Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

Is partisan politics bad?

Criminy, but Hitchens is brilliant, of course, but how did he become so at such a young age?  Here, on C-SPAN from 1990, he, Brian, and Richard Critchfield discuss America and Britain after their recently-published and topical books.

One awesome point by Hitchens reminds me of a view about political parties that was discussed in one of my mid-1970s Political Science classes.  The view was that a two-party system was effective at assisting voting choices among the public and that consistently voting along party lines was not a bad thing.  The alternate view is the one championed on the streets in the U.S., and it is safe to say that we were all fed the same pablum notion (if from the press rather than from our parents) that “voting for the man” or “voting for the man, not the Party” was a virtue, and that voting along Party lines meant you were a simpleton, a lemming.

I grew up in a family where anything other than straight ticket voting was unthinkable, not merely out of loyalty, but more from the knowledge that your Party really was the one whose decisions, day-in-day-out, were most aligned with your views.  This had been the orientation for several generations.  Through all the Party twists and turns, adjustments and realignments.  But then came the 50s, followed by the 60s.  With somehow, the Democrats landing on the side of freedom, freedom of expression, freedom from the tyranny of “one-right-thinking”.  In my view.

My grandfather was a Republican of the old cloth.  The Party opposed to slavery.  Simplistic, yes, but generally true.  And the converse, about the Democratic Party, is also, and as generally, true.  My grandfather, a State Senator in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (tell me again why they call them State Senators if Kentucky is a Commonwealth?) and the southeastern corner of the Commonwealth, in particular, for around 30 years, brought roads into that holy corner, sponsored legislation for free textbooks so that all children had access to education, and supported much other legislation that helped the common man, the heretofore uneducated or their children.

But somewhere (my job isn’t to know all the facts about how, but if you are, feel FREE to school me in the comments because I know I need to learn it), the Parties shifted, and my little corner of my Grandfather’s blood legacy finds itself at home today in the Democratic Party.  I myself, as I love to hear Hitchens say, find it insulting to be considered that far right.  I find it amusing to think that it is extreme to want corporations so radically transformed that it will require generations to redesign a smooth system.  But that’s just me.  Smile.

Chances are, if my brilliant father were alive, he could explain to me why he was still a Republican, much in the same way that I can follow Hitchens’ logic about the war on Iraq, and understand that he might be onto something, although I may not agree.  Maybe Dad could explain to me why his Republicanism was an approach that could work.  But since there’s no Republican alive with the mental faculties of my deceased father, I’m afraid I’m doomed to die unable to hear across that ethical divide.

I’m not sure that I would be up to the task of communicating to my father, in the same way, about why the Democratic Party of today best represents the values of my Grandfather.  I think if I skip past my father, however, to my grandfather, or even to my grandfather’s father, I think I might more easily converse and would find a Republican who understood why I was a Democrat and would, if living today, switch Parties.

So, to the original point, that we have been fed this line that voting straight ticket is bad, and voting-for-the-man is good.  Here’s what I think: someone likes the Party lines to be less than clear, to keep us confused, so that we really never quite know what we’re getting on Election Day, so that we’re not sure if it weren’t our fault when certain policies are championed by our chosen, so that maybe next Election Day, we won’t be that motivated to vote, because it didn’t work out so well the last time.  You know what I mean.

Remind me.  What’s wrong with having Parties with clear principles stated clearly?

I still remember that day in Poli Sci, when I first heard the concept that Party Politics is a useful tool.  And find myself this morning hearing Hitchens speak to that topic, in the context of a comparative of the UK and USA, in his casual, youthful elegance.

Loaded by onto YouTube by The Film Archive.  The transcription beneath the video begins at 7:55, but as, usual, I recommend listening to all and then going to the Film Archive to watch the entire program.

