THE COURAGE TO SPEAK

The recent death of Christopher Hitchens, like all deaths of semi-famous people these days, prompted a wave of tweets, posts, and social networking eulogies ensuring that for one day we all paid more attention to Hitch in death than we ever did in life. While that dynamic is strange on its own, what puzzles me more is the way that so many people spoke fondly of him for his willingness to say unpopular things and his general reluctance to give any shits about offending people. That's worth a closer look.

There is little doubt that Hitchens was a talented writer. At his best he was a skillful, provocative raconteur who found great joy in taking shots at the powerful. His takedown of Mother Theresa was classic Good Hitchens; I mean, who takes shots at Mother Theresa?? Well as it turned out, he made quite the argument that perhaps she was not the living saint she was made out to be. This is good writing. He was also the rare media loudmouth who was willing to stand behind his opinions. When the editor of Vanity Fair challenged Hitchens, who had spoken dismissively of claims that waterboarding amounted to torture, to receive a waterboarding, he did it (and concluded, obviously, that it's hard to imagine what is torture if waterboarding isn't). The bottom line is, anyone who reacts to the death of Jesse Helms by penning a column entitled "Farewell to a Provincial Redneck" is doing something right.

At his worst, Hitchens was little more than an unusually eloquent drunk, a misogynist, xenophobe, and warmonger who seemed to take leave of his critical thinking skills when the question of scary brown foreigners reared its head. He described his pro-Western worldview as a matter of "defending civilization", but in practice it looked a lot more like garden variety Islamophobia (arguing that the Iraq War death toll was "not high enough") and neocon foreign policy frames. He argued that women are not funny in a manner that he considered unbiased, rational, and unemotional, but the end result was a rant worthy of any drunk in a bar ranting about his ex-wife. He painted Michelle Obama as a race-baiting militant out for Whitey on the basis of a paper she wrote in college suggesting that black students feel alienated on campuses that are almost entirely white. These are not the attitudes of a critical thinker – they are the knee jerk reactions of an old man quite comfortable with the social hierarchy that places white Anglo-Saxon men firmly at the top. We'd expect to hear such arguments from Glenn Beck, and we often do.

Hitch fans have always been eager to excuse away these outbursts as ideas with which we don't agree, but for which we still tip out hat to the author for continuing to champion unpopular viewpoints. He is one of the most frequent recipients of the "Well I didn't agree with everything he said, but blah blah blah" type of praise one reserves for people we antiseptically call "controversial." The problem is that there is no inherent value in saying unpopular things. Some of these unpopular viewpoints Hitchens put forth are unpopular because they are stupid, without intellectual merit, or simply offensive. The Westboro Baptist Church has unpopular views. So does Michele Bachmann. So does Thomas Frank. Do all three deserve our praise?

Hitchens is probably compared to HL Mencken more than any writer in the past half century, and for good reason. They were the leading dyspeptic commentators of their day, using pens filled with bile to write scathing obituaries of the powerful and aggressive criticisms of the popular. But Mencken was also a racist, a reactionary in his own right (though he detested that quality in others) whose ideal world saw women in the kitchen, the colored folk in Their Place, the world subservient to American interests, and people like himself exalted. There is nothing courageous or laudable about that. Does it mean that nothing Mencken, Hitchens, or any other flawed personality may have written is without value? No. But the tendency to praise them for their willingness to say controversial things is a strange one. The popularity of a viewpoint plays no role in determining its merit. To applaud him for bravely writing sexist, racist, or culturally hegemonic ideas suggests that we are glad that someone said such things. I for one am not.

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66 Responses to “THE COURAGE TO SPEAK”

  1. Jer Says:

    One can't laud his takedowns of religion while decrying his views on the Iraq war? I don't see anyone hero-worshipping the guy, just appreciating his skill when debating woo-peddlers.

  2. Nunya Says:

    But he says it in a posh English accent! That means he's super-smart!

  3. eastriver Says:

    Mencken is amazingly quotable. Hitch, not so much.

    (air-washing hands)

    We're done here. 'Night.

  4. wetcasements Says:

    What's amazing to me is that when he died I was saddened. He was absolutely, 100% wrong about Iraq, but he had his moments when it came to things like religion.

    But all the corpse-fluffing had the opposite of the intended effect — now I kinda hate the guy, despite our agreements on religion.

    If nobody had reminded me that he was a bit of a raging misogynist and, yes, just a little bit racist re: Michelle Obama, I'd think better of the dead in this case.

    But no — he was Paul Wolfowitz's butt-buddy and a professional (and highly paid) Clinton hater.

  5. daphne Says:

    Thomas Frank??

  6. JDKenzy Says:

    He challenged the seriously stupid people of faith. I say that as believer.

  7. Xynzee Says:

    So if he was all for gay whales to have transgender surgery rights he'd be okay in your book?

    Fairly strange canon to use, either he agrees w me 100% or he's a sell out or hypocrite or both (ie I'm perfect and perfect ppl agree with me). I'm sure many of your readers could say the same for your writings?

    That said. Never read him, no desire to. Sounds too much like a pretentious Public School boy, or worse a Private Schooler who tries to pass himself off as a Public Schooler.

