Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

I was dispirited by book critics. It wasn’t self-pity that prompted me to write. I criticized Mother Teresa in my previous book. I also studied about George Orwell’s life.

Could I offer any advice to the young? I often gave talks and listened to the ambitions to the young.

How should a contrarian live? A dissident needs to earn his right to be one. There are other words used to describe them of course. They are ‘fanatic’, ‘troublemaker’, ‘misfit’ etc. It is more common to seek approval and security as compared to dissent. Humanity needs to thank dissidents as well. Emile Zola is an inspiring figure. He campaigned for justice alone. The court case was reopened. There is a saying in ancient Roman times – Fiat Justitia – ruat caelum ‘Do justice, and let the skies fall.’ Is social cohesion more important than justice? Zola despised the anti-semites. This later led to religious conflict. At that time, most people wished Dreyfus would be charged guilty. Many people at that time were infected with an anti-Semitic fury. Zola was controversial because he tried to defend the guilty man. It is rumoured that Zola was murdered. The tendency is for people to be the ‘team player’. I managed to interview many dissidents in various societies. Usually, they have a strong stand to take.

And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do. – Christopher Hitchens

Rilke believed that art can be a religious activity and that poetry can be as exact as sculpture. Also, Rilke was suspicious of irony. For writing, Rilke recommends that you must feel not that you want to but that you have to. Another interesting approach is Rilke’s approach to Eros. To him, sex for the most part, was a liberating force. Kipling and Larkin have achieved success in poetry by being very radical. To Rilke, solitude must be welcomed. Rilke didn’t like Freud much.

Inconsistency and strife is part and parcel of life. It would idiotic to try and live in a place with a feeling of contentment and eternal bliss. It would be unattainable as well. Humans make progress by conflict and argument. Confrontation is often encouraged with opposition. The Greeks always believed in moderation and symmetry/balance. The Dalai Lama believed that the purpose of life was to seek happiness. Most of the religions can describe what hell is like better than they can describe Heaven. Humans always have the ability to think for themselves.

One should challenge irrationality and injustice. Most of us have a passive voice though. Learn from how people in the past dealt with opposition. Learn to challenge what is appealing. Be responsible for telling people what they do not wish to hear. If you want truth or justice, often it requires a struggle. Conflict and debate over ideas often lead to ideas and principles which produce clarity. Even a Utopia is dangerous. Learn to transform others. Do not be a perfectionists. Do not be fanatical or you will experience a burn out. It is important to have the skeptical mentality in you.

Is it important to have a devoted life? Even in a controlled state, you can try to life ‘as if’. ‘As if’ you were in a free society. This is known as the ‘Power of the Powerless’. During the war, there were movements for human rights and disarmament. Act ‘as if’ life were normal. An example would be how Rosa Parks sit in the bus at the end of hard day’s labour. Learn to cultivate some of the attitude. Collectively, you may be able to make a huge difference.

The Universe is absurd and one has a short life. Do not ask yourself what difference it will make. It is possible to alter human conduct and behavior, to a certain extent. ‘A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.’ Do not utter these to yourself as they do not spur action. Do not compromise on your decision.

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future – expectations that you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. – Christopher Hitchens

The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do any admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. – Christopher Hitchens

The Principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived. – Christopher Hitchens

Things are less complicated than they seem. In Cuba, there was a point where satirical portrayal of their leader, Castro, was not to be permitted. The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your nose. We are an adaptable species and this has allowed us to survive. I usually practice cognitive and emotional dissonance. Learn to question the Obvious.

You have to be sophisticated by experience before you are old enough to argue that, say, it might be wrong to launch a thermonuclear war but not wrong, indeed only prudent, to prepare the weaponry of extermination. – Christopher Hitchens

How to ward off atrophy and routine? Have this daily infusion of annoyance as it will keep you going. All religions are versions of the same untruth. Life is a sinister fairy tale. It would be horrible to give your life up to constant surveillance. Some people derive strength against adversity from their faith. However, a lot of them are delusional. You do not assume another person’s crime. The Old Testament believes in a one for an eye concept. The Gospels believe that those without sin should cast the first stone. Judaism does not proselytize. To the author, he believes that there is no such thing as intellectual liberty.

A religious belief is not sufficient for moral action. Religion does help you gather a following. Those who seek revolution etc are not considered dissentients. Do not be so easily trusted. Do your own thinking. What really matters about any individual is not what he thinks, but how he thinks. Religions that promise eternal happiness is false. Religion is man-made. Religion tends to group people up and be collectivistic. In the past, religion was used as a means of control. However, persecuting religion is not right as well. Despite this, it is might to question religion as it gives better clarity.

Religious superstition is ineradicable, at least for as long as we fear death and dear the darkness. – Christopher Hitchens

Some people can’t bear solitude, let alone the idea that the heavens are empty and that we do not even succeed in troubling their deafness with our bootless cries. To be an exile or outcast on a remote shore – many minds turn away in terror and seek any source of cosiness. – Christopher Hitchens

I do not bother about criticism from lovers. Criticism doesn’t sting me anymore. Many people in the past spoke for the voiceless and the unrepresented. Even in a stable party, it is useful to have disorder once in a while. One man plus a correct opinion outvotes a majority. Karl Marx often criticized religion.

Do not look for arguments from authority. Cultivate the use of pessimism. Pessimism can be an ally. When you are cornered, you will only 1 option. Learn to negotiate. I often interviewed people who were exiled from their countries. Our culture often emphasizes the power of heroes. However, this is difficult to emulate. The more fallible the individual, the more relatable one is.

Those who think for themselves will be the minority. People always have the need for belonging. Those who engage in opposition are often seen to be rebellious. Many of the past dissenters had to rely on their moral compass. Sometimes, your core assumptions might be misconceived. When people say ‘we’, ask yourself who they are referring to.

Joseph Heller knew how the need to belong, and the need for security, can make people accept lethal and stupid conditions, and then act as if they had imposed them on themselves. – Christopher Hitchens

Travel as much as you can. This will be an important part of your education. Traveling has narrowed my mind. We are all humans after all. This is encouraging news. Most people concern themselves with trivial differences. We all inhabit the prehistory of our race. Racists because miss the point of being human. University is retrograde. Humanism is present almost everywhere. Learn to narrate what you thought, not how you felt.

Intelligence and humour are linked. Laughter might be an unpleasant noise. However, humour has the ability to shock and to surprise too. Often, humour can be used as a survival technique. Some of the famous contrarians in the past employed the use of humor. There are reels and revolutionaries among us. One should not fear expressing humor. Caricature is a form of it. Sometimes, you will need to be boring too. You will be unlikely to land up in much trouble if you’re a contrarian.



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