughtful men of good conscience who seek always to separate Truth from Falsehood and Reality from Illusion.

I hope God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, will see fit to smile upon Mr. Hitchens now that he has crossed over to The Other Side, gently chide him for his lack of faith, thank him for his devoted pursuit of the only kind of Truth he could comprehend, and welcome him into the Realm of Eternal Light and Love much as the father welcomed the Prodigal Son when he returned home.

It gives me a peculiar sense of satisfaction to imagine Christopher Hitchens being properly humbled, enlightened, then purged of belligerence and cynicism after seeing God face-to-face, and finally knowing as he has been known throughout his fractious, nettlesome, perennially questing pursuit of honesty, fairness, kindness and -- yes -- decency here on earth.

~ FreeThinke

Jersey McJones said...

I'm sure Hitchens could do without your wishes for him, FT.

Hitchens was not a libertarian or conservative by any stretch, and at no point in his life did he become one. He was a unique character, whose positions were mostly thought out one at a time.

Like Sam Harris, Hitchens, the atheist, came to the conclusion that of all the world's religions, Islam was the most dangerous, hence his seemingly neoconservative position on the invasion of Iraq, and of the new Cold War with certain Muslim states, like Iran. But as well, like a neocon - or a Thomas Friedman - he seemed to dismiss Muslim nation-states who traded with us, or were otherwise "on our side," even if they produced anti-American terrorists.

Hitchens was also the embodiment of the modern New Left, appreciating and understanding capitalism and globalism and that socialism should not be mutually exclusive of these systems but rather a balancing philosophy.

He was still quite a unique thinker and he will be missed. We don't have enough unique thinkers these days.


Ducky's here said...

I'm surprised at how much sympathy the right is showing for Hitchens. True, he supported the invasion of Iraq and that gave him some street cred with the them but he hated most everything to do with Reaganism /Thatcherism.

He despised human waste piles like Henry Kissinger and mentioned the slaughters the right initiated but it was largely ignored.

His skewering of Sister Theresa was a pretty effective punch to the gut of the religious right. "She loved poverty and didn't care about the poor". Kind of sums up the fringe right belief about charity, it clears the conscious and leaves the corporate power structure in place.

Well Hitch, everyone makes mistakes but you did a good job demonstrating how pointless it is to try to speak truth to power in the current media environment. To the right, you're just some guy who agreed with one of their invasions, they turned off the rest.

Z said...

SF, you read my piece of how I had the privilege to speak to Hitchens in private for about 20 minutes...and how kind he was. I really ought to email you the subject of his kindness because it's nothing I'd share here.
I met him after he'd spoken to a Conservative group and was so reasoned, so informative, so fair, that he won the group over...Scotch on the rocks in hand lunch :-) while he spoke.

I believe the affection held by conservatives for Hitchens well illustrates the fact that the Right is willing to listen to other sides if they are well presented, well thought-out. We might not agree but we admire the thinking and give it consideration.

He was one of the very few liberals who did say things I agreed with fairly frequently so I was forced to think there was SOME truth in his more extreme views. I hate that :-)

He was often on Conservative talk radio shows and always bright, respectful and even handed.
He won a few 'enemies' with his desire to see Kissinger in court, but COnservatives looked at that as his right to speak his mind and present his facts.
I like that so many of us conservatives (as witnessed here and at my place) know that he was mostly liberal but rational and respectful..always. And that we are SO SO sorry to see him go.
You did a great job of capturing him here, SF. thanks.
May he rest in peace.

Mike aka Proof said...

Hitchens was a part of a very small minority that I like to call "honest liberals". I seldom agreed with him, but I respected his candor and his willingness to skewer those who needed skewering, no matter which "side" they were on.

Ducky's here said...

He'll probably haunt you, Proof, for calling him a liberal.

Silverfiddle said...

Z and Proof summed it up pretty well. Hitchens was indeed a man of the left, not the right, but he was always on the side of liberty, which, like Orwell, makes it impossible for any one ideological group to claim him.

He was an honest man who gave "Bastard HQ" hell every day. For that we should all be grateful.

Z: Please e-mail me the details!

Mike aka Proof said...

Ducky, there's only a ghost of a chance of that happening!

Anonymous said...

Proof said...
Hitchens was a part of a very small minority that I like to call "honest liberals"

As opposed to the vast majority of wingnuts who are shameless liars.

Silverfiddle said...

No, as the overwhelming American liberals, like libdude are Obama fanboys and are incapable of intellectual honesty or even an honest self assessment

Jersey McJones said...

That's enough tit for tat.

Hitchens was a complicated figure, and though I often disagreed with him, I never thought he came to a position out of ignorance. The man was very smart.

I, like most liberals, conservatives, libertarians, neocons, Democrats, Republicans, often found that while I found something in common with him, I disagreed with the way he came about it. There was a strange brilliance to Hitchens. he reminded me of William F. Buckley - and Gore Vidal (whether Hitchens would like that or not).

The world is only a better place thanks to Hitchens. Whether you liked him or not, he made many people feel strongly. Not an easy feat.


Silverfiddle said...