    I don't mind iconoclasts with something to say, and challenge our perceptions of what we may consider "good and right", but to attack just because it's there and make a noise for themselves… rather listen to a foghorn thank you.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    Hitch was like the little girl with the curl.

    When he was good, he was very good.
    And when he was bad, he was very, very bad.

    I'll miss the guy who took on Henry Kissinger as a war criminal, and organized religion.
    I won't miss the hateful, holier-then-thou warmonger who supported war criminals, and was a misogynist, and a not so closeted racist/xenophobe.

    Hitch would not have wanted to hear this – but his writing will not be long-remembered.
    As @eastriver said, Mencken was much more quotable.

    And, 'what's the matter with Thomas Frank?'
    WTF did he do?
    Did I miss something?

  9. Arslan Says:

    He was a racist who made ignorant, illogical arguments dressed up with high-sounding phrases and a British accent, but he made fun of religion so let's all pretend he wasn't a complete fucktard!!

  10. Elle Says:

    Christopher Hitchins has always seemed to me like the Fun Bobby of the cod-intellectual set. (I beg all of your pardons for making a Friends analogy.)

    Those with the ability to commission his pieces, and crown him as a controversialist grand cru, are a fairly homogenous set of oldish white guys. Doubtless married to, or divorced from, a set of whip smart book editors, segment producers on C-SPAN, and New York City Ballet directors, the opportunity to stink up the sitting room with cigars avec Hitch, and talk ersatz profundity about humourless bitches, must have seemed like a deliciously transgressive break from the norm.

    Hitchins' views, with some notable exceptions, have all the sophistication of a small boy hammering a 'Girls Stink!' sign to his treehouse. They're also laden with tropes as old as dirt. Girls aren't funny. Black women are all angry. The sight of a sonogram should compel us to conclude that fetuses are people. The Dixie Chicks disagreed with George Bush because they were "fucking fat slags."

    There was undoubtedly space in the market for his splenetic invective on the subject of faith. Some of his sneering was undoubtedly as funny as fuck. It's just a bit of a shame that some of his writing relied on the type of evo psych woo that compares unfavourably with the very contortions of thought on which the faith he criticised rests.

  11. Amused Says:

    Nothing wrong with liking Hitchens at his best, even if he was far from being a paragon of virtues. Take him to task when he deserves it, but let's not throw the baby out with the water. Let's not forget, Charles Dickens was a horrible racist and antisemite as well.

  12. Arslan Says:

    Hitler and Himmler both said some pretty witty things from time to time. I guess we should mourn their passing as well.

  13. Tim H. Says:

    So, treasure what you like, ignore the rest.

  14. anotherbozo Says:

    Thomas Frank: someone with an "unpopular viewpoint" that was nevertheless on target. Unlike Beck and Bachmann. Ed is just saying that all unpopular viewpoints aren't necessarily idiotic.

    Anybody analyzing Hitchens who doesn't take into account his immature, say-anything-to-get-attention writer's ego is missing part of the picture. He always served up the ball with, er, English on it; it made better copy.

  15. LouGravity Says:

    For what it's worth, it's Mother Teresa.

  16. c u n d gulag Says:

    anotherbozo,
    Thanks for providing that context about Frank, since I clearly missed it!

  17. JerseyCynic Says:

    IHNRTT

  18. HoosierPoli Says:

    If you've never actually watched Hitchens defend his stance of the Iraq War, you should. The problem with disagreeing with him is that he makes such a damn good case. But of course the arguments he used were NOT the arguments used by the Bush administration, and were NOT the arguments used to sell the war to a scared and vulnerable public. Therein lies the import.

  19. c u n d gulag Says:

    HossierPoli,

    "Therein lies the 'import'."

    Well, that's good – since we don't make much of anything to export anymore. :-)

  20. Elle Says:

    But of course the arguments he used were NOT the arguments used by the Bush administration, and were NOT the arguments used to sell the war to a scared and vulnerable public.

    His arguments also seemed to rely on an understanding of international law such as one might acquire from carefully watching The West Wing.

  21. Amused Says:

    Arslan: You are comparing Hitchens with Hitler now, seriously? It's a ridiculous extreme. You might as well say that if a person has said something ugly even once, we cast him in the same bin as the Nazis, and deem everything else that person has ever said worthless — which is actually the opposite of what Ed was saying.

    Another thing I wanted to add: I agree that embracing an unpopular viewpoint in and of itself is not a virtue. But, as an aside, I am not so sure misogyny or racism — especially misogyny — are particularly unpopular. Sure, a lot of people condemn them, but they do still enjoy legitimacy with large groups, and in the case of misogyny, even among many liberals. Being critical of Mother Teresa, or Princess Diana, or Charles Dickens, however — that's unpopular on a whole different level.

  22. xynzee Says:

    @ Hoosier: Are you saying that if Chimpy, Rumbarf, Wolfoshitz and Shrubling had used Hitch's arguments then Iraq would be justifiable?

