As I was writing another post and remaining, surprisingly to some I think, unconnected from the world at large, I was notified that Christopher Hitchens died last night of his esophageal cancer, at the age of 62.
Now, I clarify things a little. Despite the strong sentiments expressed in his book God Is Not Great, Hitchens was not a high priest of atheism, even when ignoring the fact that we simply don’t have those. I personally identified with less than half of what he said at any given time, and was polarly opposed to his feelings on the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and George W. Bush – not to mention alcohol.
And that is, in part, what makes his death regrettable, to me and others. One of his defining traits was in speaking his mind, in open disregard for how this might be perceived. In this way, he trashed the sneaky tactics of political correctness and the Overton Window, blasting through a veneer of ‘proper’ discourse to state what was really on his mind. Another, perhaps his most defining, trait was his remarkable ability with words, an old-school British skill that allowed him to combine a classical education and manner with a gangsta’s attitude, demonstrating that speech can serve as a better weapon than most allow themselves to recognize. No one could match this ability, and being cut down by Hitchens still commanded the respect that he did it so gracefully and precisely, a gifted surgeon of conviction.
I also have to appreciate his approach to impending death, where he foiled the hopes of the pious that he would waver in his atheism while still being remarkably genial in his responses to them. Death was only a deadline, and he kept on with his pursuits as long as his physical ability allowed, at times appearing to actually defy such.
He wasn’t an idol, in some cases he was a twit, but he had some appreciable traits too, many more so than Steve Jobs. If there’s a legacy left at all, I hope that it’s the knowledge that being forthright and outspoken has much more merit than being agreeable, but maybe we can foster a little more ability to eloquently lambaste something, too.