Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Atheism, Hitchens, Orwell & Michelle Visage

Over at The What & The Why, I'm talking about the Paris attacks and making broad points about the whole troubled mess. I accept it won't be to everybody's taste but that was deliberately so. My views are atheist, sceptical, but also, I hope, humanist. Despite being cynical about most things, I'm no nihilist. I do believe in goodness, virtues, and human beings. We can do great things only we too often attribute those great things to God or gods when we should attribute them to ourselves. I expected a little flak and there was some criticism but nothing that convinces me that a sceptical approach to life isn't the best.

I suppose I should also have read some Christopher Hitchens before trying my hand at a full-on atheist argument. However, I didn't. Time to get Arguably down off the shelf. Not sure what it's doing up there. It's another of the books which usually sit in the only tidy part of my desk by the side of my monitor. I miss Hitchens terribly, especially at times like these when his clarity and anger meant so much. He was good TV because he was bad TV, in the sense that he was not anodyne or always kind but intellectually fierce and independent. He cut through the bullshit and made me wince at the things he would say. We do too little wincing these days. Or, at least, the wrong kind of wincing.

I have been reading a lot of Orwell recently. I hadn't read his essays in a while, though his collected best are always sitting in that favored spot on my desk. However, my old edition was falling to pieces, with half the pages having come loose. I was recently bought a new copy as a gift, which I'm cherishing and using as a little motivational reading before I start hammering the keyboard every morning. Last week I reread 'The Lion and the Unicorn' and thought it remarkable how little England had changed to the one he described back in 1940. I cannot stop going back to this passage. Something about it has been niggling away at me for days.
It follows that British democracy is less of a fraud than it sometimes appears. A foreign observer sees only the huge inequality of wealth, the unfair electoral system, the governing-class control over the press, the radio and education, and concludes that democracy is simply a polite name for dictatorship. But this ignores the considerable agreement that does unfortunately exist between the leaders and the led.

I've been wanting to write about something that happened when I visited Waterstones in Liverpool the other day; the strange experience of walking in to see a book signing by some American TV starlet called Michelle Visage and then seeing the prices of the newest Penguin books. It keeps reminding me of Orwell, perhaps some secret agreement high up in our culture that ensures that the crass is abundant and cheap and anything quality kept exorbitantly high. I suppose I shouldn't be too critical. Michelle Visage has over 200,000 followers on Twitter. I can't be bothered to break past 200. She is what humanity craves and, I guess, given a choice between following Visage or some supernatural god, I would have reluctantly choose to follow Visage. Damn! Never let it be said that atheists choose the easy route.

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