Christopher Hitchens and Hunter S. Thompson:
- To describe these two as 'hedonistic rock stars' would be an understatement. Their bohemian lifestyles resembled something out of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and gradually resulted in both of their demises, granted. But it's not like these guys were all play and no work, they were busy boys during their time down here. The hedonism is just something they both cherished. Perhaps a little too much. But it's hard to think that they didn't know what they were doing, since their combined IQ is likely to surpass any two people you'll ever meet. Thompson even wrote about his pleasure-seeking quite eloquently in his 'Finding your purpose' letter to Hume Logan. This letter alone is one of the most insightful and brilliant things I have ever come across. For those of you yet to read it, I'll briefly summarise the lasting message here:
Thompson states that the only important question one needs to ask oneself is whether to "swim for a goal or to float with the tide". He actually interprets Hamlet's "to be or not to be" as a transmutation of the "swim for a goal" question. In fact, he goes on to state that 'floating with the tide' is a far sweeter deal than 'swimming aimlessly'. Of course, he supports this with the classic philosophical conundrum of arriving at a goal only to realise the complete meaninglessness of your achievement. So I guess the take-home advice is just give up pursuing your goals and become a pleasure seeker, right?
Well, sort of. Look, here's the thing: Thompson obviously floated with the tide in quite the hedonistic fashion, as did Hitchens, and for a creative, excitable mind they cast quite the impression. Unfortunately, the world's in a crazy state of affairs right now and since nobody seems to know what the **** to do with themselves I've done the honours of dissecting down the nuggets of wisdom these two champions had to offer. So once you have posed the 'swim/float' question to yourself (and you should) join me in reflecting upon the lessons learned from these two greats.
Lesson 1) They knew what worked for them.
- Everyone's different. I repeat, everyone's different. Let me just say that again: Everyone is different. Got it? yes? no? one more time: EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.
- You are a completely unique individual. I know that civilisation has done a fantastic job of blunting your edge and narrowing down your eccentricities, but no matter how many 'similarities' you think have with those around you, your emotional and psychic core is literally the definition of unique. Finding out exactly how unique you are is a journey in and of itself, but applying those findings to your specific lifestyle choices is something else entirely. So figure out who you are!
- In one of his final interviews, Christopher Hitchens (consumed almost entirely by the side effects of Chemotherapy) was asked simply: "How do you feel about those years when you were smoking and drinking?"
Hitchen's deliberates, and then responds clearly:
"It's strange ... I almost don't even regret it ... though I should. Because it's just impossible for me to picture life without wine and other things fuelling the company, keeping me reading, travelling and energising me. It worked for me, it really did."
And there is the key. It worked for him. He knew exactly what he needed to make life worthwhile, and so he could sit back in the midst of cancer without any regrets. Now, if that is possible, then I am sure you can resist the urge to slip solemnly into the background safety of civilisation and maybe instead listen to your deepest wants and needs. Am I saying drink and smoke your life away? Not necessarily. But I am saying that you must do whatever it is that makes you thrive.
A life well-lived is the key. If something isn't working, change it, and don't worry about what society says.
Lesson 2) They didn't care about being the minority.
Hunter S. Thompson was an innovator - clear and simple. Yes, he was a journalist - nothing new in that, but discovering Gonzo Journalism was a whole other ball game. And the percentage of journalism doing it 'Gonzo' style nowadays is all down to him.
Best known at the time for his reporting of the Hell's Angels, Thompson had an edge to him that not many could understand. Unpredictable, crazy, genius - these were all adjectives attributed to him during his time. But I think the most admirable quality he had was that he just didn't care. He knew who he was and how he wanted his life to go, and had plenty to say to the 'naysayers' who didn't understand it.
"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone but they've always worked for me." - Dr Hunter S. Thompson
I think it takes a self-evident level of bravery and intelligence to step outside the opinion of the 'group' and make a life for yourself. It's something that not many have the courage to do. One thing is clear though, all the great men and women of our past have all shared that one quality in common - they didn't care about being in the minority. The world doesn't need more sheep, so step outside the safety of the herd. You never know what's on the other side.
Lesson 3) They had faith in their own intelligence.
I think it's safe to say Christopher Hitchens was a polemicist, above all else. His controversial opinion won him notoriety in America since, as you might imagine, it wasn't all that common to tour the country espousing the non-existence of God to a wholeheartedly Christian land-mass. He is a legend for this exact reason.
It might be common nowadays to not believe in God. In fact, 'atheism' is so normal nowadays that people are believing in God again to get their edge back. But this is in great part thanks to Hitch, who espoused time and time again controversy after controversy at a time when it wasn't that cool, or common to not believe in God.
Being backed by a group is a very safe and easy way to have an opinion, it means that you don't risk being ostracised by your peer group and blend neatly into the common crowd. However, without Hitchens shaking things up, there might still be plenty of individuals feeling imprisoned by guilt and anguish that many religious followers feel. In fact, without Hitchens having the faith in his own intelligence, the young scientists and atheists of today might never have had the confidence to develop. Hitchens gave a certain strength and class to controversy, and has certainly guided many others to stand above the crowd. Thanks Hitch.