@ Jersey: I, like most liberals, conservatives, libertarians, neocons, Democrats, Republicans, often found that while I found something in common with him, I disagreed with the way he came about it.

That's interesting coming from you. You are such a belligerent debater that I will often push back at you even if you have a valid point just because of your tone.

As for Hitchens, I think he proved out the old adage "it's not what you say, but how you say it." I think he was just so damned smart and articulate that even those on the right who disagreed with him still loved listening to him, and he did have a great voice.

I wonder if it was the rich Cambridge accent? I wonder if ordinary folk in Britain vested him with the same credence as those of us here in the US?

Yes, he was a complicated figure. We could all use more of his "up the establishment" attitude, whatever our establishment may be.

Alligator said...

I happened to catch Sean Hannity and he said that he respected Hitchens and enjoyed debating with him, even though there was plenty they disagreed with. That reinforces the kind of comments said here; he was articulate, witty if cynical and some deep thought obviously went into what he said. He was apt to skewer anyone left or right and whether you agreed with him or not, he was interesting to listen to and made you think.

The comments I read were all relevant to the subject matter save for Liberaldud who tossed out this one-liner:

"As opposed to the vast majority of wingnuts who are shameless liars."

If I may make an analogy here. It is like we were all discussing Beethoven and his influence on the transition from classicism to romanticism, then LD threw in a comment about Spike Jones and his use of the cowbell.

Silverfiddle said...

Alligator: Nice analogy. I looked at it kinda like adults having a conversation, and a child gets tired of being ignored so he shouts "poo poo!" real loud.

Ducky's here said...

Not enough cowbell!

Anonymous said...


North Korean leader
Kim Jong Il dies at 69

MSNBC & Associated Press, by Staff

"Pyongyang, North Korea - Kim Jong Il, North Korea's mercurial and enigmatic leader, has died. He was 69. Kim's death was announced Monday by state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. North Korean Kim Jong-il suffered a massive heart attack on a train on Saturday, the North's KCNA news agency said in a separate dispatch about his death. An autopsy conducted on Sunday confirmed the cause of death, it said. The leader's son, Kim Jong-un, was at the head of a long list of officials making up the funeral committee, indicating he will lead it."

Funny! He died at 69, but they haven't divulged the name of his partner. Whoever it is must be in deep doo-doo over there. Poor soul!.

~ FreetThinke

Z said...

I guess most of you know that Christopher's brother Peter is a Conservative and a Christian. They didn't get along at all until about 10 years ago.
He was with his brother just before he died and said that he was in horrible pain he wouldn't divulge details of. I felt so terrible hearing that.

Alligator said...

Silver, I REALLY like your analogy.

Duck, isn't the correct phrase "more cowbell." Horn honking and ocarinas work too.

FT - as far as the death of Jong Il this makes me wonder what will happen in North Korea. Power struggles in the remaining family? Military action as a way to keep the country "focused?" Dear Leader was deified and so absolute in his realm, it makes you wonder how they can or will react. I understand the South went on heightened alert.

Z - that kind of death you don't wish on anyone. The dichotomy of the Hitchens brothers was really interesting.

dmarks said...

FreeThinke: It's not a good year for socialism, isn't it? Two of the movement's great lights have gone out: Gadaffi and Kim.

Assad, the Ba'ath Socialist monarch of Syria, might be next.

Anonymous said...

I neglected to say yesterday that you chose a beautiful picture of Christopher Hitchens to show us, Kurt. There is a warmth in his expression and a light in his eyes that may reveal more who he really was than the sober, unsmiling mask of suspicion, resentment, disapproval, thinly-veiled contempt and open derision he usually showed the world.

I am sure Z knows exactly what I mean, because I have heard her describe her heart-warming personal interview with him before, and know she was deeply impressed with Christopher's graciousness and consideration at the time.

Mr. Hitchens had the enormous benefit of an Old-World. upper-class, British Public School upbringing. High quality influence of that sort molds character from Sterling Silver. It may tarnish with time and neglect, but its intrinsic worth can never be destroyed.

~ FreeThinke

Silverfiddle said...

Thanks FT.

I like that picture as well. As I told Z earlier today, At bottom, Hitch was a humanist. At his core was the Kantian imperative to "act so as to treat people always as ends in themselves, never as mere means."

From there sprang his vociferous and always articulate outrage at anyone and anything that dehumanizes others.

He was genuine, and that explains the attraction of even those on the right who were often the target of his rapier wit.

Anonymous said...

Sincerity coupled with depth is rare in this world, Kurt.

The amalgam transcends politics.

Yes. I liked him a great deal too. I only wish he'd taken better care of himself. We would have had him with us good deal longer if he had, but then we were fortunate to have had him at all.

According to my understanding he believed in Truth and Principle, and at his core I think he was a loving person. Therefore, I think he believed in God, even though he refused to call him by name.

I can't believe a person of such high quality and integrity could wind up eternally damned.

~ FreeThinke

dmarks said...

"He was genuine, and that explains the attraction of even those on the right who were often the target of his rapier wit."

He spoke his mind truthfully.

Which means he was not often 'fair'. If will still had the leftist media censorship scheme known as the 'fairness doctrine', we'd likely not even know Hitchens' name.