Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great
Trotsky had a sound materialist critique that enabled him to be prescient, not all of the time by any means, but impressively so on some occasions. And he certainly had a sense — expressed in his emotional essay Literature and Revolution — of the unquenchable yearning of the poor and oppressed to rise above the strictly material world and achieve something transcendent. For a good part of my life, I had a share in this idea that I have not quite yet abandoned. But there came a time when I could not protect myself, and indeed did not wish to protect myself, from the onslaught of reality. Marxism, I conceded, had its intellectual and philosophical and ethical glories, but they were in the past. Something of the heroic period might perhaps be retained, but the fact had to be faced: there was no longer any guide to the future. In addition, the very concept of a total solution had led to the most appalling human sacrifices, and to the invention of excuses for them. Those of us who had sought a rational alternative to religion had reached a terminus that was completely dogmatic. What else was to be expected of something that was produced by the close cousins of chimpanzees? Infallibility? Thus, dear reader, if you have come this far and found your faith undermined — as I hope — I am willing to say that to some extent I know what you are going through. There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better, too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.
I once told a fellow writer that my favorite authors make me feel so amateurish with words. And largely that was my copout to quit my hobby/goal as a realistic dream to shoot for professionally. That was five or six years ago.
Essentially, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to accept the compliment whenever someone tells me I’m a good writer. Because in my head it means either (a) they don’t know what good writing looks like, or (b) that they do and are just placating my ego for trying. Both ends to a losing psychological cause.
In a backwards sort of way, in my earliest blogs I objectively wrote a bunch of hot and stinky garbage. I rarely made consistent points or stayed on track, a lot like word salad. I imagine I occasionally stumbled into some clean thoughts, but we know what they say about broken clocks.
What’s backwards comparing then to now is the audience. As a shittier writer I was much more proud to get my blog out there via social media or whatever; I was open to the idea of my “friends” reading my predominantly useless posts. Look at what I can do!
Two things are different now: my audience exclusively consists of strangers, and I try to be as clear as possible with everything I write. Rather than using ambiguity — to the extent it didn’t make any sense unless the reader was in my head — as something of a theme, I surrendered the frequent ten dollar word in favor of direct language that makes sense.
What does it say about me that I am more comfortable with strangers understanding me more clearly than the people I know? Not important.
Part of it, or most of it, I suppose, has to do with the Internet in general. But not how you would think. Contrary to many Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat posts, where the presentation of one’s life is more important than the reality, I began engaging in the opposite behavior. This wasn’t a conscious effort until I realized what I was doing. I became more ambiguous on social media — to the point where the people who follow me don’t really know what my life is about.
And on here, in the semi-private space that’s mine and mine alone, I get to explain myself. I get to tell the truth of who I am and what I believe.
Granted, the topics I normally spout don’t mean a damn thing to anyone other than me. But that’s more to do with my obsession into the hypocrisy of sports, my relationship to the casino industry both as a gambler and a dealer, and a hyper left-leaning take on politics (that I commonly refer to as “the truth”). Not only do I hardly ever see eye-to-eye with others on these issues, but most don’t care in the first place.
Back to my original point about compliments: I don’t consider myself a bad writer. But to think of myself as a “good” writer would be a slap in the face to the people I draw inspiration from, so I don’t do that either. I’m in the doldrums of being a lot better than I used to be, most likely better than I think I am, and not anywhere close to where I want to be.
Since I don’t get paid to write this is a labor of love. When I was younger I imagined I would make an attempt at using words to inspire younger people to want to do the same, but that, too, has changed over the last decade or so. Since I come to hate almost everything I’ve written in the past, I understand that I do this for the one or two sentences that stick with me when I re-read. And rather than inspiring anyone, all I can really hope for is that one or two sentences stick with you, too.
It’s raining and I have to be up for work in like four hours. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.