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January 21, 2013 3:11 AM   Subscribe

Richard Seymour has a new book out: Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens. It is reviewed in In These Times: Christopher Hitchens Stands Trial
That said, Hitchens’ later years and the enormous celebrity he enjoyed during that period are a case study of just how handsome the rewards are for those willing and able to serve as attack dogs for the dominant powers of their place and time. Hitchens’ main service to the American elite was to employ a combination of innuendo and character assassination to cast aspersion on virtually every high-profile figure critical of American foreign policy after 9/11—a roster that includes Julian Assange, Noam Chomsky, George Galloway, Michael Moore, Harold Pinter, Edward Said, Cindy Sheehan, Oliver Stone and Gore Vidal.

It is also reviewed in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal: Christopher Hitchens: The guilty bastard
It has often been remarked that Hitchens was a contrarian who could defend the Iraq War and support wiping Iran off the map, while also praising Leon Trotsky. There is nothing especially unique about this. Hitchens was the type of apostate who could say that “he didn’t leave the party, but the party left him”. He may have had a way with words, but as Seymour rightfully points out there is a long tradition of this style of apostacism from the New York Intellectuals to the French New Philosophers who dress up their support for imperialism with words borrowed from the left. Hitchens may have been immensely quotable in this regard, but he was hardly unique.
The CS Monitor has some background:
“Unhitched” grew out of an essay Seymour had written about Hitchens which was published in a collection called “Christopher Hitchens and His Critics.” After Seymour sent Hitchens a copy of that essay, their relationship deteriorated. “We stopped exchanging emails shortly afterwards,” Seymour recalls. “He thought of it as an insult and threw a few back.”
Seymour's blog is Lenin's Tomb, and he has an article about the book in The Guardian: Christopher Hitchens: from socialist to neocon - 'His tragedy is that he became what he had despised – a living and ignominious satire upon himself'
posted by the man of twists and turns (140 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent post! This will give me hours of endless fun! Seriously!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:15 AM on January 21, 2013


To be fair, George Galloway certainly deserved a healthy measure of the criticism. The others, perhaps not so much.

Hitchens, like most people, was multi-faceted: right sometimes, wrong others, questionable others. I thought he was wrong on Iraq. I thought he was bang on the money on atheism. People come in shades of grey, and if they're smart people, substantially more than fifty of them.
posted by Decani at 3:27 AM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


He’d no doubt had too much to drink before that debate, Hitchens was capable of turning a clever phrase and of gaining a chuckle from the audience.

He had an admirable reputation as a drinker and is a kindred spirit in that regard, but it seemed to me, like most obnoxious bullies I've met in bars, he was far more interested in having a fight than concerned about what he was fighting for or against.
posted by three blind mice at 4:05 AM on January 21, 2013 [23 favorites]


Hitchens, like most people, was multi-faceted

It's true that many of us have the same 'shades of grey' as Hitchens, and like to drink and talk shit a lot... and although he was insufferably pompous nearly all the time, I don't think he was really a bully. And I'm sure a few drinks with him would have been fun.

But what I can't stomach is the smearing and betrayal he doled out to people like Edward Said and Cindy Sheehan from his overpaid job at a shitty Hollywood gossip magazine.
posted by colie at 4:18 AM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Shouldn't that be aspersions? I bet he did it to more than one of them more than once.
posted by unliteral at 4:26 AM on January 21, 2013


On one hand, I found Hitchens' behaviour in the runup to the Iraq invasion (and his unrepentant stance afterwards), quite unconscionable.
On the other hand, it would have at least looked better if Seymour hadn't apparently waited until after Hitchens' death to release this book-shaped retaliation. No because of any purported respect due to dead people, but because to attack somebody who isn't there anymore to defend himself (and there's no doubt that a living Hitchens' would have issued a rather vigorous counter-attack) seems rather cowardly.
posted by Skeptic at 4:41 AM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Meh, I kind of got a kick out of some of Hitchens's antics, but I'm hardly a fan. But he doesn't seem important enough to me to warrant a book-length take-down.

OTOH, basically everything I come across from Verso seems like lefty drivel to me. Absolutely forced to choose between Hitchens and the kind of people Hitchens pissed off, I'm fairly likely to side, not entirely happily, with the former.

And: if you are going to write such a book, why not do it while the guy, only recently deceased, is alive to have a chance to defend himself? (Though there's nothing to be said in defense of his position on Iraq.)

(I see Skeptic just made that last point even while I was typing.)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:44 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember Hitchens speaking at two Las Vegas conference I went to years ago. He always took advantage of the lack of smoking laws. You never saw him without a cigarette and drink.

He was an engaging speaker, though I never could get over the cheer leading of the Iraq war. After all the justification had be proven false, not even an oops, much less an apology.
posted by KaizenSoze at 4:48 AM on January 21, 2013


to attack somebody who isn't there anymore to defend himself (and there's no doubt that a living Hitchens' would have issued a rather vigorous counter-attack) seems rather cowardly.
and
if you are going to write such a book, why not do it while the guy, only recently deceased, is alive to have a chance to defend himself?


Maybe Hitchens kicked the bucket while Seymour's book was in the works, or maybe Seymour just didn't have the time or inclination or contract to write it until now. You might think it's unfair that Hitchens can't fight back, but isn't it also unfair to say that Hitchens is now off limits? In any case, if Seymour has written anything that demands a rebuttal, Hitchens has friends who know how to put words together.
posted by pracowity at 4:59 AM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


What, is writing about any historical figure off-limits now unless it's flattering? Really? If Hitchens were half the real intellectual that countless eulogies would have him be, he'd be the first to sneer at that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:15 AM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is it just me, or does the book cover bring to mind John McCain?

Anyway, nothing screams hatchet job so much as a gratuitous unflattering mug shot. Sorry they couldn't resist the urge. Makes it harder to take them seriously.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 AM on January 21, 2013


Absolutely forced to choose between Hitchens and the kind of people Hitchens pissed off, I'm fairly likely to side, not entirely happily, with the former.

Do the dead Iraqis and American soldiers Hitchens helped to enable count as the latter?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:23 AM on January 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


To say that Skeptic was saying that "writing about any historical figure is off-limits now unless it's flattering" is to construct a straw man.

His point, as I understand it, is not that Hitchens is dead, but that he's recently so. The question is: why not write this while he's alive?

There are possible answers, as pracowity notes.

A better answer: the author did, apparently, write some of it in an essay while Hitchens was alive, and later expanded it into a book.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:24 AM on January 21, 2013


Speaking as a loudmouth Atheist, loudmouth Atheists get a gigantic free pass among their fans. I guess this is because until recently there were so few of them, you couldn't be picky about them. Penn Jillette, Ricky Gervais, Hitchens, and even Richard Dawkins to some extent get a lot of really repulsive behavior waved away because they're "members of the tribe".

It's true that like all of us they have gradations and contradictions and are only human, but unlike all of us they also have an international platform on which to often say some idiotic things and have them picked up by fanboys who are too smitten with the idol to give them grief about it.

As an aside, Skepticism (which is the avenue by which I encountered Hitchens) seems to be going through a phase now where "news about Skepticism" is "news about Skeptics", and the "personalities" in the movement are getting more coverage than the movement itself. While it's exciting and encouraging for there to be enough of a Skeptical movement that it should even have personalities, cults of celebrities don't lend themselves to skepticism very well, especially when, seemingly in Hitchens' case, the celebrity is one of his own biggest fans.
posted by Legomancer at 5:26 AM on January 21, 2013 [21 favorites]


I don't know whether it's unfair to attack someone after they're dead but in this case it certainly seems too late to me, as though Seymour were rushing into the saloon with his fists up several hours after everyone else had gone home (or to jail).

That said I think Hitchens might have felt it was an acceptable tribute that he could still annoy certain people sufficiently, even posthumously, for them to bring out whole new books about him.
posted by Segundus at 5:31 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is the point of Loudmouth Atheism?
posted by colie at 5:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The point of Loudmouth Atheism, the way I understand it, is not to notice that the problem with fanaticism is fanaticism, and not so much the thing one is fanatical about.

