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Letters to a Young Contrarian Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens
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Letters to a Young Contrarian Quotes (showing 1-30 of 50)
“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.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The noble title of "dissident" must be earned rather than claimed; it connotes sacrifice and risk rather than mere disagreement.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Time spent arguing is, oddly enough, almost never wasted.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption. I would not throw my numberless sins onto a scapegoat and expect them to pass from me; we rightly sneer at the barbaric societies that practice this unpleasantness in its literal form. There's no moral value in the vicarious gesture anyway. As Thomas Paine pointed out, you may if you wish take on a another man's debt, or even to take his place in prison. That would be self-sacrificing. But you may not assume his actual crimes as if they were your own; for one thing you did not commit them and might have died rather than do so; for another this impossible action would rob him of individual responsibility. So the whole apparatus of absolution and forgiveness strikes me as positively immoral, while the concept of revealed truth degrades the concept of free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out the ethical principles for ourselves.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“A rule of thumb with humor; if you worry that you might be going too far, you have already not gone far enough. If everybody laughs, you have failed.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“I want to urge you very strongly to travel as much as you can, and to evolve yourself as an internationalist. It's as important a part of your education as a radical as the reading of any book.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“And the pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from angst, uncertainty, conflict and even despair.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“It especially annoys me when racists are accused of 'discrimination.' The ability to discriminate is a precious faculty; by judging all members on one 'race' to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Allow a friend to believe in a bogus prospectus or a false promise and you cease, after a short while, to be a friend at all.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“When Maimonides says that the Messiah will come but that 'he may tarry,' we see the origin of every Jewish shrug from Spinoza to Woody Allen.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“If you want to stay in for the long haul, and lead a life that is free from illusions either propagated by you or embraced by you, then I suggest you learn to recognize and avoid the symptoms of the zealot and the person who knows he is right. For the dissenter, the skeptical mentality is at least as important as any armor of principle.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator — that's beyond my conceit. I therefore have no choice but to find something suspect even in the humblest believer. Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, "Created sick — Commanded to be well." And there are totalitarian insinuations to back this up if its appeal should fail. Christians, for example, declare me redeemed by a human sacrifice that occurred thousands of years before I was born. I didn't ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I'm claimed and saved whether I wish it or not. And if I refuse the unsolicited gift? Well, there are still some vague mutterings about an eternity of torment for my ingratitude. That is somewhat worse than a Big Brother state, because there could be no hope of its eventually passing away.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“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”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. "All the News That's Fit to Print," it says. It's been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it's as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse. You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“In an average day, you may well be confronted with some species of bullying or bigotry, or some ill-phrased appeal to the general will, or some petty abuse of authority. If you have a political loyalty, you may be offered a shady reason for agreeing to a lie or a half-truth that serves some short-term purpose. Everybody devises tactics for getting through such moments; try behaving "as if" they need not be tolerated and are not inevitable.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“An individual deficient in the sense of humor represents more of a challenge to our idea of the human than a person of subnormal intelligence”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“People know when they are being lied to, they know when their rulers are absurd, they know they do not love their chains.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The literal mind is baffled by the ironic one, demanding explanations that only intensify the joke. A vintage example, and one that really did occur, is that of P.G. Wodehouse, captured by accident during the German invasion of France in 1940. Josef Goebbels’s propaganda bureaucrats asked him to broadcast on Berlin radio, which he incautiously agreed to do, and his first transmission began:
Young men starting out in life often ask me—“How do you become an internee?” Well, there are various ways. My own method was to acquire a villa in northern France and wait for the German army to come along. This is probably the simplest plan. You buy the villa and the German army does the rest.
Somebody—it would be nice to know who, I hope it was Goebbels—must have vetted this and decided to let it go out as a good advertisement for German broad-mindedness. The “funny” thing is that the broadcast landed Wodehouse in an infinity of trouble with the British authorities, representing a nation that prides itself above all on a sense of humor.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Be ... suspicious ... of all those who employ the term 'we' or 'us' without your permission. This is [a] form of surreptitious conscription ... Always ask who this 'we' is; as often as not it's an attempt to smuggle tribalism through the customs.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“You can see the same immorality or amorality in the Christian view of guilt and punishment. There are only two texts, both of them extreme and mutually contradictory. The Old Testament injunction is the one to exact an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (it occurs in a passage of perfectly demented detail about the exact rules governing mutual ox-goring; you should look it up in its context (Exodus 21). The second is from the Gospels and says that only those without sin should cast the first stone. The first is a moral basis for capital punishment and other barbarities; the second is so relativistic and "nonjudgmental" that it would not allow the prosecution of Charles Manson. Our few notions of justice have had to evolve despite these absurd codes of ultra vindictiveness and ultracompassion.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The high ambition, therefore, seems to me to be this: That one should strive to combine the maximum of impatience with the maximum of skepticism, the maximum of hatred of injustice and irrationality with the maximum of ironic self-criticism. This would mean really deciding to learn from history rather than invoking or sloganising it.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The unspooling of the skein of the genome has effectively abolished racism and creationism, and the amazing findings of Hubble and Hawking have allowed us to guess at the origins of the cosmos. But how much more addictive is the familiar old garbage about tribe and nation and faith.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“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, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“For the party of order, disorder has always had its uses.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“We are an adaptable species and this adaptability has enabled us to survive. However, adaptability can also constitute a threat; we may become habituated to certain dangers and fail to recognize them until it's too late. Nuclear armaments are the most conspicuous example; as you read this you are in effect wearing a military uniform and sitting in a very exposed trench. You exist at the whim of people whose power does not derive from your own consent and who regard you as expendable, disposable. You merely failed to notice the moment at which you were conscripted. A "normal" life consists in living as if this most salient of facts was not a fact at all.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The brief answer is that I have become inured without becoming indifferent.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“Try your hardest to combat atrophy and routine. To question The Obvious and the given is an essential element of the maxim 'de omnius dubitandum' [All is to be doubted].”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“The forces of piety have always and everywhere been the sworn enemy of the open mind and the open book.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
“If you care about the points of agreement and civility, then, you had better be well-equipped with points of argument and combativity, because if you are not then the "center" will be occupied and defined without your having helped to decide it, or determine what and where it is.”
Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

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