By: Peadar O’Maoileain
Christopher Hitchens died three years ago today, on Dec 15th 2011 in Houston, Texas surrounded by family and friends. I can say without stigma that there has not been a day since his passing when I haven’t longed for his insight into a situation or event.Fortunately not too long has passed since Christopher’s death and a lot of what he said is still pertinent today. One of today’s biggest stories was the hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. Upon hearing about this, I was instantly reminded of Hitchens polemics condemning the bombing of Australian tourists in Bali.
“Never make the mistake of asking for rationality here”.
People who mourn the loss of Hitchens can take solace from the fact that he, too, mourned the loss of great thinkers who had a positive impact on his life; George Orwell died before Christopher reached his first birthday, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson both died in the early 1800s.
One of the most memorable appearances of The Hitch was when he spoke at The Hay Festival in 2003.
During a Q&A session he stated “It’s all a complete farce you understand? We’re born into a losing struggle… I’ve investigated the road up ahead. No one comes out of this a winner. In the meantime I think one must show some contempt and some defiance and the best means of doing that, that I know, are irony and obscenity.”
The best way I know of remembering Christopher (other than raising a glass in his memory today), is by reading and re-reading the many books and essays he published. My favourite work of his remains Letters to a Young Contrarian, so I’ll finish with some inspirational quotes from that short pamphlet:
“I am always and at once on the defensive, for example, when people speak of races and nations as if they were personalities and had souls and destinies and suchlike.”
“There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all; ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity”
“We are mammals, and the prefrontal lobe (at least while we wait for genetic engineering) is too small while the adrenaline gland is too big.”
“One must have the nerve to assert that, while people are entitled to their illusions, they are not entitled to a limitless enjoyment of them and they are not entitled to impose them upon others.”
“Once the fog of supposedly god-given conditions had been dispelled, the decision to tolerate such conditions was exactly that—a decision. “The West,” at least, has happily never recovered from this discovery; you would be astounded if you looked up the books and commentaries of only a century ago and saw what was taken for granted before the Marxist irruption. Fatalism and piety were the least of it; this was cynicism allied to utilitarianism. Don’t let yourself forget it, but try and profit also from the hard experience of those who contested the old conditions and, in a word or phrase, don’t allow your thinking to be done for you by any party or faction, however high-minded. Distrust any speaker who talks confidently about “we,” or speaks in the name of “us.” Distrust yourself if you hear these tones creeping into your own style. The search for security and majority is not always the same as solidarity; it can be another name for consensus and tyranny and tribalism. Never forget that, even if there are “masses” to be invoked, or “the people” to be praised, they and it must by definition be composed of individuals. Stay on good terms with your inner Yossarian.”
“In some ways I feel sorry for racists and for religious fanatics, because they so much miss the point of being human, and deserve a sort of pity. But then I harden my heart, and decide to hate them all the more, because of the misery they inflict and because of the contemptible excuses they advance for doing so. It especially annoys me when racists are accused of “discrimination.” The ability to discriminate is a precious faculty; by judging all members of one “race” to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination.”
“Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. . . . If you don’t like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.”