What I think I most miss by living here – and I agree with the lady that the British committee system is no good and the American hearings are a lot better – is simply the idea of the word “partisan.”  I can’t stand the fact that in American political discussion, the word “bipartisan” is used to mean automatically very good, everyone trying to agree, everyone wanting to think and say the same thing, and that one of the worst things you can say of somebody is, they’re taking a partisan view, as if, if we go on like this, before we know where we are, we’ll have two parties.  In other words, a one-party state mentality enforced in a sort of consensus talk and babble. . .

          –  Christopher Hitchens

Up with this we will not put.

Those of us who have survived him are doomed, honored, condemned, predicted, and otherwise going to spend our days reading him, transcribing him, listening to and watching audio and video recordings of him.

I imagine that I share with some of you the discovery ever (I just typed “every” instead of “ever” and because sometimes I also dictate to myself audibly as I type, said  out loud “every” instead of “ever” before “so often” because I am from Southeastern Kentucky, the best place on the whole planet to have in one’s genes, spirit, blood, muscles, sinews, hair, brain, sensibilities, all built upon the ancient and reworked and perfected minerals from this ancient land – all that produced her genealogy and her.  And her progeny.  But I digress.)  [Big smile on this Appalachian girl’s face.]

The point was that “ever” so often, maybe every five or 10 days, I read or hear or watch something of Christopher’s, and I gasp and think, “This is the best piece, the best point, the best phrase, the best argument.”  And it’s true each time.

Today’s amazing find, begins on this video provided by fora.tv (appears to have been taped on May 10, 2007, at Politics and Prose) at about five minutes, and 28 seconds in.

But don’t cheat yourself out of a second up to that point.  Watch it all.  See if you can stand it.  See if you can listen without smiling, clapping, giggling, seeing genius.  Missing him.  Of course you can’t.  You shouldn’t.  Just watch.  Listen.  Smile.

You can see it Dupont Circle, every day. People who want you to be spiritual.  Well, I don’t mind.  I do not mind.  Just leave me out of it. And babble all you like; it’s fine by me.  Whatever floats your boat.

But I insist; I insist.  Don’t  try and teach this to my children. Don’t try and put it in the schools.  Don’t get the President to talk piss on public occasions, in this way.  Don’t be praising people because they’ll believe anything.  Don’t be telling me that jihadism is the expression of some suppressed grievance.  Don’t be telling me any of that.  Don’t tell me that God gave you the West Bank.  None of this, because this is not a difference of opinion; this is a battle, in which civilization is involved, and in which they’ve had it all their own way for far too long.  And people who care for civilization are going to have to fight and show that we, too, have unalterable convictions; we, too, have real principles that can’t be changed.  We won’t call them faith or dogma.  But don’t mistake that for weakness.   And yeah. You know what, on certain days we, too, can be offended.  “I find that really offensive.”  That you say to me that God is telling you blow yourself up in my city.  No.  No.  That’s offensive; it’s worse than offensive.

Up with this we will not put.

Religion is like a house guest

I would so like to run this thought past him to see what he thinks.  But he’s not here.  And you are.

It struck me as I was doing some end-of-year cleaning that my house was more-than-usually filthy.  And cluttered.  Shoes showed up from under the couch that have been MIA for months.  They showed up, yes.  But not in pairs.

Then off to the kitchen, I became fully conscious to the fact that I have devoted a corner of the kitchen for the function of yard implement staging:  a blower, a couple of hand hoes, two pairs of loppers still in their packaging (Hoarders, stay away from my house.  You can’t handle

Norman and the Misfit Shoes

the Mo), one-third of a box of  wild bird seed (it’s been sitting there since last Winter, I’m pretty sure), and – not really in the yard-implement category but close enough to find itself in that corner filing system – a set of trekking poles that I bought to help me with my bad back.  Not so much because they would really help that, but just that they might get me walking more.

I could go on, but I’ll extract us both from the litany of my chore discoveries and get to the point.

