Friday, July 12, 2013
A few months back, I read Christopher Hitchens' last literary work, Mortality. It was a crushing piece, being the last words of a man who was dying of cancer.
I had known of him, through the years, through my layman's study of religion and it's effects on the population of the modern world. I first discovered him in the pages of Vanity Fair, pissing off the left, the right, the centre. It seemed as if his opinions got under the skin of most everyone he knew.
When he made his famous case years ago for the invasion of Iraq, I felt as though he had betrayed his audience of secular, humanist, free thinkers. To be frank, I remember thinking he was a complete twat for his stance. I still do.
He lost the respect of many colleagues and peers at the time.
Many thought that he had somehow turned to the dark side. Were we losing our intelligent and robust idol to the wing-nut Neo-Cons? I mean, first Tom Wolfe and now this? This is what he said in defense of his views on the Middle East:
"By trying to adjust to the findings that it once tried so viciously to ban and repress, religion has only succeeded in restating the same questions that undermined it in earlier epochs. What kind of designer or creator is so wasteful and capricious and approximate? What kind of designer or creator is so cruel and indifferent? And—most of all—what kind of designer or creator only chooses to “reveal” himself to semi-stupefied peasants in desert regions?"
And what of his attacks on Michael Moore? We on the left had come to love Moore's zany style and his everyman innocence, as he went around challenging the sacred tenets of militarism, capitalism and corporatism in American life?
Michael Moore has always been one of my heroes but what Hitchens pointed out to me and to anyone else who wanted to listen, was that heroes are always flawed. And Moore was no different. His work is very one sided and hyperbolic. Of course, I believe there is always a place for someone like him because there are always the folks in the audience who are just beginning to wake up to the horrors of reality, after a lifetime of slumbering in the attic of ignorance.
This is what Hitchens had to say about the film Fahrenheit 9/11...
"To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery..."
Let's face it, life is much easier without the truth sometimes. Who wants to believe that much of what they have been led to believe is actually quite untrue?
I think this is the reason I loved watching Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, but I have not bothered to watch his latest couple of films. I am far more critical of so called 'facts' nowadays than I was ten or fifteen years ago. I want facts, not opinions. The world is absolutely fucking saturated with opinions. In fact, opinions have become the lifeblood of cable news channels, masquerading as facts. Punditry has replaced critical thought on the road to anti-intellectual utopia.
Make no mistake, stupid rules the day. One need look no further than headlines of celebrity gossip and cooking and dancing shows to realize our lexicon has fallen a long way in a relatively short time.
Who wants to know about the political and religious complexities of the Middle East when we can spend our time fawning over the Kardashians or the new Windsor baby?
The thing about Hitchens was that he crossed over all the traditional boundaries that the Right and Left, secular and religious, rich and poor, hold dear. And most of us are afraid or unwilling to stay with our champions once they enter a realm that we are uncomfortable with. But Hitchens did not care if he lost followers, he was an intellectual juggernaut that would spar with any adversary or contestant.
I have seen him level some very bright people. He most definitely possessed the gift of debate.
And he never employed ad hominem. He only inspired others to sentimental reaction.
He would always eschew feeling for fact. And this is why I have come to respect the man greatly over the years. We need our icons to be fearless with their words and thoughts, in a climate that has become fraught with glazed over, watered down, dogmatic bullshit. Nobody says anything real anymore because they are afraid of offending somebody or a multinational organisation from who they kindly accept donations.
There are many reasons for this but the main explanation for it is that our communication has been hampered by the corporate oligarchy that maintain control over it.
Bill Maher lost his show because he argued the 9/11 perpetrators were not cowards, the Dixie Chicks lost their career because they challenged the president, David Cross was skewered because he made the argument in his stand-up routine that the term friendly fire was absurd.
All these 'entertainers' paid a heavy price for colouring outside the prescribed lines. They also paid a heavy price because our society is slipping into fascism but that is a whole different tack I do not wish to wax lyrical upon at this time. I will later, though...
How could the conservatives embrace Christopher Hitchens when he openly despised religion and how could liberals support him after he favoured the invasion of the Middle East or took the piss out of their so-called leaders?
As I said, those who did not have the wherewithal to question their consecrated beliefs, probably shelved Hitchens. But those who would have the strength to venture into uncharted territory would stand to gain something quite special; the ability to doubt their own opinions. Because, at the end of the day, that is all we have, opinions.
We have all arrived at our current belief systems due to myriad factors. Upbringing, environment, education and so on.
Beliefs are like our foundations, we don't want them shaken. Therein lies the state of our modern world, nobody wants to challenge or be challenged. And what will we learn from that? We preach to the choir or receive sermons willingly and if we aren't doing that, we like to find somebody who disagrees with us and hate them. Our pain bodies are always hungry, finding friendship in bad news.
Imagine theocratic, Neo-Con Republicans cheering for their new prophet and then he says this;
"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."
That must have hit them in the face like a hammer. I think it probably hits a lot of us hard because we never hear such brutal honesty and poetry in the media anymore. Nobody speaks with rage or conviction, preferring to default to non sequitur, misleading, double-speak. It's like Logan's Run meets 1984 meets Spring Break. Everyone is being purely propagandised and they are too young and dumb to realise it.
The pendulum always swings back and the anti-intellect crowd shall take their place in the Hall of Fools, as they always do and Hitchens shall be remembered affectionately.
He loved cigarettes and whiskey and some say that is what killed him but you know how the old saying goes about burning brightly. He also loved words and books. We only have so much light and how we choose to burn it is up to us.
One thing that we can do as a race is to stop waiting for our turn to speak and listen to others. Hitchens incited that. He spoke with such unshakable enthusiasm that his detractors would often just collapse into the foetal position, knowing that they were now under his spell or respectful rationale. He rarely raised his voice, he preferred the weapon of science and straight up reason. Someone like him, someone who had such a genre-crossing display of facts and opinions, should make us all question some of our sacred beliefs in politics, society, religion and yes, even science.
It seemed odd that I was attracted and sucked into a book about a man who was dying of a horrible cancer, when, at the time, I was in the beautiful Los Cabos, to get married to the love of my life. But it struck a chord in me, this whole dirty question of mortality. Marriage is one of those things that is a milestone along the highway of life and it makes you reflect on your time and the future. Perhaps the conception of another life.
In a way, it was a perfect time to read Mortality. Death is a part of life and the fear of it shouldn't stop us from living, it should make us want to live it more vigorously.
Though Hitchens was describing his death in painful and abject detail, there was a beauty to his words that seemed to transcend sadness or even pity. It gave me incredible pause when I thought of the absolute gift of life that we have and Hitchens' words brought it out in me and made that time even more important and poignant.
There was a certain dignity to it.
Maybe even, grace.