by Luke Goldstein
You can pretty much start a fight with anyone over anything in society today, but few topics are more touchy than religion and politics and few people are more outspoken on both of those items than Christopher Hitchens. His wit, intellectual acumen and brash tone have been on display for years, but in Hitch-22 – A Memoir you see behind the curtain at the beginnings, the innocent moments that led this young boy to become one of the most fiery orators and debaters of his time.
What starts off as a slow boil in his younger days, quickly leads to his schooling and the sparks which set his mind racing. His also finds himself surrounded by other thinkers, radicals who challenged the status quo and who would eventually become lifelong allies in the struggles Hitchens participated in. Those who chose the other side of the arguments often found themselves deflecting brash and sometimes caustic lines of attack, but they would never deny Hitchens passion for the cause (whatever that cause may be.) He battled throughout his life against what he saw as hypocrisy and blind devotion to order, laying out essay after essay calling for the extension and protection of freedom, fairness and equality, which at various points found him a home in the Communist Party and other leftist factions; some peaceful, others less so. You get to read about the many internal struggles within the various resistances, revolutionaries all vying for power and point in what they saw as the new future, but Hitchens would never waver from his main cause, which was to write about what he saw and what he believed. Exposing the various underbellies of governments and power structures became almost an obsession for the gifted linguist.
The book is full of memorable lines and heavy points, but this one in particular stuck out to me:
“… but once a bogus story has been printed for the first time, it will be reprinted again and again by the lazy and/or the malicious.”
The strikes to the heart of Hitchens, the search for the truth based on your own experiences and investigation, not relying on the media or the people in power to deliver it for you. Because there are always machinations working behind the scenes, motives and desires tipping the story one way or the other, disguising and obscuring the truth. Of course, the same can be said about Hitchens himself and it would be true. He does have a motive, but the motive seems to be to expose other motives, almost in a self-destructive fashion, begging you to challenge him as well.
He’s been called every name in the book, from blasphemer (due to his atheism) to traitor (due to his political views), but he talks in the book about a great love and respect for the United States, which he considers an incredible idea:
“And what a subject America was: an inexhaustible one in fact, begun by written proclamations and assertions that were open to rewriting and amendment, and thus constituting an enormous “work-in-progress” which one might have to play a tiny part.”
His writing, and his life in itself, is a clarion call to those on the sidelines, begging them to look at what is going on and take part, whether you are for or against. Question everything. Again, from the book:
“It is not that there are no certainties, it is that it is an absolute certainty that there are no certainties.” (from which you can see his inherent opposition to something like the Bible or any religious text.)
When you reach the end of the book it feels as though the biggest sin undercutting the whole story is ambivalence to your life and your world. He screams to take notice, take part and just plain take a look around. You might be surprised what you find.