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Douglas Moran

Douglas Moran
Austin, Texas,
June 25
Low-level Technical Weenie
TechnoGypsy, family dude, technical writer, frisbee golfer, movie buff, political junkie, gadget fiend, computer nerd.


DECEMBER 16, 2011 8:34PM

Christopher Hitchens: A Dissenting View

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Hitch in his cups

I'm a little startled by how far out of the mainstream my complete lack of sorrow at the passing of Christopher Hitchens puts me.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not glad he's dead.  I certainly did not wish him dead.  But given his--how shall I say this?--fairly caustic nature, I'm surprised that there aren't more people mentioning, or at the very least alluding to, the less savory aspects of his character and opinions.

My introduction to "Hitch" was  when he was touring in support of his anti-Clinton book "No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family" in, I believe, 2000 or so.  I don't mind people disliking Bill Clinton, disagreeing with his policies, being appalled by his unbelievably stupid sexual peccadillos--I mean, he drove me bats to a certain degree, too.  But that's not the tack Hitchens took--not only did he despise the Clintons, with a fury and scorn that he seemed to relish displaying to the mild-mannered Terry Gross--he actively encouraged others to hate Clinton, too.  More, he all but stated that if you didn't hate Clinton--if you didn't agree with Hitchens, in other words--you were just this side of being a deluded fool.  

It was detestable, odious, unpleasant, and disgusting.  It was like being trapped with your crazy uncle at a party when he can't stop ranting on about the gold standard.  I was staggered at the level of bile and vitriol.  And, obviously, I never forgot.

Over the years, I occassionally read Hitchen's work, or saw him (or listened to him) on various talking-head shows, and while I rarely saw him reach the level of bile he displayed towards the Clintons, he still came across to me as a very unpleasant character.  (Has everyone forgotten his anti-Mother Teresa screed?)  Arrogant in his own intellect, disdainful of anyone who disagreed with him (even when his opinions were in direct contrast to opinions that he himself had held in the past), condescending, sarcastic, impatient, and astonishingly arrogant.  Here was a man, it seemed to me, who knew he was very, very bright, had read a ton, had made up his mind on a topic . . . and clearly felt that if you had the temerity to disagree with him, you were a moron.  Not wrong; not misguided; but genuinely stupid and ignorant.

This was not an affect that I found particularly pleasant, to say the least.

It's not that Hitchens held views opposed to mine; I don't have a problem with that.  But take as an example when Hitchens (for want of a better word) found Atheism:  he seemed to move into a zone where, if you weren't an atheist, too, you were a self-deluding fool.    This was not the gentle intellectual atheism of, say, Richard Dawkins, but rather some bizarre proselytizing atheism, the kind of fierce loyalty to an ideal that one most often sees (ironically) in people newly converted to a religion.  Dawkins thinks you're wrong if you disagree with him; Hitchens--his attitude implied--thought you were a boob.  

And it was this side of Hitchens--the disdainful, scornful side--that I found so off-putting.  No matter how many brilliant ideas he had, no matter how many interesting articles he penned, it always seemed to me that this was drifting there, just under the surface, often erupting into outright diatribes.  And I don't know about you, but I find that damned unpleasant.

Add to this the many, many stories of Hitchens showing up in various venues quite drunk, making a spectacle of himself.  Heckling speakers, acting out, and in general "behaving badly".  This well-known side of Hitchens (just google "Hitchens drunk") was yet another factor that made it difficult for me to take him seriously as a writer or thinker--a side that seems totally unmentionable in the various eulogies to him.  (I understand the "don't speak ill of the dead" idea; I just disagree with it.  Hell, my uncle even pointed out some of my Dad's flaws in his eulogy at the funeral; and that was okay!  It humanizes my Dad.  This side of Hitchens is part of him, too; why not mention it?)

Look:  there's no question the guy was intelligent and a sharp writer.  Sometimes quite funny in person (well, on TV or radio), too, slipping in sly jokes almost absent-mindedly.   He was--and is--lionized by a large number of people whose opinons I genuinely respect and admire.  But the Hitchens I saw--the distainful, arrogant, dismissive, contemptuous-of-those-less-intelligent-than-himself dispenser of angry vitriol--is really so different from the one who is getting almost universal acolades at his passing that I feel almost dizzy with cognitive dissonance.

I am not glad Hitchens is dead.  But neither do I mourn him.  He was a complex, difficult person, and this is my dissenting opinion merely.  Take it as you will. 

