Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of one of my few heroes.
At the time, I wrote, perhaps with a bit more emotion than I usually express, of his passing and of the void he left. (HERE)
“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.” – Christopher Hitchens
I repeat the quote I had in the original post as I sit and marvel on just how much the world has changed and degraded since then. Discourse has taken a back seat to sweeping declarations, thoughtless generalizations, and platitudes often presented with an accompanying graphic whose sole purpose is to limit critical thinking as it punctuates its dumbed-down message to unthinking masses.
I can’t, however, just credit the loss of Hitchens for this degradation for there are a number of other individuals who carry on in his wake, if perhaps with a bit less fervor and devastating zeal.
No. The credit goes to the rise of self-entitled individuals demanding their views be accepted without challenge, their simplifications of complex issues be accepted as gospel, and insisting their version of reality is the only one that matters. I can’t even listen to the news anymore and can hardly stand to read anything, including the little Facebook posts that these days pass for discussion.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit set on my ways . . . but my ways are not absolute black-and-white. There is a lot of gray swirling around and at least, I try to constantly challenge myself to better understand people, issues, and the world in general. Prove me wrong on something, and I’m your friend. Tell me I’m wrong without offering proof or a logical argument, and you’ve lost my respect forever.
There is no better place where unreasoned certainty of the sanctity of one’s position is played out to absurdity than the political arena.
Before one or the other side nods in agreement, know that I don’t side with either as I see them both as deeply flawed. Here, someone will make the argument that one version of a shit sandwich is better than the other version. Meantime, I can’t get past the fact it’s a shit sandwich.
Those kinds of arguments, the claims of legitimacy because of an assumed higher moral ground, is what pushes me toward arrogance and toward intolerance. It’s what makes me retreat from discussions, from engaging stupidity, from trying to make a difference.
This cartoon, for me, summarizes the current state of public discussion. Parties and individuals are engaged in arguments without a second thought to common ground or even agreeing what the argument is really about. The economy, the environment, war, religion, race . . . there is little that amounts to more than each side flinging belittling insults at each other, each side afraid to admit to any kind of weakness in their positions even as they each claim possession to a silver bullet that will fix everything.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You can’t really blame politicians, religious leaders, or even odious political pundits . . . they know the public wants that silver bullet. The public wants to hear everything that is wrong will magically go away if one elects this or that candidate, follows this or that political party, or bows to this or that religious doctrine.
It’s as if individuals and the population at large are eager to abdicate the responsibility of adulthood.
Like I said, I miss Hitchens.
So, even as I hear and read friends and family lay claim to this or that position, even as they align themselves with this or that group, I remember this advice . . .
For them who want to spend a bit of time reliving Hitchens, this is my most favorite appearance of his.