August 13, 2010

"We treated him like a wise man, but it turns out he was just a clown."

Writes Peter Popham, about Christopher Hitchens:
[S]uddenly, with death breathing down his neck, what he has to say is of no use to him, and is no use to us, either. He has failed us, and in his blunt way he comes clean about the fact....

We needed to rouse ourselves from the sleep of superstition, but in doing so we have collapsed into the narcosis of materialism. And waking from that to the reality of death is a far nastier matter.

43 comments:

Kirby Olson said...

In the face of death, reason is a pitiful clown with sad eyes, like a Red Skelton painting. But I still think it's wrong to laugh at Hitchens. He did fine with his Orwell book.

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

That seemed pretty mean-spirited. What was the point?

Toy

As my whimsy leads me.. said...

The article, that is.

Toy

Beldar said...

Hitchens is interesting, eloquent, and perceptive, but I've never for an instant mistaken him for being wise. Indeed, he's able to be interesting, eloquent, and perceptive even when he's absolutely, totally wrong. And he makes me wish more people could, while being wrong, summon up the ability and will to be as interesting, eloquent, and perceptive as he is. He has my good wishes and, yes, prayers for recovery and long life even if he only would ascribe meaning to the former.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Your time will come, too, Popham. Let's see how you face it, hmmm?

Palladian said...

"That seemed pretty mean-spirited. What was the point?"

To get you to read it. Sounds like Popham wants to pop into Hitchens' place as agent provocateur when Hitchens pops off.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I hope Crack Emcee reads this article, though it might discommode him. He basks in the certitude that men have no souls, and are better off without them.

Whatever pain is visited on us at the end or at any time, we have something to learn from it. If you can learn something you can teach it.

Norse mythology never went for the happy ending. There is no Christian heaven with clouds and harps. The frost giants will eventually defeat the gods of Asgard, and good will be defeated. A morose tale for morose northerners. But at least it emphasizes the value of the here and now.

So be here now, as Ram Dass puts it. Nobody says you have to enjoy the process of dying, but it is your story, and you owe it to all of us to play it out. Leaving early is for incurious cowards. I think Popham is being somewhat unfair to Hitchens in this regard, because a real materialist is an incurious coward, and Hitchens has so far refrained from suicide.

rhhardin said...

We needed to rouse ourselves from the sleep of superstition, but in doing so we have collapsed into the narcosis of materialism.

And the collapse of alliteration.

edutcher said...

Good Lord, how can you laugh at the poor man (Hitch), given what he's facing?

Popham sounds as if he's disappointed Hitchens didn't find some witty, oh-so-hip way out of his predicament and, as such, let down all his pals who are now faced with nothingness or the realization that all the 'idiots' may have been right, after all.

rcocean said...

Hitchens wise?

More like the average Tavern lout with a gift for gab.

Lem said...

I Like Hitchens.

I liked b4 he was sick.

Penny said...

Damn that Hitch! He's working his way outta here at JUST the right time!

Gotta give Hitch credit. This wise man seems to have the gifted comic's sense of "perfect" timing, the least of which was his well-received autobiography that had no HINT of his death!

Ha Ha Good one, Hitch! But next time? How about more transparency, buddy?

As for the rest of us?

Far as I can tell, not nearly good enough at SYNCHRONIZING much of anything.

Here's hoping we all die screaming OMG in the middle of a worldwide, wet dream!

William said...

Whatever pose he strikes, it will be ineffectual. Our last days are marked by dementia, incontinence, and pain. There's no point to any of it, and there's no escaping it either. The only thing to do is pretend that it is not going to happen and to pretend that our current activities give meaning and importance to our lives. This pretense is second nature during youth, but much harder as we age.......I don't have any real faith, but life itself is such a weird and improbable event that maybe there's some pattern or point that we don't grasp in our current state of knowledge.

Irene said...

Hitchens is in a special place. He knows how he will exit.

Matthew said...

Jeez,how about a little sympathy for a dying man? I'm betting the raging hard-on who wrote this piece of crap would certainly feel differently if their places were reversed.

In fact,I'm postive the little crapweasel who wrote this would be shrieking like a pansy little girl about the terrible cancer that the government-run health care system won't treat, because it was easier and cheaper to put him on a Death List instead.

I haven't always agreed with Hitchens,but he was a better-than-average intellect, and a very good writer. There are people in this world who truly deserve to suffer, but this ain't one of them.

Doug Wright said...

@Penny: Yes, yes! Hear, hear! Plus, someone else will have to cleanup the mess!