    Although on Mother Teresa, anyone who only tips in at just 5'0", stands up to a government who intends to send her packing (and with probable force) truly is a force to be reckoned with. Why? Because of the promises made by the "Sky-fairy". Was he taking shots at her because unlike a Bachman or a frothing Santorum, she rolled up her sleeves and showed Christ's love to the loveless, and therefore threatened his view of what Christ was like?

    Again, I have no problems with iconoclasts – the world needs them – but they have to say something. There are probably many things that this pretentious gyt said about her and why she shouldn't be considered so wonderful that she'd agree with. For her it was always about being Christ's vessel and *not* about herself.

    Isn't it funny how people always ascribed to her some level of celebrity that she never asked for? It's as if people need some kind of heros to live their lives vicariously through, and that if we support Mother Teresa's cause from a distance, then some how we are imparted the benefits of her work.
    Two of her most common quotes were:
    "Come and see" and "Why do you want to come and help the poor of India? Doesn't your country have enough poor for you to serve?"
    However, she wasn't above using the celebrity status to achieve her goals. If it brought in money or highlighted the plight of the Untouchables and the lepers so that a real change could be made then in their lives (eg. money or better treatment) then she wasn't above doing so. To her the means justified the end, and usually the end meant an improvement for those she touched and being made to feel very uncomfortable for those who wanted to keep the ickiness of dealing with people at a considerable distance.

    In 20yrs in the grand pantheon of human endeavour, who's going to be remembered as to impacting the world more?

  23. Amused Says:

    xynzee: I think Hitchens' main beef with her was that she denied patients medication because she believed suffering was good for them; because she appeared to be more in love with suffering than with sufferers; because she got in bed, figuratively speaking, with the worst of tyrants by taking their money and accepting their endorsements; because she refused to open her organization's books to public scrutiny; and because when she herself was sick, she availed herself of the most exclusive Western-style medical care, instead of being treated in one of her clinics.

    In 20yrs in the grand pantheon of human endeavour, who's going to be remembered as to impacting the world more?

    Should that really be used as a yardstick here? Father Damien, who voluntarily exiled himself to the leper colony at Molokai in order to alleviate the plight of the inmates there, was far more compassionate and self-sacrificing than Mother Teresa. And when he contracted leprosy himself, he didn't bail on those he had come to help. Yet who on earth remembers his name? (Apart from bookworms who specialize in obscure trivia, of course?)

  24. acer Says:

    To Hitchens's credit, this is probably closer to the obit he would have wanted.

    Our collective fascination with "controversial" viewpoints is probably a holdover from the early '90s, when bland careerism and "the PC police" seemed like the most insidious cultural threats we could ever possibly face.

  25. Some Guy Says:

    "there is no inherent value in saying unpopular things"

    you're wrong.

  26. acer Says:

    @Some Guy:
    http://roflrazzi.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/funny-celebrity-pictures-i-see-what-you-did-there.jpg

  27. Jaime Says:

    My initial exposure to Hitchens was in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq as he carried water for Bush-Cheney et al, using Oxbridge debate club rhetoric to say "Kill 'em all and let's save Western Civ" – a good 1st impression was not made, needless to say. At that point in my life I was already modifying my position from Atheist Asshole to something that would let me make more friends so the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris atheism trinity didn't make any impression. Dawkins I already knew from his neat books about evolution, Hitchens & Harris only in the context of, again, "Kill the mussulmen but without 'gott mit uns' on the soldiers' belt buckles'". I guess if you're 15 yo, an initial exposure to atheism thru Hitchens's writings could be useful, but that's not how it played out with me. In short, Hitchens contributed a lot of blather to world discourse, some useful and a whole lot that was damaging.

  28. Da Moose Says:

    Take away the British accent and what do you have? An alcoholic who can write extremely well. I've been watching a recent interview with Chris Hedges in which he's asked about his past relationship with Hitchens. His response: "Deeply antagonistic." The fact that Hitchens ended his years siding with the dumbest among us says a lot about his true character. He didn't even have a death bed conversion like Lee Atwater. At least Atwater was smart enough to realize that dying with pride is a truly pathetic last act.

  29. ed Says:

    Right about a lot of things, but at essence, Hitchens was a contrived contrarian and an asshole bully.

    His takedown of Mother Theresa was classic Good Hitchens

    Um, no, and for one simple reason, he called her a "lying, thieving, Albanian dwarf!" I accept lying and thieving (and his larger argument against the evils of organized religion), but she's a bad egg because she's short in stature? These are the words of a mean-spirited asshole.

    Fuck him and his contrarian bullshit as an excuse for utter assholery. And fuck his staunch commitment to his ideals (or whatever). Hell, even shithead Iraq Invasion supporters like Megan McArdle eventually admitted it was a horribly gross mistake. And wow, he hates Henry Kissenger. Welcome to the party. And he's anti-torture. Gee, what a mensch. This world could use fewer Christopher Hitchenses and more Neal Pollacks.

  30. ed Says:

    Also, too: Sarah Silverman.

  31. Jaime Says:

    Sarah Silverman? What about Bill Hicks? That's comedy & entertainment, not position papers or opining about national policy. A whole 'nother corner of the marketplace of ideas, it seems to me.

