Plucked From The Nether: ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’

In November of 2010, on my previous blog, I wrote a post with the title ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’, ostensibly spurred on by a comment  by Sean of Bookonaut (née Blogonaut) fame. However, I didn’t disclose at the time that I’d already been mulling over commentary on much the same topic, made on Facebook, by a much-loved atheist who went by the name of Candy Hogan. This is what she posted, earlier in November 2010;

“when i go to read my newsfeed often want to scream. I understand the proud atheist thing, but WHY does EVERYTHING have to be about RELIGION? dammit, its boring! u might as well be practicing these religions u claim u hate cuz theyre ALL U TALK ABOUT!! in depth studies of inconsistancies… why isnt it enough to just not believe? new subject PLEASE???”

(Candy Hogan, November 18th, 2010)

I originally considered dedicating my post to her, however, given that I opened by quoting Sean (and that a dedication seemed potentially too familiar), I opted not to. A few weeks later, in early January 2011, after a bout of viral pneumonia, Candy Hogan’s life came to an end.

I’m periodically reminded of Candy every now and then (as I have been again, now) – she was witty, occasionally a little caustic (while still being witty), and thoroughly irreverent. Nobody, including atheists, could be guaranteed immunity from her sense of humour. Discussion, with Candy as a participant, was never allowed to stagnate for long, if at all, and even while for the most part I sat on the sidelines, I considered Candy’s thoughts worthy of attention.

So with the exception of a little spit-and-polish here and there, the following is ‘”A” is for “Apathy”?’ as it appeared in November of 2010, now re-dedicated to Candy. Vale Candy Hogan.


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Vale Hitch…

Christopher Hitchens, critic, polemecist and oppositionalist, has passed away at age 62.

It’s a matter for remorse that perhaps as recently as five years ago, I’d have been happy to meet this revelation with a ‘well yes, it’s sad, but…’, before getting stuck into his memory over the usual bugbears; not mere political differences, but also the oft-repeated, well-accepted smears through misrepresentation. Hitchens may have been the kind of person to receive this kind of thing as mere occupational hazard, but he wasn’t someone to have people disappointing themselves.

My prior approach to Hitchens’ writing, I’ve increasingly found disappointing.

It’s hard to say when exactly the turning point was, where Hitchens began to ascend in my view. 2006 had me writing a post following an interview on Lateline between Jones and Hitchens, in which the Abu Ghraib torture scandal was discussed, and where Hitchens, while condemning the torture, described the inmates in an infelicitous manner, as ‘sub-human filth’.

My objection to this particular kind of rhetoric still remains – de-humanising enemy combatants is dangerous, and can precipitate the kind of atrocities Hitchens was condemning. (Yes, it is possible to exaggerate this, and take Hitchens too literally, but still…)

There has been however, despite this, a change of perspective. In the same post, I’d claimed that I didn’t ‘care for his tone’ (I paraphrase). Indeed, I realised I’d forgotten, upon re-reading the post earlier this year, that I’d ever opined such a thing. Memory can play tricks on you.

Not that I was condemning him on the basis of tone in the first place, today, with few exceptions, nothing could be further from the truth.

(As an alternative to this timeline, Hitchens managed to germinate the first seeds of dislike for the school of ambush journalism, misquotation and non sequitur of which Michael Moore is practiced, in my mind as of 2004, when Farenheit 911 was discussed between Jones and Hitchens, also on Lateline).


In 2007, I readily deferred to the firsthand, eye-witness account of PZ Myers on the matter of Hitchens’ speech at a Freedom From Religion Foundation convention at the time. Specifically, I credulously accepted the claim that Hitchens had advocated a kill-them-all approach to dealing with Islamist insurgents – an understandable account, but one I’ve since become unable to believe, and for some time.

Again, a significant difference of politics still remains; generally on the matter of the Iraq War, and specifically concerning the ability of Islamic insurgents to replenish their numbers through recruiting (which occupations rather tend to help). But this is not the point.

