The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'christopher hitchens'
A few seasonal links for today and tomorrow:
- The mythological trainwreck that we call "Christmas", with its ill-fitting pieces of Middle Eastern and Nordic folklore, was discussed here last year. Now, some people going by the name of Cannabis Culture (read into that what you will) have another element to add to this; namely, the claim that the legend ot Santa Claus comes from Lappish shamanic rituals involving hallucinogenic mushrooms, with Santa's red and white costume having nothing to do with the Coca-Cola logo and everything to do with the colouring of the amanita muscaria mushroom, which may be found growing under fir trees.
- A Norwegian crafter named Jonas Laberg made a 10kg marzipan pig, as a present for his friends' daughters. The finished product looks horrifyingly detailed:
- The Graun's Zoe Williams has a piece on the supposed Christmas tradition of kissing under the mistletoe, which she contends is one of those things that only happens on TV (much like adults playing with cats, she writes), and does a Twitter survey, confirming this; with one heartbreakingly poignant exception:
In 1973, Helen was 16 and having a relationship with a girl at school, but they hadn't come out for a whole load of reasons, most of them to do with it being 1973. "In those days, we were like outcasts, so nobody knew, it was a great secret. A few of my friends were really homophobic. We went to this New Year's Eve party, where people were all goading each other to kiss. So we did. It was brilliant, everybody was cheering, we were pretending it was a joke. It was probably one of the best kisses I've ever had."
It didn't make it any easier to come out, though. "We never came out, we split up two years later, the pressure became too great. Most of it on her, because her family had mapped out her life for her, she had to get married. And I did what was expected of me, when I was 18. I got married as well. I had three kids."
- Christopher Hitchens may be gone, but an unpublished essay he wrote about Christmas has surfaced: Forced Merriment: The True Spirit of Christmas.
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?
One of my many reasons for not being a Christian is my objection to compulsory love. How much less appealing is the notion of obligatory generosity. To feel pressed to give a present is also to feel oneself passively exerting the equivalent unwelcome pressure upon other people... Don't pretend not to know what I am talking about. It's like the gradual degradation of another annual ritual, whereby all schoolchildren are required to give valentines to everybody in the class. Nobody's feelings are hurt, they tell me, but the entire point of sending a valentine in the first place has been deliberately destroyed. If I feel like giving you a gift I'll try and make sure that (a) it's worth remembering and (b) that it comes as a nice surprise. (I like to think that some of my valentines in the past packed a bit of a punch as well.)
- ‘Yes we know it’s Christmas’ say African musicians as they finally record a response to Band Aid:
“Just because we don’t have Boney M or Christmas advertising in September doesn’t mean we are oblivious to it,” said Gundane who went on to suggest that Africans were a lot like the Irish. “They made it through disasters like the potato blight and the invention of the Protestant church without forgetting Christmas – why did they think we would forget it?”
Gundane said he hoped that his involvement with the song would turn him into an expert on British politics and economics in the same way ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ had turned Geldof and Bono into the world’s leading experts on Africa.
- After some UK department store apparently used a godawful twee-folk version of a Smiths song in one of its Christmas ad, the inimitable Rhodri Marsden decided to one-up the horror of it with his own Christmas-themed Smiths travesty. Behold: Heaven Knows I'm Christmassy Now, to be a mainstay of Christmas mix tapes in years to come.
Christopher Hitchens, incandescent polemicist, serially promiscuous believer (lapsed Marxist turned neoconservative warhawk, adherent of various religions turned outspoken atheist) and bon vivant, has died. He was 62.
Hitchens was known for his broadsides against various public figures, from villains like Henry Kissinger to alleged paragons of virtue like Mother Teresa (whom Hitchens described as a ghoulish political opportunist, feeding off and perpetuating the misery of the poor) and the Dalai Lama.
The Independent's Oliver Duggan has written a tribute to Hitchens:
For Hitch, it seems to those of us who truly admired him, was not simply an atheist, a polemicist, and least of all a contrarian. Nor was he a poster boy the left, a banner boy for Iraq, or the harbinger of the apocalypse. He was, in a small part, the 21st century’s answer to the enlightenment. He stood, first and foremost, for thought. Thought that would always – by definition – question inherited truth and inherited experts.Thought that could break the chain and cull the living flower. In fact, he can be - and often is – mentioned alongside Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, Orwell and Trotsky not for what he thought, but for how he thought.And other eulogies from Ana Marie Cox (you may remember her from suck.com), his close friend the writer Ian McEwan, and Christopher Buckley (the son of arch-conservative William F. Buckley). And here is a counterpoint:
Christopher Hitchens was a pompous buffoon, fueled by booze and cigarettes, and an advocate of an often-despicable worldview. You can dislike him for his repellant views. You can hate his loathsome behavior. You cannot pretend the world didn't just lose a one-of-a-kind voice in our culture. There's nobody left like Christopher Hitchens.I disagreed with a lot of Hitchens' points of view (his support for the Bush administration's war in Iraq, for example, not to mention his somewhat chauvinistic contention that women are incapable of being funny; anyone who has read one of Zoe Williams' columns in the Guardian will have seen disproof of this); his righteous eviscerations of all manner of nonsense, however, were a wonder to behold. Over and above this, he had integrity, and was willing to revise his views when faced with new evidence rather than sticking to an ossified dogma. When challenged on his assertion that waterboarding isn't torture, he had himself subjected to it, and then publicly recanted his previous conviction, which is something it takes a real mensch to do.
