Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


One can't speak of a tradition of gadflies because gadflies defy tradition.  Nevertheless, there's a lineage that begins with Socrates (The unexamined life is not worth living.), and continues through Dr. Samuel Johnson (Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. ),  Jonathan Swift (When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.), Mark Twain (If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you.  This is the principle difference between a dog and a man.), George Orwell (In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.),  H.L.Mencken (There is always a well-known solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.), and many others.  Now let's add to that list the late Christopher Hitchens whose passing we mourn this week. 

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

I confess, I haven't read nearly enough of him, but I find his essays irresistible even when they irritate the hell out of me.  Hitchens identified himself as a soixante-huitard, referring to the tumultuous year of 1968 that launched his political voyage, beginning on the left, veering rightward after 9/11, but always sui generis. 

If 1968 was the year of his spiritual birth, how sadly fitting that he should leave us at the end of 2011 which saw a renascence of protest.  After decades of acquiescing,  American youth took to the streets, perhaps in emulation of this year's much larger and more violent upheaval in the Middle East.   In one of his last published essays, Hitchens had this to say about the Arab Spring and the current debate over America's destiny:

It's a strange fact, but in the present political season it is the American Right that seems to harbor the most skepticism about American power. I find this odd: Yet again the US has managed to get itself largely on the right side of a massive historical shift -- the Arab Spring, which it had not "read" very well the first time round. And yet, most of the remarks made by seekers of the Republican nomination have been sour or grudging.

...The ancients taught us to fear hubris, and the Bible teaches the sin of pride. I am always amazed that American conservatives are not more suspicious of self-proclaimed historical uniqueness. But proclaim it they do, as if trying to reassure themselves against the blasts of what looks like a very bad season.

Christopher Hitchens, illustration by Edward Sorel. The artist, a prolific caricaturist, has been honored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation,  Click on the picture for a closer look.

1 comment:

DUTA said...

- Orwell is always relevant.

- 'Arab Spring' is a misleading term. It's more like Arab Chaos.
Wait till you see the 'American Spring' - it's on its way. I'm not sure you're going to be enthusiastic about it.

- I rather like the wrinkled face in the picture. It's full of expression , even...sexy.
Strange as it may seem and sound, there's a certain beauty about wrinkles that come with age and wisdom.