Arguably, Essays by Christopher Hitchens – An Ongoing Review


Introductory thoughts 3/19/2019

Okay, I am officially scattered. This sometimes happens. When I start getting into various books, my attention flies every which way. This may mean I don’t finish some of these; we will see. I came across this book of essays. I like it because each essay is like an episode of a podcast–short and easy to consume. I’ve even gone so far as to import into my podcast player rather than my audiobook player (I know, scandalous). I am not committing to completing this book. However, there are several essays I am interested in reading/listening to. I will give my general thoughts as I go along, and respond to some, if not all, as I read them. 

Women aren’t funny 3/19/2019

How could I not talk about this. The title is intentionally aggressive. That is something I have loved about Hitchens; he isn’t afraid to be bold and upfront about what he thinks. I don’t think its any surprise that I came into this disagreeing, but nevertheless I left it thinking. To summarize his argument, women can be funny he seems to think women are less inclined to be funny–understand it and make it. It felt akin to saying women athletes aren’t as good as male athletes; even the fools who say this still acknowledge there are great women athletes. My main problem with his argument was its reliance on stereotypes. Women tend not to be as funny, those that are are more male like–dikey, butch, heavy.  His logic was that it stemmed back to social evolution, where men need to impress women, while women don’t need to do anything. They are simply impressive already. It is remarkable how he can be so insulting while thinking he is being complementary (I think that was his intent).  I won’t even go into the overall hetero-normative nature of the argument.   As we know, stereotypes aren’t the same as facts. If anything, they are the type of biases that prevent us from reaching the facts. He fails to even address the effect of sexism in society on our expectations of women. He may be on to why some of these sexist biases might exist, but that doesn’t make women any less funny than men. Overall, I was exceedingly disappointed by a man I have sort of admired for his artful ability to make an argument,. but as we see, even the brightest are subject to fallacious thinking.

Current thoughts 3/31/2019

I’ve managed to listen to several of these essays. I was hoping to discuss them each, but if I waited to listen to every episode until I wrote about it I’d never get to reading them. Overall, his ability to craft an essay is amazing. It is enticing even when I don’t agree with him. Some of them are less interesting. I can’t feel like a lot of the ones I don’t enjoy are more to do with my own ignorance on the subject. I’ll talk briefly about those that did stand out. One on Harry Potter was praising for its ability to encourage a generation of readers, but it was also critical of it for its mediocrity so far as the type of story telling which wasn’t all that original by Hitchens’ estimation. Upton Sinclair was praised, but the Jungle was still too capitalist. I read this a while back. I still found the claim odd.

America and Religion – an overview

He talked about the founding father’s distaste for religion. That I already knew, but I still enjoyed that essay thoroughly. A discussion on Jefferson was overall positive. It didn’t sugar coat his owning of slaves. An essay discussed Atheists in the military and the overall religious nature of of the military. Long story short, the military is way too religious in everything it does. That goes back to the founding fathers and America’s secular nature (or what it is supposed to be). Another great one, he discussed the ten commandments. It begins with a history lesson then an overview of the quality of the ten commandments ending with a few that should have been included (e.g. don’t rape). To summarize, the commandments are either completely separated from morality (false idols) to obvious (don’t kill).

Words Matter (I seem to have a lot to say about this one)

There was a really great one on political rhetoric. Simply titled, Words Matter, works as a stunning rebuke of politicians recent propensity for buzz words that lack real content to energize mindless followers. It is hard not to appreciate this now, in the era of Trump. I think it’s a perfect example of why we should care about how people think as much as about what they think. I’m taking this to a different direction than was his point, but I think people are too quick to support bad actions with good intent or possibly even good results. Where good is defined as their preferred outcome or beliefs. You are only hurting yourself and your own cause when you resort to this approach, and I fear it is setting yourself up to fail. I think the best example here might be Congressperson Cortez’s Climate change bill. My point isn’t make you agree with me that it was a bad decision. It is to say that content matters (I think that’s an example of bad/empty content), and we have to hold ourselves to a certain standard of quality. Otherwise, we are only hurting ourselves in the greater scheme of things. Hopefully, you can get my point regardless of if you agree with my point.

Political Animals – animal rights and our responsibilities too them

Once again, Hitchens has constructed a well written argument. It felt ambiguous in its message with a leaning toward our right to use them–within reason. I don’t entirely disagree, but we cannot simply rely on evolutionary and instinctual arguments here because clearly there are things that animals do that we could do and agree is not right to do (e.g. rape). The point being, we can and should ask ourselves whether those traits we carried down have been and/or are necessary (still). We also need to be aware of what are participating in. I am very much in the reductionist mindset; do what you can to limit harm. I would argue there are ways of limited harm–which I myself strive to. At the same time, I am not going to argue (like some vegans) that much of what I fight to negate is on the same level of harm as more obvious things. If you wish to live a certain way, go ahead, so long as you don’t do so in ignorance.

Escew the Taboo – avoiding dirty words

An interesting article that both explains the inherent problems of a word while arguing the context should overcome the problems.

I would argue that sometimes the context is unavoidable. In the case of the n word, the common use is as a means to demean, dehumanize and remind of ownership. Speaking about it, even from an educational perspective doesn’t remove the engraved context around it. To utter it is to acknowledge just as saying a mass shooters name is to give them more fame then they deserve. Of course, we can easily make this about more than the n word. There are plenty of words from the C word to the term bitch which we could have a similar conversation about. What is appropriate and what is not? Obviously, I feel comfortable uttering the word bitch but not the c word while some comedians would be just fine with it. The usage of the term bitch has a lot of misogynistic baggage. I try and make an effort to avoid that. A person can as easily be called an asshole as they can a bitch. That said, I haven’t entirely thrown away the term bitch. Some people might call me hypocritical, but I suppose I would go back to context on this one. I am aware of the traditional connotation, but I think it can be re-purposed. Perhaps that is a fools errand. Perhaps I am trying to justify the use of a word that shouldn’t be used. Am I contributing to the problem? I don’t know; I welcome thoughts on it. That said, I do believe some terms are worse than others and that using the word bitch just isn’t the same as saying the c word or just calling a woman you don’t like the c word. 

Hitchen’s argues that to some, using a word is like reclaiming it. For example, the term suffragette was a slur they turned into their own signature names. The same can be said for queer. Some gay people say fag. I have a big problem with that. Is that another case of reclaiming the word? It feels too much like an insult. such as, “You are gay and it is something to be shamed for.”

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