Or as somebody somewhere put it, tolerance will always lose because you cannot be tolerant fanatically.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:43 AM on January 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


What is the point of Loudmouth Atheism?

To actually present Atheism as a legitimate and viable viewpoint and to speak against religion when it becomes repressive, intolerant, and violent.

The only difference between "New Atheists" and, I guess, old Atheists, is that previously Atheists were expected to be quiet, not make waves, and above all show "respect" and "deference" to religion so as not to offend people. In other words, to not actually do or say anything that might call attention to your Atheism while two major religions battled with everyone to hold theocratic sway over the population.

Standing up and saying, "I'm an Atheist, I'm happy with that, and I'm not comfortable with being told I need to live my life as though I'm some other religion" is apparently disrespectful and rude and offensive.
posted by Legomancer at 5:47 AM on January 21, 2013 [26 favorites]


To be a militant Christian, you have to shoot abortion providers. To be a militant Muslim, you have to blow up buses. To be a militant atheist, you have to not be quietly ashamed of being an atheist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 AM on January 21, 2013 [101 favorites]


I don't know whether it's unfair to attack someone after they're dead but in this case it certainly seems too late to me, as though Seymour were rushing into the saloon with his fists up several hours after everyone else had gone home (or to jail).

Given the number of lionizing memes that pop up in my social media feed with filters off, I'd say it is still *very* current.

WRT atheism, Hitch found his people. New atheism grew out of Science Wars/Third Culture right wing academia who used to dance for their masters' amusement at Edge.org billionaires' dinners. The fact that they've been embraced as progressive is almost entirely a reaction to the religious right, and not because they offer any substantial political or social alternatives.
posted by mobunited at 5:49 AM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


The point of Loudmouth Atheism, the way I understand it, is not to notice that the problem with fanaticism is fanaticism, and not so much the thing one is fanatical about.

So sick of this. You never ever ever ever EVER encounter one of these supposed Loudmouth Atheists in real public. Yes, professional trolls are loud.

Whereas the number people willing and eager to cram religion down your throat in person is endless.
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on January 21, 2013 [19 favorites]


There's also been a lot of racist shade and misrepresentation from prominent and not so prominent atheists w/r/t Islam, and considering they're a minority and "other" that's shit on on the reg in the US and Hitchens was one of the prominent rah-rah-rah-ers in that too.
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:54 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


as though Seymour were rushing into the saloon with his fists up several hours after everyone else had gone home (or to jail).

Except that this is not, as far as I know, the continuation of a pub fight between two people. It's a book written in response to earlier books, essays, articles, speeches, and other public pronouncements. People should not have a problem with this. An author's death doesn't protect the author's work from criticism.
posted by pracowity at 5:57 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I understand the frustration and the unfortunate situation. Fighting fire with fire is fine by me, for which reason I should have emphasized the second bit more I guess: that a sensible, calm and reasonable position is under-equipped for a shouting match by its very structure. And anyway, the number of believers in one position or another should have no bearing on the substance and quality of that position.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:58 AM on January 21, 2013


The only difference between "New Atheists" and, I guess, old Atheists, is that previously Atheists were expected to be quiet, not make waves, and above all show "respect" and "deference" to religion so as not to offend people.

Right, because "demure" is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Madeliene Murry O'Hare.

As for Hitchens, who I didn't care for, it's kind of richly amusing to see all this kvelling about him from the left, still. On the one hand, the list of smear victims in the article seemed fairly replete with people who gave as good as they got, if not better --- I mean, Gore Vidal? --- and on the other I don't think they quite give him enough credit. It's not inherently corrupt to change your mind. He went nuts after 9/11, of course, but it seemed to me that it was a case of his hatred of religion usurping and overwhelming his hatred of American military imperialism. Of course, in the case of the GWoT it wasn't nominally leftist terrorists getting the pointy end of the Hellfire.

Hellfire being Hitchen's specialty, rhetorically. That's what's so funny about it --- nothing about the method and nothing much about the man changed, post 9/11. Just the object. The same people who confess themselves shocked, shocked at his lack of rigor were happy to play hype man to his scattershot bombast when they were chums together hating on Reagan.
posted by Diablevert at 6:17 AM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I commenced to despise Hitchens when he undertook his stupid and aggressive advocacy of Operation Iraqi Fuq'P. How a gentleman of his education could fail to miss that the foreseeable result of the enterprise would be the empowerment of a Shi'ite government aligned with Iran remains a mystery to me, except for the obvious answer, alluded to above--he became what he had always despised. Neo-Churchilian, my ass. I was not especially moved by his death, although I admired the fortitude with which he faced it. I suspect he realized that his intemperate habits played a significant role in his impending demise.

As for the atheism, a stopped clock is right twice a day.
posted by rdone at 6:17 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald's piece in Salon after Hitchen's death: Christopher Hitchens and the protocol for public figure deaths
Subordinating his brave and intellectually rigorous defense of atheism, Hitchens’ glee over violence, bloodshed, and perpetual war[link mine] dominated the last decade of his life. Dennis Perrin, a friend and former protégée of Hitchens, described all the way back in 2003 how Hitchens’ virtues as a writer and thinker were fully swamped by his pulsating excitement over war and the Bush/Cheney imperial agenda
and at the end:
The day after Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens went on CNN and scorned what he called “the empty life of this ugly little charlatan,” saying: ”I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” As I said, those demanding that Hitchens not be criticized in death are invoking a warped etiquette standard on his behalf that is not only irrational, but is one he himself vigorously rejected.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:26 AM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


It doesn't matter how hard you kick, if the horse is already dead then you are just kicking a dead horse.
posted by Sailormom at 6:34 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My internal name for him has been "Christopher Bitchins"
posted by hellojed at 6:36 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck the International Socialist Party and its stooges like Seymour. Hitchens was a horrible creature, but if I have to choose between a guy who rah-rah'ed the Iraq War and a guy who rah-rah's the Cheka, I'll throw them both down the deepest hole I can find.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:41 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given that Christopher Htchens is dead, I think he is already down the deepest hole you will ever find.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:48 AM on January 21, 2013


There's also been a lot of racist shade and misrepresentation from prominent and not so prominent atheists

Well, I'd say this seems to be partly because a lot of prominent atheists are white and male.
posted by FJT at 6:49 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU: " So sick of this. You never ever ever ever EVER encounter one of these supposed Loudmouth Atheists in real public. Yes, professional trolls are loud. "

Assuming a "Loudmouth Atheist" fits Legomancer's description: " To actually present Atheism as a legitimate and viable viewpoint and to speak against religion when it becomes repressive, intolerant, and violent."

Then yes, some of us certainly do encounter "loudmouth atheists" on a regular basis. For that matter, I could be characterized as a "loudmouth theist" who also speaks out against religion when it becomes repressive, intolerant and violent. And who is perfectly comfortable presenting atheism (and agnoticism) as a legitimate and viable viewpoint.
posted by zarq at 6:55 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


He went nuts after 9/11, of course, but it seemed to me that it was a case of his hatred of religion usurping and overwhelming his hatred of American military imperialism.

He did that well before 9/11. His full on repeated screeds against Bill Clinton were a major factor in turning that scandal into a multiyear nightmare.

If you judge a man by how he changed the world for the things he believed in, you can only call the corpus of work from Hitchens to be pretty much a failure. I remember vividly when he left The Nation because he felt that the editorial board considered John Ashcroft more of a threat to the US than Osama Bin Laden.

Well, in my view, when you look at the damage that the institutions that Osama Bin Laden and John Ashcroft created, esp. over the last 10 years, well, yes, John Ashcroft proved to be a *vastly* larger threat to the American Way than Osama bin Laden did. Never mind his enabling of Ahmed Chalabi.

He was vividly anti-Zionist, and yet, he threw in hard after 9/11, allowing the ultra-Zionist viewpoint to become one of the dominant positions in US Foreign Policy.

So, yes, he was antitheist* and against the war on some drugs. Good on him. He had a way with words. Excellent. He was one of the very few people that used the term "Marxist" correctly as a description of a particular political *and* economic system, as opposed to just another synonym for "Soviet, et. al."

Was he a good man? No. I really do not think he was, and if he was, I believe did far more damage to the causes he actually believed in than good.




