An Ode to Christopher Hitchens
How to be an asshole (and get away with it).
In a world that became increasingly wussy over the last 40 years, Christohper Hitchens made a name for himself by becoming increasingly an asshole. While everyone was trying to get along, he was telling people why they were wrong. If he wasn’t such a flabby Briton, he would have organized a team of mercenaries, stormed the Vatican, suplexed the Pope, and exclaimed, “Mother Teresa is the whore of Calcutta!”
Of course, being an asshole is nothing new, but Hitchens got away with it. He was even beloved for it. We can get away with it too, as long as we follow these three rules as demonstrated by Hitch’s life.
1. Be right
Though being an asshole is fun, most people aren’t one because they’re afraid of being wrong. If you’re wrong and an asshole, then you’re contemptible. If you’re wrong and a wussy, then you’re a doofus. But if you’re right and an asshole, then you’re a breath of fresh air. Not that Hitchens was right all the time. His views were a hodgepodge he formulated through the Marxist ideals of his youth and the conflicting, real-world evidence of his adulthood. But as long as you’re willing to think, people will want to think right along with you.
2. Communicate like a fancy pants
Hitchens could tell you that he just had sex your wife and your first thought would be, “wow, that sounds really smart.” This isn’t to say he minced words. Far from it. But erudition is the writer’s way of grooming himself, and everybody wants to like someone who is well-groomed.
3. Like people
No matter how argumentative and caustic he was, Hitchens always liked people. Of course he never admitted this, and he always seemed at least bored with people he agreed with, but you could tell. I think this is because of his Marxist background. Though Hitchens spent his life distancing himself from Marxism, he still held on to the Marxist concern for the real-world fate of everyone, and all the factors that may influence their fates. The problem with Marxism is that it uses the word “fate” literally, thus treating people like factories. Yet the intent never faded.
This sincere concern for humanity is partly what made it okay for Hitchens to be an asshole. He didn’t argue to create schisms between him and others—he argued because he knew no argument could get in between two people because ultimately, they were both people.
Hitchens only seemed happy when he had a drink in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth. I don’t think this counts as being happy. Other famous assholes also seemed more despondent than exuberant. Socrates was miserable, Voltaire was too ugly to be happy, and Dirty Harry’s furrow never eased when he killed the bad guy.
This is the key to being a beloved asshole. Many men, especially those trying to make a name for themselves, will go out of their way to be an asshole. This is like going out of your way to be messy. Ultimately, being an asshole only works if you’re a natural asshole. This occurs when the dichotomy between your vision and the real world makes you feel suffocated, and the only way to breathe is to violently pursue the ideal. Violent pursuit of anything, no matter how ideal, will make a man look like an asshole.
But Socrates’s belligerence isn’t rude when we see his vision for an intellectual society. Voltaire’s laughter is less cynical when we see his vision for an enlightenment. Dirty Harry’s violence seems kind when we see his vision for a world without bad guys. And compared to Hitchens’s utopia, suplexing the Pope would have been as insignificant to him as swilling a fifth scotch.