Podcasts/Sacred Tension-ST Remembering Christopher Hitchens FINAL9xql2
ST_Remembering_Christopher_Hitchens_FINAL9xql2 SUMMARY KEYWORDS hitchens, book, people, read, died, wrote, christopher hitchens, trump, feel, bernie, influences, thought, engaged, literature, michael brooks, positions, taunton, world, fucking, hated SPEAKERS Ben Burgis, Stephen Bradford Long
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Stephen Bradford Long 00:48 This is sacred tension, the podcast about the discipline of asking questions. My name is Steven Bradford long, and we are here on the rock candy Podcast Network. For more shows like this one, go to rock candy recordings.com. And this episode is brought to you by my patrons. My patrons are my personal lords and saviors and I truly could not do this without them. And not only do they sustain this show, they also helped me with like basic life stuff like last month, I had to repair my car, I would not have been able to do that without my patrons. So every little bit helps. And I truly appreciate it. I am indebted to my patrons. So for this week, I have to thank Bryson Cooper and Brigitte Nicks. Thank you so much. It means the whole world to me and anyone listening who wants to join their number, you can go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long for just $1 a month. You get all kinds of extra content every single week, including my house of heretics podcast with the Salvation Army officer turned Christian heretic Timothy McPherson. There is also a link in the show notes. Also one of the best ways to support this show is to leave a five star review on Apple podcasts. And here is a five star review from someone in the United States they say knocked it out of the park. The episode on Bridgette Eileen Rivera's book about the ways the church has burden to the LGBTQ community was very interesting. I had no idea that Martin Luther was so affirming of human sexuality and I am a Lutheran from the ELCA. Very sweet review. We love our Lutherans here. I also loved that interview with Brigitte Eileen Rivera. It was a great interview to start out the new year. All right. Well, with all of that finally out of the way, I am delighted to welcome Ben Burgis back to the show. He has written a new book on Christopher Hitchens, how are you?
Ben Burgis 02:55 I'm very good. Thank you for having me back.
Stephen Bradford Long 02:58 Yeah, of course. I think it's been a few years. I think you were on like in 2018, or 2019. I can't remember. Yeah, but it's been a while. It's great to see you again. So tell us some about who you are and what you do.
Ben Burgis 03:13 Yeah, I am a adjunct philosophy professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta. I'm a columnist for Jacobin magazine. And I host a show called give them an argument. And now there's a sort of extension on Colin called, give me an argument. And I also wrote some books. So most recently, Christopher Hitchens, what he got right how he went wrong, and why he still matters.
Stephen Bradford Long 03:41 Yeah, you are also and I just have to bring this up, because he was such a huge influence on me, Michael Brooks. You were a regular on his show. And he just had the most untimely death. Was it was it? It was last year, it was the beginning of last year. Am I right about that? Or was it 2006?
Ben Burgis 04:02 It was the it was like late summer 2020. Yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 04:05 that's right. It was such a huge tragedy and broke my heart and you were a regular contributor on his show. So and that, that I think is where I found out about you like he exposed me to so much. I learned so much from him. And like I really, really, really feel his loss massively. So you wrote this book about Christopher Hitchens? Why? It's great. By the way, I read it. I read it over the weekend. It is fucking fantastic. It's short, but it's really, really lovely. And it gets into a lot of themes that hopefully we'll be able to get to in this conversation. So why what what drew you to this figure? Why would you write a book about him?
Ben Burgis 04:58 Yeah, I think it's somebody I was always I'm interested in like going, you know, way back, right? So I'm in, like, I'm going to, you know, I'm going to turn 42 In a few months, so I'm just old enough that, you know, I was reading his minority report columns in the nation in the late 90s. I didn't I didn't always love all of his positions. But you know, I always thought he was a great writer and, you know, and interest in RAID Ghana, he had somewhat fell off my radar for a while, in the in the 2000s. You know, I was vaguely aware that, you know, he had taken foreign policy positions that, you know, I hated very much, but like, he really kind of came back onto my radar in late 2000s, you know, when he was one of the four horsemen of new Atheism? Yep. And, and I remember, in particular, watching this, well, part of it, I think, I think the, I think the YouTube video I had originally discovered, was just like his opening statement, in this debate that he did with his brother Peter, about the existence of God, which is, you know, certainly certainly, for me, it's like, watch it, that thing is kind of whiplash, because, you know, I later discovered this was like, this was a what they did, it was like, a two hour thing where they had they spent an hour of it, arguing about religion and our if it argued about the word Iraq, you know, so So I, you know, my, my sympathies sort of flipped between the two brothers. The two, the two parts of it, but, but but I thought that he, that statement, you know, which, that's, that's one of the debates I talked about in the book. But, you know, I don't know, I, you know, like, I used to, like, show friends of mine, you know, like that video, you know, I guess, I guess, I just thought it was really good, even though even at the time, I had some reservations about sort of atheism as like this sort of, you know, identity or movement or whatever, like, like, but there already some reason, you know, some reasons that didn't make sense to me. But, but even so, like, I thought that the way that he presented his kind of humanistic critique of, like, moral critique of of Christianity, which is really what he was doing in that statement, you know, in this way, that was like, both, you know, rigorously laid out, but also, you know, I thought, emotionally powerful, you know, in it, you know, like, like, I really fascinated me, at the at the time, and I guess, yeah, I'm trying to try to remember some of the timeline here. But certainly, you know, certainly by the, you know, the end. You know, I think it was, yeah, I think like I had, I think shortly before he died in December 2011, you know, which that, you know, this book was meant to sort of why, you know, why this seemed like, a good time, you know, was was that, you know, we just passed the, you know, the 10 year anniversary of his death. And you know, so I thought this would be a time that people would be sort of interested and open to kind of revaluations of Christopher Hitchens. But certainly, before he died, I had read his memoir, hits 22. I remember also, and also remember, like this, this this part has, like absolutely nothing to do with politics, or, you know, religion already there, really, you know, but I remember reading in Slate, some of the essays that he was writing as he was dying, which, I mean, I don't I don't cover the book, but he, but there's this little volume that came out afterwards, like we'll slim book called mortality, that is a collection of basically the stuff that he wrote, you know, about, you know, I almost said about his battle with cancer, because that's such a, you know, that's, that's, like such a culturally pervasive way to put it, you know, but I think the, I think in some of those essays, he kind of talks about why he doesn't like that phrase, but, you know, the, but, you know, but like, any of this is, like, really effective, and sort of more effective, because it's very, like, unsentimental kind of way. You know, he's, he's talking about what that experience is like, and just sort of like see the lot of, you know, like, all the sort of human things are kind of stripped away from him, you know, through that. The remember he, you know, he says at one point, you know, that he's like, sick enough that you know, that the that his his nurse could be Penelope Cruz, and who wouldn't notice