* Atheist doesn't correctly cover his position. He didn't simply not believe in god, he was an active opponent in the very idea of believing in a god. Agnostic atheism means "I do not believe in there being a god, and the question is unanswerable anyway." Agnostic theism accepts there might be a god, but the question is unanswerable. Atheism (from the greek atheos, without gods) is the statement that there are no gods.

Hitchens was antitheist -- he not only believed in no god (atheist) , but that the idea of believing in a god itself was wrong. Atheists, conceivably, could coexist with theists, but an antitheist explicitly is against the idea and those who hold/advocate the idea.
posted by eriko at 6:59 AM on January 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


Anyway, nothing screams hatchet job so much as a gratuitous unflattering mug shot. Sorry they couldn't resist the urge. Makes it harder to take them seriously.

Authors don't usually get to pick their cover art. Thus the old saying about books, covers, etc.

And as pointed out earlier, Seymour had already written some of these criticisms when Hitchens was alive, and sent it to him directly, and it was not well-received.

So sick of this. You never ever ever ever EVER encounter one of these supposed Loudmouth Atheists in real public. Yes, professional trolls are loud.

Whereas the number people willing and eager to cram religion down your throat in person is endless.


What's interesting about this is the idea that if atheism were dominant, it would not be the tool of obnoxious types attacking others who thought differently. I think Hitchens and the rampantly sexist types who infect skeptic conferences indicate that the human desire to play dominance games can adapt to any ideology and use it for that purpose, even an ideology that specifically states it believes in equality and open-mindedness.

After all, many followers of Jesus seem quite capable of using teachings about loving your neighbor, seeking peace, and giving away your goods to become prosperity-gospel-believing racist warhawks.

Maybe it's our obsession with dominance that causes more trouble than any specific ideology?
posted by emjaybee at 7:00 AM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


>There's also been a lot of racist shade and misrepresentation from prominent and not so
>prominent atheists

Well, I'd say this seems to be partly because a lot of prominent atheists are white and male.


Well, that was just the dose of sad irony I was looking for to start my day.


Letters to a Young Contrarian demystified Hitchens for me: he was the would-be Mick Jagger of intellectualism.

I haven't read Mortality, but I know some people who found his polemical work annoying enjoyed it nonetheless (or perhaps all the more).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:01 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dennis Perrin (who happens to be a longtime friend) has written about Hitchens on his blog.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:15 AM on January 21, 2013


eriko: "He was vividly anti-Zionist, and yet, he threw in hard after 9/11, allowing the ultra-Zionist viewpoint to become one of the dominant positions in US Foreign Policy.

In Hitch-22, his positions on being Jewish, Zionism and Israel were much more complex than blind support. In fact, even after 9/11 he was at times quite critical of Israel (and Jews).
posted by zarq at 7:21 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an atheist, I fucking hate all Atheists. It's certainly not something that gets Hitchins a pass on Iraq.
posted by Artw at 7:25 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do the dead Iraqis and American soldiers Hitchens helped to enable count as the latter?
but i thought soldiers were tools of imperialist capitalist hegemony

i can't keep straight who's right anymore
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:36 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hitchens is what would have happened if John Blutarsky had attended one of his Philosophy classes at Faber College.
posted by delfin at 7:42 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


At one point Hitchens almost had me convinced of the honesty of his position on Iraq - that as an internationalist socialist, you showed solidarity with the local revolutionaries who wanted help. And the oppressed people of Iraq were demanding help. But he lost me when he completely failed to see beyond that - into what the actual imperialist agenda was, into what the likely outcome would be. Support the liberation of the people of Iraq from Hussain? Sure. But not under the agenda of Bush/Cheney, surely.
posted by Jimbob at 7:44 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I think he is already down the deepest hole you will ever find"

Of the graves I'd piss on, his is not one. I never could regard him as anything other than an entertainer, with less influence than a talk radio blowhard.

Now this is a gravepisser.
posted by surplus at 7:46 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


> To be a militant Muslim, you have to blow up buses.

Really? I thought it was just refusing to eat non-halal meat that my relatives served.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 AM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the complaint that atheists in the West are held to a higher standard than Muslims is . . . precious.
posted by mobunited at 8:05 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe Hitchens kicked the bucket while Seymour's book was in the works, or maybe Seymour just didn't have the time or inclination or contract to write it until now.

Hitchens was pretty sick for a while. You don't write it while he's sick. If he was healthy at an earlier time, you could write it then.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2013


Hitchens' worst crime was to go after the worst of the self-promoters when he attacked those opposing the Iraq war. That's what allowed the type of character assasination he practiced. If he had mainly pushed back against more thoughtful opponents it would have been harder. Cindy Sheehan? Has no real skill at oratory, not a thinker--a woman speaking out about a loss she suffered. Yet exactly the target he'd pick out.

Still, he's like the funny and suave bad guy--you always had to treat him with respect, and you were laughing at his jokes. I think he just woke up one morning and saw the plume of smoke from the Pentagon and though, Jesus, my kids are in this house. Obvious speculation on my part, but I cannot otherwise explain how he got duped.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


employ a combination of innuendo and character assassination to cast aspersion on virtually every high-profile figure critical of American foreign policy after 9/11—a roster that includes Julian Assange, Noam Chomsky, George Galloway, Michael Moore, Harold Pinter, Edward Said, Cindy Sheehan, Oliver Stone and Gore Vidal.

With the exception of Chomsky and Assange, this is a list of the finest self-promoters.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:20 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


With the exception of Chomsky and Assange, this is a list of the finest self-promoters.

Well, Assange has indeed proven rather crap at promoting himself. Not that he hasn't tried, though...
posted by Skeptic at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Erm, all of those are a little bit more than self promoters, though of course if you're on the wrong sort of left you cannot be successful or actually be good at what you do.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except every time Assange is interviewed, the interviewer tries to make the discussion about HIM, rather than about the issues he advocates. And he puts a stop to that junk every time. If the only thing he were interested in promoting were himself, he'd indulge. He doesn't. I'm not saying he's a nice guy or that I'd like to have him over for dinner, but that impresses me.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:26 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth: " Still, he's like the funny and suave bad guy--you always had to treat him with respect, and you were laughing at his jokes. I think he just woke up one morning and saw the plume of smoke from the Pentagon and though, Jesus, my kids are in this house. Obvious speculation on my part, but I cannot otherwise explain how he got duped."

He was a consistent voice against religious fundamentalism, even back in the 80's. His support of a military war against religious extremists was not at all out of character.
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


... like most obnoxious bullies I've met in bars, he was far more interested in having a fight than concerned about what he was fighting for or against.

Warren Ellis' review of "Arguably" said, in part:
Hitchens would pick an argument with furniture. He’d also use the item as the launching point for a discourse on… well, whatever was up his arse that day, with little regard for its relevance to furniture. [...] he seemed always up for a fight, but only so long as he was assured of winning.
posted by mhoye at 8:27 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


His support of a military war against religious extremists was not at all out of character.

The war in Iraq wasn't against religious extremists.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:38 AM on January 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


As an atheist, I fucking hate all Atheists.

Atheist is not a proper noun.

The media has a conflict bias these days, so of course, they'll be picking at the bones of Hitchins and other atheists they deem and make prominent.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2013


dirigibleman: " The war in Iraq wasn't against religious extremists."

Of course.

But to Hitchens, it was. This is immediately obvious from his writings. Much of his defense of the Iraq War was that it was a victory for secularism against religious fundamentalists, such as Al Queda. He repeatedly pushed the idea that Saddam Hussein was motivated by religious wingnuttery and that in his later years Hussein was building mosques.

Hitchens was adept at warping reality to fit his own biases. Most pundits are. So the fact that the Iraq war left a power vacuum which was soon filled by people more religious than the Baathists was conveniently left out of his war hawk defenses.
posted by zarq at 8:54 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


http://www.mrdestructo.com/2011/12/burn-in-hell-christopher-hitchens.html
posted by Quart at 9:02 AM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Where are the Christian socialists of yore? Or even a socialist who looks at religion with something more than yobbish fatuity?
One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.--Orwell
Oh, for a great English socialist with true insight into mankind's spiritual needs.
posted by No Robots at 9:11 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


My internal name for him has been "Christopher Bitchins"

I always imagine him as a teddy bear named Crissafur Britches. he wears lil corduroy trousers!
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:19 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


So sick of this. You never ever ever ever EVER encounter one of these supposed Loudmouth Atheists in real public. Yes, professional trolls are loud.