Hitchens now rests forever in the noodly embrace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; he will be missed (it is perhaps a great tragedy that we won't see his eulogy for Henry Kissinger). For what it's worth, longform.org has a selection of his essays.
Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the Royal Wedding, and, as usual, pulls no punches. The Hitch in full form is a splendid thing to behold:
A hereditary monarch, observed Thomas Paine, is as absurd a proposition as a hereditary doctor or mathematician. But try pointing this out when everybody is seemingly moist with excitement about the cake plans and gown schemes of the constitutional absurdity's designated mother-to-be. You don't seem to be uttering common sense. You sound like a Scrooge. I suppose this must be the monarchical "magic" of which we hear so much: By some mystic alchemy, the breeding imperatives for a dynasty become the stuff of romance, even "fairy tale." The usually contemptuous words fairy tale were certainly coldly accurate about the romance quotient of the last two major royal couplings, which brought the vapid disco-princesses Diana and Sarah (I decline to call her "Fergie") within range of demolishing the entire mystique. And, even if the current match looks a lot more wholesome and genuine, its principal function is still to restore a patina of glamour that has been all but irretrievably lost.
For Prince William at least it was decided on the day of his birth what he should do: Find a presentable wife, father a male heir (and preferably a male "spare" as well), and keep the show on the road. By yet another exercise of that notorious "magic," it is now doubly and triply important that he does this simple thing right, because only his supposed charisma can save the country from what monarchists dread and republicans ought to hope for: King Charles III. (Monarchy, you see, is a hereditary disease that can only be cured by fresh outbreaks of itself.) An even longer life for the present queen is generally hoped for: failing that a palace maneuver that skips a generation and saves the British from a man who—like the fruit of the medlar—went rotten before he turned ripe.
Myself, I wish her well and also wish I could whisper to her: If you really love him, honey, get him out of there, and yourself, too. Many of us don't want or need another sacrificial lamb to water the dried bones and veins of a dessicated system. Do yourself a favor and save what you can: Leave the throne to the awful next incumbent that the hereditary principle has mandated for it.
Christopher Hitchens reports on Prince Charles' increasingly ominous anti-science pronouncements, and his even more sinister fellow travellers:
Discussing one of his favorite topics, the "environment," he announced that the main problem arose from a "deep, inner crisis of the soul" and that the "de-souling" of humanity probably went back as far as Galileo. In his view, materialism and consumerism represented an imbalance, "where mechanistic thinking is so predominant," and which "goes back at least to Galileo's assertion that there is nothing in nature but quantity and motion." He described the scientific worldview as an affront to all the world's "sacred traditions." Then for the climax: "As a result, Nature has been completely objectified—She has become an it—and we are persuaded to concentrate on the material aspect of reality that fits within Galileo's scheme."
So this is where all the vapid talk about the "soul" of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The "vacuum" will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover.
An interesting interview with leftist/neoconservative Christopher Hitchens, by Johann Hari:
Hitchens was on a TV debate with the leader of a small socialist party in the Irish dail. "He said these Islamic fascists are doing this because they have deep-seated grievances. And I said, 'Ah yes, they have many grievances. They are aggrieved when they see unveiled women. And they are aggrieved that we tolerate homosexuals and Jews and free speech and the reading of literature.' And this man - who had presumably never met a jihadist in his life - said, 'No, it's about their economic grievances.' Well, of course, because the Taliban provided great healthcare and redistribution of wealth, didn't they? After the debate was over, I said, 'If James Connolly [the Irish socialist leader of the Easter Risings] could hear you defending these theocratic fascist barbarians, you would know you had been in a fight. Do you know what you are saying? Do you know who you are pissing on?"
He believes neoconservatism is a distinctively new strain of thought, preached by ex-leftists, who believed in using US power to spread democracy. "It's explicitly anti-Kissingerian. Kissinger hates this stuff. He opposed intervening in the Balkans. Kissinger Associates were dead against [the war in] Iraq. He can't understand the idea of backing democracy - it's totally alien to him."
I feel simultaneously roused by Hitch's arguments and strangely disconcerted. Why did Hitch so enthusiastically back the administration's bogus WMD arguments - arguments he still stands by? I think of the Bush administration's denial of global warming, the hideous 'structural adjustment' programmes it rams down the throats of the world's poor (including Iraq's), its description of Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace"? Why intellectually compromise on all these issues and back Bush?