Stephen Bradford Long 09:46 that and that brings us to just like his extraordinary wet like, when I when we scheduled this interview, I went back to watch rewatch some of his videos like his debate alongside Steve Ben Frey about Catholicism. And he just has like the most incredible lines. Like, you know, I never wish for the death of anyone, but I wish but I wish for the death of the Pope because there is this blessed period of time when the Enclave is assembled when no one on this planet claims to be infallible, and it's just like, absolutely fucking hysterical, or he, you know, when he was interviewed on Fox News after Jerry Falwell's deaths. And he, he uses this line, if you gave him an enema, he would fit in a matchbox. Flow, it would just like flow off his tongue. It was it was incredible. And you know, the way I describe writers like him, and I feel like there's this meta commentary in your book, and, and it's what really interests me about your book, how he's a problematic figure. And yet your book is kind of a homage to him. And the way I describe writers like him, is he is so good, that even in the act of disagreeing with him, I become smarter.
Ben Burgis 11:24 That is, that is exactly it. Right. Yes. Yeah. And I think, you know, in some ways, right, like, the last part of the subtitle, the you know, why he still matters, you know, is the sort of least explicit of the book I made, I kind of, you know, the, the very last part of it, you know, is sort of the closest that comes to make it explicit, that's what I talk about exactly what you're saying, you know, there, you know, but I hope it kind of emerges from the book as a whole, because I think, I think he's still a writer who's worth reading and engaging with and thinking about, because, you know, one, all the subjects he talked about are still interesting to us. And, and he would always make a really interesting case, for whatever it was, he thought, such that if he, you know, was on what I would regard as the right side, you know, there's no one you'd rather have on that side. And, and if he, and if he was, you know, exactly wrong, from my perspective, I made like, like, he's still vague. He's still the person that you'd most like to read being wrong about it, not just because not just because he's, uh, you know, the pro style makes the joy to read, but because it's, it's productively challenging, it's that, you know, that he has, you know, has this way of writing about that. And, and speaking that, such that, you know, even if, even if you kind of hate his conclusion, you know, like, you'll find yourself, that's really good point is to have to,
Stephen Bradford Long 12:45 exactly, exactly. And, you know, your book was such a huge breath of fresh air, because I think that we're all suffering from Twitter, brain rot, in which a lot of us can't feel like we can't be honest about our influences. And even if those influences are, especially if those influences are quote, unquote, problematic, and, and what I found so refreshing about your book, is how it, it doesn't try to round up to his best qualities, round him up to his best qualities, but it also doesn't try to round him down completely to his worst qualities. It's like, we can just let people be a mess. We can just let, does that make sense? And then it's, we can just let people be a mess and be let our influences be a mess. And I wish that we could live in a world where we could be honest about our influences and be like, Yeah, you know, I am great. You know, I, I am personally enormously influenced by Sam Harris. I feel like Sam Sam Harris, for me is like Christopher Hitchens for you. I every time I listen to that man's fucking podcast, I want to fucking vomit. Like, like, especially lately, because he's, he's had all of these awful tech bros on and then there's the whole there. And then there's the whole Charles Murray thing, which was just in my opinion, unforgivable, like, that was, in my opinion, utterly unforgivable. And at the same time, his teaching on meditation has completely changed my life, and improved my life for the better and it's like, what the fuck do I do with that? I, I can't lie. I can't lie and say that this man has not had any enormous influence on me. Because he has. And on the other hand, I'm not going to downplay in any way what I serve the very real harm. I think he I think more harmful than hitch honestly, I think, more destructive than hitch
Ben Burgis 14:59 Yeah, I mean, I know what you mean, even though even though his worst positions are probably worse than Well, I don't know, actually, I might take that back, but
Stephen Bradford Long 15:10 at least I think was pretty good when it came to race. Yeah, no, he was, you know, was
Ben Burgis 15:15 very good when it came to race actually, actually have an article that's coming out, ironically, in The Daily Beast, which, which I, like, you know, only ironic because like, I sort of liked it. I like kind of take a very little bit of a shot at the admit that at the end of the day, yes, that's right. Yeah. No, but about why I think that Hitchens, even, even late Hitchens, at his most politically flawed, would have hated that, like anti critical race theory was, and, you know, which is basically two reasons, right. One is that he had these like, really, you know, powerful defenses of free speech and why it's important to be able to openly discuss, you know, controversial ideas. But the other is that, like, you know, even post 911 he supported reparations for slavery, you know, like, he's,
Stephen Bradford Long 16:07 he's a co creative figure, you could never predict what was going to come like, and that's exciting. You have this line at the end of your book, where it's like, when was the last time you read the Daily Beast or slate, and you're surprised? Like, when was when was the last time you read something in the New York Times, and you were genuinely surprised by what you read. And it's like, Hitchens always surprised us. And I, that's also something that I kind of feel about Sam Harris as he continues to surprise me like when he turned in his IDW card. Last year, I was like, up didn't see that coming, or when he threw all of his IDW companions under the bus and came out against Brett Weinstein and, and pro vaccine. And just recently, like, last week, he said that the greatest threat to the to the United States and democracy is coming from the right, it's like, didn't see any of that coming.
