Friday, December 16, 2011

Fearless, Hitchens style.

It was about four or five years ago that the boys and I happened to be stuck indoors on a grey, rainy afternoon of the sort that makes you question whether or not the sun will ever actually reappear. You know them: those winter days when the notion that Persephone has been spirited away makes perfect sense. Or, the sort of day during which it seems impossible to not launch yourself headlong from the end of the couch and into your brother’s midsection for no particular reason other than he responded “Did SO!”

Or then again, maybe the cabin fever induced brawl that ensued wasn’t really triggered by a Seasonal Affective Disorder-y event, but rather the maddeningly low level of discourse in which the two little knuckleheads were engaged. It was, after all, an argument that was unwinnable: who deserved time with the Xbox more. In this intellectual battle of less than titanic proportions there were assertions made about the character of the opposing sibling, refutations, counter arguments about the inherent lameness of said sibling, and then retaliatory ad hominem attacks.

It was, in short, rather like watching pundits on cable news in their never ending  race to the bottom of the intellectual pile. Which, it must be said, is why today’s loss of Christopher Hitchens was so unfortunate.

He was an iconoclast who was by turns contrarian, baffling and often maddening, but always intellectually fearless. Early on he was a member of the International Socialists, and yet by the last couple of decades of his life Hitchens spent much of his time decrying what he saw as a soft Western response to the rise of Islamofascism and supporting America's military adventures. All the while, mind you, he remained a staunch “antitheist” and saw himself as a standard bearer of traditional Enlightenment values. Go figure.

As my boys have grown I’ve always done my best to make sure that they not only think critically about the world around them, but how to. By asking questions, and by forging relationships with those who are willing to listen to questions. By talking to kids with whom they disagree. By taking positions contrary to what they’re saying over dinner just to see what they’ve got.

In short, I’d be proud to have my boys grow up to be as fearless as Hitchens. Maybe just with a little less of the drinking, smoking and self inflicted cancer. You get the idea.

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