Freeman Hunt said...

And the collapse of alliteration.

Ha!

Skyler said...

Popham is an opportunist trying to get some attention from the writings and acts of others. This article is about as shallow as I can imagine,

Fred4Pres said...

Peter is a dick.

prairie wind said...

I don't particularly like Popham's style nor his jabs at Hitchens, but I do agree with him here:
Whereas the truth is that the self, to the extent that one can speak of such a thing, is in constant flux, one's expectations from life are in constant evolution, and nothing we do is "our own business" – everything impinges on everything else in the universe.

Those who are certain they know now how they will feel and what they want done or undone when death approaches...they can't know.

Freeman Hunt said...

who are certain they know now how they will feel and what they want done or undone when death approaches...they can't know.

I agree. I hate advance directives. Mine goes like this "[Person A] makes the decisions. If [Person A] wants to remove life support measures, such action must also be okayed by [Person B]."

The Crack Emcee said...

Tyrone Slothrop,

"I hope Crack Emcee reads this article, though it might discommode him. He basks in the certitude that men have no souls, and are better off without them."

This line reflects one of the biggest shocks of my adult life:

"Mankind cannot bear very much reality"

You forget, my friend, I was introduced to the reality of death at a very young age. This article, to me, is written by someone who's never had a close-up view of the fisheye, the unspun coil, the spilt brains and blood. Not really, anyway. He's never studied what the believers say, when it's they who have nothing more to offer than the lame catch phrases "He's in a better place" or "God works in mysterious ways". He's probably never saved a life, either. While I've looked death in the eye so often it's like a friend, or a lover, as in the movie All That Jazz. To me, only the uninitiated - to reality - see it differently.

I include liars, con men, and fiends, such as Ramm Dass, in that crowd.

Tell me, Tyrone, when I've watched one man shoot another in the head, whose soul do I admire?

John Lynch said...

I never minded Hitchens. It seemed to me that it would be far better for a religious person to live in a world ruled by Hitch than to live in a world run by theocrats-- even if they share the same beliefs.

He's really into civil rights, the ones that matter, meaning freedom of speech and conscience. That's fine with me. He can rail against religion all he wants. It doesn't bother me. I'm free to ignore it, and he would respect that. It's much more important to have the freedom to say no.

What bothers me is people wanting to silence all criticism of whatever silly belief that they have that week. That's the mark of would-be tyrants.

I think he's providing a useful final service by illuminating a part of life that no one likes to hear about. That's kind of his specialty.

amba said...

I didn't think he was dissing Hitch at all. I thought he was dissing the inadequacy of a culture that lionizes Hitch. I think he probably admires and is grateful to Hitch for forcing us to face death with him. I loved his point that our lives are not commodities and are not our exclusive property.

Donna B. said...

I can't get the article to load so I can't judge what he says. BUT... I can judge what those who prior judgments I have admired... so I'll go with Amba's take... to a certain point.

Yet... a life as a commodity and as possibly the property of others seems incompatible with living freely.

Perhaps I misunderstand and that certainly has precedence.

Skyler said...

"and nothing we do is "our own business" – everything impinges on everything else in the universe."

A particularly evil statement. This is the philosophy that allows statism and tyranny.

traditionalguy said...

Scripture says that the fear of the lord is the beginning of all wisdom. Measured by that light, Hitch is not a wise man, but a man suffering from the narcosis of materialism. Life is a gift to us. Why life also seems to be a threat to us shows our alienation from God. When Jesus wept for his friend Lazurus's death, He acted to save his life for a full lifespan, and He promised all believers eternal life free from condemnation. No wonder the Muslims feel threatened by Christianity...the mighty power of brutal, ugly death is defeated in Jesus's death, burial and ressurection.

TMink said...

I continue to pray for Hitch. I believe he will convert to Christianity. God bless and keep him.

Trey

Lucien said...

I wasn't thinking this piece + comments were that worthwhile.

But Crack Emcee's post redeemed it.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Tell me, Tyrone, when I've watched one man shoot another in the head, whose soul do I admire?

As far as I can tell: Your own.

roesch-voltaire said...

This seems a stretch that as Hitch faces death in his way, he is now the clown? I recommend that Popham read Stanley Keleman's Living Your Dying, to get a sense of how Hitch has done just that.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

@Crack Emcee

I can't comment on your experiences, which seem to be pretty awful. The argument you base on them, though, is pretty hackneyed. Evil exists, so how can there be God? This is not a complete or convincing argument. In fact the parallel is of a jilted lover who swears he will never fall in love again. In this and other comments, you sound like someone who is angry at God, but he doesn't exist, right?