Ben Burgis 17:02 It's kind of funny, just to connect the topics because you mentioned Harris's meditation stuff. And this would be much better if I remembered the name, but like, what I heard the day but wouldn't have meant anything to me, you know, so So I, I certainly don't write you know, but I remember I remember talking about this with, with Michael Brooks words. And, you know, since it's Michael was like, very, you know, Michael, like, you know, we'd go on silent meditation retreats, and stuff like that. And, and, and I, I sort of, I don't remember how it came up, but I mentioned something about people who would say, like, you know, like, like Harris's like meditation stay get a guided meditation stuff that had helped that, you know, he was like, Look, if it helps you, it helps you or whatever, that's fine. You know, like, he actually said that the that ironically, right, because because Michael Haig and Sam Harris. Oh, yeah. About, you know,
Stephen Bradford Long 18:01 Sam Harris.
Ben Burgis 18:02 Yeah, exactly. You know, and but you know, but he just sort of threw off in casual conversation that, that he had, he had sad actually had a meditation teacher in Cabo. Which one? I don't know, this would have saved the day wouldn't have anything to me because this is not a world I know. Right? Yeah. Yeah. I'm
Stephen Bradford Long 18:19 interested to know which one it was. But yeah, we we can.
Ben Burgis 18:23 Maybe, yeah, maybe Alicia would tell I don't know. That's the like Coke, like it says his sister get a bite by No, because because she seems to she seems to share some of those interests. And yet, so she she might she might know, or his mom, maybe. But I mean, like if, if not them that. I don't know, though, because you know, because I just I just wouldn't know where to look.
Stephen Bradford Long 18:43 Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I feel like we live in this culture. I wrote an article about this. I forget where I heard this idea where it was on a podcast and someone was saying, I think it was feminine chaos. With cat Rosenfield, where I think Kat was saying, you know, everyone seems to round down to people's worst qualities. And why don't we do the opposite? Why don't we just round up? Why don't we round up and see people through the lens of their best and I'm like, I'm not comfortable with that either. Like I'm not Yeah, no, you're showing up right? Like yeah, like I'm not okay with that either. And I don't know You know, I think cat Rosenfield is very smart, probably way smarter than me. And so this isn't like a dig at her. But I I think that Twitter and social media is combining with human nature to create this very toxic environment on the left and particular and on the right, I mean, it's everywhere. of either someone is a is an incredible hero or an absolute villain. And
Ben Burgis 19:54 so this is what I always say about how like, above all, Like, you know, like, usually, usually when I, you know, criticize the left more was, I'm doing it from the perspective of like, from the perspective of being strategically misguided, you know that it like it makes it harder to you know, you get no makes it harder to achieve your political goals if like you come off to most normal people like an overgrown hall monitor, but the but like also, even though it's you know even though like that's the point I usually emphasize about that, like, I also think you know what I've said this before to that, like, I think it's I think it's actually like that kind of moralistic attitude towards people is actually like, very morally flawed because it makes us, you know, less empathetic, because because, you know, if you just constantly have to, like, flattered everybody to the point where you can sort them into the clear, clearly good box, or the clearly bad box, you know, like, like, you're just, you're just missing so much.
Stephen Bradford Long 20:56 Well, it also just, it creates an environment where we, by necessity must be dishonest. Because everyone is influenced by someone who's problematic. It's like that that blog from Tumblr that was really influential, your fave is problematic, it's like, let's just admit that our faves are problematic. Let's just accept that all of our faves are problematic. And so people will come up to me, and, you know, almost like confess. Like, I actually really like JK Rowling. I disagree with I disagree with her, but I really like her and I don't want to let go of her or, or, you know what I'm saying? Or I really, are I really like Richard Dawkins, or I really, or I, you know, I really love or, you know, I'm subscribed to Jessie single substack. I really like his writing. Like, and I'm like, that's fine. Yeah, let's talk about our influences. And so that's why I loved your book so much is I see it as, as like very countercultural. And but the other thing is, whenever I see this on on Twitter, this attitude of everyone is either all good or all bad. And if you don't adhere to that idea to that attitude, then you're a traitor somehow, and you are engaging in both sides saying, and I just want to look at all these people and be like, Have you never read a fucking book in your life? Have you never read literature? Have you never read Dostoevsky or Tolstoy or Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare? Like, have you never engaged with literature in any meaningful way at all? Because human nature is messy as fuck. My favorite author is Oscar Wilde, and he did horrific things. He probably did some things that we today would consider pedophilia. Yeah, right. I mean, it's like human nature is gross. And engaging in literature, be it from someone from modern day or from the past is fundamentally is fundamentally fraught. And so whenever I see these purists on Twitter, I'm like, Have you ever read a fucking book in your life? And I know, that comes off as very, very.