Some people can keep a clean house day in, day out, without being reminded, requested, cajoled.  They just do it.  Sometimes they even like it.  They recognize that keeping a clean and tidy home has intrinsic benefits.  Others may not take up the mantle of cleaning the home quite so frequently as that, but generally give it an adequate going-over every couple of weeks.  Again, without reminder, etc.,.

Then there are people like me.  Who always, or pretty near always, let something – laundry, dishes, vacuuming, going through mail, all of the above – get too far gone for the fix to be anything less than a major undertaking.

Unless.

Unless company is coming.  Then I turn into the human dirt devil and retrieve from the broom closet the otherwise stored “rags”, brooms, sweepers, furniture wax and even sand paper and linseed oil and put them to the use for which they were intended.

And it occurred to me during my cleaning spree, that religion is kinda like that house guest.  The guest stands as a wall, a certain-to-occur event, that motivates the right-thinking and -doing of house work.  The possibility of a house guest just isn’t enough.  To unleash the white tornado, there must be the I’ll be there at 7:00 certainty.

So, while for some, cleaning house is an activity that will be done whether or not one is expecting neighbors to drop in for a little holiday cheer, for others, an external nudge is a necessary part of the house-cleaning system.  Those who clean house without the threat of in-house entertainment are like those who find ethics and morality to be organically generated and not derived from or dependent upon the truth of religion.

And the ones who need to have that house guest on the way in order to clean house?  Well.  They’re like the other ones.  It does occur to me that I always say, “Please forgive the mess” when someone drops by.  Hm.

Cleanliness is next to godliness has a whole new meaning for me.

FORA.tv’s tribute to Hitchens

I am nobly trying to focus on cleaning house, but I find myself sitting in front of this  computer, at varying levels of interaction, far too much.  Much of my time has been spent, as it has been for many of you, watching and reading about Hitchens.  So, I am now attempting to listen to him as I clean by creating a little mobile network involving me, my iPhone and headphones.  That this is an accomplishment reveals, I realize, that I am more like the Neanderthal than I am most times aware.

But here I go headphones on.  I’m trying the big ones now, since they appear to be coming back in vogue, and I believe I heard for sound quality reasons.  I am not tech-savvy enough to read the Consumer Reports piece, or even find it, on the review of Best Head Phones for Being about the House, house-cleaning, for instance.  And I’m not energy-savvy enough to get off my bottom and go to Best Buy and ask one of its employees.  No, I’m a lazy ass – except I think I gave that up yesterday in a burning bowl ceremony.  Huh.  Well, if I gave it up, what’s it doing there in my thinking?  Oh, I remember.  I have to practice to develop an habitual way of thinking that is different from my current – I mean, past – one.

Anyway, as I walk off to clean cum headsets, I thought I’d share with you what I’m listening to: FORA.tv’s tribute to Christopher Hitchens

world_according_to_christopher_hitchens

And a short written excerpt from

  • The Commonwealth Club
  • Palo Alto, California
  • July 9, 2009

Axis_of_Evil_Christopher_Hitchens#Christopher_Hitchens_Favorite_Whiskey

INTERVIEWER: We have a number of questions, curiously enough, about your favorite things.  One wants to know “things you can’t live without when traveling” and one person, one well-informed audience member, of course, wants to know what your favorite whiskey is.

HITCHENS:  Well, I don’t see what the difference between the two questions.

I love to see him smile.

From a hanger-on Part II

Detail from the cover of Hitch-22, taken from Salon.com

Yes, the party without Christopher Hitchens is clearly far less interesting, and even though there is, equally as clearly, nothing we can do to fill that hole, I find myself among the cadre – a rather larger cadre than Hitchens might have expected – of folks reading and watching all the Hitch we can get our eyes on.

In one of my recent sessions with Hitch, I watched Brian Lamb, in a 1992 Q&A episode with Hitchens and John Fund, hold up, in typical Q&A fashion, a headline.  You know, where Lamb holds up and the camera zooms in on a newspaper or periodical headline.  I especially like those zooms.  Starting at a point where only Superman could read the text, and then flying in to the point where we mere mortals see the topic come into visual focus.  Where, although we don’t yet know Lamb’s question, we know, because we can see in print, its context.