  32. Arslan Says:

    "Arslan: You are comparing Hitchens with Hitler now, seriously? It's a ridiculous extreme. You might as well say that if a person has said something ugly even once, we cast him in the same bin as the Nazis, and deem everything else that person has ever said worthless — which is actually the opposite of what Ed was saying."

    Well let's see, Hitler wrote and said things which inspired the deaths of millions, Hitchens wrote and said things which, in a more indirect way, have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and possibly more over time. To be fair, he wasn't so much like Hitler as he was Julius Streicher, and he deserved punishment for the same reason.

    The fact is that if Hitchens had a Southern or Texas accent many of the fanboys here would never be riding his dead nuts. Hitchens arguments were as ignorant as a local conservative AM radio host.

    And there's people here who get a hard on for the fucktard just because he was an atheist? Yeah that might be impressive a couple hundred years ago in the Russian or Ottoman Empire, but we have been living in a secular society for quite some time and frankly nobody gives a shit. Marx had it right when he pointed out that those who loudly proclaim their atheists are like children shouting to the world that they're no longer afraid of the bogeyman. The bottom line is that many of Hitchens' beliefs were just as wacky and irrational as those of an evangelical Christian or Muslim fundamentalist, even if they don't involve supernatural phenomena or beings.

  33. ed Says:

    Sarah Silverman? What about Bill Hicks?

    I don't think Bill Hicks was a girl. (Sorry, I wasn't clear, I was rebutting Hitchens' oh-so-contrarian contention that girls aren't funny.)

    (Also, too, I've seen a bunch of Hicks, and while I strongly agree with his politics, I don't think he's that funny. He's not even close to a top tier stand up act, in my opinion.)

  34. Elle Says:

    And there's people here who get a hard on for the fucktard just because he was an atheist? Yeah that might be impressive a couple hundred years ago in the Russian or Ottoman Empire, but we have been living in a secular society for quite some time and frankly nobody gives a shit.

    I think that America has lauded Hitchens far more than the UK, or Europe, precisely because public figures who are atheist seem to be more rare. In the UK it's hard to find a serious commentator, let alone someone on whom has been conferred the title 'intellectual', who is also religious.

  35. Amused Says:

    Well let's see, Hitler wrote and said things which inspired the deaths of millions, Hitchens wrote and said things which, in a more indirect way, have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and possibly more over time. To be fair, he wasn't so much like Hitler as he was Julius Streicher, and he deserved punishment for the same reason.

    First of all, Hitler didn't just "inspire" the deaths of millions, let's be fair about that.

    Second, Julius Streicher didn't "indirectly" inspire genocide. He inspired it directly.

    Third, lots and lots of people have written and said things which, in an indirect way, arguably, possibly, have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and possibly more over time. People who have said such things would include professed pacifists — see, the pussyfooting that took place around Hitler and the Nazi regime on the eve of WWII. (In any event, I sincerely doubt Hitchens' support for the war made any difference in the US foreign policy.) Your argument that anyone whose writing somehow may or may not have "indirectly inspired" (but probably didn't) an armed conflict should be EXECUTED, is abhorrent. First Amendment — remember?

  36. mothra Says:

    Ah Hitchens. As others have said, he was an alcoholic who could write, even when stinking drunk. He said "controversial" things and his polite salon pals twittered and giggled and said "ooooo, isn't he a CAUTION!" Please. Dude was a dickhead who managed to do well, so that meant, to him, that he could be even MORE of a dickhead. Always wondered why people praised this belligerent alcoholic. If he hadn't been able to put words together well, people would have edged away from him at the local dive.

    He wasn't anti-torture–certainly not of Muslims. He just had to change his tune on waterboarding once he was actually waterboarded. Yeah, yeah, he was an atheist and loved criticizing religion in the most acerbic, insulting way possible. I get that some people think that's something to be praised but why, really? As Arslan points out, it is hardly brave or controversial.

    He was such an ass about smoker's "rights," though, and I can't help feeling that it's a bit of karma that the esophageal cancer got him in the end.

  37. Duverger's Outlaw Says:

    Another thing about Hitchens: He was not half as smart and original as people thought. Maybe he had a decent memory, but as a couple of people have already noted above, Americans have this (somewhat atavistic, if you ask me) habit of ascribing intelligence to clipped high-class British accents.

    Another, little thing, known only to people very close to Hitchens; many of his political works were derivations and 'borrowings' of original things written by others (of course, he got full credit). Guess who pegged Kissinger as a War criminal –and wrote about it– more than two decades before Hitch's book; the arguments are not original at all. Also, about "Missionary Position" (the Mother Teresa book), is basically a much better-written version of what an Indian guy from Calcutta had already been writing about (just do some googling, or see this: http://www.meteorbooks.com/index.html)

  38. Duverger's Outlaw Says:

    oops typo, there should have been an 'it' before "is basically" above

  39. HoosierPoli Says:

    "@ Hoosier: Are you saying that if Chimpy, Rumbarf, Wolfoshitz and Shrubling had used Hitch's arguments then Iraq would be justifiable?"