Whereas the number people willing and eager to cram religion down your throat in person is endless.


I’m always surprised at these statements here. I’ve said it before, but that’s just not the world I live in. I can’t remember the last time someone talked to me about their religion uninvited, it’s certainly many years between occurrences. I really hate proselytizing, but it’s more of an abstract, not something I encounter regularly.

I’ve never in person heard anyone say anything negative about Atheists, but I regularly have people make negative comments about Christians to me (much more so than Muslims or anyone else) and I have no patience with it. My experience would be exactly the opposite of yours, I never ever encounter one of these supposed Loudmouth Christians in real life, just on TV.

I’m sure this happens but I’m not sure what it is I’m doing to build this force field around myself.
posted by bongo_x at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Seems only fair that Hitchens be given a chance to defend himself: Hitchens responding to a critic.

Hitchens giving a talk at my favorite book store talking mainly about Jefferson.

I have a great fondness for the spirited, talented, and fun discourse of sixties intellectuals like Hitchens, Chomsky, Buckley, Gore, etc. I marched against the war in Iraq, but I was a little conflicted about it. I'm personally in favor of the spread of democracy and "freedom" (and socialism) around the world, but not if it costs hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hitch was an asshole to many people in many circumstances, but ultimately he took his waterboarding like a true man.

He was frightened. He was horrified. He immediately repudiated its use and decried it as torture.

The fact that he had to be convinced personally notwithstanding, unlike certain others I can think of *cough* Sean Hannity *cough*, he took the proverbial Pepsi Challenge and honestly changed his mind. This shows that whatever ideology was driving him, he was willing to test it against empirical experience.
posted by chimaera at 9:57 AM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]



Assuming a "Loudmouth Atheist" fits Legomancer's description: " To actually present Atheism as a legitimate and viable viewpoint and to speak against religion when it becomes repressive, intolerant, and violent."


Is there anyone coming from a remotely rational point of view who disagrees with this? This is not Loudmouth-ism. It's merely speaking your piece. I consider Loudmouth-ism something that involves drowning out opposing points of view, which sucks regardless of what you're espousing.

Whereas the number people willing and eager to cram religion down your throat in person is endless.

I'm with bongo_x. I live in a comparatively enlightened/progressive corner of the world. Short of the odd private situation (ie: weddings), I can't remember the last time someone tried to cram religion down my throat. Atheism on the other hand -- lets just say I don't have to go looking for it.

Bullies are bullies regardless of the clothes they're wearing, views they're espousing. If the situation is with them, they're going to throw their weight around. I hate that.
posted by philip-random at 10:01 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Where are the Christian socialists of yore? Or even a socialist who looks at religion with something more than yobbish fatuity?

One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.--Orwell

Oh, for a great English socialist with true insight into mankind's spiritual needs.


They are around, they just get ignored. (though I am not sure Fred would consider himself a socialist per se). Well and he's not English if that's important to you.

That world is gone, anyway; there is too much change that has happened. We can't wait for Great Men to tell us what to think. We can honor powerful voices, but in the end, it's down to us rabble to do something. I like the way we hammer it out in places like this. I think that's better than in the old days, when a privileged few sat around in pubs and libraries and decided what was good and worth pursuing. And really, their effect was always more to inspire than to create change; it was always the rabble in the streets and the factories and the kitchens who were doing the real work of change. They just never got the awards and speaking engagements and high-profile magazine gigs.
posted by emjaybee at 10:06 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


philip-random: " Is there anyone coming from a remotely rational point of view who disagrees with this?"

I wouldn't have thought so, but DU said they don't exist except as professional trolls, so.....

This is not Loudmouth-ism. It's merely speaking your piece. I consider Loudmouth-ism something that involves drowning out opposing points of view, which sucks regardless of what you're espousing.

I agree.
posted by zarq at 10:12 AM on January 21, 2013


I can't remember the last time someone tried to cram religion down my throat.

This is my experience as well.

"Religion is just fairy stories" is pretty much the dominant state-backed capitalist ideology where I am in the UK. It caused a ripple of concern and derision when Tony Blair came out and said he was truly religious, i.e. he actually believed in it rather than just swore on bibles etc while getting on with making sure the only real fairy story that anyone could believe in is that free markets will solve everything (which was his job).

I'm not religious either but I get a lot more inspiration from the genuinely radical, anti-power aspects of 'Jesus' than I do from atheists like Hitchens.
posted by colie at 10:12 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Mean while the other Hitchens brother...

'War without end, forever and ever amen'
posted by Damienmce at 10:18 AM on January 21, 2013


Bullies are bullies regardless of the clothes they're wearing, views they're espousing. If the situation is with them, they're going to throw their weight around. I hate that.

The response to religious bullies is a call to recognize that religious bullies are atypical. While the response to atheist bullies is to demand something of the individual atheist. I'm not quite certain what it is, storm the halls of mainstream publishing to demand that certain people no longer have books written by or about them? Shut down sites that run op-eds from them? Voice, yet again, disagreement on a statement that's spawned thousands of comments?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:40 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The response to religious bullies is a call to recognize that religious bullies are atypical. While the response to atheist bullies is to demand something of the individual atheist.

I see no evidence to support this idea at all.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:44 AM on January 21, 2013


I used to think that the distinction between religious and not-religious was one of the most important distinctions between people. I've come to realize that the distinction between asshole and not-asshole is much more important. Part of that realization is due to meeting not-asshole religious people; an equal part is due to meeting the asshole not-religious.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:56 AM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


There's a great novel called Hopeful Monsters (written by Nicholas Mosely, son of the fascist Oswald). It covers all kinds of recent history -- end of WW1 onward -- tracing the rise of fascist Germany, the Spanish Civil War, the fall into the chaos of WW2, the development of the atom bomb etc.

One key conclusion it comes to is that we need a new guiding philosophy for humans on earth, and the heart of this philosophy must be aesthetics/beauty, and the heart of this is a simple yet fundamental acknowledgement that, in a post split-atom world, means and ends can no longer be separated -- ugly means cannot be justified by beautiful results, because they cannot achieve beautiful results.

This, to me, is the failure of all bullying. Your ideas may be with the angels, but as soon as you employ the devil's tactics, you're playing for his ends.
posted by philip-random at 11:14 AM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dammit, I still love the guy. I knew that the hagiography following his death would diminish, and it obviously has, but I still miss him terribly. His writing was really superb, I love contrarians, and sometimes bullying is appropriate. I certainly don't agree with all of his political permutations, but having gone insane myself after 9/11, I don't condemn him entirely for it.

His brother, OTOH, is truly loathsome.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 12:05 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


kittens for breakfast: I see no evidence to support this idea at all.

Then I fail to see what the point of statements made in this thread are, if not collective indictment.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:35 PM on January 21, 2013


Hitchins was Hitchins, it should be reasonable to talk about his legacy without turning him into a figurehead or exemplar for atheists, American immigrants, or men who drink too much scotch.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


it was always the rabble in the streets and the factories and the kitchens who were doing the real work of change.

In sports, we recognize great athletes. In music, we recognize great virtuosi. In science, we recognize great insight. Why is it that in the domain of society and politics we refuse to recognize greatness? There are, after all, great democrats, no?

His brother, OTOH, is truly loathsome.

His brother is busy opposing war and praising Orwell (thanks, Damienmce). Loathsomeness is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
posted by No Robots at 1:06 PM on January 21, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: " The response to religious bullies is a call to recognize that religious bullies are atypical. While the response to atheist bullies is to demand something of the individual atheist.

The response to religious bullies by theists is usually to distance themselves and their beliefs so people won't think they are similarly aligned. Hence articles like this one: Local Clergy Strongly Disagree With Westboro Baptist Message, Methods. This does not seem unreasonable to me.