There are several things, really delicious things, going on with the observer right at that moment.  In rapider-fire succession than I can conceive, there is the visual focus moment followed by the one where the eyes and thinking brain connect.  The moment where one becomes aware that the “engage” button in the brain has been depressed.  Cool moment that is.

Could it get any better?  Well, yes, because that moment is followed by Lamb’s asking of the question, and then the next, where we mortals take a last anticipatory inhale as we watch Hitch begin to formulate his answer.

————————————————————————————

I think the thing, or one thing, we Hitchens admirers have in common, is finding that “engage” button’s being depressed every time and all of the time that we spent with Hitchens.  Whether in person (I never experienced that), on-screen, on audio, or in print.  And loving it.

But I see now that he’s gone, and at no inconsiderable risk that this will sound like if not turn into a what-I-learned-from-Hitch piece, that I must generate more “engage” moments now.  On my own.  This what appears to be an all-of-a-sudden need to think probably doesn’t apply to all of you or maybe even many of you.  You think more than I do.  But since I am more than a bit of a couch potato and likely to be counted on the lowest rung of the Hitchens Admirers ladder, I haven’t exactly had it, that is, my engage, on.

Resources for engagement:

  • Public library.  I checked out the Thomas Paine book from the library just before Christmas (and confess to missing the beautiful old wooden card catalog).
  • Magazine subscriptions.  I now have a subscription to Harper’s for one year, during which time I will have access to the current year’s and archives of all previously published work, including all of Hitchens.  The same appears to hold true for archives of articles in The Nation.  Although the Hitchens articles in Vanity Fair appear to be available online, I can’t tell whether the online and print versions are a layover.  Slate offers up its collection of his articles.  I do not know how complete a collection it is.  Richard Lea at The Guardian has already highlighted the online written Hitchens, so please look there before you consider your search complete.
  • The blog The Film Archive.  Whatever else it does (I have barely scratched its surface), it captures in the 10-minute segments common for, if not required by, YouTube, the episodes, laid out back-to-back, of Hitchens being interviewed on C-SPAN and elsewhere, including the January 12, 1992 Q&A segment with Hitchens and John Fund; and
  • C-SPAN online archive of sessions with Hitch, including his last Q&A with Brian Lamb made nearly twenty years to the day after the one last referenced.

So, as I compile my Hitchens and other engagement sources, I want to express my appreciation to everyone responsible for access to his work and to everyone in Hitchens’ life.

I’ve got lots of reading to.  But don’t get the impression that I expect to become “anything like” truly well-read any time soon.  Or ever.  What I’d still prefer is reading enough to have an inkling of what Hitch is pointing to as he talks, sitting in perfect couch potato position, and listening to him.

Oh, how I wish I could write an article like the one behind this photo. Photo: Christopher Cox

From a hanger-on

From Christopher Hitchens Facebook page. I don't know who to credit or I would

Hitchens observed that the bitch of dying (not his exact words but now I can’t find the video) was that the party would go on here after he was gone; he just wouldn’t be able to participate. Well, it sure doesn’t feel like that here. It feels as if the entire party is over, and we are left here among the hangers-on who are well into the process of over-staying our welcome.  And at a decidedly less interesting party.  But partly because we’re here at this awkward hour and partly because the life of the party has just left, it might approach rudeness to walk out.

No offense intended to the other good minds out there.  I expect that I’ll read Sam Harris soon.  And look for local readings by authors.  I almost don’t care if they’re any good or not; I just want to hear something read to me.  But I expect that’s not correct.  I want to go to one of his readings; failing that impossibility, whatever might give me an inkling of a hint of aroma of beautiful logic and literature combined will have to do.  But bless their little hearts, as we in the South say.  I hope it doesn’t show on my face during someone’s reading that I was expecting Hitch to walk in, and interrupt, and expose the scorious nature of the intellectual light-lifting by the speaker.  Again, no offense intended; that’s just the grief talking.