Ben Burgis 23:21 The right, that is kind of the right question. I mean, it's particularly evasive, because Because so to see this play out is, you know, people are even talking about literature, right? Or, you know, I mean, like, rallied example or like, you know, I, I also, you know, I've, yeah, I mean, like, I, I mean, I, you know, whatever. I mean, I have lots of, you know, I think Norman Baylor's a pretty good, pretty good writer. Like that guy was like dangerously psychotic.
Stephen Bradford Long 23:54 There's so many dangerously psychotic, amazing writers who've influenced Yeah, sure, like Hunter S. Thompson was a huge influence Anyway, go on.
Ben Burgis 24:02 Yeah, no, totally right. Like, but like, but like when you're talking, you know, so it is just kind of funny. To me to see, especially people apply these attitudes when they're talking about literature, or even like, or even what they're talking about, like, like stand up comedy, right, which is a place I see a fair amount of it, which is, which is just funny, because these are both things that are, you know, at their best are all about exploring the human flaws, you know, and it's just that it's just they seem like domains that are particularly poorly suited to try to, like sort everybody into good people or bad people. Like if somebody is like, getting up on stage and like being funny for an hour about, like, everything that's wrong with them, which is you know, which is what a lot of good stand up is, you know, that it's like, you know, what, if you're gonna turn around and be like, Oh my god, I just found out that this person is a bad person, you know, well, well, I'm done with that. To give to you listen to that our like, you know, So, that's, and yeah, as you say, right a bit like, just the fact that, you know, that that literature good literature at least, like so, so much of it, you know, like tends to be like, I mean, that's like just just to like, boil it down to like an incredibly stupid bumper sticker. I mean, so much of it. Like the thesis is like, people are incredibly complicated, right? Like, yes, exactly.
Stephen Bradford Long 25:23 And, and there are two kinds of criticism that we can engage in. I think it's good to, you know, for example, look at JRR Tolkien and see how sexist he is in his writing, like, that's good. And it's also okay to do that while also enjoying his work. So that's one approach, right? And so we can do like that, that critical, queer feminist stuff, like we can do it. And we should and look at how, you know, representation and all that and, and sexism and homophobia and whatever and literature, like, that's all really important. And we can do that. But there's a, and we can enjoy it, even as we do it. Even as we do that criticism, and that's okay. But then there's this other type of criticism that I see. Which is, it has, okay, this this great piece of literature it had, let's just use Lord of the Rings. It's very sexist, or the Chronicles of Narnia, super sexist, let's burn it all down. Okay, that's like the other. That's the other version of it. And my response is often, why do you think that you are so much better? Right? Why why do these critics think that they are the paragon of moral virtue? And how, why are they so certain that the future of that future people won't look back on us on them and see horrible, horrible flaws. So like, maybe a bit of humility is necessary. It seems very narcissistic to me anyway.
Ben Burgis 27:09 It's, it's also just just weird that, like, there's the assumption that like, moral virtue slash good politics, is going to be like really, like, linked to like, every aspect of, of somebody's, like personality or output, like, in this way that like, we just sort of know from experience that it is like that, the that, like I do that? I don't know, like, I always see this, this thing that happens where like, I don't know, like, you know, Joss Whedon, you know, turns out to have been an asshole to people in the set of movies or whatever, you know, people say it's like, oh, you know, I could always tell you, first of all, no, you could I want to see those receipts, you know, that you could always tell, but like, secondly, like, what, why should we think that there's something here to tell, right? You know, that like that there's like, it's like, really? Like, do you think it's impossible, that like, somebody like, you know, somebody, like could be an asshole to people in his life, but also, you know, but, but also like, right, snappy dialogue that just not particularly reflects this fact about.
Stephen Bradford Long 28:22 It's so Elementary and, and I don't say all this to be mean, to my fellow comrades, like, I don't say any of this to to be mean, or disparaging it, it's just like, Come on, we can self reflect, and we can do better. And we can have a bit of nuance. And I see your book. And I bring all this up, because I think this is the deeper message of your book. And you go into the fascinating kind of intellectual journey of Christopher Hitchens, but it's like, beneath all of that, the book is a testament to you trying to engage sincerely with this very important figure who had profound flaws, and I love that it's so refreshing.
Ben Burgis 29:07 Thank you. Yeah, that is exactly right. Like I think, you know, it's kind of sad of the past, in some ways, you know, in some ways, this is like, the most self indulgent thing I've written because, like, the other the other books were like, there was sort of a very clear, like, kind of large scale, you know, there was like, a very clear sort of political intervention, right, you know, like, this is this is, you know, this is what I see people, you know, you know, in my view getting wrong about, you know, bad stuff, and, you know, and, you know, you know, here's why we should be you know, taking arguments more seriously, you know, here's why we should be you know, here's why we should call it you know, left moralism, whatever. And this one I mean, I'm, you know, cautiously optimistic that you know, that lots of other people find it interesting too, because, because it's a, because, you know, he's a figure that many people find fascinating, but like, in some ways, this is this this is just kind of for me, right? I mean, this is like, this is like, this is this is me, Like, you know, this is a guy who's always fascinated me and like I had, you know, towards the end of, of TMB, at MBs, you know, we were doing some some throwback clips where we'd watch, you know, we'd watch old footage of, of Hitchens. And you know, and, you know, kind of got me thinking about him again, and, and this is just kind of maybe, like, you know, like, taking the opportunity to, like, work through some of this stuff. And, you know, and hopefully, that's, that's interesting to lots of other people too, of course, right. You know, but I mean, like, like, like, in some ways, it's a much more, you know, it's a much more personal book than the other ones.