Arch-contrarian Christopher Hitchens gets mediæval on Mother Teresa, best known as the world's leading brand of goodness. According to him, her works served to increase poverty and suffering whilst boosting her personality cult, raking in lots of money from the guilt-assuagement industry, and the Pope (himself a reactionary) has improperly cut corners in the usually rigorous beatification process, eliminating procedures designed to guard against fashionable superstition, in order to make her a saint before he dies. Oh, and the "miracle" "she" performed was a fraud too.
A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.
I wonder what would happen if one could look more closely, using primary evidence, at the miracles for which most historical saints got their haloes; how many of them would turn out to be polite fictions, well-meaning conspiracies of true believers cooking the books for the greater good of giving the faith (and the local community) a new saint. Faith can make people do intellectually inconsistent things; for example, Creationists who truly believed that the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago have been caught doctoring evidence and knowingly lying about verifiable facts that supported unfavourable hypotheses; who's to say that the vast majority of beatifications aren't the product of conspiracies of consensual deceit? I'll lie if you look the other way, and a hundred years from now, nobody will know the difference.
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had beenshe preferred California clinics when she got sick herselfand her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.
The Dalai Lama: cuddly, celebrity-endorsed embodiment of Peace'n'Love and self-help and feeling good about yourself and universal acceptance, or bigoted reactionary snake-oil peddler, whose mediæval views are modulated by a hypocritical pandering to gullible, moneyed westerners?
In reality, Tibetan Buddhism is not a values-free system oriented around smiles and a warm heart. It is a religion with tough ethical underpinnings that sometimes get lost in translation. For example, the Dalai Lama explicitly condemns homosexuality, as well as all oral and anal sex. His stand is close to that of Pope John Paul II, something his Western followers find embarrassing and prefer to ignore. His American publisher even asked him to remove the injunctions against homosexuality from his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium," for fear they would offend American readers, and the Dalai Lama acquiesced.
I remember a public talk he gave at his headquarters in Dharamsala in northern India in 1990, after conflict between Tibetans and Indians there. He spoke in Tibetan, and his delivery was stern and admonitory, like a forbidding, old-fashioned father reprimanding his children. The crowd listened respectfully, and went away chastened.
All this reminds me of claims about various parties in the Middle East (on both sides) saying one thing in English for the benefit of gullible western liberals and another, considerably more warlike, thing in their people's own language. The moral of the story: the dumb Yanqui (and that includes Americans, Britons, Australians, Canadians and such) are mugs to be played as such.
But yes, back to the subject at hand. I once got a book "by" the Dalai Lama as a present from a new-age relative. Little surprise that it consisted of the most vapidly insipid pabulum, a lowest-common-denominator collection of self-help aphorisms with the Dalai Lama brand slapped on it. It's highly unlikely that its wisdom came from any tradition older then 1960s California. The Dalai Lama appears to have become the leading brand of guilt-assuagement for affluent Westerners whose TV doesn't quite drown out the awareness that they're living high off the hog amidst massive injustice and thus need to be reassured that they're good people and their positive thoughts cancel out any contribution their lifestyle makes to global suffering. Either that or he's just an incredibly successful conman. Or both.
And here's an article on rampant brutality in feudal Tibet; not quite the happy valley of bliss Richard Gere would have you believe. Mind you, it seems a bit pro-Chinese in places. And here's Hitchens' opinion on the Dalai Lama. (via MeFi)
The Onion looks at Appointed by America, the new Fox reality TV show to determine the ruler of Iraq:
"Get ready, America, because you're about to choose the man--or woman--who will lead Iraq into an exciting democratic future," said Fox reality-programming chief Mike Darnell, introducing the show at a press conference. "Will it be Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the exiled Iraqi National Congress? Or General Tommy Franks, commander of the allied forces? Or maybe Roshumba Williams, the Macon, GA, waitress with big dreams and an even bigger voice? Tune in Tuesdays at 9 to see."
Added Perkins: "So long as Hitch can learn to keep his mouth shut about Christianity being symptomatic of the 'savage and ignorant prehistory of our species' and whatnot, I'm sure he'll cause no trouble that a few cups of black coffee and a night in the drunk tank can't solve."
Read: Christopher Hitchens on Islamic fundamentalism, the marginalisation of moderates and humanists, and why the Saudis and their ilk are not our allies.
And he's right; moderate humanism isn't very popular in Washington either. Not long before 11 September, the Bush administration was advocating "faith-based government" and praising the Taleban as allies in the war on drugs. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan are still persona non grata with Washington, who preferred to back the warlords and rapists from the Northern Alliance. The conflict is not so much framed as "humanism vs. zealotry" as "our god vs. your god"; the God-given manifest destiny of America vs. the will of Allah. Which sounds like nothing so much as a debate between paranoid schizophrenics. Only the schizophrenics have armies and nuclear missiles and zealots willing to kill and die on their word.
The real conflict would be between enlightened, tolerant liberal (I'd say libertarian, if the word hadn't been taken over by the Ayn Rand cult and like-minded zealots) humanism (i.e., the values we should export to all who seek them) and the belligerent, atavistic ignorance of every thug, tyrant and dictator. Though our leaders have sided with the thugs too often.
Or, to quote an entirely different holy book, "Death to all fanatics!"