I’m going to join a chorus of blog posts saying goodbye to christopher hitchens in a variety of ways. He was brilliant at writing and so I’ve found many of his fans are also really good at writing why they are sad and explaining why he was brilliant. This blog post will not be one of them, its not going to be well-written and probably no one should bother reading it. Normally when I blog I try to write it, leave it for a bit and check over things. I really need to not do that with this post.
One reason why I need to not do this is because I’ve tried writing about my feelings toward hitchens before. In one interview he told everyone that if you ever want to write to a writer, always do. He said he reads everything and is always encouraged by praise, even if he doesn’t have the time to respond. I love a tech writer called Matt Asay and after consistently being amazed at his articles and insight into the tech world I sent a little message to him saying “Matt, you are awesome, everything you write just makes me happy, thats all I have to say”. And Matt replied “Thanks that really made my day”. It was so exciting being able to connect in some way to the human behind the articles and as a result I felt I ought to write something to hitchens to say thank you.
The christian in me particularly wanted to write something. I remember being at New Word Alive listening to a ex-homeless guy sing about how Jesus had saved him from stuff. I don’t know what it was about that conference but it left me a little cynical, but I really felt strongly that I needed to thank hitchens and so I drafted this letter. I can’t find the draft and can’t really remember what I wrote about it and this makes me sad. It makes me sad for entirely selfish reasons and I don’t want to pretend I actually care about the person hitchens himself (I don’t know him). I’m sad because I really wanted to have that opportunity again to connect with a writer that up until that point is more of an immortal figure or symbol rather then a human (even though one of the things hitchens did brilliantly that others have talked about was that he made you feel you were connecting with a human as much as is possible through one-directional writing). But secondly I’m just pissed off that again something I’ve wanted to do, I’ve missed the boat through laziness or cowardice. I have a long list of regrets of things I’ve really wanted to do, things I wanted to say but missed it. Satre would have me shoot germans for 15 minutes but I don’t think that would actually make me feel much better about it all.
Anyways, I don’t think I’ve had time to fully analyse why I liked hitchens so much. I hadn’t read everything he wrote, and certainly didn’t agree with everything he said. I think the thing that made me like him, is that he wasn’t on a “team”. He joined the atheists and secularists as much as he wanted to but when they did stupid stuff he called them out on it. Then obviously the way he is famously a left-ey but looked like he “switched sides” regarding the Iraq war. But I think the reason why I really like that, is he acts like he is on his own team and the reason why I like that is because as a result he treats you (me) like you’re on your own team. When he debates christians he treats them like they are people, not just representatives of a “facile religious side”. In some ways I think, even if you are horrible to this person (eg Mother Teresa), it is treating the person with respect and dignity. When he is getting angry at Henry Kissinger, when he is complaining that he wanted to see the day that he died, he is also saying that kissinger is worth this anger, that he matters. I feel that this is also a source of his success in arguments. My treating your opponent in either debate or article as a human you cut through the pretence and patheticness of most debates, it makes your defeat so much stronger and honest.
Which leads me on to the next thing, very closely related. His humility. I’ve spoken to plenty of christians about how arrogant and nasty hitchens. Whereas I’m saying that not only is he someone who humbly treats people with respect but he is one of the few public figures to do so. People act like humilty is playing down your strengths but that is just patronising. Hitchens was someone who knew full well what he strengths were and played up to them, but at the same time demonstrated through his life that he worked to maintain them as his strengths. If he had an oppinion he acted like he did everything he could to justify having that oppinion with a clean concious. When he didn’t know what he was talking about, he said it. In fact he usually said it so quickly that the public debate would move on from the thing he doesn’t understand so that the majority of the debate time would be spent on the opponents misunderstandings (misunderstanding that the opponents knows are stupid but wants to aggresively defend anyway). He said to someone on TV once “You talk like you’ve never read anything that disagrees with you”, but hitchens did not talk like that.
Finally one small nigglying thing that flows from that is that whilst he was respectful, intelligent and honest. I didn’t think he was right about everything. One particular nigglying thing for me was how he would use “Occam’s Razor” throughout his arguments and especially in his book. He’d poetically talk about it coming in, slashing away falsehood and saving the day but rarely discussed the complexities of using occam’s razor for anything but an instrumentalist view of science. I never saw anyone else bring this up but maybe there is a debate out there already where this is discussed. I would have liked to have seen him dealing with this, dealing with the complexities that the arguments against various forms of scientific realism pose. Would he care? Possibly not, but I feel like he would have taken any argument against him seriously before putting forward the case for why it should be ignored and it would have been interesting to see that.
Which is part of the wider final and more boring point. Its boring because everyone thinks it including hitchens himself. I would have loved to see how his career developed. People call you an islamophobe but what would you have said to a changing islamic world? If the arab countries currently rising up against the facists actually managed to stabalise. Would you have changed your tone against Islam? I’m sure you would have always hated Islam itself, but whilst you were one of the first to attack Islamofacism I’ll bet you would have been one of the first to praise groups of muslims fighting against the facism you dedicated your life against. I’ll bet in 10 years it would have been clear that “islamophobe” was a ridiculous word to use against you.
So Goodbye Christopher hitchens, I’ve potentially got a lot of life ahead of me, I hope I get to meet more people like you, possibly inpsired by you. I really hope next time I’ll send the damned letter!