Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens
Finished reading on 4th of November, 2017
Yesterday evening I happened across a quote by Christopher Hitchens on Goodreads which is from “Letters to a Young Contrarian”:
Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
And after reading this quote I thought I have to read this book, and I did. I was probably struck most by the last three sentences of this quote (which comes from the very end of the book) .
First – “Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake” is pretty much the basis for a good entertainment in social situations in my view… as long as the other person sees it in the same way.
Second “Suspect your own motives, and all excuses.” is something I’ve noticed recently (whenever I think of an excuse for doing/not doing something, I imagine the voice of a character from the movie “Carrie Pilby” saying “Excuse!”, which stops me from saying excuses out loud at least 🙂
And the third part leads me finally to the book as well “Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” that just sounds like Nietzsche….in the sense that you should be living for yourself and finding out what your own values and ideas are instead of following someone else (the public /a mentor etc).
This book is written as letters, so it’s really easy to read, and I liked what I read for several reasons. First I liked the clear points, then the references to characters in literature and historic figures, his contemporaries and others and how he mentioned the reasons for bringing them into the discussion. And ultimately I was drawn to a realization that was fostered by this book.
There were two main points that drew me in, the first one is to not look at what a person thinks, but rather how they think. That makes sense and it goes well with the argument and disputation which brings out how people think. It made me think of how maybe sometimes I just miss exactly that – a certain way of thinking being demonstrated by an author/ speaker/ anyone. (On a different and totally irrelevant note – don’t we all just want to hear someone say “I like how you think”?)
Back to the book – the idea is that it’s in a way advice for people who are in some way going against the grain of something… ideas on religion, politics, morale, anything. And as far as I gathered, the main advice is to think and if at all possible try to have a sense of humor and when thinking one should think for themselves and you shouldn’t accept others’ ideas and principles or policies without thinking about them first or maybe not at all. And also that the masses and public opinion can be wrong and to finish with the words of J.R.R. Tolkien and Gandalf: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future”.
In general I found it interesting and something that would be useful for any intelligent being to read at least once.
So don’t be afraid to disagree 🙂
One thing I found interesting – I am really disturbed by the fact that most editions of the book show a cigarette on the cover of this book either on its own or between the fingers of Hitchens.
Oh and I don’t think I’m a contrarian. Just opinionated.
The second thing that drew me in was Hitchens’ mention of humor.I like random and at times odd connections or links that come into my mind when talking or reading etc, and when they’re humorous then that’s even better.
And in all honesty: I liked Hitchens’ thinking.
However not everyone needs to or even can be a contrarian on such a large scale, but even small opposition to injustice or simply bad ideas can get noticed.
I have to read it again some time, because I’ve sort of swallowed the book whole, so I need to digest it some more….