    If they had said straight-up, "We want to invade iraq to depose a murderous tyrant and save his people", perhaps it would have been justifiable. Such a humanitarian argument might have even gotten the international community on board. Of course there are two problems with that: 1. The Bush admin was full of fuckwits who didn't even know the difference between Shia and Sunni, much less how to nation-build in a volatile region, and 2. the American people never, ever would have gone for it because most of us don't actually give a shit about helping brown people,

  40. Elle Says:

    Of course there are two problems with that: 1. The Bush admin was full of fuckwits who didn't even know the difference between Shia and Sunni, much less how to nation-build in a volatile region, and 2. the American people never, ever would have gone for it because most of us don't actually give a shit about helping brown people,

    3. The members of the international community, and institutions thereof, who went to law school somewhere other than the Miss Podunk College of Typewriter Maintenance.

  41. Major Kong Says:

    I doubt the American people would have gone for it if they'd known we were getting into a nearly 10-year commitment and a trillion dollar+ price tag.

    Wolfowitz told them "50 billion – tops".

  42. Jaime Says:

    Although their woe-woe-woe-more-mordantly-nihilistic-than-thou editorial voice can reach near toxic levels, I thought this was on-point:

    http://exiledonline.com/who-can-forget-christopher-hitchens-fake-waterboarding-stunt/

  43. xulon Says:

    Though not a man without an agenda himself, Frank Schaeffer has written more than once his view that Hitchens went full-bore aggressive atheist so that he would not lose liberal cred for turning neo-con. Given the responses to his death from the left, which was far more "he was a jerk for cheerleading the Iraq war" than I was expecting, he was not entirely successful. Still, the label "iconoclast" does have a sympathetic ring to liberal ears. I can't say I think his legacy will age well.

  44. Shane Says:

    I think the "I didn't agree with everything he said…blah blah blah" is commonly a cover for I didn't read everything he said. And there is no reason we should expect people to have read everything in order to have an opinion on the parts they did read or even an opinion of him for that matter.

  45. Arslan Says:

    "Your argument that anyone whose writing somehow may or may not have "indirectly inspired" (but probably didn't) an armed conflict should be EXECUTED, is abhorrent. First Amendment — remember?"

    He was a citizen of the UK, remember? And yes, people who gleefully advocate killing and murder and aggressive war(there's another Nuremburg charge for you) need to face consequences if said crimes are committed by the regime, just like Julius Streicher.

  46. Amused Says:

    He was a citizen of the UK, remember?

    Oh? The UK law provides for killing those who advocate war? When was the last time the UK executed someone for that?

    And besides, there is no extraterritoriality, especially for something that's a capital crime (as you suggest this one is). Even the UK does not guarantee freedom of speech — so what? What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? If I were a citizen of Saudi Arabia, I'd be stoned to death for dirty thoughts, does that mean I should be stoned to death? Do you, personally, believe in the freedom of speech or not?

    And yes, people who gleefully advocate killing and murder and aggressive war(there's another Nuremburg charge for you) need to face consequences if said crimes are committed by the regime, just like Julius Streicher.

    So, what you are saying is, Hitchens should have been executed? Don't say wishy-washy stuff like "face the consequences" and then analogize to someone who was actually hanged. Say what you mean, explicitly: Is it your argument that he should have been executed?

  47. Ellie Says:

    Is it possible that what people hate so much about Hitchens isn't the fact that he was an asshole (they're are lots of assholes out there, after all) but that sometimes, only the asshole will openly tell the truth, and we're not too happy about that?

    Yes, there are other people openly critical of organized religion – that one's a little more acceptable. But who else was willing to point out that Mother Theresa was no "Mother Theresa", or write a brutal mainstream obituary pointing out that sometimes, when a high-profile politician dies, it's really no big loss and we should cut the sanctimonious speak-no-ill-of-the-dead crap? If other people who weren't assholes had been saying these things in the mainstream – or at least, "mainstream alternative" – media, then maybe we wouldn't have bothered listening to the asshole at all. Or maybe the only way anyone's really allowed to attack shibboleths like Mother Theresa and dead politicians is someone who also says dumb things about women, or whatever.

    The reaction to Hitchens seems to say less about Hitchens than it does about both his publishers and his audience.

  48. Amused Says:

    And another thing, Arslan: No one like Hitchens — that is, a mere journalist and writer, albeit a popular one — was executed at Nuremberg. Lest we forget, Julius Streicher was actually an official of the regime. Hitchens was not an official in the US government.

  49. eau Says:

    @Ellie – Yes.

    It seems that some here are responding to those who lionise Hitch, which is fair enough, but some of the charges levelled above are just plain wrong.

    I'll put my hand up as one of those who found him early (late teens, from memory). At first I was really impressed (if you don't think his books about Kissinger & Momma T are any good, I suspect you haven't actually read them), but then I found that our opinions differed violently on many issues (more and more as he got older). He was one of the first public intellectuals that I both agreed and disagreed with in equal measure, depending on the subject. This had a profound effect on me, and no doubt thousands of others. I think it made me better at this whole "thinking" caper in general (not that I claim world-beater status).

    As someone said above, I also think Ed's statement that there is no inherent value in taking up unpopular causes is just wrong. The value may be limited, but I think it's very rarely, if ever, *zero*. Anyone who did some high-school debating should see that there is always some worth in playing devil's advocate.

