I posted a fairly innocuous comment today on Facebook about Christopher Hitchens and how I was saddened at his death. Simple enough. I didn’t always agree with the man, particularly about the invasion of Iraq, but I have a lot of respect for his intellectual rigor, his use of the language, his bravery in the face of cancer, his fearlessness in taking on popular ideas (like, uh, religion) and his self-awareness.
Oh, and his wit. The guy was hella funny.
Immediately, I got the most vitriolic spew of rage and hatred toward the man from a young man of my acquaintance. He is one who we might be inclined to call “naive,” but since his spew ended by saying, “I’m glad he’s dead,” I think that does the notion of idealism a disservice.
Let’s be charitable and just call him immature.
But his outburst, which I promptly deleted from my Facebook page –don’t crap on my lawn, young dawg – I found particularly offensive for its disdain for life, for the life of someone he didn’t know and probably had read very little. I was also offended because I had written about two friends, both Facebook acquaintances, in my same comment about Hitchens, since my overall comment was about cancer and the horrors of it, which Hitchens and my two friends have all faced.
Death is a terrible thing, though it has never held particular terrors for me. But every death leaves people behind, people who knew and loved and respected that person, people whose lives will be scarred by that death. So to be “glad” over anyone’s death seems particularly heartless and inhumane response.
Sure, there are few monsters out there whose deaths make most everyone else’s lives better. Gadaffi springs to mind. Fair enough.
But my young friend – who I know has suffered the loss of someone dear to him, and to me – seems to be “glad” for Hitchens’ death because he disagreed with his IDEAS. Not all of them, even, just a few. He even acknowledged that Hitchens wrote some things he might have deigned to agree with, in his green, “idealistic” mind. Big of him.
When one declares himself to enjoy the death of someone with whom he disagrees sometimes, I just don’t know where that leaves us. It seems positively medieval to me, when we burned people at the stake for their ideas. This was once considered a reasonable thing to do.
Hitchens stood, above all, for the power of ideas and the beauty of a well-argued point. He cared passionately about what he believed, and argued hard for it, but he also respected his opponents, and while he was not cuddly, he respected the process of intellectual discovery. He battled, but I can’t imagine that he would have enjoyed the death of someone simply because he disagreed with him.
Which is why people will mourn him even if they didn’t always agree with him, and why his influence will endure, while small, mean minds will disappear along with their bodies.