God, the State and Christopher Hitchens
I sometimes feel a physical hurt from the lack of Hitch’s presence in this world of ours. As such a diehard libertarian that feeling may seem a might generous for an old endearing lefty who has departed, but I can’t help myself. I have read the head and toe of the man, the Kissinger and Jefferson of the state, the Theresa and Orwell of the matter, admired the Hitch double 0 seven and the great godless warrior, the Portable, the YouTube, the Quotable, the Paine and the Contrarian, until I ran out of Hitchens to read . . . . And yet . . . for relief, I turned to reading probably the most intelligent living -- (at the time this was written, he died February 28, 2020) -- scientist on the planet today, the one and only ‘Scientist as Rebel’ Freeman Dyson. If either has remarked on the other, I cannot find it. I’m afraid to see it if it exists. For both men, so different in temperament, seem also in spirit to clash, yet I hope that if they had known each other they would have found some common-ground in reason. Is this wishful thinking akin to belief in the afterworld? Freeman Dyson is a hell of a vacuum cleaner and Christopher Hitchens is a hell of a drunk. After all, Freeman was a good friend of the safe-cracking bongo-playing Dick Feynman and many other atheistic scientists with quirks and humors that only geniuses can have. So it’s not completely unrealistic – I mean in this whole worldwide supernatural debate, Dyson is a force like no other. “What? Surely your joking?” Indeed, he served in the British forces (as a scientist) and came to America and taught at Cornell; he worked on the Feynman diagrams around 1948 to 50; he was never in the Manhattan project or at Los Alamos with Feynman or Oppenheimer; but he knew them and Einstein and many other acclaimed physicists and mathematicians. In 1958 he invented (with others) a safe small nuclear reactor which produced medical isotopes and if you wiki him he is renowned for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy, nuclear engineering and many other areas of scientific inquiry. But as well, in the artful metaphysical dimensions, (philosophy, art, morals, history and economics) he is ‘a read’ as serious as any sober reader would take him, and indeed, I mean, he’s a god of mind so divine . . . and yet . . . he believes in the hocus-pocus.
“I am myself a Christian, a member of a community that preserves an ancient heritage of great literature and great music, provides help and counsel to young and old when they are in trouble, educates children in moral responsibility, and worships God in its own fashion. But I find [ . . . ] theology altogether too narrow for my taste. I have no use for a theology that claims to know the answers to deep questions but bases its arguments on the beliefs of a single tribe. I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian. To me, to worship God means to recognize that mind and intelligence are woven into the fabric of our universe in a way that altogether surpasses our comprehension.[Science and Religion, No End in Sight, Freeman Dyson]
This is Spinoza’s conception of an immanent creator which I discus in “Imagine No Faith”. Compare his friend’s remarks in 1981: “You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here.”.”[Feynman on Doubt and Uncertainty, BBC Horizon.]
Now prick up your ears! “Unless you find mass credulity upsetting, what’s not to like about huge drifts of mostly unerotic, mostly white guys carrying coolers, putting up ‘prayer tepees’ and wearing unfunny shirts that read ‘Too Blessed to Be Stressed’ or ‘If God Is Your Father—Call Home’? This was MMM as Mass Movement of the Mediocre. You could see why they wouldn’t object to being called a flock.”[“Another March, Another Prick in the Wall,” Nation, 10/27/97. Hitchens]
I have remarked on the relationship between Feynman and Dyson and wish to add only that if these two legends could learn to understand each other’s craziness then I think Hitchens and Dyson could have been friends. It is to Dyson’s credit that he lives in both worlds and does not build firewalls. Although he has said about the amazing Richard Dawkins, (the author of The God Delusion and so many other fabulous books on natural selection and evolution): “I think it’s only a small fraction of people who think that. Perhaps they have louder voices than the others . . . I think Richard Dawkins is doing a lot of damage. I disagree very strongly with the way he’s going about it. I don’t deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist. That simply turns young people away from science. He’s convinced a lot of young people not to be scientists . . . they don’t want to be atheists. I’m strongly against him on that question. It’s simply not true what he’s saying, and it’s not only not true but also harmful. The fact is that many of my friends are much more religious than I am and are first-rate scientists. There’s absolutely nothing that stops you from being both . . . Dawkins has the arrogance to say that anyone who does not share his views is infected with a virus. No wonder he cannot coexist peacefully with them”.[A Many-colored Glass, Freeman Dyson.]