    And yes, he increasingly became little more than a crank as he aged. He was clearly (if subconsciously) terrified of the rising status of both brown people and women of all shades. He was a drunk, and openly admitted to both formulating opinions and composing whole arguments while tanked. That's problematic for anyone, let alone a public figure who has issues with backing away from flawed positions once taken up. Also, to hear him speak of his time in London with Martin Amis is nauseating at best.

    The man was flawed, and admitted as much openly and often. But babies & bathwater, people. C'mon.

  50. Arslan Says:

    First I believe that freedom of speech is not equal, more specifically, freedom of the press is freedom for those who own a press. Second, nobody every believed in absolute freedom of speech. Why do you think the Constitution restricts shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre? Because that would get people killed. Perhaps Hitch should not have been executed, but in a just world where the entire Bush administration were put on trial for their crimes, at least a few pundits(many of whom aren't even journalists) should face a few indictments for lesser crimes. It's called taking responsibility.

    And you are incorrect about Streicher. He was a publisher and editor who had no connection to planning or execution of the Holocaust. The judgement against him reads as follows:

    "…For his 25 years of speaking, writing and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-Baiter Number One.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution… Streicher's incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial grounds in connection with war crimes, as defined by the Charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.”

    We need not even invoke Nazi Germany to see precedent here, only Rwanda. Several members of RTLM, the radio station which advocated genocide against Tutsis, were indicted and convicted of crimes by the International Tribunal. Looks like they don't believe in absolute free speech either.

  51. Arslan Says:

    "The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda's action against RTLM began on 23 October 2000 – along with the trial against Hassan Ngeze, director and editor of the Kangura magazine.

    On 19 August 2003, at the tribunal in Arusha, life sentences were requested for RTLM leaders Ferdinand Nahimana, and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza. They were charged with genocide, incitement to genocide, and crimes against humanity, before and during the period of the genocides of 1994.

    On 3 December 2003, the court found all three defendants guilty and sentenced Nahimana and Ngeze to life imprisonment and Barayagwiza to imprisonment for 35 years – this was appealed. The Appeal judgment, issued on 27 November 2007 reduced the sentences of all three – Nahimana getting 30 years, Barayagwiza getting 32 and Ngeze getting 35, with the court overturning convictions on certain counts.

    On 14 December 2009, RTLM announcer Valerie Bemeriki was convicted by a gacaca court in Rwanda and sentenced to life imprisonment for her role in inciting genocidal acts."

    OH NO! Doesn't the International Tribunal realize that there is the 1st Amendment, which applies to THE ENTIRE WORLD, and guarantees TOTAL FREEDOM OF SPEECH TO EVERY PERSON OR ORGANIZATION?!

  52. Major Kong Says:

    The Nazis hardly invented antisemitism in Germany. There was a long history of it going all the way back to the middle ages that they tapped into. Read Martin Luther sometime.

  53. Arslan Says:

    Yes, thank you for the obvious. But did you notice that during the 2nd Reich(1871-1918) there was conspicuously LESS extermination of Jews? In fact Jew extermination mysteriously spiked starting in 1941. What the court was saying was that Streicher took things up a notch. Without the constant dehumanization and demonization spread by people like him, it would have been a lot harder to convince people to go along with the extermination.

    Hitch reduced Iraqis and Muslims to something inhuman, so that people can watch video of cruise missiles slamming into populated cities, or watch gun camera footage of civilians being mowed down with 30mm shells and not get outraged or even bat an eye.

  54. Major Kong Says:

    I completely agree.

    I was just pointing out that Hitler didn't somehow brainwash an entire country into a mass of mindless zombie slaves. He didn't take them anywhere they weren't ready to go.

  55. Some Guy Says:

    Do I have to approve of heroin to like "Sweet Child O' Mine"? This is bullshit.

  56. JohnR Says:

    "To applaud him for bravely writing sexist, racist, or culturally hegemonic ideas suggests that we are glad that someone said such things. I for one am not."
    So? I for one, am (although I don't regard people who do that as particularly brave). I'm always glad to see assholes write or say deplorable or horrible things – it gives me the chance and the reason to respond (which I don't, alas, always do without the intial stimulus). My responses may be ignored or sneered at, but better something laughed at than something never said. A discussion is better than a tacit agreement. My major complaint is more that only "important" people get noticed in this way, although nowadays even unimportant people can occasionally break into the big time if they're persistent with their blogging efforts and draw enough attention.

  57. AK Says:

    @JohnR
    "it gives me the chance and the reason to respond (which I don't, alas, always do without the intial stimulus). My responses may be ignored or sneered at, but better something laughed at than something never said. A discussion is better than a tacit agreement."

    Is that entirely true, though? Wouldn't it be better if we lived in a world where people of different races were respected, rather than having some asshole endorsing – and spreading, mind you – xenophobic and racist thought, and providing moral legitimacy for a psychotic and cynical drive to war? Do you need such a particularized evil to rail against, simply to craft an opinion?

