The Guy Quote – Christopher Hitchens (RIP)

Woke to the sad news that Christopher Hitchens has passed away. Since his diagnosis with oesophageal cancer he wrote fearlessly and frankly about what he faced. But never, ever forget that before he “passed into the land of malady” (and also after) he was a fabulous polemicist and one of the leading voices of secularism. So as well as the quotes I suggest you read a tribute to him by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, for whom he wrote for many years. Do take time to discover the rest of his career though, because you should be defined by how you live, not what kills you, and if you don’t happen to agree with what he says, he’ll at least make you think. There’s an excellent obituary from The Guardian here and a full profile on Wikipedia – get stuck in.

“Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic,” Hitchens wrote nearly a year ago in Vanity Fair, but his own final labors were anything but: in the last 12 months, he produced for this magazine a piece on U.S.-Pakistani relations in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, a portrait of Joan Didion, an essay on the Private Eyeretrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, a prediction about the future of democracy in Egypt, a meditation on the legacy of progressivism in Wisconsin, and a series of frankgraceful, and exquisitely written essays in which he chronicled the physical and spiritual effects of his disease. At the end, Hitchens was more engaged, relentless, hilarious, observant, and intelligent than just about everyone else—just as he had been for the last four decades.

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends,” he wrote in the June 2011 issue. He died in their presence, too, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. May his 62 years of living, well, so livingly console the many of us who will miss him dearly. (VanityFair.com)

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“That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

“[O]wners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

“Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.”

“[Mother Teresa] 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.”

“The governor of Texas, who, when asked if the Bible should also be taught in Spanish, replied that ‘if English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me.”

“What do you most value in your friends? Their continued existence.”

“To ‘choose’ dogma and faith over doubt and experience is to throw out the ripening vintage and to reach greedily for the Kool-Aid.”

“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”

“Organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”

“Nothing optional–from homosexuality to adultery–is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate. As Shakespeare put it in ‘King Lear’, the policeman who lashes the whore has a hot need to use her for the very offense for which he plies the lash.”

“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

“Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.”

“You should be nicer to him,’ a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favoured boy. ‘He has no friends.’ This, I realised with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.”

“She’s got no charisma of any kind [but] I can imagine her being mildly useful to a low-rank porn director.”

“Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of ‘the flock.”

“Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one? Faith. Closely followed—in view of the overall shortage of time—by patience.”

“Your favorite virtue? An appreciation for irony.”

“How dismal it is to see present day Americans yearning for the very orthodoxy that their country was founded to escape.”

“There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.”

“What is your idea of earthly happiness? To be vindicated in my own lifetime.”

“The finest fury is the most controlled.”

“Cheap booze is a false economy.”

“The search for Nirvana, like the search for Utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.”

“My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can’t prove it, but you can’t disprove it either.”

“How is the United States at once the most conservative and commercial AND the most revolutionary society on Earth?”

“As the cleansing ocean closes over bin Laden’s carcass, may the earth lie lightly on the countless graves of those he sentenced without compunction to be burned alive or dismembered in the street.”

“Where would you like to live? In a state of conflict or a conflicted state.”

“I have not been able to discover whether there exists a precise French equivalent for the common Anglo-American expression ‘killing time.’ It’s a very crass and breezy expression, when you ponder it for a moment, considering that time, after all, is killing us.”

“Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”

“How ya doin’?’ I always think, What kind of a question is that?, and I always reply, ‘A bit early to tell.”

“There either is a god or there is not; there is a ‘design’ or not.”

“Forget it. Never explain; never apologise. You can either write posthumously or you can’t.”

“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”

“There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”

“I became a journalist because I did not want to rely on newspapers for information.”

“A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can’t make old friends.”

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? (Just to give you an idea, Proust’s reply was ‘To be separated from Mama.’) I think that the lowest depth of misery ought to be distinguished from the highest pitch of anguish. In the lower depths come enforced idleness, sexual boredom, and/or impotence. At the highest pitch, the death of a friend or even the fear of the death of a child.”

“In a Pyongyang restaurant, don’t ever ask for a doggie bag.”

“My little ankle-strap sandals curled with embarrassment for her.”

“And now behold what this pious old trout hath wrought.”

“The essence of tyranny is not iron law. It is capricious law.”

“Part of the function of memory is to forget; the omni-retentive mind will break down and produce at best an idiot savant who can recite a telephone book, and at worst a person to whom every grudge and slight is as yesterday’s.”

What word or expression do you most overuse? Re-reading a collection of my stuff, I was rather startled to find that it was ‘perhaps.”

“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator – that’s beyond my conceit.”

“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 awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.”

==

Add-ons:

“Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner, rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed on by some Apache transvestite”.

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