Guardian interview with Hitchens

November 15, 2010 • 5:41 am

Several readers (thanks!) have pointed me to Andrew Anthony’s longish but splendid interview with Christopher Hitchens in yesterday’s Guardian.  It’s sad to read how ill Hitchens has become, but the piece is far more than a lament.  You’ll learn, for instance, that Hitch had a torrid affair with Anna Wintour (what an unlikely pair!), and hear some new words on atheism:

Hitchens dislikes the “New Atheist” title. “It isn’t really new,” he says, “except it coincides with huge advances made in the natural sciences. And there’s been an unusually violent challenge to pluralist values by the supporters of at least one monotheism apologised for quite often by the sympathisers of others. Then they say we’re fundamentalists. A stupid idea like that is hard to kill because any moron can learn it in 10 seconds and repeat it as if for the first time. But since there isn’t a single position that any of us holds on anything that depends upon an assertion that can’t be challenged, I guess that will die out or they’ll get bored of it.”

As for the notion that his brand of atheism is reductive or joyless, it’s religion, he contests, that is “cosmically hopeless, as is all the related masochism that goes with it – you’ve got to spend your entire life making up for the vermin you are. What is that if not degrading? We don’t do that to people. We say you may as well know you’re a primate, but take heart, primates are capable of great things.”

Nonetheless, Hitchens mentions a “narrow but quite deep difference” between himself and Dawkins. Unlike the evangelical biologist, he has no wish to convert everyone in the world to his point of view, even if it were possible. In other words, he savours the counterargument. Like John Stuart Mill, he is aware of the empty end of achieved objectives. The true satisfaction lies in the means. Although Hitchens is often seen as a provocateur or a contrarian, and both are indeed aspects of his character, at heart he’s incurably in love with the dialectic.

And this:

Along the way, he says, “I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness. Amazing.”

Sound like anyone we know?

15 thoughts on “Guardian interview with Hitchens

  1. That first paragraph you quote says a lot to me – “they say we’re fundamentalists” is one I get all the time, from other atheists & from agnostics (in shrill voices) so the riposte “there isn’t a single position that any of us holds on anything that depends upon an assertion that can’t be challenged” is perfect.

    1. I loved Anthony’s comment after Hitchens mentioned that he (Hitchens) & Wintour “didn’t really have much in common.”


      Other than fashion, I joke. Among his many struggles, the one waged against the tyranny of the pressed and laundered outfit should not be overlooked.

      (Anthony’s no slouch of a writer himself.)

  2. We say you may as well know you’re a primate, but take heart, primates are capable of great things.

    I could spend all day collecting Hitch sentences like this one. Ye gods, I love reading the man.

  3. I first encountered Hitchens’ curious position in the “Four Horsemen” video. He may be in love w the dialectic (and I suppose I am, too), but surely the achieved objective of a world free from religion, dogma, and magical thinking would not be an empty one. Just think of all the evil that is made possible or supported by the infrastructure of religion.

    Although, I have to wonder just how committed Hitchens is to this little curlicue of an opinion. In his debates, he pulls no punches while eviscerating religion for the ill it has engendered. Indeed, I think he might be the “atheist spokesperson” who best conveys outrage at the evil religion has wrought.

    A great man. Here’s hoping for several more years.

    1. I think that’s just philosophical wankery – the objective is not worthwhile, only the pursuit is. What a load of crap. It would fit in well with the delusions of idiots who believe in “targeted research”.

      1. I have never gotten the impression that Hitchens thinks this way.

        But why shouldn’t he enjoy the pursuit ?

        I certainly enjoy the pursuit of my profession, over and above any value it’s objective may have, not that I think there is an objective or that it has any value.

        1. I’m with MadScientist. Hitch does seem to think this way, and expressed it before at length in the Four Horsemen video.

          Now, ‘enjoying the pursuit’ is fine, but I have a big problem with Hitch’s attitude of not at least WANTING religion to go away when he thinks it’s so harmful to and oppressive of humanity. Surely the objective of ending religion-based suffering is more important than our ‘enjoyment’ of the debate.

          1. You can’t be blamed for what you wish for, only that which you labour for. He’s just saying that if there were no more religionists to argue with he’d be less happy, not that he wouldn’t wave a magic wand and make it happen if he could. There’s a difference between what makes you happy and what would make a better world. Anyway it’s never going to happen so I think it’s pretty much of a moot point.

  4. The article opens with the tag line, “You have to choose which future regret you’re going to have.” You’d assume that was a direct quote from Hitchens regarding his lifestyle and cancer, but you’d be wrong on both accounts. The actual context is the decision to invade Iraq, weighing the casualties of war on one hand versus what he believes Iraq would have become had we not invaded. It’s a common sentiment expressed without the cliche.

  5. My reading of the interview may be tinted by my former smoking, drinking and chemo therapy. While I take issue with much of his writing, especially his tendency (addiction?) toward what I see as dualistic thinking, I found the interview to be in accord with his previous focus on the reality he perceives.

    In my fifteen years of being cancer free, I have found this constancy of philosophy among cancer patients and survivors to be the norm and am pleased he has not softened during this terrible encounter.

    All the best to Hitch, especially his always give me cause to think more deeply than I would on my own.

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