In my experience, the most mature and thoughtful callouts of bullying, whether religious or non, have addressed specific incidents, people and groups without making inappropriate generalizations. Michael and Debi Pearl are not representative of all theist parents. The Westboro Baptists are not representative of all Christians. Theodore Kaczynski may have been atheist, but he certainly doesn't represent them as a group. The very idea is ludicrous.

These are crazy people. They may affiliate themselves with a group, but that doesn't mean the group accepts or condones them or their actions.
posted by zarq at 1:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


He had an admirable reputation as a drinker and is a kindred spirit in that regard, but it seemed to me, like most obnoxious bullies I've met in bars, he was far more interested in having a fight than concerned about what he was fighting for or against.

But it's intellectual fighting - debate! That's what makes it fun. Its only 'bullying' if Hitchens targets don't have the intelligence or the force of character to debate him, and they should if they're in public life.
Hitchens supported the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds, something that rang true to me as a 16 year old in a college so left-wing one professor yelled at me for celebrating the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Whatever Hitch's ideas he brought them forward with force and charm. It's telling that his enemies only have the stones to debate him after he died.

I trembled like a schoolgirl when I met Hitchens and wept when he died.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:39 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's telling that his enemies only have the stones to debate him after he died.

Hitchens brothers' debate.
posted by No Robots at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2013


One key conclusion it comes to is that we need a new guiding philosophy for humans on earth, and the heart of this philosophy must be aesthetics/beauty, and the heart of this is a simple yet fundamental acknowledgement that, in a post split-atom world, means and ends can no longer be separated -- ugly means cannot be justified by beautiful results, because they cannot achieve beautiful results.

Guess who said: "I am an artist and not a politician. Once the Polish question is settled, I want to end my life as an artist." ?

I agree and disagree with your point. I think that we should teach the making of art and looking at art a bit better. But, to pick a philosophy, I think I agree with the core idea of postmodernism, that there is no one true central narrative, but I find much of the art that comes out of it and many other philosophical movements to be generally be ugly, banal, or simply not striking in any manner.

I don't think we'll ever see one artistic style of image making to ever last forever; in economic terms there are always folk craving novel styles of art. Art Nouveau was a tired style after a while, etc.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2013


He had an admirable reputation as a drinker and is a kindred spirit in that regard, but it seemed to me, like most obnoxious bullies I've met in bars, he was far more interested in having a fight than concerned about what he was fighting for or against.

He was a wonderful writer and that was his weakness. He would just figure out some amazing thing to write, and then write that, even if what he was writing was completely morally bankrupt. He lived for the amazing prose, but that took him down some bad paths because he wasn't able to realize that no matter how great a wordsmith he was, he was saying some despicable things.
posted by deanc at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've never been able to see a logical or rhetorical difference between his term "Islamofascists" and Limbaugh's "Feminazis".

And in that spirit and with the same faultless, incontrovertible affixative conflatory damnation, I hereby rechristen him Hitchensfuckhead.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guess who said: "I am an artist and not a politician. Once the Polish question is settled, I want to end my life as an artist." ?

but again, that's an end justifying a means. What Mr. Mosely's getting at is most simply put as, "The ends are the means." And it's worth reiterating, his father was a notorious fascist. It's not as if he had any ignorance regarding the dangers inherent in politicians who were really artists at heart.
posted by philip-random at 2:03 PM on January 21, 2013


The response to religious bullies by theists is usually to distance themselves and their beliefs so people won't think they are similarly aligned. Hence articles like this one: Local Clergy Strongly Disagree With Westboro Baptist Message, Methods. This does not seem unreasonable to me.

Such distancing shouldn't be necessary, especially when it's a basic Religion and Atheism 101 thing. And yet, repeatedly here, the argument is made that distancing by atheists is unreasonable or the only topic worthy of discussion where atheists are involved.

It's good when clergy speak out for gay rights. It's bad to put them in the position where they must disavow Westboro in order to have credibility first. The same standard should apply to atheists.

In my experience, the most mature and thoughtful callouts of bullying, whether religious or non, have addressed specific incidents, people and groups without making inappropriate generalizations.

That's not happening in this thread where multiple people have made generalizations. (Is it ironic that they are being made on MLK Day?)

I disagreed with a fair bit of Hitchins and agreed with a bit. But that should be a given, not assumed because I share multiple forms of commonality with him.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:06 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos: "Such distancing shouldn't be necessary, especially when it's a basic Religion and Atheism 101 thing."

Yeah, but it's still necessary for a lot of reasons. As with many topics (politics, sports, religion etc) the most vocally outspoken / visually apparent group is the one will be assumed to speak for every member. In many cases, they will even declare they're representative of everyone.

As an example, I'm a theist but a member of a minority religion. And within that religion, one of the smallest and most reactionary sects of Judaism always claims to speak for the rest of us. Sometimes, in order not to be lumped in, it's important to reiterate that they don't. And sometimes yes, it's also important to note that as non-Christians, we don't subscribe to Christian theology. Because for too many people in this country, religion not only means Christianity, but a particular "flavor" of Christianity.

And yet, repeatedly here, the argument is made that distancing by atheists is unreasonable or the only topic worthy of discussion where atheists are involved.

Totally agree those are lousy arguments.

It's good when clergy speak out for gay rights. It's bad to put them in the position where they must disavow Westboro in order to have credibility first. The same standard should apply to atheists.

Agreed.

That's not happening in this thread where multiple people have made generalizations.

Yep. I was just making a general statement.

I disagreed with a fair bit of Hitchins and agreed with a bit. But that should be a given, not assumed because I share multiple forms of commonality with him."

*nod* I watched the Bill Maher show on HBO, and he was a frequent guest for many years. He was always an interesting and pugnacious guest, even when I disagreed with him.
posted by zarq at 2:39 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not happening in this thread where multiple people have made generalizations. (Is it ironic that they are being made on MLK Day?)

Are you seriously comparing the state of what it is to be an atheist in modern day America with the conditions that prompted the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s; I just honestly want to know if that's a thing you are doing right now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:58 PM on January 21, 2013


Are you seriously ...

Are you seriously asking such a stupid and inflammatory question?

... I just honestly want to know if that's a thing you are doing right now.

No, you don't.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:05 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm an "AAtheist", which is either someone who doesn't believe in no god or someone who believes only in that theology specifically associated with giving up drinking.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:08 PM on January 21, 2013


No, you don't.

I do, actually; you're the one who brought up the irony of this conversation taking place on MLK Day, not me. I can only presume you're comparing the plight of atheists in today's US to the plight of minorities in the 1960s, unless of course you're comparing Christopher Hitchens to Martin Luther King.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:14 PM on January 21, 2013


I do, actually;...

No you don't. If you did, you wouldn't presume, or ask a dumb and biased question.

... you're the one who brought up the irony of this conversation taking place on MLK Day, ...

The irony is that I'm entertaining prejudicial claims about me and my community on a holiday dedicated to a great fighter of prejudice. I think religious prejudice falls under the spirit of his dream, even if it does not have either the legal and economic forces associated with racial prejudice. No other comparison was made or implied.

I can only presume ...

Nonsense, you can read the text as written, and if you're unclear, you could ask an unbiased question that does not presume an answer.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:38 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The irony is that I'm entertaining prejudicial claims about me and my community on a holiday dedicated to a great fighter of prejudice. I think religious prejudice falls under the spirit of his dream, even if it does not have either the legal and economic forces associated with racial prejudice. No other comparison was made or implied.

Ah, so you were drawing that analogy. Thanks for clearing that up, I was confused too. Carry on, I'm going to go entertain some thoughts about logorhythmic scale.
posted by Diablevert at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


zarq: Something I've become less and less comfortable with in recent months is when religious liberalism and interfaith groups position themselves as reasonable in contrast to broad negative statements about other groups that are declared to be unreasonable, rather than what they stand for. Perhaps it's because I have personal relationships with orthodox and conservative religious people but the enterprise of announcing one's moderation by sniping at others seems wrong somehow.

Diablevert: Ah, so you were drawing that analogy.

If by, "that analogy," you mean "prejudice in any shape or form is an evil," then I agree.

