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"The War Against Thanatos", ctd: Everybody Pray For Hitchens Day

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Well today, September 20th, is “Everybody Pray For Hitchens Day.” I’m not necessarily going to promote that action – however much I’m sure he appreciates the motives – I think it’d be much better for his morale if you purchased one of his books. That will certainly have an effect in the material world. But look, I agree with Hitch, if praying makes you feel better, pray away.

"The War Against Thanatos", ctd

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

"The War Against Thanatos"

August 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Christopher Hitchens writes about his battle against cancer

I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

(image from Wikipedia

Cancer Is Not Great

Christopher Hitchens has cancer. His statement released by his publisher reads:

Been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me.

You really have to admire the man. I hope the hard work of all the nurses and doctors aided by centuries of scientific and medical advancement can cure him. His mental constitution certainly won’t let him down. I admire Hitchens as much as any other writer, thinker, or public intellectual and wish him and his family the very best. Here’s an older piece of writing (it’s worth reading in entirety) from Dan Dennett when he was recovering from heart surgery – I’m sure Hitchens would approve:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence  is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea,  India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who’s counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning  out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

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