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February 1st, 2011
"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
The Thinking Atheist over on Facebook planted this quote up on his feed the other day and I cut and pasted it out so I'd have time to think on it past the immediate reaction that I put up on Facebook when it came up. It's an interesting quote and, I think, representative of the deep self-questioning and thinking people do when they have a life threatening condition.
I think everyone's aware I've been suffering on and off with depression this last couple of years but not everyone knows it has -occasionally - reached suicidal proportions and while I'm not sick in the same way Hitchens is - I'm not facing down a likely-deadly disease of the same sort - it does cause a similar amount of introspection when you 'sober up' and take a look at yourself so, this made me think, though I'm afraid the religious are unlikely to score a victory in the introspection of either Hitchens, or myself.
"Beware the irrational, however seductive."
I can agree with this one, 100%, as it applies to real life in any case. Engaging in irrational _fantasies_ is fun, stretches the imagination, gives you new perspectives, lets you ask 'what if'. I'm all for that. When people mistake the irrational for the rational however, that's where you get problems. That's where you get homeopathy or astrology, where you get 'holographic sports wristbands', anti-abortion activists or elaborate conspiracy theories. Many of these things are seductive. We all like to think we've got secret knowledge, that we're special somehow, that we GET something nobody else does, that we're chosen and beloved of the gods or whatever... but this is a hopelessly arrogant mindset and we should learn to be a bit more humble in the face of the universe.
"Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself."
Me and The Hitch disagree on political issues and his political side is showing a little bit in this one. Maybe he's spent too long in America and bought into their insane levels of 'rugged individualism', I don't know. The first half I agree with, people talking about something 'outside', 'beyond' and so on are just making excuses for the total lack of objective reality in what they believe. Ignoring the real in favour of the unreal. I also agree that we should not annihilate selfhood or subordinate ourselves to dogma. Hitch would, likely, include socialist thought in that second half where I do not. I don't consider that a subordination or elimination of the self since any society is made up of individuals and it is in our individual interests to collectivise effort, safety and other factors.
"Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others."
Compassion is a valuable thing but often it's used as a cover for something else. I interpret this as advocating a hand up, rather than a handout, which I agree with. Too many groups use the excuse of compassion as a means to dominate, proselytise, control or cause people to become indebted. A perspective of providing/allowing for dignity may ensure a more pragmatic approach to problems.
"Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish..."
Arrogance? Well, sometimes you simply are right and that's not arrogance, it's supportable fact. This can be often mistaken for arrogance though. Selfishness? That bothers me more. Sure, often accusations of selfishness aren't true, but they are bothersome and disrupt some deep level of self-image that most humans seem to share. We should pay attention to such accusations, but examine them rationally.
"Picture all experts as if they were mammals."
Don't presume an argument from authority to be correct in other words. Experts also make mistakes and they breathe, breed, shit and piss, same as the rest of us. Look at what they do, where their information comes from.
"Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity."
Get involved, challenge stupidity and unfairness and in so doing you can educate and make the world a better place by addressing unfairness. I agree, though it's hard bloody going.
"Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence."
I needed something reaffirming on this score lately as between breasts, pronouns and dickwolves, the internet ether has been full of 'teh stupids' and it has gotten very wearing. I normally seek out people of opposing points of view and I love to argue. Keeps me engaged, keeps my mind fresh, challenges my point of view and tests it. I normally relish the opportunity. Butting heads with people who don't share that point of view or who are invested in wilfully misinterpreting you is extremely tiring though and I succumbed to the temptations of the banhammer more than once lately, which always makes me feel dirty for resorting to it. I can't leave an argument alone though and it can be the only way to get some peace. Still, I should re-examine that.
"Suspect your own motives, and all excuses."
Yep, put yourself under the light as much as other people.
"Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."
I would do a lot for the people I care about so I expect a lot from the people I care about. This can lead to some... unevenness and resentment but does that mean I should rein in how much I care about other people in order to be more realistic? I'm not sure that it does...
Anyway, it was good food for thought for such a short quote and it's nice to see cancer hasn't diminished Hitch's fighting spirit.