If you mean "plight of atheists in today's US" is the same as "the plight of minorities in the 1960s," then it's bullshit.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:51 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


No you don't. If you did, you wouldn't presume, or ask a dumb and biased question.

Sorry, but it's not a dumb question, and you have no basis from which to draw a conclusion of bias whatsoever. You have to know, or at least you should know, that invoking MLK is an extremely loaded thing to do, and unlikely to elicit much sympathy when used to defend a movement largely associated with college-educated white people in America and the UK, perhaps the most privileged, socially protected people the world has ever known.

The irony is that I'm entertaining prejudicial claims about me and my community on a holiday dedicated to a great fighter of prejudice. I think religious prejudice falls under the spirit of his dream, even if it does not have either the legal and economic forces associated with racial prejudice. No other comparison was made or implied.

I guess I'm really not seeing the prejudice directed toward a community. I'm seeing criticism of a certain type of...uh...rhetor, I guess, who is incidentally an atheist but primarily (regarding criticism of him) kind of a jerk-ass. I have absolutely zero problem with atheists, but I have a huge problem with blustering blowhards. I suspect I speak for most people in this thread who have expressed an issue with Hitchens when I say that. And I certainly don't think any of those people have a problem with you or your community because of what you do or do not believe. I think there are some people who have chosen people like Hitchens as their role model when expressing their own atheism and its associated trappings, and while that's very unfortunate, atheism is not the problem. There are plenty of people with the same behavioral issues who are not atheists -- I would go as far as to guess most people with them are not atheists.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It gives me great comfort to know that there is no god, despite the fact that an asshole like Hitchens knew so as well.
posted by chronkite at 3:54 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you did, you wouldn't presume, or ask a dumb and biased question.

Well, MLK is often evoked by people who believe they have been misjudged in some way, which clearly implies some form of equal weight of struggle. It's to where I don't even open Facebook on this day anymore. I don't think it's unreasonable or "dumb" of someone to seriously ask if you are making such a comparison. You might be crystal clear in your own mind about what you mean, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's clear to everyone else.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:02 PM on January 21, 2013


It gives me great comfort to know that there is no god,

how do you know?
posted by philip-random at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2013


Shupak: Ironically, Seymour’s literary style often evokes that of Hitchens at his best. Some of Seymour’s turns of phrase are positively Hitchensian, such as his opening salvo in the introduction to Unhitched: “This is unabashedly a prosecution. And if it must be conducted with the subject in absentia, as it were, it will not be carried out with less vim as a result.”

It's a loving homage!

Hitch wouldn't turn in his grave, he'd be all: "I'll bite your ankle!"
posted by ovvl at 4:06 PM on January 21, 2013


kittens: ... and unlikely to elicit much sympathy when used to defend a movement largely associated with college-educated white people in America and the UK, ...

Bias confirmed. Atheism is not a movement, and it's not a proper noun.

Multiple people have associated "jerk-ass" rhetoric with atheists here in this discussion.

Marisa: It's to where I don't even open Facebook on this day anymore.

Are we on facebook? The Civil Rights Acts not only addressed racial discrimination, they addressed religious, gender, age, and later, disability discrimination as well. Many people like me in the years following have expanded them, following the same dream, to include sexual orientation.

Saying that these things are broadly encompassed by the legal and activist concept of civil rights is not remotely a statement that they're exactly the same.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:26 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Folks, take the Same Old Fight to email and talk to everyone in the thread and take side arguments to MeMail at this point please.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:33 PM on January 21, 2013


Bias confirmed. Atheism is not a movement, and it's not a proper noun.

I mean, I don't know what you want me to call it. In your mind, it's a community, but I don't see how if it's not really united by an ethos. It's not a thing, it's an absence of a thing. The number of terms you can use to describe something like that is limited, and someone will be able to find fault with any of them. If it makes you feel comfortable to imagine I have some bias against you, then okay. We all like to feel important or whatever, so.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:45 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Multiple people have associated "jerk-ass" rhetoric with atheists here in this discussion.

Well, maybe with a few prominent atheists, but I hardly think most or even all of them.
posted by FJT at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2013


Doesn't this entire discussion wildly overrate Hitchens's actual importance? Does anybody actually think that anything, at all, would have been done differently in Iraq if Hitchens had been opposed to it? Was the one thing standing between the Iraq invasion happening or not happening one fewer stupid article in favor of it and one more cleverly phrased article in opposition to it?

Hitchens was (mildly) good for the TV ratings of a certain small segment of talking-heads shows and he undoubtedly helped keep up the ad revenue for Vanity Fair--but isn't that about it? Do we really picture a world waiting with bated breath to find out what Hitchens thought about some issue and then jumping whichever way he told it to jump?
posted by yoink at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Eriko wrote: He was vividly anti-Zionist, and yet, he threw in hard after 9/11, allowing the ultra-Zionist viewpoint to become one of the dominant positions in US Foreign Policy.

The reason you find his positions incongruous is that you understand Zionism to mean something like "an interventionist US foreign policy" or, perhaps more simply "everything I dislike". In fact Hitchens was anti-Zionist, in that he thought the idea of a Jewish homeland in the Biblical land of Israel was pointless; and he also favored an interventionist foreign policy, at least with respect to Iraq, whether or not it was in Israel's interests. As indeed it was not: I well recall Israel being told to sit on its hands while Saddam rained missiles down upon it; I also recall that Israel then and now was more concerned with Iran and Hezbollah than the leadership of Iraq, which in any event had by then been defanged.

I think Hitchens' analysis of Zionism was, like many of his positions, shallow and facile; but it was hardly inconsistent with his views on foreign policy. Hitchens favoured intervention in Iraq for the very same reasons he was an anti-Zionist: he disliked nationalism and, like many armchair pundits, supported a policy of fiat iustitia et ruant coeli as long as nothing fell on him personally.

I think it's worth noting that Richard Seymour's views on Zionism are very close to Hitchens', although Seymour arrives at his views through some sort of over-arching theory of conspiratorial imperialism. They had radically different views on foreign intervention, however: for Seymour, anything done by an imperialist power is bad; for Hitchens, anything done to a clericalist dictator was good.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and here's a takedown of Richard Seymour's positions on Zionism and Western military intervention.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:35 PM on January 21, 2013


Multiple people have associated "jerk-ass" rhetoric with atheists here in this discussion.

With the Four Horsemen? Sure. Three of them are assholes: Hitch, Pro-Torture Harris, and Dear Muslima Dawkins. They have awful opinions that they have each *explicitly* linked to their atheism. Dennett's done a song and dance for venture capitalist libertarians who want the intellectual chops denied them by their inability to write essays in college, but at least he comes by his naivete honestly.

I know lots of atheists who are better than these guys. But this thread is about Hitch, a horrible hypocrite of a man, a sexist asshole, a leering imported chickenhawk. He was an actual jerk. Even when Dennett dies, he'll be sullied by having associated with these tremendous assholes. But certainly, that burden should not be carried by all atheists.
posted by mobunited at 6:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is a lot of useless noise from a lot of envious wankers in this thread, none of which merits response, but the shit about Said does: Hitchens loved and respected Edward Said, indeed collaborated with him on a book Back When Hitchens Was Still Acceptable, and his criticism of Said was always balanced with appreciation for the man's good works.

You can throw out 99% of what the man wrote in his life and he'd still be pulling more weight for secularism, cosmopolitanism, internationalism, and the rights of the oppressed everygoddamnwhere than those dogpiling onto his corpse.

Really a shitshow of a thread, this one.
posted by waxbanks at 6:25 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Atheist is not a proper noun.

There certainly are some folks making a go at it, and I fucking hate all them.
posted by Artw at 6:48 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hitchens was (mildly) good for the TV ratings of a certain small segment of talking-heads shows and he undoubtedly helped keep up the ad revenue for Vanity Fair--but isn't that about it? Do we really picture a world waiting with bated breath to find out what Hitchens thought about some issue and then jumping whichever way he told it to jump?

