Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

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I just saw an interview of Christopher Hitchens by Charlie Rose.

Hitchens has cancer and a limited time to live, though how limited is to be determined.

Hit the link and be prepared. He faces things head on and straight up. Always has.

If ever there was a “soul mate” for me it has been Hitchens. What can I say. I was not ready for him to be nearer to done than started. His direct statements about his life, his ending (and hopes that it is still a few years off) and his ‘no regrets’ attitude. I can related. May he have enough time left to say all he has left to say.

One of his statements was that he wished to be conscious for his death. I’ve often phrased it as “I wish to be present at my death”. We both wish to experience the last new experience fully. Never thought I’d hear another person express the same thing.

God, I’ll miss him. At least I’ll be able to read his works in years to come.


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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14 Responses to Christopher Hitchens

  1. Jeff Alberts says:

    God, I’ll miss him.

    Pun intended?

  2. Peter Czerna says:

    Don’t really want to mess with your sorrowful reflections by going philosophical on you, but I am puzzled by the idea of ‘experiencing’ one’s own death. To my mind, in order to rise above mere perception ‘experience’ requires memory and reflection. When Hitchens is dead he will have no memory (he’s an atheist, I believe [sorry for the pun…]) and therefore have no experience upon which he can reflect.

    What you and he will experience moment by moment during dying will surely be the results of consciousness with no time for reflection upon it. Will your critical faculties really be intact at this moment when your metabolism is going haywire and your cells are drowning in its untreated byproducts? And then what, after it’s all over? Write a book about it?

    Give me the ‘happy pills’ my Dad got. I don’t want to be around when I die.

  3. j ferguson says:

    I may have misread this at the time, but Billie Graham was asked about death and his reply was that he accepted it, but would prefer not to be there that day. Assuming this wasn’t a gross misrepresentation of his statement, I was much impressed by what I took to be a very forthright answer in lieu of one more consistent with his line of work.

    “God is Not Great” is well worth reading. He does go on a bit, though – maybe a bit like the environment specials on NOVA where 20 minutes of information is compressed into 90 minutes.

  4. Tregonsee says:

    Going into the Light is an oftern reported near death experience. It has natural and religious explanations, depending on your views. I can easily imagine Hitchens insisting on stopping to think this over. May his passing exceed his expectations.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jeff Alberts: No, not intended. I don’t agree with all of Hitchens’ positions on things, but do relate strongly to his personality. I was not dwelling on his religious position so much as just using a common phrase.

    @Peter: Just as life is a process, so is death. And one can contemplate a process while in the middle of it. (One of the longest 1/10 seconds of my life was sideways in mid air at about 30 MPH on a motorcycle. Another was the time from letting go of the airplane to the end of the static line… “Time Expansion” is a very real effect.

    But yes, it will be an event that requires a fair amount of ‘fast time’ to absorb. It’s also possible that faculties would be so impaired as to not allow for that. Part of what makes it the final mystery…

    But I’d like to at least have a shot at it, instead of being in a drug induced coma and just going cold.

    @J Ferguson: Yes, I understand the drive to be prolix… And given choices of:

    1) Not dying.
    2) Being present for the dying.
    3) Oblivious.

    I’d prefer to take them in that order… but the choice is not up to me.

  6. pyromancer76 says:

    I have always admired Christopher Hitchens, too. “Hitch-22” is an apt title for memoires that must be written too soon. Two ideas from the interview that underscore what I like about him: “Life is a terrible thing to waste”. And his commitment “to be consistently anti-totalitarian”. Peaceful co-existence is not possible with totalitarians and we will have to face “them” at some time. Better that it be on our terms. He remains clear-headed always that religion, including secular religions, has been the greatest cover for totalitarian beliefs and behaviors. And I am not anti-religion.

    A life well lived up to this point. I hope that the health un-care reforms do not limit the amazing strides that medical research has been making in keeping these horrible dis-eases at bay. Much better to die from “old age” and to be able to desire to be lucid at that final moment. I lack his complete courage; I will keep the option of the “happy pill”, too.

  7. pyromancer76 says:

    I forgot to say thank you for linking to that excellent and moving interview.

  8. Ken Mueller says:

    Christopher Hitchens? Is he the one who is angry at God for not existing?

  9. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ken Mueller: That would be one interpretation ;-)

    I don’t agree with all his positions, but find them very well reasoned. He has a tight well tuned mind and a liquid command of words. What I call “keeping a tidy mind”. I’d love to spend an evening of spirits and spirited discussion with him, on any topic at all… but it will not be.

    In my early days I used to watch Firing Line a lot and came to appreciate fine wit. Loved to watch a master take someone apart who had a weak grasp of things, and of reason. William F. Buckley Jr. was my first encounter with a ‘stellar mind’ and let me know there was intelligent life on the planet outside my “hick town”. After a while of being trapped by his well laid words, I learned to see the “set up” coming.

    I put Hitchens in the same league. There is just so much going on with him that you know he’s thought through what he is saying, even if it is a spontaneous response to an unexpected question.

    There are so few people of that caliber that I cherish the ‘tele-media’ for letting me experience even 2nd hand a bit of their presence. Like reading Marcus Aurelius. Here I am a ‘nobody’ and can be in the presence of a Roman Emperor. Even many centuries after his passing. Part of how I got hooked on books…

    Yet with Hitchens, there is a directness about him that I cherish even more than Buckley. Buckley was a puzzle box with a hornet inside. If you didn’t figure it out in time, you got stung. Hitchens is more of an old friend who will politely point out to you your stupidity but in a way that the others at the table may not notice. Honest, sharp, and usually kind.

