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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“We might practice nailing the colors to the mast rather than engaging in a permanent dress rehearsal for masochism and the lachrymose.”

Christopher Hitchens

14 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Laird

    I’m not sure why we are being treated to a 10 year old Hitchens essay, but then I also don’t understand his point and especially not the last sentence (quoted above). What does he even mean? (Beyond the obvious: finding an excuse to use the adjective “lachrymose”, if only in an extremely awkward way. Clearly that word had been loitering in his notebook for a long time and he was desperate to find a use for it.) Obviously I am missing something here.

  • bobby b

    “What does he even mean?”

    My poor attempt to interpret:

    We need to stop trying to find or assign meaning to life. Meaning can make us feel less adrift in an insecure world, but there’s less meaning than we’d like to think. We don’t discover meaning so much as we make it up.

    Sometimes stuff just happens. Hitchens the nihilist was saying, get over it – embrace your fear, because life is fearsome.

    (But, like his “God Is Not Great”, he never said in fifty words what he could say in five thousand.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Do not ask, “What is the use and the meaning?” —I am the use and the meaning. That I lived and that I acted.

    –A.R. (from memory)

    . . .

    bobby, question: Why the advice to embrace our fear? Instead of, say, to “accept” it, or some such? Truly interested.

  • Laird

    Julie, that may be “the use and the meaning” of her life, but it doesn’t apply to to Hitchens’ prose! Good try, though.

    Bobby b: Maybe. But I do accept your last sentence!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird: *2 giggles*

  • bobby b

    “Why the advice to embrace our fear? Instead of, say, to “accept” it, or some such?”

    Julie, Hitchens wrote about this theme fairly often. As I read him, people like to take scary happenings and analyze them and dissect them and moralize about them and find the correct folder in our internal filing systems and put them there, in their proper place so that we can feel somehow insulated from them and feel as though we’ve dealt with them.

    That’s a way to accept our fears. It doesn’t address them – but it allows us to live with them more comfortably.

    He urged us to keep those fears right on the surface – the realistic fears, I mean – because that’s the best way to motivate ourselves to do something about them.

    We embrace the fear as real and immediate, and we gird our loins and check our powder and we “nail our colors to the mast” and go off to war against what we’re fearing. That’s what his last line meant – that we should fight back instead of weeping and wailing and analyzing. If they’re trying to kill us, who cares why? Kill them first, then wonder about it.

    “Accept”, to me, means to live with our fears. “Embrace” means to act upon them and solve them.

    (I generally like his thought process, but he could have paid more attention to his editors. Which is maybe why I identify with him sometimes. 😀 )

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thank you, bobby. Good explanation.

    Two thoughts. First, to me, the thing we fear loses most of its power once we accept the fact that it is, it’s a part of the current reality, and fighting the fact itself won’t help. (This is often easier said than done, of course.) “Here’s how it is, kid, get used to it.”

    The trouble with fear, other than the sheer painfulness of it, is that it makes clear thought difficult. So we have to denature it, so to speak, or else shove it deep into the background, in order to deal with the issue and find a solution, if there is one. (Unfortunately, the G.F. never saw fit to make all fearful conditions or issues solvable….)

    The other thing: The “first” above assumes that it is the thing causing the fear that we embrace (bobby) or accept (Julie). But “I embrace/accept my fears” could also be taken to mean that “I embrace/accept the fear that I feel.” “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” is a little glib, if you ask me, but it’s certainly possible to fear fear.

    In which case the emotion of fear that one feels must also be embraced, or accepted.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?


    I think it may have been noted hereabouts before, but I’m reminded of something I read once that said that in WW II (IIRC) the Air Corps wanted pilots who were a little below normal in the imagination department, because they would be less likely to panic when the tail and both wings were blown off. It sounds plausible, at least.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh right, I forgot. Let me edit Hitch slightly:

    “We might practice nailing the colors to the mast rather than engaging in … masochism and weep-fests.”

    It’s still got the cliché, but I do think it’s a little more intelligible that way.

    Still, I am left lachrymose (or you might say mournful, or tearful) by what some people do to our Mother Tongue.

    I’m with Laird. “A dress rehearsal…for the lachrymose” means, exactly, “a dress rehearsal for those who cry.” I struggle to see the sense in that. :>))

    ‘Scuse me now, I have to go pick up my meds.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . and fighting the fact itself won’t help.”

    I think this is the critical part of what you said. Embracing your fear is a refusal to accept this.

    It’s not “this is the new society, learn to live with it.” It’s more akin to “where can I carry my gun where the police won’t see it but I can still pull it out should some nut with a knife or a truck come after me?”

    It’s arming yourself against the danger, not arming yourself against the fear of the danger.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Excellent, bobby. :>)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Laird, Hitch was referring to how any terrorist atrocity is greeted by twaddle from politicians. It’s pretty obvious, given our times. Yes, it’s a decade old. Do quotations here have to have a sell-by date? I might quote Cicero next. 😒

  • Bruce

    Not much use nailing he colours to t he mast if the ship is unarmed.

  • Paul Marks

    Christopher Hitchens was of the left – and I am most certainly am not. However, Christopher Hitchens also believed that there was such a thing as OBJECTIVE TRUTH and that it should be found and expressed.

    The establishment elite with their waffle about Islamic attacks being a “perversion” or “distortion” of Islam sickened Christopher Hitchens – and he was correct to be sickened by the establishment elite.

  • Laird

    Johnathan, by all means quote Cicero. No “sell-by date”; I just didn’t understand the relevance.