The point which I wish to amend came to light with a little prompting from a reader, and reflection upon the content of raw video footage. Hitchens had been advocating a fight until the enemy’s loss of morale, and surrender, not for a campaign to exterminate all Muslims. While I still hold much the same practical objections to this line of reasoning, the two policies are hardly identical, one being considerably more rebarbative than the other.

I have to say I’m remorseful for delaying an open admission of error in this particular detail.


In 2008, my attention was brought to a particularly bad piece of writing authored by Dr Ned Curthoys in Overland (if you can bear the sizable word count, I pull it apart in detail at Butterflies and Wheels). Hitchens was particularly savaged in the article, as were others in a way that was particularly liberal with the factual details (even a few lines of creationist-style rhetoric get a showing).

I was told that whatever the truth of the details, it was still a good article because Hitchens was getting a ‘pwning’. Well, he wasn’t, but that’s beside the point.

At the time, I attempted friendly punch-in-the-arm rhetoric (the word ‘stupid’ was deployed, laughingly), not believing that my disagreement was that serious. Possibly, I needn’t have been so restricted with my scorn – I’ve since had similar, more serious arguments with a few others the same circles, with subsequent falling-outs (or silent treatments). It seems that despite the japes, and the lax fact-checking, some of my interlocutors may have expected to be taken quite seriously all along. Too bad.


Somewhere in all of this has been a turning point, not just in my appraisal of Hitchens, but relatedly in my realisation of myself as a participant in the polity.

It seems I’m ethically left-wing, just not tribally. I don’t care if it’s an unspoken rule amongst some political in-group, I’m not at all happy to casually overlook inconvenient facts in the prosecution of niche-fashionable grudges, and it’s Hitchens I have to thank for helping me realise this. (Yes, it sounds quite obvious in hindsight).

I’m under no illusion that at some point, probably several, cognitive dissonance will make a hypocrite out of me on the matter (reading Hitchens is helpful in realising this as well), but I’d rather be more self-aware and able to act, than less. And I’m under no illusion that I haven’t always lived up to these values – that’s inferred already.


Then, in this timeline, came a re-reading of Letters to a Young Contrarian. To me, god is not Great was an atheist text I had technical quibbles with, by an author I often disagreed with. Letters, as re-visited in recent years, has been more influential, being second only to Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness in nudging Rousing Departures in any particular direction.

Writing to X, in warning against corruption, Hitchens raises familiar tropes.

‘Other invitations to passivity or acquiescence are more sly, some of them making an appeal to modesty. Who are you to be the judge? Who asked you? Anyway, is this the propitious time to be making a stand? Perhaps one should await a more favorable moment? And – aha! – is there some danger of giving ammunition to the enemy?’

(Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian, 2001)

In Letters, the assumptions underlying questions like these are skewered by Hitchens, through his own polemic, and through the summoning of Orwell and others. It’s in the face of such passivity and acquiescence that I’m most in sympathy with Hitchens’ words.

This is largely where I’m at now – realising in a more practical sense the implications of my revulsion to clubishness, and finding both comfort and truth (a rare combination) in what Hitchens instructs on the matter. I feel like I’m Hitchens’ rhetorical student X, like I’ve been a fool, and with still more questions to ask.

Of course, I’ve never had correspondence with Hitchens, and now, he’s gone. Not that I’m about to decay into a state of anomie, I’d have liked to have had the chance to meet him at the convention next year – to have had the chance to show my respect, and maybe get a little advice, even if drowned out by similar gushings from others.

While I’ve expressed remorse at my mistakes about the man, I won’t say I regret them. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have arrived at a worse place had I not made these mistakes so obviously, perhaps instead enjoying wrong kinds of success; in-group rewards for surrendering the intellect; pats on the back for the shit-eating grins.

At any rate, I suspect he’d possibly be bothered by self-indulgence of the like I’m displaying – too much umming and ahhing when the answer is right in front of one’s nose. There’s work to be got on with.

Hitchens pissed me off like he pissed off countless others, but ultimately, from the insights and the engagements, the experience has been incredibly educative, and will no doubt continue to be so, long after his passing. More so than some people will be willing to admit.