Stephen Bradford Long 30:36 Yeah, it definitely feels like a passion project. So this might be two, this might be an impossible question to answer. And you kind of allude to this at the end of your book, we are like we have, there's no telling what Hitchens would have done if he had beat us cancer. But what do you think, what do you think? Where would he be right now? Like, what would he have to say about our current world?
Ben Burgis 31:02 Yeah, yeah, that's really tough. I think that there, there's a range of things that I like, there's a range that I could imagine. And there's definitely stuff that falls outside of the range. So I'll just say, I mean, I gave one small example earlier of like, a particular issue where I'm fairly confident about, you know, where he would have landed, but I think I think that the, the best case scenario would be that, you know, Occupy Wall Street, like was kind of happening, you know, while he was, you know, he'd already had his cancer diagnosis. And, you know, and he was, you know, and he was kind of barely commented on it a little bit, but like, you know, but like he had, you know, but he was, you know, he was he was already starting to like withdraw from everything a little bit. And, of course, the first Bernie campaign started, you know, four years after he died. So, I, you know, I think that the best case scenario would be all of this, like, rekindles some of the old commitments, and I think if that had happened, I think, a realistic best case scenario, it still would have been, I think, it still would have been a pretty complicated relationship with left because for one thing, I think that it would have been, just psychologically, you know, like, he kind of burned somebody bridges with with his post 911 foreign policy positions, I think it would have been really hard to, like, ever, like, sort of admit to himself or anyone else, that he'd been wrong about all of that. So, so I think that if he had, for example, supported Bernie Sanders and in 2016, which is not out of the question, and he I think he might have, if nothing else, you know, above all other human beings on the planet, right, you know, like, you know, he hated Henry Kissinger like more than anyone and and Henry Kissinger became an issue with that campaign, you know, that Hillary Clinton said she was you know, that you know, Kissinger was you know, was was the Sunnah was a trusted friend and advisor you know, Bernie did the whole year I do a horrible Bernie impression, so I'm not going to try Bernie did I feel proud to say, you know, another
Stephen Bradford Long 33:10 reason we need another reason we need Michael Brooks.
Ben Burgis 33:13 I know. He did. He did. So there's the Yeah, I don't even remember like there's there's some some idiot must have like said on Twitter or something that like something about are no no, no, it wasn't it wasn't that it was that it was like I think it was like a libertarian that Sam cedar debated said something about Bernie being evil. And and like with a guy hung up, Michael just like did this like five minute riff of like, of like, speaking as the evil birdie character? Yes, birdies, accented pitch speech patterns, you know, just say evil things, you know, but no, so good. Yeah, we'll say last. So, so Yeah, Michael Michael died July 2020. And then in August 2021, you know, his, his family held a, like a kind of, like, you know, for people who because of COVID hadn't been able to, you know, to go to the original, you know, service. You know, they held what was essentially, you know, like a sort of urine change later, like, what would have been, you know, yeah, what would have been 38th birthday. And last year, he, they had, you know, a said like, essentially a sort of delayed memorial service and then in, in a truly, like, cosmically bizarre bit of time in his father actually died like a couple days before the service. And so it ended up being a joint thing, right. So people, some people were coming up and talking, you know, there'll be people to come up and talk about Michael and then there'll be people to come up and talk I'm Glenn Brooks and you know, sort of go back and forth. And which, you know, initially I felt, you know, incredibly awkward about right, because because I never knew his father, right, this like, you know, this is, you know, essentially going to a funeral for a stranger. But I'm glad I did because I because I did feel like I got some insight. You know, it's a Michael because a couple of people talked about us, apparently, like Glenn Brooks throughout his entire life was just like, constantly doing impressions of everyone who knew it.
Stephen Bradford Long 35:32 Yes, like father like, son.
Ben Burgis 35:35 So, so yeah, so I think that when I think that when Henry Kissinger became an issue, you know, the between Bernie and Hillary, I think that might have sparked some, you know, something, I think, in general, the fact that like, you know, there's even like an interview for 2005. I think we're, we're Hitchens says, and he's a little bit all over the place about this, right. Yeah. He says different things in different places. I think he wasn't entirely I think he was still probably sorted out some of his his feelings about this. You know, when he died, it was definitely a work in progress. But he does the interview from 2005, where Hitchin says that, like he would still be a socialist, if you still thought that was like, off the table, you know, historic Yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 36:17 I was going to bring that up. Yeah.
Ben Burgis 36:19 Yeah. So I think I think it's, you know, I don't think it's out of the question that he that, you know, the sort of revival of some kind of socialist left, you know, even even in this kind of soft social democratic form, would have sort of awakened that side of his politics. Although it's complicated, because, especially, given the foreign policy stuff, I have a very hard time imagining and saying anything nice about Jeremy Corbyn, but, but I think it's possible, that he that he might have supported Bernie, I don't think that's out of the question. But I think if you did, I think between the gulf that the foreign policy positions created between him and the left. And add also, you know, so in other words, given the stuff he was wrong about it, also, frankly, given some of the stuff that he was right about? The you know, I think that I think that it would have been I think that even if he had sort of come back around to somewhat more robustly leftist position in you know, in the last several years, I think it would be, you know, I think it'd be fraught, right. I think, I think it's still be like, you'd be like, Yeah, I support these people, but like, you know, he'd also be taking shots at them, you know, in various ways. So I think that's like the best case scenario. I think, the worst case scenario, and I don't like to say this, but if it just be honest about it, I think the worst case scenario is that he he would have become, you know, like, a kind of cringy resistance live in the Trump years like that, that that is something that could imagine.
