Hitchens: Letters to a Young Contrarian

CHitchens “Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

That’s Christopher Hitchens in Letters to a Young Contrarian.

I agree with Hitchens on many things, but not everything. Distrust compassion? Compassion and empathy are what make us human. I am sure that he is confusing two distinct emotions: perhaps he meant pity. Distrust pity; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Then there’s the very strange “Picture all experts as if they were mammals.” Actually, all experts are mammals. Unless of course that there are experts who are birds or reptiles. Anyway, the man was a brilliant polemicist, amazing writer and a debater par excellence. He was not a deep thinker. But then you cannot be reading & writing thousands of words a day, drinking scotch by the gallons, chain-smoking, debating, speaking at conferences, appearing on TV, making documentaries, reporting from war zones, teaching, traveling the world, promoting books — and also find the time and energy to think deeply. The bottom line: good guy who lived life king sized and mostly poured derision on the pretentious and the fake.

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