Christopher Hitchens, La Isla Bonita, never surrendering to his enemies who, he supposed, surrounded him on all sides, although to read him rightly, his real enemies were mostly dumb fucks spouting platitudes, clichés and 'piffle'. Many were kowtowers to the fear of life; the cowards to the enterprise of living, their two most important manifestations: religion and politics. Perhaps his motto was: “Your Life is Yours to Live. Live it!” He understood that for most mere-mortals, religion was a refuge: The meek shall inherit the safety room, the closet; the fantasy to live forever but NOT necessarily live in the now, no, no, no, whatever, not in the now! He was intent on never letting the retards of the irrational supernatural view have the live-and-let-live comfortable position they expect by taking advantage of us unbelievers’ moderate rational civilized democratic skepticism: Like the six most important modern philosophers of our times, Szazs, Blanshard, Santayana, von Mises, Hayek and Popper, we skeptics hate to unnecessarily offend. They are/were philosophers of reason, all democrats, atheists and moderates, and seldom wrote about religion, and when they did, did so with great deftness. However, don’t doubt for a milli-nanosecond, that they didn’t understand that religions uniformly and universally attack human reason, even on occasion the Thomists do this.
I sometimes leave work for home ashamed that some associate wasn’t given by me a stinging (Hitch-like) rejoinder who said of an untimely-early death of a fellow employee due to the common Metabolic Syndrome: “It was their time and god took them” or some other equally stupid nonsense from the quagmire of their religious fatalism. No it wasn’t his or her time in their late fifties or early sixties to die! They got bad advice. They prayed and crossed their fingers when they should have read the science. It’s out there in abundance and is an undercurrent of established official medical “TRUTH” shut out by the New Ancien Régime and hasn’t yet broke the surface of the oceanic body of modern knowledge. Many doctors simply don’t know shit about proper nutrition and exercise. But it is coming, and as surely as Hitch died at his own hand years before he was foredoomed, the West’s lifestyle will be greatly altered in the years ahead. Contemporary medicine is transfused directly to the modern state and we are paying dearly for it. Those dead amigos should have ate whole foods, exercised everyday and used restraint in all their pleasures. All the activities Christopher Hitchens himself, to his shame in a life a reason, definitely did not do: “Not just the occasional drink—the daily drink. Not just red wine—any alcohol is better than none. An apple a day, they said in my boyhood, kept the doctor away. Yeah, that’s right—just bathe your teeth in sugar water and acid and see what happens. Much better to hurl the heartburn-inducing fruit into the trash and reach firmly for the corkscrew, which was the strategy that I began to adopt when I was about fifteen.”[“Living Proof.” Vanity Fair, March 2003. Hitchens]
AND “Finally to the most vexed question of all. Exercise. When you are still smoking, this doesn’t really come up. A nice long walk? I’d rather have a cigarette. A visit to the gym? Some other time. What about a nice game of tennis? Are you by any chance joking? I have half a pack to get through. The only thing that could conceivably interest me would be a late-night snack, perhaps avec cocktails and wine, so as to give me a reason to open a fresh carton.”[On the Limits of Self-Improvement, Part III, Vanity fair, September 2008. Hitchens]
So, here we are, contradictions on fire, Hitchens, Feynman and Dyson, and throw in a bit of Dawkins. It’s a damn burning bush vortex, ain’t it? “ [Hitch once said of George Bush . . . . “He is the least smart guy ever to have sought the office; a dingbat and a stumbler and a dyslexic and a former piss-artist who has the same chance of finding his own rear end with both hands as he once had of parking his car without scraping a wall.”[“Kelsey for President,” Evening Standard, 1/23/01. Hitchens]
Of Reagan’s administration: “... My minority view [is] that the White House and the Rose Garden have long been used, by a superior civilization on another planet, as a combination of prison farm and lunatic asylum. Who will be the first to have the courage to break that story?”[“Muddy Insights from an Ex-Grand Vizier,” Newsday, 2/25/88. Hitchens]
Of Clinton: “In power, he has completed the Reagan counter-revolution and made the state into a personal friend of those who are already rich and secure. He has used his armed forces in fits of pique, chiefly against the far-off and the unpopular, and on dates which suit his own court calendar. The draft-dodger has mutated into a pliant serf of the Pentagon, the pot smoker into the chief inquisitor in the ‘war on drugs,’ and the womanizer into a boss who uses subordinates as masturbatory dolls. But the liar and the sonofabitch remain, and who will say that these qualities played no part in the mutation?”[No One Left to Lie To (New York: Verso, 2000), 83-84. Hitchens]