Stephen Bradford Long 38:00 I could I could see him becoming an an anti woke Crusader. As well, like I would, you know, you know him better than I do. But like, that is what, especially given the people that he surrounded himself with, towards the end, I could see himself kind of going the route of James Lindsay, maybe not that crazy, but, but a tweak to toe point
Ben Burgis 38:25 to point I think that the like, like, here are some possibilities that I really can't imagine. Right, like, something that I absolutely can't imagine, like, like, I think one of those things I feel confident with just categorically rule it out, is that he ever would have had a like, truck with like, Trump support right like that. They have a that, like he, I think I think I think he would have just elegantly hated that. Right? And there are better and worse versions of how that would have come out. Right, you know, but he definitely like, not only because the only two comments that I could find from him about Donald Trump were in, in 2000, when when Trump was, you know, sort of a candidate or flirty with being a candidate for the Reform Party nomination, which which ultimately led to pat buchanan just a bizarre thing to think about that, you know, Trump went from that to eventually the Republican nominee and the president but in a column in the nation about that Hitchens refers to Trump as a nutball, narcissistic tycoon, and, and then there's appointments, there's like a C span appearance where somebody asked him where Brian lamb so about Trump, and you know, and he's, and he says that the, as far as he can tell, the only impressive thing about Donald Trump is they found a way to cover 90% of his skull with 10% of his hair. So that's, uh, you know, so like, obviously, there's a strong personal dislike, but I don't even think that's the big thing. I think the big thing is, is that he, I think that kind of, you know, right wing, you know, air quotes populism. I think I think He He hated more than he hated anything, you know, I mean, I like the fact that, you know, he was like going, you know that Trump was like, go back and like using like the Lindbergh slogan, and you know, America first and, and just how openly racist, you know that that like initial campaign was in 2016, which we kind of actually I think for forget a little bit of retrospect, like just how, like, just how extreme that first campaign for president was that like he, you know, Trump said many times that, you know, he was gonna ban every single Muslim in the world from from from the United States. Until we figure out what's going on there. A reporter asked him once, whether maybe Muslims should be forced to wear special clothing and to identify the this might be a good idea, you know, or like, anything like that people said to him, like, Oh, should there be like a registry? It's like, yeah, maybe, you know, all of the, like, Mexicans are rapists stuff. You know, like, I think that, as you kind of alluded to earlier, I mean, he was, you know, I mean, he said many times, you know, including lat you know, the last decade, you know, that, that he thought like the the sort of two most dangerous things were religion and racism, you know, so
Stephen Bradford Long 41:08 yeah, exactly. Yeah, go on.
Ben Burgis 41:11 Yeah, yeah. So he definitely, he most definitely would not have become a Trump supporter. So if you think that there's a version of him that becomes like, IDW, which I kind of don't, but if you do, he certainly would have, you know, he certainly would have at least followed his friend Sam out, you know, at the same time for the same reason.
Stephen Bradford Long 41:30 Yeah, I agree with that. And he Yeah, I mean, I think that he would have been really, really critical. I see your point about him becoming like a dreary resistance Democrat, I definitely see that I could also see him, just like eviscerating the current climate of the left.
Ben Burgis 41:58 I think he would do that. Like I think I think actually, no matter which one of these things happened.
Stephen Bradford Long 42:02 That was one thing that he absolutely would have done. You know, he's, he's one of those writers who I really miss and I really wish that he was still around because same with like Terry Pratchett. Like, I wish I could see what Terry Pratchett would have done with the Trump era. Like I, I really, really wish I could have seen what Terry Pratchett would have done with the Trump era. And I feel the same way about Hitchens, as interested.
Ben Burgis 42:31 Yeah.
Stephen Bradford Long 42:32 So so what you have this really interesting line in your book about how, in a lot of spaces that you move in the the atheism versus theism debate that Christopher Hitchens engaged in? Seem, a lot of people dismiss it as boring. But you still find it really interesting. Share your thoughts on that. What is so so first of all, why do you think because I've seen that too, and I, I think, maybe I'm misremembering, but I think Michael Brooks said something along those lines, too, that, that, you know, there was something you know, is like that, that debate is boring, that debate, you know, atheism versus theism, like we've moved on from that. It's, it's dull. But you say in your book, that it's still very interesting to you talk, talk to them about that.