We do if he used to be on our side of the fence sneering Nyah Nyah at people we, too, dislike. The betrayal is greater because the side he left is the underdog --- witness the litany of tomato cansFamous Leftist Icons he took his potshots at. If someone is good at making enough noise to annoy the people who are actually in power and make them stretch themselves to rebuke them, it's terribly galling to have them turncoat --- triply so if they're nearly the only people on your side who've achieved as much. You get far more traction snarking on Hitch than you would declaiming your own critique.
posted by Diablevert at 7:47 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never been able to see a logical or rhetorical difference between his term "Islamofascists" and Limbaugh's "Feminazis".

Oooh, I can help you with that one! Certain clerics really do insist that the Islamic religion demands totalitarian control over individuals' daily lives, and want that control enforced by an all-powerful police state; they further support violence to bring that goal about. No woman has ever insisted that gender equality can only be enforced through the systematic expropriation and slaughter of minority groups, nor have they used violent means to create such a condition. Hence "Islamofacist" makes sense as a term, while "feminazi" doesn't. Glad to assist!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:22 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean, I don't know what you want me to call it.

I call it: A diverse idea that includes people of multiple cultures, ethnicities, social classes, genders, sexual orientations, philosophical perspectives, and yes, even religions.

And if that's too much, then nothing at all, because you're not saying anything that's relevant to atheists in my congregation or community.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:23 PM on January 21, 2013


allowing the ultra-Zionist viewpoint to become one of the dominant positions in US Foreign Policy.

Others have addressed Hitchens' lack of support for Zionism, at least if we are to keep that term remotely meaningful and not simply another word for "neocon." Personally I think that the biggest problem with the above statement isn't the Zionism issue, but just that it gives him, and the chattering classes in general, far too much credit for setting the agenda on the international, geopolitical level. He might have wished he had that much influence on foreign policy, but I don't think that when the history of the early 21st century is written that it will be kind to him (or to many other pundits who no doubt thought and think of themselves as thought leaders) in that regard.

There are a great number of media personalities who seem stuck on the idea that they are in some way leading or influencing the course of nations when their chosen occupations require them to give the public, or certain subsections of it anyway, exactly what they want to hear. Hitchens always struck me as being successful in large part because he sold himself first on whatever he was selling to the public; as that perfect salesman, he gave every appearance of having drunk deep of his own Kool-Aid.

Whether that makes him more or less bankrupt than certain neocon fellow-travelers who give every appearance of having cynically played a part they never actually believed would be anything but disastrous for the country (but presumably profitable for them), I'm not sure.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:32 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


With the Four Horsemen? Sure. Three of them are assholes: Hitch, Pro-Torture Harris, and Dear Muslima Dawkins. They have awful opinions that they have each *explicitly* linked to their atheism.

That seems a little unfair to Dawkins. He's said some clumsy things but let's see: war, torture, drunkenly hitting on a woman in an elevator... one of these things is not like the others.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:26 PM on January 21, 2013


I’m always surprised at these statements here. I’ve said it before, but that’s just not the world I live in. I can’t remember the last time someone talked to me about their religion uninvited, it’s certainly many years between occurrences.

I move in as rational circles as you could possibly wish for, but I still can't stop the regular knocks on my front door from Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other professional proselytizers for their faith.

Not only are they trying to talk to me about their religion uninvited, but they're invariably disturbing me, and taking me away from whatever else it was that I was doing before they came a knocking.

I've never had an atheist come knocking on my door, trying to convert me though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:53 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That seems a little unfair to Dawkins. He's said some clumsy things but let's see: war, torture, drunkenly hitting on a woman in an elevator... one of these things is not like the others.

The others could almost be excused as mere politics, but the "Dear Muslima" post was pure, disgusting racism which should have killed his tenure as a person taken seriously.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:09 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, once again, the Muslim race. What won't they get up to?
posted by Wolof at 2:44 AM on January 22, 2013


And if that's too much, then nothing at all, because you're not saying anything that's relevant to atheists in my congregation or community.

If you have a congregation of atheists, I think you're talking about something pretty specific to your own conditions, and there's really no way for anyone speaking to these subjects more generally to address them in a way you would consider relevant. Is that relevant to the subject of this thread? It probably is not, no.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:15 AM on January 22, 2013


Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery.
Even if you don't believe that anti-Muslim bigotry is racist (and if you don't, frankly, you're a fool), that right there is not somebody who is mad at Muslims. That is somebody who is mad at Africans and Arabs, and is (in an example of racism) refusing to tell the difference.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


kittens: If you have a congregation of atheists,...

Millions of atheists around the world are also members of religious and/or philosophical communities. So yes, that a part of atheist diversity you should be willing to account for.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:43 AM on January 22, 2013


Millions of atheists around the world are also members of religious and/or philosophical communities. So yes, that a part of atheist diversity you should be willing to account for.

And that is interesting, but not terribly important to anything under discussion here, and it's more than a little tangential to this conversation.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:50 AM on January 22, 2013


That is somebody who is mad at Africans and Arabs, and is (in an example of racism) refusing to tell the difference.

It's a cherry-picked list of outrages in and around Sharia law designed to cause extreme offence to the intended reader. I'm not saying there is no racist component to it. But one is not precisely the same as the other, and there's epistemological utility to making some distinction. (Oh, and thanks for the haughty reply.) What of the Bosnians who hit their wives? What of Pakistanis and their "honour killings"? What's the common thread? What's the parsimonious hypothesis here?
posted by Wolof at 3:58 AM on January 22, 2013


The common thread is misogyny.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:08 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, good work.
posted by Wolof at 4:21 AM on January 22, 2013


kittens: And that is interesting, but not terribly important to anything under discussion here, and it's more than a little tangential to this conversation.

So, diversity among atheists isn't important when you're throwing around accusations about it?

When people simplify religious/philosophical groups for the sake of a rhetorical argument, I think they're engaged in a practice that's ethically wrong. I'm not certain why it's acceptable to criticize Hitch, Dawkins, and Harris for pushing arguments that fail to understand Islam, while advancing arguments that fail to understand atheism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:02 AM on January 22, 2013


It's a cherry-picked list of outrages in and around Sharia law designed to cause extreme offence to the intended reader. I'm not saying there is no racist component to it. But one is not precisely the same as the other, and there's epistemological utility to making some distinction. (Oh, and thanks for the haughty reply.) What of the Bosnians who hit their wives? What of Pakistanis and their "honour killings"? What's the common thread? What's the parsimonious hypothesis here?

Honour killings and female genital mutilation are not matters of Sharia law (or "around" them, which is a pretty vague thsaying to -- is couscous "around" Sharia too?). (Domestic violence *is* approved in many sects, which sucks, but the passage of the Koran has a number of interpretations.) Richard Dawkins is a pretty smart guy, and he wanted to make people believe something that was not true for reasons that are less likely to be clumsiness than a deliberate ideological pose. Lying to advance your argument is the mark of a shitheel. When that lying ties together non-white people from around the world, that may *not* be conscious bias, but it's still pretty fucking racist.

So let's be explicit. This is not an attack on atheism, but if supporting assholes like Dawkins is integral to your atheism, man, you gotta rethink that part.
posted by mobunited at 6:08 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank God and All the Saints, Cosmas and Damian, you set me straight!

My position here in no way supports Dawkins. I think his influence in this debate is pernicious.

I do like couscous, though.
posted by Wolof at 6:38 AM on January 22, 2013


Well, MLK is often evoked by people who believe they have been misjudged in some way

I do find evocation of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. a tad ironic here.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:00 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do find evocation of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. a tad ironic here.

Why does this matter? (Answer: It shouldn't.)

Heck, the idea that atheists spitefully reject every person who's religious, and everything said by that person, isn't even true of Hitchins. And I know that Hitchins would have little but contempt for my interfaith community.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:14 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oooh, I can help you with that one! Certain clerics really do insist that the Islamic religion demands totalitarian control over individuals' daily lives, and want that control enforced by an all-powerful police state; they further support violence to bring that goal about.

Sarcasm aside, I sincerely appreciate that clarification. And certain extremely prominent atheist regimes have practiced functional genocide by imprisoning and enslaving entire classes of politcal undesirables in conditions that were expected to, and did, lead to their deaths, in the tens of millions. But I don't imagine you are any more in agreement than I am with those who conflate this genocidal policy with atheism generally, or would be at all sympathetic to a coinage like "atheo-genocides".
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:51 AM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


His brother is busy opposing war and praising Orwell (thanks, Damienmce). Loathsomeness is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

You might want to cast your eye over his previous blog entry -- the one in which he whines about how respect for human rights has replaced Christianity as the religion of Europe.