On a more positive note, I did see on Richard Dawkins’ site that there is a schedule of events, inluding events in Sri Lanka, Jaipur, and Oxford (where Richard will be debating the Archbishop of Canterbury!!!).  And, it seems, there is a party at the Mall on March 24, 2012, to celebrate secularism.

The intent is to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American Society… and having a damn good time doing it!

So, that was good news.  A date in March.  But it will be a date without Hitch.

While real writers are refining their first bursts of wallowy emotion and looking to the future for its promise, I will continue to wallow a bit longer and thank wordpress for the space for this blog.

The Four Horsemen: wonderful conversation with Hitchens on faith

Via the wonders of YouTube and blue tooth technology, as I drove to and from my holiday family visit, I was able to listen to many wonderful Christopher Hitchens’ videos and audios over my radio.  One of the rare treats was a two-hour (in two parts) conversation among Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens. Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, convened and recorded by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

The following dialogue, which I particularly like, begins at about 15 minutes and is just a teaser for a marvelous experience with discourse:

  • DENNETT:  I don’t think many of them ever let themselves contemplate the question, which I think scientists ask themselves all the time, “What if I am wrong? What if I’m wrong?”  It’s just not part of their repertoire.
  • HITCHENS:  Would you mind if I disagree with you about that?  A lot of talk that makes religious people hard to, not hard to beat, but hard to argue with, is precisely that they ‘ll say that they’re in a permanent crisis of faith.  There is indeed a prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou my own belief.”  Graham Greene says, the great thing about being a Catholic was that it was a challenge to his unbelief.   A lot of people live by keeping two sets of books. In fact, it’s my impression that a majority of the people I know who call themselves believers or people of faith do that all the time.  I wouldn’t say that it is schizophrenia; that would be rude.  They’re quite aware of the implausibility of what they say.  They don’t act on it when they go to the doctor or when they travel, or anything of this kind. But in some sense they couldn’t do without it.  They’re quite respectful of the idea of doubt.  In fact, they make, uh, they try and build it in when they can.
  • DAWKINS:  Well, that’s interesting then, and so when they are reciting the creed with its total, sort of apparent conviction.  Is this a kind of mantra which is forcing themselves to overcome doubt by saying, yes, I do believe, I do believe, I do believe.
  • HITCHENS: And of course, like their secular counterparts, they’re glad other people believe it. It’s an affirmation they wouldn’t want other people not to be making.
  • HARRIS:  Also, there’s this curious bootstrapping move  which I tried to point out in this recent On Faith piece, this idea that you start with the premise that belief without evidence is especially noble, this is the doctrine of faith,  this is the parable of Doubting Thomas.  So you start with that, and then you add this notion, which has come to me through various debates, that the fact that people can believe without evidence is itself a subtle form of evidence.  I mean, that we’re kind of wired, Francis Collins, you mentioned,  brings this up in his book, the fact that we have this intuition of god is itself some subtle form of evidence.  It has this kind of kindling phenomenon, where if once you say, it’s good to start without evidence, the fact that you can is itself a subtle form of evidence, and then the demand for any more evidence is itself a kind of corruption of the intellect or a temptation or something to be guarded against.  And you get a kind of perpetual motion machine of self-deception where you can get this thing up and running.
  • HITCHENS: Well, they like the idea that it can’t be demonstrated, because then there’d be nothing to be faithful about.  If everyone had seen the resurrection, and we all knew that we’d been saved by it, then we would be living in an unalterable system of belief, and it would have to be policed, and it would actually be, those of us who don’t believe in it, who are glad it’s not true, because we think it would be horrible, those who do believe it don’t want it to be absolutely proven so there can’t be any doubt about it, because then there’s no wrestling with the conscience, no dark nights of the soul.