Ben Burgis 43:26 Yeah, definitely. And, and this is also, I think, one of the reasons that I was interested in writing about Hitchens, probably, because it gives me a little bit of excuse to talk and think about this in a way that I wouldn't have, I wouldn't have otherwise but like, like, you know, part of the reason pitches is interesting to me is because of this and, and, you know, it's part of what I've tried to engage with in the book in some ways. You know, they're, they're, like aspects of, of the pitches, do atheists years that I'm, like, very critical of and like, you know, I'll face like analysis religion, you know, because basically, I think he's not been good enough materialist anymore, but, but I think, and, and, you know, and I think there is stuff that Michael, you know, talks about and against the web about not sort of essentialism, you know, like sort of vast cultural traditions that that I think I you know, that I think doubles is like a good criticism of like some of the new atheist stuff but the sort of core humanistic critique of you know, I think probably you know, to be honest mostly Christianity you know, that that and to a lesser extent like the Christianity adjacent religions, you know, like Judaism Islam, you know that cuz, you know, when, like, when Hitchens would like, criticize, you know, Eastern religion It always felt like a little bit of a hasty afterthought, you know, like that, that that that was out, that's clearly not where he lived on this topic, you know, like, it's not really what he what he spent his time thinking about. But But I think that I think there's an aspect of that kind of humanistic critique of at least very standard claims and those religions, right, I mean, I understand that, like, there are, you know, like, there's a huge gulf between, like, the views of like, the sort of most of least Orthodox, you know, Christians, smaller Orthodox, and I'm not, you know, I'm not interested in like, you know, I mean, I think it's a little look, I'm an atheist, I'm not, I'm a really bad position to say, who counts as a real Christian, you know, so, like, that'd be a weird game for me to play, you know, so it's like, I don't think it applies to, to all of them. But, but I think there are like some, like very deep, very standard, very historically important. Christian and I guess let's just say Abrahamic, you know, religious claims, that Hitchens has this kind of humanistic moral critique of I find very compelling. And, and I also think, that I also, yeah, this sort of core atheism versus theism debate, and a lot of this sort of way that he was engaged in it, especially, you know, especially with sort of attention to this issue of, of whether morality, you know, is something that has to come from, from a God that, that he was engaged with, I find extremely interesting. And, you know, and also, I'm a big philosophy nerd. So I mean, I find just like arguing about whether or not God exists, you know, extremely interesting. But like, I guess what I say at that part of the book, is that, when people say this, you know, to be, you know, like, I guess I'm never sure how seriously to take that, because it like, I think in Michaels case, maybe a part of it was that you did have these, you know, very deep interests, and, you know, Buddhism and, you know, and related traditions, and so, he might have felt like his spiritual interests were sort of at a right angle to like most of what was being argued about at that debate. And that's fair enough, but like, I think that you know, but I think they'll I don't know, I guess, I think, my general reaction to hearing, oh, I just find all that stuff boring now, and I, you know, I don't really care about that, you know, is that it just seems really implausible to be at a human level. Because, I mean, especially, I mean, look, you can tell what I when I wrote the book, I mean, this is, I had, you know, I mean, like, I wrote it at a time when I had, you know, like, we've gone through, you know, we've gone through, you know, I mean, obviously COVID has not done, but, you know, we've gone through the worst of COVID I've gone through Michael died, and I've, you know, gone through, you know, other tragedies we don't need to get into but the so maybe this is just that I spend too much time thinking about death now, but like, I think, just on a really basic human level, it's like, I don't know, I mean, like, like, does do, you know, do people stop existing? You know, when they die? I mean, that that that seems like something I have a hard time imagining people, anybody being completely emotionally disengaged for that issue. I just find it boring, right? Like, yeah,
48:33 I 100% agree with you. It's almost like this. I don't, I don't mean to call anyone insincere. But it seems almost like the socialist hipster. aloofness, you don't want to, like like philosophic, philosophical aloofness? No. And you're exactly right. And even just, you know, reflecting on Hitchens, death and how I haven't read his book on mortality, but even like that, the stuff that I was seeing him discuss, and the conversation surrounding him as he was dying, you know, everything from him dwelling on the fact that he believes that he would stop existing, that his consciousness would end and and to, you know, him responding to Christians praying for His salvation on his deathbed with get fucked, basically, you know, just that whole spectrum of engagement with his own mortality is fascinating because it's core to what it means to be human. We're all going to die. And you're absolutely right about COVID as well like my my, one of my cousin's just died this past week from COVID. And I think think that all of Hitchens, discussions about death and dying and mortality and the supernatural and God are very fucking irrelevant?
Ben Burgis 50:13 Yeah, no, like, you think so? Right. I mean, like, what, like, who doesn't? You know? I mean, who who doesn't think about, you know, I mean, I don't know, I'm, like, it's funny to like, Okay, so there's a surprisingly little for for just how big a figure he was, right? Surprisingly, you know, little, you know, it's been it's been written about him since since his death, I mean that, you know, obviously, you know, like, when he died, and shortly after there were like, you know, you know, five zillion, you know, like, you know, articles about it, right. But as far as like books, you know, surprisingly little has been written so, so I so I did feel compelled to read almost all of it, you know, to before, you know, before I wrote this, almost all of it because there was like one like, sort of like fundamentalist looking tract that like had a very self published, like, look to it, and I just like, Okay, I can't do this. Oh, is
51:09 that is that the, the Christopher Hitchens? The faith of Christopher Hitchens? That would I did read? Oh, that's right. Yeah.
Ben Burgis 51:19 Yeah. The, the one the what I didn't was like, he was like, you know, God is Great, you know, a systematic response. You know, I can't, I can't do it.
Stephen Bradford Long 51:31 Actually a waste of time.
Ben Burgis 51:34 That's good. But other than that, right, you know, like, like, I read, like, what little else is, is out there as far as books goes, and one of those was the one that you just referred to the faith of Christopher Hitchens, the restless soul of the world's most notorious atheists, by Larry Taunton. And in in that book, you know, I talked about it quite a bit, you know, he, you know, Taunton basically claims that Hitchens was like, teetering on the edge of conversion, you know, in his like, last, you know, months or whatever. And a lot of people, like a sort of pretty common response is like, oh, Taunton was just like making up conversations. And they say the books like no, I really don't think he was, I think he was just kind of interpreted that idiotic way. Right. Like he had like, everything, everything he reports hitch and say the book is stuff that I can totally imagine him said. And in fact, so it's like stuff he said in like, public forums. Right, you know, so it's just the Taunton was, like reading it weirdly. And, like, probably the best piece of evidence of that book is like they're talking about the afterlife. And and Hitchens says, Well, you know, the idea is not without its appeal to a dying man. And it's like, Yeah, no shit, right. I mean, like, I, I'm, you know, I'm 41. And I have no major medical issues, and it's not without its appeal to me.