I was an atheist for a long time. Even now, I am very far from being a religionist. I haven't faced the violent deaths of others, but I have looked my own death in the face several times. Hah! Another cliche! The deathbed conversion! Maybe. Really the only conclusion I have come to is that the atheist suffers from the same delusion of certainty that the religious fundamentalist does. This is what I mean by referring to humility. I don't know what's coming, but I am damned sure you don't either. The only way you can be ready for what's coming is to keep an open mind, and be here now.

Pastafarian said...

It appears as though both left and right commenters here (other than amba) are pretty much in complete agreement: This Popham is a world-class douchebag.

amba, I don't know how you can say that he's not criticizing Hitchens, when he writes that Hitchens has failed us, that he's of no use to us, that he's just a clown. That's a criticism of...us?

Alrighty then.

It reads to me as though Popham is a sniveling ninny unable to deal with his own mortality, and inconveniently reminded of it by the imminent death of one of his heroes. Hitchens has acquitted himself well, from what I've seen. Popham needs to find himself a nice comforting religion and some valium.

Pastafarian said...

And what's with this "we" and "us" that Popham uses throughout this hissy-fit of an article? Does he think that he writes on behalf of some group of people, all of whom are pissed at Hitchens for having the audacity to be diagnosed with cancer? Or does he subconsciously find comforting the thought that he's not alone?

Seriously, this Popham is a whiny little bitch of a man.

Joe said...

*WOW* Crack saw a man kill ANOTHER man, and it changed/scarred him for life...amazing story, bet that's NEVER happened to anyone else in the world before.

Dood save the world-weary cynical attitude for other folks...I guess it gets you good air play in the US, though..."Poor Crack" or "Crack's seen it ALLLL, man..."

Get back to me when you've been to Afghanistan or Lebanon or Somalia or Ethiopia...'cuz if A MAN death's wow'd you I can only imagine that those places will simply cause Crack to implode, mentally and spiritually.

Peano said...

Ann obviously has another Freudian hobby horse that she feels compelled to flog: abetting gratuitous insults to the dying Hitchens. One can only wonder what threats she sees in the man, and from what moldy corners of her psyche they crawl.

The Crack Emcee said...

Tyrone Slothrop,

"I can't comment on your experiences, which seem to be pretty awful. The argument you base on them, though, is pretty hackneyed. Evil exists, so how can there be God? This is not a complete or convincing argument."

I agree - since it's not the argument I'm making. [Sidebar comment - which relates to Joe's comment as well: I trip on how people, living inside their heads, assume I dwell there, too. You both have constructed a straw man and called it "Crack's position" when I'd never go there.]

I entered the foster care system around the age of two. I can still remember crying hysterically, and grasping for my father, as he handed me to the first of many foster mother's I would have. You might say I've been "awake" (or "aware") ever since. What I'm driving at is, I've never had a chance to believe in God - or the Easter Bunny or Santa. I've been an atheist my whole life, listening to what people say on the subject and not believing much of it because there's never been a sign of any of it, except that people talk about it. Real life - disconnected from myths - has been what I know and what has guided me to adulthood. I think the whole "rejecting God" thing is silly - how can I reject that which isn't there? As you said:

"You sound like someone who is angry at God, but he doesn't exist, right?"

Right. I'm not "angry at God" - I'm angry at people for making such a mess of our lives, and insisting on this insane belief system - all belief systems - which are a huge part of how that happens. (My ex-wife was a very spiritual/religious person and we all know how that turned out for she and I, separately and together.)

"I was an atheist for a long time. Even now, I am very far from being a religionist. I haven't faced the violent deaths of others, but I have looked my own death in the face several times. Hah! Another cliche!"

I've been stabbed several times, had guns held to my head by people predisposed to pulling the trigger, taken individual risks with my life (on purpose) and had my share of serious medical problems. I've never asked for God's help because - again - I know he ain't there.

"The only conclusion I have come to is that the atheist suffers from the same delusion of certainty that the religious fundamentalist does."