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And I will now sit back and wait for the flames to start a'comin'.
very well written critique. he & your analysis reminds me of steve jobs. who had a legendary "reality distortion field".... who again, people wouldnt say negative things or were afraid to. Im a believer in the truth, and Hitchens was too. I think he would smile wanly at the cutting accuracy of your eulogy.
"sometimes, the truth hurts"
"the truth will set you free"
and boy was he wrong about the iraq war. when the world needed someone to see through the lies, he fell headfirst for all of them.
And ain't it ironic that ol' Hitch passed on the very day that the US invasion of Iraq came to an ignominious end. Maybe there really is a God?
I've not read Hitchens so cannot dispute either way as to his general qualities and only know that Clinton, whatever his other personal qualities, was decisive in opening the gates to financial catastrophe in wiping away the Glass Steagall Act and favoring the moves to de-industrialize the USA. As an atheist I can only agree pretty much totally that religion as an institution that favors gullibility and ignorance is a frightful unnecessary burden on humanity but I also must acknowledge that the unshakeable grip it has on believers is almost impossible to defeat with logic and basic good sense and open disdain is certainly not a useful tool in changing religious convictions.
Hitchen's support of the Iraq fiasco is almost unbelievable in anyone of intelligence and perception and awareness of the indisputable corrupt agendas of the Bush regime.
I can not dispute Hitchen's intellect nor his wit and see no reason to. He was obviously a very mixed bag as are most of us and whether a person is dead or alive does not determine, in my opinion, whether or not an honest evaluation should or should not be put forth.
Hitchens was nothing more than a blowhard, but he was aided and abetted by Americans who believe that if you're British born -- or affect a British accent -- then you're automatically a genius.
You're far too kind. Hitchens was a faux-intellectual reactionary and a bullying coward with only a passing knowledge of history or current events. The fact that journalists can say things like, "After 9/11, Hitchens believes that radical Islam posed a grave threat to the West" with a straight face pretty much sums it up. The accolades for this fraud are insane. His rage at the Clintons or Mother Theresa were textbook examples of the alcoholic, sociopathic narcissist lashing out in rage at anybody/anything held in higher esteem than the sociopath himself, but in which/whom the sociopath senses weakness. So he attacked the Clintons when they were their most vulnerable, Mother Theresa on her deathbed, Kissinger after several countries had already called him a war criminal, the Left after the Neocon victory of 2000, etc. etc. Look at his history of being wrong--not just about 9/11 but EVERYTHING--alongside those other always-wrong, sycophantic fanboys like Sullivan--and you realize Hitchens left no mark worth remembering in any of his flip-flopping phases. He's already forgotten, thankfully.
You won't get any flames from me. You've articulated what I have often sensed about him.
Don't take this as a flame Douglas but I don't share your indifference. No doubt he was flawed, as all of us are. But in my view his great and many virtues substantially outweigh the aggressive and condescending failings.

I think he made the world a much better place with his insights and the quality of his writing. His take on Mother Teresa was timely and well-aimed, at a time where no one else dared question the saintly facade.

So the world is a better place because of Hitchens' presence and it would be better still if there were more like him. That's good enough for mourning and missing him in my books, of which Hitchens noted that we all keep two sets.
anyone who flames you is 'arrogant' and 'stupid.' i found hitchens easily dispensable, but the naive often loved him for his iconoclasm. bad luck to die young from cancer, and bad luck to the rest of us that a professional iconoclast has left the stage, as they are always in short supply.

but another will be along in due course. the pay is better on the right, but the open spot on the left will soon be filled, we may hope with a more sympathetic voice.

it would be nice if wiser too. hitchens was often superficial, presumably because a silent iconoclast is unpaid.
Hitchens was a professional controversialist and iconoclast. His public appearances were certainly a form of performance, and every performer, being acutely aware of wanting to present a certain type of public image, do things in furtherance of their image.

His book, God Is Not Great, was in your face because that's it got attention and became a best=seller.

I happen to agree with the substance of his attack on Mother Teresa. She didn't help anyone by telling them that suffering is a gift ffrom God, and preaching Catholic dogma, telling women not to use contraception or abortion.
Here are a couple of good reads on the life of Christopher Hitchens: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/16/farewell-to-c-h/ , and this, right here in Salon: http://www.salon.com/2011/12/17/christohper_hitchens_and_the_protocol_for_public_figure_deaths/

The Alexander Cockburn remembrance is the better of the two, and more readable. His unmerciful and searing wit is more than a match for Hitchens.

We live in a time where people are easily fooled. Very easily.
Thanks for being brave enough to post these insights. Agreed. Hitch was flawed and often came off as a bully. I'm surprised to see Tim say he had only a passing knowledge of history as he'd written many books in which one might've assumed he had done some studying or research on the topic. I think drunks and addicts quite often can make excuses for their imbibing and claim that it brings them (us) insight and bon mots etc.
I still found him rancorous though he's easily much smarter and well-read than I and had that lovely mellifluous British accent.
Still, I found it interesting that very few women commented on his passing or wrote about him, and that among my (occasionally) drunken intellectual circle of male friends, he is lionized. I think they liked his bravado and unapologetic stance for being the churlish puck he was. I still can say I value his ability to debate almost any topic but think he may have lacked much self-perspective.
Just a small, almost off topic, observation,

It was mentioned that he was a "new" atheist and was very aggressive about it, "almost like a religious convert" is how someone put it, I think. I'd like to point out that as an atheist of about 55 years standing, I've seen many, many new atheists treat this philosophy "like a religion". It no longer surprises me and I suppose that it stems from them having been brainwashed with the religious methodology of "spreading the word", since childhood.

These new atheists are the ones whom you will often hear make errors of really silly proportions such as saying, "I believe there is no god," instead of the more correct position of, "I do not believe there is a god." It seems that Mr. Hitchens, in spite of what I hear of his intelligence, was not entirely free of error himself.
Why Orwell Matters and The Trial of Henry Kissinger are great books, although I disagree with him in the first on deconstruction, and I think he's actually too nice all around in the second. Hitchens fell apart at the end of his life when he declared himself an ex-leftist and said all the revolutions had been fought, all the systems had been tried, so let's just have a market-driven mess. He became a tepid Fukuyama follower, always denouncing the simplicity of that junk theory and then backtracking. And then history kicked him in the ass.

And skypixie, his position was far simpler: God does not exist.