Stephen Bradford Long 53:04 And, you know, I'm it was, so it was so humiliating, where, you know, I was, I did not take care of myself in my teens and 20s. And so it's like, all within a period of a month in my 30s, I suddenly needed glasses, suddenly, like, had debilitating back pain. And then my cholesterol was like, suddenly through the roof, my doctor was like, if you don't get this under control, you'll have a heart attack at 40, like, all at once, all within the period of a month. So I find myself thinking about death on a regular basis now, or just because I feel like it's that time of my life where you know, I'm in my 30s Now, I'm suddenly more aware that I am very mortal. And I can't drink you know, lots and lots and lots of vodka and be Okay, the next morning, like, I know, it's so annoying. It's like, if I stay up a minute past midnight, I suddenly want to die for the next two days, like, Oh, I'm an adult. Now. This body is not what it used to be, and I'm going to die someday. And how do I deal with that?
Ben Burgis 54:21 Yeah, no, I hate that. I really. Look. I mean, I still drink probably, you know, more than didn't like, you know, most people but like a tiny fraction.
Stephen Bradford Long 54:36 Yeah, exactly. A fraction of what I used to. Yeah, no, I've just stopped drinking altogether. Because whenever I
Ben Burgis 54:45 hit that, because Because Because Because I remember that, right. Like, what is early 30s I could, I could like, you know, I could drink like a maniac. Oh, yeah. And then like, wake up the next day and I'd be like, maybe feel a little bad for a while. Don't worry, I can be fine. I have some coffee and like kiddo, like, I go about my business and like, I'd be fine. Yeah. Like, it's like now if I if I try to, like, if I try to do the same now it's like, oh, no, I'm just gonna feel, I'm just gonna, like feel like half dead, you know, fear for like, the next day and it's like, I don't I don't like this at all.
Stephen Bradford Long 55:16 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so it's that reality of confronting mortality that I think Hitchens does really, really, really well. And it's not boring to me. So anyway, well, I think that's a great note to end on. And everyone should obviously read your book, I will put a link in the show notes. It is published by zero books, and it is fantastic. It's very slim. You everyone could but but that does not. That doesn't mean that it is a, you know, a lightweight, it is really interesting and really challenging and very in depth into his work. And so obviously, everyone should read your book, but if you were to recommend one book by Christopher Hitchens, to anyone who has never read him before, what would you suggest?
Ben Burgis 56:06 Ooh. That is tricky.
Stephen Bradford Long 56:12 So it can be more than one.
Ben Burgis 56:15 Okay, okay. Well, I think if I mean, it depends a little bit on who was recommended to right cuz, cuz if I was if I was, like, if I was recommended a book by Hitchens to somebody who, who like, you know, somebody who like, you know, I don't know, like, read buy stuff, a jacket, or whatever. And that was like, that was the sort of point of connection or like, was like a T MBs. Fan. Probably the one I recommend is his book about Clinton, no one left a lie to which, which, which is, like, I think, you know, one of the, you know, one of the best anti Clinton books, and it's, it's, I mean, it's funny, right, because I see people claiming sometimes that, you know, Hitchens was, you know, never really that interested in domestic policy. And I sort of know what they mean by that, and like, why they're saying it, but like, also, in that book, I mean, he is just savage about, like, how bad welfare reform was, and, you know, the, you know, the death penalty and a lot of things like that, in that in that book. So I mean, sort of hit him as like, you know, political polemicist. Hitchens? That is, you know, that is, that's, like, kind of the, you know, like, he's definitely at his peak there. It I don't know, I mean, if you have other interests, you know, or you don't necessarily want this the straight political stuff. I mean, I think, I think, I think actually, like, I certainly have my criticisms of the book, but like, I think God is not great is a great read. The that's that that is definitely, you know, I mean, the more philosophical side of it, I think that's definitely a book that's worth reading. And, and I guess, I guess the other one, this is like a side of him that I didn't really explore much in the, in the book, partially because I'm just not in a, you know, I'm just not a good position to because, like, I, you know, like, again, it's, it's like, the, it's like the drink kid, you know, it's like I, maybe I, you know, maybe like I read more, you know, novels than, you know, like the average American or whatever, but like, I'm like, essentially illiterate compared to Christopher Hitchens. So, I so, so I just nod the position to like to like write about his sort of Hitchens is a literary critic, which was, like, almost his other career. And, and, but I think he has a book called unacknowledged legislators, which is, you know, the title comes from a quote from Shelley about, you know, poets baby unacknowledged legislators, the world. And it's just a collection of, of, of essays. You know, it's a collection of, of, of essays about literature, right. So like, oftentimes, some of them will be, you know, they're like big chunks to some of his other essay collections that are devoted to this, but like, that one's entirely it. So like, you'll get like his, you know, the Hitchens essay about Arthur Conan Doyle, or you know, like the Hitchens essay about grim green or whatever, and it's, and so if you're so yeah, depending on depending on what someone is most interested in, it would be one or the other of those three books.
Stephen Bradford Long 59:29 Perfect. Well, this has been great. And I'm glad to see you again. This has been a great conversation. That's been good. All right. Well, that is it for this show. The theme song is wild by eleventy. Seven. You can find it on Apple Music, or Spotify or wherever you listen to music. The show is written, produced and edited by me Steven Bradford long, and it is a production of rock candy recordings, as always Hail Satan, and thanks for listening