But the entire two hours is a treasure of discussion and dialogue.  Enjoy.

And to you I say, Namaste.

Christopher Hitchens

During his life time, I was aware of only a fractional part of Christopher Hitchens’ body of work.  I knew enough of it, however, to have more than an inkling of our loss at his departure, and so began my mourning.  A mourning that was, and is, saturated by the images, text and voice of Mr. Hitchens.

Which brings up my first “external” dilemma:  what to call him.  When I write about him.  Which I might.  This piece is my first, other than the tweeting (I’m @mobrock) and facebooking of links to and short observations about Mr. Hitchens Hitch him.  A small dilemma, but one with which I will have to deal.  I suspect.  Unless I never again write about him.  Which I doubt will be the case, but which query I am not going to answer here.

As I write this, I recognize that anyone who respects Hitch (too familiar?) will hate the text I’ve just written.  But this blog is so far outside the scope of your radar (I was going to say “beneath your intellectual . . . ,” but I couldn’t figure out how to say it.  See?  My vocabulary sucks.  I think you get my drift.) that you won’t ever see my linguistic ineptitude.  But for the rest of us, I am an adequate to above adequate writer, occasionally witty, despite the fact that I don’t need to be, but mostly just self-indulgent.  At least on the subject of Hitchens, and during my mourning.  But then,

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 on line, and kiss my ass.                            – Christopher Hitchens

So, here’s what my mourning has looked like: Upon reading the announcement of his death, likely from Twitter, I watched several hours of Youtube recordings of Christopher by FORA.tv and C-SPAN and loaded by some of you to whom I am so grateful.

Note: If you aren’t mourning, you haven’t yet discovered Christopher Hitchens.  But not to worry.   His work, so luckily for us, is documented and available.  And I am hoping and believing that many more recordations and memorials  will continue to appear.

Next, I cancelled my workout (thank you, Shari, for understanding).  Then I went for a long walkabout in Stone Mountain Park.  A long, slow walk with my coffee-and-a-little-something in honor of the man.  Four hours of slow forward motion and slowed emotion; a quiet walk punctuated with tears, laughter, observations about the scenery and its mood, and dialogues about life.  I dreamed about him that night.  For the first, and so far, the last, time.

During the few days between his death and my drive to visit my beloved family for the holidays, I spent more hours in his presence.  Watching videos, transcribing into short bursts on Facebook and Twitter a few of his quotes, and sharing observations about him.

My family – bless them – I think, are a bit worried that I am taking his death too hard, and maybe in an inappropriate way. So I am especially thankful for those of you who understand this grief, although many of you are experiencing a much deeper and more intimate grief than mine.

To all of us, I say, relish it.

Because whatever it will be like, it won’t be like this forever.  At some point in the future, the pain will be less sharp.  We’ll accommodate it in order to remain functional in this world.  We’ll sob less often as we continue to learn about the man and find him to be a crystalline lens through which we can focus our perspectives on future current events, and ask, you can hear it coming, “WWHD?”  And although I’m not sure that Hitch would condone my own attempt to dissect an issue by considering how he would see it, instead of clearly evaluating what my own thoughts and observations are; and at the risk of being secularly sacrilegious in that reference, I just have to observe one contrast between WWHD and WWJD:  how much more appropriate it is to consider the basis for the thoughts of a man who authored a considerable body of work and whose lectures and debates are recorded, on the one hand, versus those of a dubiously historical figure and potential mythical character, about whom we know only via stories written about him by other people, after his death, and through numerous translations.

I am definitely not guru-izing H.  Nothing of the sort.  And I suspect that you noticed that I said next to nothing about him.  The thing is, I wouldn’t know how to choose what I wanted to say or was worth saying.  You know what I mean.  And now, back to the mourning.

Hitchens, from guardian.co.uk