Like your original conclusion - that I'd think like you - I find that to be a totally erroneous idea. First, any idea of a heaven or an afterlife has no corresponding reality in this life - there's nothing we can point to and say, "it's like this" - so there's no reason for an atheist to even consider going there. And that's true for every other aspect of what religious/spiritual people say - there's nothing but blah, blah, blah with a lot of heartfelt emotion behind it. Not to mention the negative NewAge idea that anyone can be certain of anything - OMG! - the arrogance! HOW DARE ANYONE SUGGEST THEY CAN ACTUALLY KNOW ANYTHING!!! Seriously, tap a NewAger on the shoulder and what do you get? "Doctors don't know everything." "Scientists don't know everything." And on and on. Instead, believers want us to grasp hold of any idea people had when we were illiterate and didn't know what a germ was. Like God. I swear, when I was a kid thinking of the future, there's no way I'd have thought in 2010 we'd still be discussing God - but don't have flying cars. It's insane - and I definitely think one is connected to the other.

Cont'd.

The Crack Emcee said...

Cont'd.

'This is what I mean by referring to humility."

That's what I mean by NewAge. Why humility - of all things? We can't be proud? Proud is bad? Reeking of (earned) confidence is wrong? Why must we be some "humble" mass of goo to be good? It's nothinjg more than a way to control people who are probably not mediocre enough to need a deity, or a guru, or anything but to live. That's my lot in life - the one I was born into - to suggest there's anything wrong with it but others insisting life ain't shit without some magical thinking to support it is rude beyond belief. Not to mention an obvious indication you take life - this outrageously complex and mysterious thing - for granted. What's the matter? Life, itself, not good enough for you? Personally, your religious visions aren't even a quarter as fascinating as the eye of a fly.

"I don't know what's coming, but I am damned sure you don't either. The only way you can be ready for what's coming is to keep an open mind, and be here now."

Bullshit. What was your life before you were born? It was nothing. What is it when you sleep without dreaming? It's nothing. To come up with all this other nonsense that religious types do shows nothing more than lack of critical thinking skills and/or imagination. At the very least, you're afraid to contemplate your own demise. And, I think, if you've been so humble, and filled with humility, to never really leave your mark on the world, then that's probably understandable because you know - you know - it's facing the fact of your own nothingness that's really what scares the dickens out of you. I'd even venture so far as to say it's why the vast majority of believers are always so ready to "fill that hole in your soul" with spirituality:

Because 9 times out of 10, there's nothing else there.

Joe, Joe, Joe - how wrong can you get things? How wrong can you be?

"*WOW* Crack saw a man kill ANOTHER man, and it changed/scarred him for life...amazing story, bet that's NEVER happened to anyone else in the world before."

Did I even once - once - say I was scarred? Nope. Death is pretty matter-of-fact to me. Why would you trip so hard as to put your words in my mouth?

"Dood save the world-weary cynical attitude for other folks...I guess it gets you good air play in the US, though...'Poor Crack' or 'Crack's seen it ALLLL, man...'

Get back to me when you've been to Afghanistan or Lebanon or Somalia or Ethiopia...'cuz if A MAN death's wow'd you I can only imagine that those places will simply cause Crack to implode, mentally and spiritually."


How about the Philippines? Does it count? Saw a man get killed there, too. Cut to ribbons. Does that count?

And I loooove this attitude that a man has to go to an actual war zone - a friggin' war zone! - to merely say "I've seen things". Have you? And afterwards, did you come home to a loving family, etc. - you know, all those people and things I don't have to center your identity and take the sting out of the harsh world you so want me stuck in?

Dude, I'm sorry, but your comment is a joke.

Peano said...

@Tyrone and Crack: Get a room already.

Gary Rosen said...

Crack:

There's a huge difference between saying "We can't know anything" and "We can't know everything". You seem to conflate the two.

The Crack Emcee said...

Gary Rosen,

It's semantics, man:

I'm just talking as I talk, not being as accurate as I probably could. My point is we know a lot - a lot - but there's a lot more to know,...but not about God:

He/she/it ain't there.

Discussions of God are basically circle jerks.

HT said...

Why can't we be proud?

Humility it might be said is to be striven for in order to prevent those who have no business being proud from acting and being proud and creating defenses and resistance and conflict all over the place. There's nothing wrong with being personally and privately proud of your accomplishments, and letting a circle of people celebrate you, but as Clint said "a man's gotta know his limitations."

I tend to think humility generates more communication and openness and possibility. Of course, anything in excess backfires.

But that would be my guess as the reason to societally de-emphasize pride as a sought after quality to express.

Mitch H. said...

Atheism is at its heart very mean-spirited, and petty, and empty - especially when it comes to death. Like Shinto, Atheism has nothing of value to say to death, and thus its practitioners must leave that vast event to others better-prepared, I suppose.