Of FDR: “Every time Roosevelt extended the least support to the anti-Hitler policy of his supposed friend, he exacted an immense and immediate price.... If you add to this the fact that it was massive rearmament, and not the New Deal, that pulled America out of the slump then you can indeed hold Roosevelt responsible for the empire, the national security state and the military-industrial complex—the foundations of ‘big government.’ This gave the rest of the globe a bit more to fear than fear itself.”[F.D.R. –the Good, the Bad and the Banal,” Nation, 5/26/97. Hitchens]
Of Social Democrats: “Your typical Social Democrat has a wised-up, pitying manner. You are looking at someone, he seems to say, who has left illusions behind him. No flies can settle on this smirking countenance. Don’t you know, the face seems to ask, that the world is a dangerous place? Haven’t you read The Gulag Archipelago? Ever heard of the boat people? Don’t you want America to be strong? Aren’t you aware that you can’t demonstrate for nuclear disarmament in the Soviet Union? At about this point, and to distract myself from the overmastering desire to slap the face, I imagine myself demonstrating for nuclear disarmament in the Soviet Union and being locked up by someone with precisely those features and that tone of voice.”[“Minority Report,” Nation, 7/06/85—7/13/85. Hitchens]
Of Conservatives: “As it is, all the mileage is going to the conservatives, who mean what they say and who are busy constructing a society where the state cares for you before you are born and after you are dead but doesn’t give a shit for you in between.”[“Minority Report,” Nation, 9/22/84. Hitchs]
Of Liberals: “I don’t think liberals make very good writers. I think liberals are always trying to have it both ways. They want to share in the idea that capitalism is basically the best humanity can do, but they want to be able to be compassionate about it. I think that leads to a lot of sickly writing. I find it very hard to read, and I think it is harder to read than it is to write.”[“Booknotes,” C-SPAN, 9/01/93 (first aired: 10/17/93). Hitchens]
So you’re thinkin’, ‘There’s a pattern here beside being belligerent.’ And you’re right. It’s not just that he fought with his pen a war on nonsense 24/7 and constantly drank to his small victories, what bugged him most, I think, was that his enemies (wherever in the spectrum they came from) had the belief that human beings were broken and left without moral totalitarianism (i.e., the ever-watching state or the omnipotent-god)—would fall down—that human achievement was based on the force of the state and/or the moral sanction of religion. What inspired him the most, that is, gave his life a sense of purpose, was to prick their comfortable assumptions with his barbed wit. “The urge to ban and censor books, silence dissenters, condemn outsiders, invade the private sphere, and invoke an exclusive salvation is the very essence of the totalitarian.”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007), 234. Hitchens]
This was part of the grounds on which he was such a fierce critic of religion. It is arrogant to force people to live a ‘godly life’ who clearly disagree that there is any supernatural reality. This is what he said about Jerry Falwell: “ . . . another man who managed to get away with murder by getting himself called ‘Reverend’—dies without being bodily ‘raptured’ into the heavens. Indeed, his heavy carcass is found on the floor of his Virginia office. The cable shows start to call and I have a book to sell: Maybe someone up there does love me after all . . . If you gave him an enema, he’d be buried in a matchbox . . .[“God Blessed Me, It’s a Best-Seller!,” Vanity Fair, September 2007. Hitchens]
The Right, the Left and the mediocre drove him to relentless unmerciful taunts but his most consistent digs were those against religion. Is there anything worst than your enemy professing that he loves you: “... Many people will deride a man’s tendency to wishful thinking until they reach the ‘private matter’ of his religion.” . . . “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”[“The Lord and the Intellectuals,” Harpers, July 1982. Hitchens]
“There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007, 4. Hitchens]
“Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody... had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs).”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007), 64. Hitchens]
Moral totalitarianism was not only a religious phenomena but was political as well. In this sense he accepted the horrible consequence of the atheistic Stalinist reality of the Soviet Union and the other communist regimes of the Cold War; but even in this he realized the religious impulse in us was at work: “In order to be a part of the totalitarian mindset, it is not necessary to wear a uniform or carry a club or a whip. It is only necessary to wish for your own subjection, and to delight in the subjection of others. What is a totalitarian system if not one where the abject glorification of the perfect leader is matched by the surrender of all privacy and individuality, especially in matters sexual, and in denunciation and punishment—’for their own good’—of those who transgress?”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007), 232. Hitchens]
