RIP, Christopher Hitchens

December 16th, 2011

Well, the Big C finally got him.

I learned of Christopher Hitchens’ death today in a blog by my friend Dan Waddell over at Murder Is Everwhere.   Dan’s piece is wonderful, and I hope you’ll read it.

Hitchens was a professional contrarian, perhaps the best we had.  He infuriated me sometimes, so I was often surprised to realize he also infuriated people whose politics and actions I loathe. Vanity Fair, perhaps in a bid to redeem itself for the global dissemination of perfume strips and photos of sullen, heroin-addled adolescents wearing useless clothes, gave him a monthly platform, and he used it brilliantly.

I wrote a comment to Dan’s blog, which I’m repeating here:

The thing I liked best about Hitchens (aside from his prose, which was in a class by itself) was that he pissed off everybody at one time or another, at all points along the political spectrum. In an age in which I think much of the future depends on wholesale abandonment of the old knee-jerk left-right dichotomy, since both sides are so deeply compromised, Hitchens was a model of how to react in the new world: with intelligence, compassion, and humor and a complete disregard for labels.

Now if we could only get the American electorate to think a little more like Christopher Hitchens, we might have a chance of interrupting this five-decade slide into corporate-dominated, jingoistic, militant  illiteracy.

Fat chance.

9 Responses to “RIP, Christopher Hitchens”

  1. EverettK Says:

    I’ve probably read a few of his columns at one time or another, as his name IS slightly familiar to me, but not many. Of course, having sinuses and eyes and a throat that take to most perfumes the way an open wound takes to salt, I’ve always tried to avoid Vanity Fair. Well, that and no interest in ‘fashion.’

    As for the American electorate, unfortunately Sturgeon’s Law seems to apply to people, too, all too often.

  2. Robb Royer Says:

    Hitchens was my dude. Having come from a family of ex-radical leftists I was born into a situation halfway down a road that Hitchens had to travel on his own, having gone from English conservatism to Trotskyism to the ultimate realization that there is more than enough BS on the left AND the right to suffice, thank you. Political truth and reality cuts at a hard 45 degree angle through traditional left/right preconceptions. Hitchens could make this simple fact alive, stimulating and amazingly funny.

  3. Robb Royer Says:

    By the way, Tim, I think your politics is coming into favor. A recent poll showed 76% in favor of voting out congress in its entirety.

  4. Sharai Says:

    Thanks to you, Everett, and google, I have been enlightened by people I’d never heard of before. This happens often here. I can now recommend Ian McEwan’s writing about his friend Christopher in ‘The Guardian’ and am a better person for it.

    And yeah, that label thing has got to go. My left knee is getting arthritic!

  5. EverettK Says:

    Sorry to send you spelunking in Google, Sharai. I did a search myself and realized that it’s really Sturgeon’s Revelation that I was referring to, not the Sturgeon’s Law that Wikipedia mentions. I’ve been a science fiction fan most of my life, and had never heard of the less common one. I was referring to the “90% of everything is crap” one. Usually when I refer to it, I explain it, as the majority of folks have never heard of it.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, all — Sorry for the long silence — been trying to get caught up after the trip (611 unanswered e-mails!) and just sort of touching bottom.

    Everett, agree completely, and almost agree with Sturgeon’s Law, but not when applied to people, a surprisingly large number of whom are remarkably valuable.
    Look at Hitchens, for example.

    Robb, you said it better than I ever have: “Political truth and reality cuts at a hard 45 degree angle through traditional left/right preconceptions.” That’s something we all need to understand. Knee-jerk political alignments are a luxury we can NOT afford at this point, especially since both our “opposing” parties are corrupt.

    Sharai, thanks to you for the tip about McEwan’s piece. Great stuff.

  7. EverettK Says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I like people as much as the next person (well… maybe a little MORE, actually…)

    But, “90% of xxx is crap” is obviously an OPINION, and when it comes to politics, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re probably going to think that 90% of the other people have crap opinions most of the time.

    But what I was really getting at was (politically speaking) most of the American Electorate haven’t a clue. They follow the party (Democrats or Replublicans, that’s the only choices, right?) that most closely follows their top 2-3 HOT BUTTON issues, and they don’t really think too much beyond that. As pointed out by Robb and you, it’s the 45 slant that is the best fit, but that’s too complicated for most folks to deal with.

    Further, unless something REALLY gets their ire up, most folks can’t be bothered to care (except about their top 2-3 HOT BUTTON issues, which are usually religion, guns and taxes (abortion tends to fall under the religion issue, though not always).

    Oregon, a decade or two ago, passed an initiative law that for ANY tax measure to pass, at least 50% of the registered voters had to vote, and the majority of those voting had to vote yes, otherwise known as the “double majority”. The taxing bodies (state, county, schools, police, etc) quickly learned that you don’t put tax measures on the ballot unless it’s a MAJOR election (primary or national election, every two years), because otherwise it would never get the 50% turn-out. And this in a state where ALL elections are done by mail. They MAIL the ballot to your home, you fill it out, stick a stamp on it and MAIL it back. How much easier can it be? And yet, less than 50% of the registered voters can be bothered, unless there’s some other issue on the ballot, like the danger that the “other party” might get into office.

    But, the old adage holds: opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one and they usually stink.

    But I do love people, honest. 🙂

  8. Robert DeVere Says:

    Tim,
    I got this, in reply to something I sent out to a friend, and though his observation is unrelated to this post, it is wonderfully appropriate none-the-less.
    Bob

    “Has it ever been described any more succinctly ?

    “We find that at present the human race is divided into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become ‘politicians’; the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics, or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off under the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command, observes Sancho Panza, even over a flock of sheep, and that is why the politicians raise their banners. It is, moreover, the same thing for the sheep whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different, except the name. The fools will be still fools, the knaves still leaders, the results still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated.”
    ― T.H. White

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Not unrelated at all, Bob. I always confuse White with the White who wrote THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING. I know, they’re the same person, but very different sides of the same consciousness.

    Thanks to you and Everett. In a world like this one, we need to prize our truth-tellers, and Hitchens surely was one.

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