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.
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?