Farewell Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011)

Christopher Hitchens—the incomparable critic, masterful rhetorician, fiery wit, and fearless bon vivant (Source)

I became a fan of Christopher Hitchens when I first picked up a copy of The Nation many moons ago (in the Minority Report bi-weekly column). The thing I discovered about Hitchens quite early, judging from his writings, was that he didn’t give a f*** about what people thought–he said what he meant/meant what he said. That was something I had a problem with earlier as I didn’t know where to place him. In one moment he was my intellectual hero when he tore into Henry Kissinger & aligned himself with another hero, the late great Edward Said, and in another moment I wanted to kick his ass for trashing Noam Chomsky, supporting Bush’s foreign policy & pretending to know all that there was to know about religion (his over-reliance on pure reason in matters that can barely be explained by it, was deeply flawed & contradictory, in my view). Years later, it dawned on me that I was doing what most of us tend to do: idealizing & categorizing. The thing is, the people we most admire tend to disappoint (i.e they don’t live up to the image we have constructed)& the ideas which we hold on to so tightly, frequently unravel with new information, re-imagination, observation, revelation–i.e, they turn to dust. Hitchens’ independent thinking, which raged across the ideological spectrum, & his enmity towards people who were convinced of their absolute certainty, were exemplary.I may not have agreed with a lot of what he uttered/wrote (much of it quite crude & condescending)  , but I grudgingly respected his gumption which is sorely lacking in journalism that brims with the spineless, the complacent & the disingenuous. Below are some of my favorite quotes from Hitchens:

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” 
“We live only a few conscious decades, and we fret ourselves enough for several lifetimes.”  
‘Good people do good things. Evil people do evil things. If you want a good person to do an evil thing, that takes religion.’”
“What better way for a ruling class to claim and hold power than to pose as the defenders of the nation.”  
(On Henry Kissinger, but applies to many): “His own lonely impunity is rank; it smells to heaven. If it is allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs; strong enough to detain only the weak, and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand.”
“Hero­ism breaks its heart, and ide­al­ism its back, on the intran­si­gence of the cred­u­lous and the mediocre, manip­u­lated by the cyn­i­cal and the corrupt.”  
“I devoutly believe that words ought to be weapons. That is why I got into this business in the first place. I don’t seek the title of ‘inoffensive,’ which I think is one of the nastiest things that could be said about an individual writer.”
“The fox knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump.”
“To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.” 
“The one thing that the racist can never manage is anything like discrimination: he is indiscriminate by definition.” 
Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”
What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.” 
“Organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”  
“I try to deny myself any illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, at least as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.”  
Your favorite virtue? An appreciation for irony.”
“I have not been able to discover whether there exists a precise French equivalent for the common Anglo-American expression ‘killing time.’ It’s a very crass and breezy expression, when you ponder it for a moment, considering that time, after all, is killing us.”  
“There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”
“He’s a man [George W. Bush] who is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is a man who is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.”  
“Part of the function of memory is to forget; the omni-retentive mind will break down and produce at best an idiot savant who can recite a telephone book, and at worst a person to whom every grudge and slight is as yesterday’s.” 
“The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. “
“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.”

  ….& a video tribute to the irksome wit…



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