    I would have loved to present to him “Smiths’ Wager” and see what he thought of it. (For those who missed that discussion, “Smiths’ Wager” is the term I use for my variation of Pascals’ Wager. That passing judgment on the existence of God is a loosing deal, so the best thing to do is decide not to decide. If God is, and you say there is no god, you are toast. If God is, and you say there is a god, you are being so haughty as to pass judgment on the existence of God – not good and full of hubris. If there is no God, and you say there is, you are a fool. If there is no God and you say there is no god, you are stating a simple truth that gains you nothing but can not be proven. You are being a fool by deciding what can not be logically shown to be true must be true. Pointless. So the “correct” answer is to say nothing. Reserve judgment. Know that you can not answer the question, so just walk away. A form of “Mu! The question is ill formed!” in that the question OUGHT to be “Can you reasonably judge the existence of God?”) I would have liked to have known how he would handle that given his views on God…

    Ah well. Perhaps another will come along to fill the gap in our collective wisdom…

    I can’t really describe it well. But there are some folks where I just feel alive listening to them. A lot of the time I go thorough life on “slow’ (so as not to run over others and simply to get the boredom over with faster). Then one of that caliber comes along and I can be fully alive, at least for a little while. Challenged in some way to see all that was thought behind the words that were spoken; knowing that the distillate is all that is spoken, but more was in the alembic …

    And I feel his pain when he says that he’s not sure he would be fit company now… he knows that some of the sparkle is dulled by the pain and the undoubted pain medications. Yet the embers still warm the room…

    How does that line go? “your candle burned out long before your legend ever did” … but at least I got to see those candles… from a distance…

    Well, I’m getting all maudlin so I think I need to take a break…

  10. Keith Minto says:

    His demolition of Henry Kissinger was magnificent. I too will miss his wit and intellect.

  11. Peter Czerna says:

    Thanks for your response.

    I’m sorry, but I’m still fretting about ‘experience’, and now, after your response, ‘fast time’.

    If I look at the time my monitor is showing, by the time I’ve thought about the meaning of that time for me time’s arrow has flown on.

    Is perception the same thing as experience?

    And what is the point of perception without memory? Your 1/10th second motorcycle trip is an interesting memory for you NOW, but if you had been killed immediately afterwards it would – like the rest of your ‘mental life’ – have ceased to exist.

    For this reason I am always fascinated by accounts of people who, through injury or illness, have lost the ability to save short-term memory and consequently ‘live’ in an eternal present – but that’s another discussion…

    Our mental life requires memory.

  12. Jason Calley says:

    E.M., in reference to ‘Smith’s Wager,” yes, it makes sense. There is a story — I think in the Dhammapada — where the Buddha is asked to expound on the nature of God. His answer (paraphrased) is, “No matter what I say, you will argue about it. If I say there is a God, you will argue. If I say there is no God, you will argue about that. Forget about God. That is not a useful thing to consider. Concentrate on what is happening with you now, with how you act, with why you suffer, and what you can do about it!”

    There are quite a few questions that I have found to be “above my pay grade.” That is not surprising. If the great mathematicians are correct, ANY system of organized, axiomatic reasoning will have undecidable propositions.

    As for the “being there for my death,” yeah, I’m the same way. I told my wife years ago that if I am in an airplane and it is going down, I want to be in the window seat with my nose pressed against the glass. The world is so very wonderful, and horrible, and amazing, that I want to get every scrap I can stand. The limit of filling is bursting. :)

  13. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley: The idea that inevitably any complete system will be inconsistent and any consistent system will be incomplete was covered in the book “Is God A Mathematician?”. A particularly interesting point…

    @Peter Czerna: I’ve had enough ‘fast time’ experiences and enough ‘living in the moment’ times (often in karate class where I find I’ve moved before I realized the other guy was doing something…) to know that the brain does not work the way folks expect it to work. It has modes we simply do not fully grasp. And yes, I’d love to have a few years to ‘mull over’ the experience. But if what I get is 1/10 second, I’m certain that a lot of insight can come in that blink. There are times I’ve had a ‘flash of understanding’ of very complex problems that took about that long to go “Ahhh!” I’ve also been present at other folks passing. It took a lot longer than 1/10 second. Days to weeks to reach the end, then hours to many long minutes to pass to the other side. It’s not an easy nor a fast thing (baring a vehicle into a concrete slab or maceration event…) But in the end, it’s just a hope that there will be ‘enough time’ for one last answer… who knows what will happen. I’ve also know people who’s brains checked out long before the body did. Something I’d never want.

    So hopefully the whole issue will be some many decades away.

  14. LGMarshall says:

    I admire Hitchins somewhat for his writing skills… and skewering wit. .. but I when I hear him talk in these last interviews…. I can’t help thinking… ”Me thinks Yea doth protest too much’…

    He’s unusual for an atheist…. in that he cares soooo much that we learn about his un-Belief.

    I have compassion for him and his family, I pray for a complete physical healing for him, and I also pray for his spiritual healing. I feel sad for the legacy of un-belief that he may pass on to his children. After all, what are THEY to stand on in their human need for comfort & guidance?

    As a lowly, Believer , it’s not often I hear someone blast God the way he does… it’s almost fascinating, but in reality, I’m pained by his rejection of something that could give him life, instead of death.

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