Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Inspiration - Thank You, Christopher Hitchens

For your Saturday Inspiration, a tribute to Christopher Hitchens on the anniversary of his death from Theramin Trees.

Thank you, Christopher

I became aware of Christopher Hitchens through an unfortunate route — namely his conservative christian brother, Peter. I found — and still find — Peter Hitchens's views obnoxious. One of many repugnant strands has been his consistent championing of special privileges for some christians to act out their prejudices in professional and official forums, on the grounds of religious freedom. He likes to dismiss his opponents in these matters as Thought Police — gingerly sidestepping moral discussions he hasn't a hope of winning, and instead favouring the dirty path of appeals to paranoia.

Suffice it to say Peter provided a dubious introduction to Christopher. But, families often contain huge differences — that's certainly the case in my own family. And my approach to Christopher, as with any new individual, was to view him on his own terms.

It soon became clear that here was a Hitchens with a much deeper vision of life. An empathic grasp of the experience of the disenfranchised. A disdain for false respectability and social artifice, which allowed him to comment on public figures, sacred cows and indeed himself with a candour the likes of which I've rarely seen. Anyone can be irreverent. Anyone can get up on a stage and shoot their mouth off. What set Hitchens apart is that he'd actually bothered to do the research first. He didn't wing it on guesswork, and he didn't insult his audience with rhetoric, or what he thought he could get away with. He'd got his facts together. And in a lot of cases, not being one to rely on the common press, that was through his own firsthand experience. He also possessed a muscular sense of irony — something notably lacking in the majority of his opponents, who were often left standing there prissy as dusty old schoolmasters, while Christopher graced the stage with an easy, natural humanity.

The term humanitarian suffers from an image problem. Some folks seem to expect humanitarians to be all touchy-feely. To console and comfort. For my money, the best humanitarians don't coddle us. They challenge us — sometimes aggressively. To be our best selves. They confront us with our stupidities, our pretences, our self-delusions and deceptions. Not with the agenda of diminishing us, bringing us into line, herding us into some grubby little flock. But in fact the opposite — shaking us out of our complacency, our groupthink, our self-indulgence and pig-ignorance. Though his use of the term 'comrades' invited his audience to join him in a sense of fellowship, there was never any obligation to agree with him, or toe any kind of party line. His concern for the masses came from a position of fierce independence from all things partisan.

I became aware of Christopher Hitchens very late in the day. It seems like it was only a matter of months before he announced the cancer that would eventually kill him. I'm grateful that so much of him and his work is preserved in print and on film. Though it could never compensate for the tremendous loss of this beautiful mind, there's a bittersweet solace in knowing that I have so much Hitchens still to experience. And through that sprawling legacy of writing and video clips, Christopher Hitchens will continue to give confidence to individuals to step outside the intellectual prisons they were born into.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: people who don't want you to think are never your friend. Whether you know it or not — and I know vast numbers of us do know it — folks like Christopher Hitchens are our very best friends.

Thank you, Christopher. (TheraminTrees December 23, 2011).

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