    Hitchens was a prick. He was a good enough writer to make those who agreed with him overlook the fact that he was a massive prick. This has resulted in incredibly fractured obituaries. There aren't actually "Good Hitchens" and "Bad Hitchens," there is simply Hitchens and such divisions are based on nothing more than the agreement of commentators with the different portions of his oeuvre. Hitchens was always cruel, racist, misogynistic, and dismissive of critical thinking that disagreed with his knee-jerk reactions. The fact that he was sometimes right, and sometimes eloquently so, does not make him a person I would want to align myself with.

    I respect him for one thing, which was the dignified and philosophical way he dealt with his sickness and death.

  58. Graham Says:

    The outpouring of grief over the death of Christopher Hitchens was only slightly less demented than that over the death of Kim Il Jong. The difference being that those mourning Hitchens really should know better.

    His book on Mother Theresa, with its puerile title, was a light preliminary to a full investigation that never happened. I can't understand why it gets so much attention.

    The invasion of Iraq on totally fabricated grounds separated those with a shred of decency and an ability to assess evidence from those who do not. Hitchens failed utterly, preferring the suitably hazy view from a BlackHawk seat beside Paul Wolfowitz.

    Hitchens' writings were full of double and triple negatives to such an extent that one wondered what on earth he was really trying to say half the time. This technique gave him plenty of wriggle room for later when he changed his mind. Being a contrarian means never having to believe anything you say.

    But smart? Smart enough for this son of an esophagal cancer victim to pickle his esophagus until, until – it killed him!

    Hitchens' writings were never anything but a device in the service of the ego of Christopher Hitchens, a journalist who never produced anything that might make even a footnote to history.

  59. JohnR Says:

    @AK:

    "Wouldn't it be better if.." Yeah, I think so. Unfortunately, the world we live in seems to be inhabited largely by humans rather than by angels. Xenophobia and groupist thinking are part of who we are, to a greater or lesser extent. I agree that Hitchens was a prick (not that that's always a bad thing). He was also an asshole and frequently a major-league douche-bag. Well, there it is. If you were to ask my family and friends, I suspect the consensus would be that I, too, am an asshole (albeit a lovable one). Many of the people I know are assholes. Well over half of the drivers on any road around here are assholes, if not absolute cunts. We're all more than just that one aspect, of course, although some of us (Karl Rove, say) are sufficiently gleefully and unrepentently foul that the particular aspect that amounts to being a bulging sack of pus is a pretty fair description of who we are. Anyway, I'm wandering into another lane here, so let's drop that. The upshot is that people are who they are, and even assholes can have something valuable to say in their own offensive and infuriating way.

    and

    "Do you need.." Well, yes. I may be alone in this but I find that most of my thinking is more reactive than original. Furthermore, I find that it's easier to make a point as a rebuttal than as a simple statement. It helps me to focus my thinking to point out the errors and mind-boggling stupidities that infest the claims of other people. I believe there is something in some old book about that – eyes and motes and stuff. Those old guys seem to actually have had some understanding of human nature, if you can believe it!
    So, guys like Ed do the heavy lifting with deep thoughts and rants and stuff, and guys like me come in and, hyena-like, savage the corpus of their writing in inappropriate and ignorant ways, while tittering maniacally and drooling all over the page. It takes all kinds, as my old Grandmother used to say at Christmas, looking at me.

  60. LanceThruster Says:

    I think we take everyone piecemeal to some extent. I'll quote the founding fathers as providing particular wisdom on a given issue, and then read how one of them felt that we would only succeed as a nation if we were a "Godly' one.

    Gack!

    I was in proximity to Christopher Hitchens during some freethought conventions and lectures right around the time of Iraq II and hung out a bit afterwords to hear him opine further. I got the sense that what ultimately was his motivation was the opportunity to highlight in the most forceful fashion (by waging aggresive warfare supposedly against the notion) that some religious beliefs really are fanatical horseshit that don't deserve any sort of apologizing for. Problem was that not everyone follows their goofy horseshit in the same way and to coddle up to our own religious Taliban further muddies the waters.

    I always enjoyed reading him whether I agreed with him or not, and I felt that in regards to a confrontation with Islamic radicals, he was willing to try to convince himself while claiming to be doing so for others that it was worth a little hypocrisy (much in the same way Alan Dershowitz can excuse and justify any atrocity Israel commits for the "greater good").

    I'll miss Christopher and will continue to quaff pints in his honor for what he got right, and his willingness to try to make his own case as convincingly as possible for what I disagreed with.

  61. Sassan Says:

    What an ignorant piece of drivel written by an obvious apologist for militant Islam – one of those sadomasochists Hitch always referred to.

    To start, Hitch was one to whom alcohol actually enhanced his performance. His friends ranging from Salman Rushdie to Ian McEwan tell stories on how Hitch would write articles while consuming liquor. He was not what we term as a "drunk". A drunk cannot operate well in their daily lives. Hitchens used alcohol as a social enhancer in prolonging and making more lively "the debate" as he would say.

    Then you claim that Hitch was a "misogynist". What a shameful and ridiculous claim. Hitch was a fighter for women's rights throughout his whole career. In fact, this was one of the issues in which he was most passionate about. True, he thought women were not as funny as men; but that does not make him a "misogynist". Using this claim as "evidence" for him thinking women were less superior to men is ridiculous and a grave distortion and lie about Christopher Hitchen's viewpoints and morals.