“All that the totalitarians have demonstrated is that the religious impulse—the need to worship—can take even more monstrous forms if it is repressed. This might not necessarily be a compliment to our worshipping tendency.”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007, 247. Hitchens]
“Totalitarian systems, whatever outward form they may take, are fundamentalist and, as we would now say, ‘faith-based.’”[God Is Not Great (New York: Twelve, 2007, 250. Hitchens]
Moral Totalitarianism could come in the social, family, political (and most often) religious form. The ever needy god watching, spying, reading your thoughts and hating your nature, trying desperately to get you to fix your broken sinful lustful greedy ambitious licentious self, to get you to commit to the UNSELF, the dutiful, obedience, unimaginative, humble unworthy meek submissive worshiper. The sensual versus the otherworldly: what a dual! Totalitarianism is easily defeated in the modern environment. It’s called democracy, and democracy with a one sentence definition (paraphrased from Karl Popper, The Open Society and It’s Enemies): “Firing the boss without violence!” One must understand two separate tendencies in human beings. The timidity of the mystic who sees in man an obstacle to human perfection and refuses to comprehend the full effect of Natural Section in its anonymous stochastic detached setting which created us. Natural Selection, like electromagnetism and gravity has a direct practical application to our mundane everyday lives. It’s your obligation to understand it as best you can! The skeptic, who sees the ideology and fundamentalism as a dangerous shadow on the horizon of any civilization, refuses to believe that man, to be free, cannot be social engineered in any manner which uses force to make us “moral”. It is a contradiction: coercion can’t make you good, perhaps at best (or worst) only compliant to law. Human sacrifice is the greatest offense against individual freedom and this is what moral totalitarianism demands!
This is the conundrum: In the beginning our moral origins leading up to modern Homo-sapiens (developing) out of homo-erectus gene-pool was two pronged: the weeding out of psychopathic behavior through natural selection by violence within the (30 to 40 member) tribes and an enforcement of strict egalitarianism by all tribes in the original evolutionary event which took course over millions of years. Empathy was born out of violence inside our aggressive nature. We are righteous. Religion was our first reasoning. It is how we initially figured it all out. But now it’s an illusion and an impediment, especially in its totalitarian fundamentalist forms. That is, the form of which Freeman Dyson is the very opposite and in every understandable sense: He is a man of reason, moderate, a beholding force of mind, a genuine human being, well-managed, struggling to add and never subtract, a conservative, a liberal, a social democrat and lover of this life more than the other. He likes humankind and would have certainly been a puzzle to the poor late Christopher Hitchens as he is currently to Hitch’s atheistic allies and the whole ‘Left’ ‘Fundamentalist-Environmental’ movement. Well, that said, good lord, Dyson’s something else, and you have to love the man, but here’s what happened when Hitch met the Iron Lady (and you can bet Dyson never had a meeting like this): “At once we were in an argument.... [Prime Minister Thatcher and Hitchens] On one point of fact, too abstruse to detail here, I was right (as it happens) and she was wrong. But she would not concede this and so, rather than be a bore, I gave her the point and made a slight bow of acknowledgment. She pierced me with a glance. ‘Bow lower,’ she commanded. With what I thought was an insouciant look, I bowed a little lower. ‘No, no—much lower!’ A silence had fallen over our group. I stooped lower, with an odd sense of having lost all independent volition. Having arranged matters to her entire satisfaction, she produced from behind her back a rolled-up Parliamentary orderpaper and struck—no, she thwacked—me on the behind. I reattained the perpendicular with some difficulty. ‘Naughty boy,’ she sang out over her shoulder as she flounced away. Nothing that happened to the country in the next dozen years surprised me in the least.”[“On Spanking,” London Review of Books, 10/20/94. Hitchens]
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I wanted to end this article on moral totalitarianism, indeed I felt I had to end it, with a quote from The Origins of Totalitarianism by H Arendt from a section in the book called The Classless Society: "Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty." Likewise, moral totalitarianism is surely an absolutism that sees modern ethics as a relative enterprise unless is has a supernatural underwriter; or in other words, that our evolution through the millions of years as Homo Erectus and later as Homo Sapiens wasn’t enough time to form a solidified human nature that reason could build a worthwhile morality on so here too, the crackpots have lots to say and do.