Seems pretty damn loathesome to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:14 PM on January 22, 2013


Seems pretty damn loathesome to me.

Yeah, not the smartest column I've read. We need a Peter Hitchens thread!
posted by No Robots at 12:44 PM on January 22, 2013


So, diversity among atheists isn't important when you're throwing around accusations about it?

I'm not. The thread is about an atheist, not all atheists.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:34 PM on January 22, 2013


You might want to cast your eye over his previous blog entry -- the one in which he whines about how respect for human rights has replaced Christianity as the religion of Europe.

So basically being a right-wing piece of shit runs in the family.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:24 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I don't imagine you are any more in agreement than I am with those who conflate this genocidal policy with atheism generally, or would be at all sympathetic to a coinage like "atheo-genocides".

If we're thinking of political leaders like Stalin/Hitler/Mao, then they were not really atheists but religious figures. They all believed that they were the prophets of their own personal state-religion.
posted by ovvl at 5:18 PM on January 22, 2013


The others could almost be excused as mere politics

No, supporting torture and the mass-murder of hundreds of thousands of people is not "mere politics", and it cannot be excused. Please stop saying insane things on the Internet. Supporting torture and war is calculated evil, and in Hitchens' case he was obviously enthusiastic about it, and offered no retraction or apology.

As for Dawkins, if he wants to criticize practices like FGM and the like then there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing that. The way he went about it was problematic, but arguably if he had framed it as being part of African or Arab cultures instead of as a Muslim thing that would have come off even worse, and criticizing it as simple misogyny ignores the cultural and religious contexts that justify it. Basically, the only "safe" thing for him to do is keep his head down and not say anything, and that's not what spokespeople for mass movements do.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 6:39 PM on January 22, 2013


The way he went about it was problematic, but arguably if he had framed it as being part of African or Arab cultures instead of as a Muslim thing that would have come off even worse

Yeah, broad racial characterizations are really not a step up from broad religious characterizations. That said, I don't see how this

Basically, the only "safe" thing for him to do is keep his head down and not say anything, and that's not what spokespeople for mass movements do.

follows at all. It is entirely possible to criticize female genital mutilation without claiming it is an inherent in and restricted to Islamic societies, in the same way that it is possible to condemn terrorism without claiming that only Moslems commit terrorism or (more likely) that Islamic terrorism is the only kind that we need to concern ourselves with. If I recall correctly, Dawkins recently made an ass of himself by essentially trivializing misogny that takes place outside a Third World Islamic context, so I feel the parallel works pretty well in his case.

Generally speaking, you learn a lot from examining not just whether the problem being talked about is real, but why a specific problem or set of problems are being highlighted, while others are being carefully ignored. There's a reason people like Dawkins get uncomfortable when we start talking, even quietly and politely, about misogyny in our own society, as opposed to something appalling that those other fuckers do half a world away, just as there's a reason why right-wingers get really antsy when you start drawing lines between Islamic religious terrorism and, say, bombing abortion clinics.

If we're thinking of political leaders like Stalin/Hitler/Mao, then they were not really atheists but religious figures. They all believed that they were the prophets of their own personal state-religion.

People can not believe in God and still believe in irrational concepts (such as racial hierarchy or Marxist orthodoxy or the value of the group above that of any single individual within it), and do appalling things. Some people seem to want to have their cake and eat it too - atheism is the absence of a belief, nothing more, not a movement or a philosophy per se but somehow it can't possibly include anyone who demonstrates that absence of belief but is also horrible or irrational.

All atheists are not rationalists. All believers in the irrational need not be religious. People who try to frame Hitler and Stalin as "religious" are doing much the same thing as those who try to connect them as "atheists" with modern secular humanists - trying to use historical monsters as a sort of hot potato, tossing it at the other side to see how bad you can burn them in the public eye.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:25 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is entirely possible to criticize female genital mutilation without claiming it is an inherent in and restricted to Islamic societies

Yes, it is possible, but no he still wouldn't have been safe from accusations of implicit racism, ignoring Western misogyny and so on that you have alluded to. Also, isn't this something of a strawman? Dawkins didn't say "all Muslims are wife-beaters and genital mutilators, and only Muslims are", and he didn't imply that by any reasonable interpretation either. Why should he have to qualify his statements to explicitly distance himself from that absurd claim, and why should he be assumed to be endorsing it if he doesn't? When people bring up pedophile Catholic priests, they aren't expected to remind everyone that not all Catholic priests are child molestors, and not all child molestors are Catholic priests. If Dawkins was publishing an opinion piece of FGM then sure, demand he carefully qualify everything and get his facts straight. But remember that this was a comment posted on someone's blog in the middle of some Internet drama we are talking about here, not (as is the case with Hitchens and Harris) carefully considered opinions published in books and magazine articles that they had time to mull over and reconsider before publication.

I'm genuinely curious about why there is such a low tolerance for Dawkins. My hunch is that he was skating on thin ice with a lot of people after his rivalry with progressive science icon Stephen Jay Gould. His only real asshole move was bringing up a serious issue to score a few cheap points in an Internet argument. That wouldn't seem to warrant the end of his "tenure as a person taken seriously", especially not when blithely dismissing years-long advocacy for torture and war as "mere politics" in the same breath!
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:41 PM on January 22, 2013


I rather think that stated reasons for the Iraq war, the government's actual reasons, and Christopher Hitchen's reasons for supporting it were all completely different, neither the government of time or Christopher having an excessively high regard for the value of the lives of people from the USA.

You might be surprised how different Noam Chomsky's concerns are to your own as well. He's just more easy going about it.
posted by pfh at 9:49 PM on January 22, 2013


certain extremely prominent atheist regimes have practiced functional genocide by imprisoning and enslaving entire classes of politcal undesirables in conditions that were expected to, and did, lead to their deaths, in the tens of millions. But I don't imagine you are any more in agreement than I am with those who conflate this genocidal policy with atheism generally, or would be at all sympathetic to a coinage like "atheo-genocides".

No, but I would be sympathetic to conflating this with Communism, the ideology which drove those murderous atheist regimes (since it was Communism, rather than atheism, which motivated their slaughter). In the case of "Islamofacist" regimes, the people using that term are actually being extra careful, since the ones carrying out the murders insist that they are simply "devout Muslims"; the coining of the term "Islamofacist" was done specifically to avoid the religion-baiting those regimes believe in. If we were to speak about the Taliban in the terms they would prefer, we would indeed be speaking of "Islamic countries", which would pretty obviously be awful and wrong.

Basically, the only "safe" thing for him to do is keep his head down and not say anything, and that's not what spokespeople for mass movements do.

Which is a sucky thing to do, which is why he didn't/shouldn't do it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(since it was Communism, rather than atheism, which motivated their slaughter).

I agree basically but disagree in part. It was Totalitarianism (which you can regard as the inevitable handmaiden of Communism if you like, but it's not identical to it) which motivated their slaughter. You can't have a literate intelligentsia wandering around who carry around a knowledge of history and can propound alternative narratives to the officially sanctioned one, not if your regime won't tolerate plurality of belief systems.

In a way I agree with oovl. The point of Stalin and Pot, et. al, is that "thou shalt have no gods before me", not, as they claim, that thou shalt have no gods at all. They called their god "The People", but I don't think any actual persons were fooled.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


All atheists are not rationalists. All believers in the irrational need not be religious. People who try to frame Hitler and Stalin as "religious" are doing much the same thing as those who try to connect them as "atheists" with modern secular humanists - trying to use historical monsters as a sort of hot potato, tossing it at the other side to see how bad you can burn them in the public eye.

Sorry, I don't exactly get this?
posted by ovvl at 5:27 PM on January 23, 2013


Sully And Hitch After Dark: God And Coffee

Hitch And Sully: Is Religion Fossilized Philosophy?

Hitch And Sully: “Who Is This Herr Ratzinger?”
posted by homunculus at 5:29 PM on February 9, 2013


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