    Then the writer clearly demonstrates to us that the point of this article is that he or she is simply one of those leftists who felt "betrayed" as if Christopher Hitchens owed you anything. He was always from his early days against totalitarianism; and after getting to know the great Kurdish people of Iraq, he felt a sense of moral and duty to stand for freedom and dignity from the grips of a fascist and genocidal maniac. Christopher Hitchens had no problem with "brown people" (whatever racist connotation the writer him/herself seems to hold while claiming otherwise); in fact, he was a supporter of freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people.

    While people like you would sit in the face of evil and allow evil madmen to propagate, oppress, and cause mass genocide to their own people; Christopher Hitchens felt a sense of moral, duty, and dignity for the fellow human being irregardless of skin color or where he or she happened to be born. In fact, the Kurdish people regard Christopher Hitchens as having been a great friend of theirs and this is something we should be proud of, not shun. If you had your way, Saddam Hussein would be continuing the oppression and terror of the Iraqi people to this day.

    And yes, we have to defend civilization. Again, the writer further demonstrates the sadomasochism that he or she has prescribed to. We have an enemy that wants to bring an end to humanity – and we must defend human civilization against such barbaric madmen. And guess what? I speak as an Iranian and as someone who is proud to have called Christopher Hitchens a great friend of the Iranian people and our plight for freedom, democracy, and self-determination. For example, we have a regime occupying Iran at the current moment which at their very core is aiming to bring an end to humanity in the "return of the hidden imam". This is the CORE of their beliefs (the radicals/terrorists running the government, not the Iranian people). In order to achieve this aim, as a prerequisite they must "reconquer" Jerusalem leading to a global war in which 2/3rd of humanity is to perish through war, havoc, famine, and chaos. And where do they get this wacky belief from? From the Hadith to which they take very seriously.

    Humanity has had dark moments through its history, but we can not afford such catastrophes in the era we live in: the era of apocalyptic weaponry. In the era of such weaponry, we must understand that the survival and advancement of the human race is not guaranteed. And I speak as someone "born" a Muslim and have a great deal of greater understanding than Islam than you. OF course, you are willing to be the sadomasochist, in being the apologist for evil, oppression, and religion tyranny. Shame on you.

    "The pacifist is as surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrongdoer." – Theodore Roosevelt

  62. Elle Says:

    Hitch was a fighter for women's rights throughout his whole career.

    As long as those rights didn't include reproductive rights (mind-bendingly ill-informed essays on abortion / birth control), economic and social rights ("I'm not having any woman of mine go to work."), or the right not to be called a "fucking fat slag" for disagreeing with him on Iraq.

  63. Sassan Says:

    Elle Says: "As long as those rights didn't include reproductive rights (mind-bendingly ill-informed essays on abortion / birth control), economic and social rights ("I'm not having any woman of mine go to work.")"

    Hitchens was always pro-choice. His answer to the question of whether life starts at the moment of conception was an intellectual one – he never wanted abortion to become restricted or to become illegal in the first trimester.

    In regards to the economic and social rights of women, you fail to mention that Hitchen was simply answering a question as to whether he would like to have his wife and the mother of his children to raise their children around the clock in not having to work since they were financially well off. In fact, in psychological and evolutionary terms, the bonding between the infant/child and the mother is the most important for development (of course father is extremely important too) but that bonding that is afforded by breast feeding is something the father cannot do.

    Therefore, you fail to demonstrate in the slightest manner how these personal approaches Hitchens undertook in his own life had anything to do with him not being for the equal rights of moth males and females. He never advocated for this to be law and only answered this when repeatedly pressed but made sure to emphasize in his interviews that it is the choice of the women to decide to work or not. He never advocated any matter to become the social norm or for there to be discrimination against the female sex.

    Again, he was an advocate and fighter for the equal rights of women all over the world. This was one of his pressing issues which he fought so very dearly with his intellect and wit.

    The problem is some of you atheists are not rational at all. You cloak with yourself with another ideology that has become a substitute for you in the place of religion (not referring to you Elle, I am referring to the original writer of this article). It is Marxism. What good does it do to become atheist simply as a supplement to ideology rather through reason and intellect? It is so awfully clear the aim of this writer who is not only against the so called "issues" he brings forth against Hitchens (since nearly all of them are grave distortions and lies) but he or she is really against western civilization. This is what the sadomasochism does to you: it results one to becoming an apologist to Islamic extremists and become a self-hating westerner. If it wasn't for western civilization, the world would not have progressed through all its scientific and technological advancements.

  64. Elle Says:

    he never wanted abortion to become restricted or to become illegal in the first trimester.

    These two things are not the same.

    In regards to the economic and social rights of women, you fail to mention that Hitchen was simply answering a question as to whether he would like to have his wife and the mother of his children to raise their children around the clock in not having to work since they were financially well off.

    I'm not sure how this exculpates Hitchens. It is, of course, for every family to decide how they divide reproductive labour and participation in the labour market, but his comment is laden with assumptions that are antithetical to a rights-based response to gendered roles.

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