I’m truly grateful for the legacy Hitch has left us to work with.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Hugh Greentree).

Last of the ’90s dogs…

Back in the late 1990s, a mate of mine gave a home to a poor abandoned little girl, who’d been left alone in a suburban Adelaide backyard after her family of droogs migrated elsewhere. A kelpie cross-something that frankly, was a bit insane. She was named Jessie.

Jess, plotting mischief.

Jess loved baths, sprinklers, showers, water, water, WATER! *snap* *snap* *bite* *bite*

…that and ‘walkies’, and damn, she could pick up on more than just the keywords, sneaky girl.

She wasn’t so fond of other dogs, at least not until she’d had time to acclimatise. Cats weren’t an issue though, Jess having grown up with black cat Clive and her bastard half-brother, son of a cat. (Clive was a nice old mother cat, but her son was a capricious little furball of selfishness, claws and inbreeding).

Normally, Jess was a gentle, kind, caring creature, capable quite untrained and quite unprompted, of sookish concern for members of other species normally designated the role of potential food source. Winded pigeons? Poor little things, you gotta help ’em! Awww! Awww! Sniff! *Whimper*

This altruism didn’t extend to sharing a bed with humans, which she’d beg for in fits of separation anxiety. If you ever let this girl onto your bed, you’d roll away from being pinioned, only to find yourself pinioned again, eventually either to the point of being pinned to the wall with a snoring dog rolled up against your back, or your being pushed off, out onto the floor.

And all the times she used to try sitting on people! She was pestering me while I was laying down on the floor once, in my mate’s place back at Dernancourt, so I told her to sit. She tried sitting on my face, and she wore this damned proud, knowing grin after the thankfully failed attempt.

Jess is the last of a generation of dogs, which includes my own late buddy Joe, who spent time with us then angsty youth, putting up with mild drunkenness, pizza nights, late night movies played off of VHS, patiently chewing plastic lids from the humans’ bottles of mixer drinks, leaving them spent and gnarled all over the lounge room rug. The last of a generation of dogs taken on long, long walks on long, long post-recession days.

I suspect the last BBQ I went to with Jessie’s family was back in the day.  Jessie, last of the youthful BBQ dogs, last dog of our youth.

Jess passed away this year, fighting an illness made easier by nice meds and a supportive family. Near the end, she was still happy and able enough to jump up on a visitor, which I was more than privileged to experience during our last day together.

More than a couple of lives were made better by Jessie being around, and she’ll be missed. Goodbye, crazy little girl.

~ Bruce

My mate the drongo

I’ve made vague reference to some of the less socially acceptable aspects of my youth a couple of times on this blog. Not that everything about my past around that time is rotten – I did good things as well – but a lot will have to remain unspoken. It wouldn’t do any good to raise it and possibly some harm (there are interested parties other than myself.)

I’m probably going to have a sleepless night tonight. The old grapevine has brought me some news.

Occasional rude word and drug reference over the fold (naughty words permitted in the comments of this post)…

Continue reading “My mate the drongo”

Bye Bye Little Buddy

Originally posted on Thinkers’ Podium on the 30th of January, 2007.

If you’ve been reading what I write for the past year or so, you will remember my dog Joe, who has been (as a reductio ad absurdum) argued to be God by way of a non-falsifiable hypothesis. Joe’s a fun loving dog, and if he could understand the absurdity of Intelligent Design and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I’m sure he’d have found it funny.

Unfortunately, Joe hasn’t had much to smile about lately. After years of slowly losing control over his back legs, he’s finally lost all control together and let me tell you, it’s not as endearing as scenario as that experienced by that dog on Family Guy. Further, Joe has recently had an outbreak of demodectic mange which is quite ugly and quite irritating for him. The sad thing is, in old dogs (Joe would have been born in late 1992), in 70% of instances, outbreaks of demodectic mange point towards cancer.

Joe hasn’t been doing too well. The real giveaway though is that Joe doesn’t smile much anymore. Joe used to smile most of the time just a couple of months ago and when he was younger, could barely be seen without a smile. Immobile, unhappy, sick and uncomfortable, we’ve decided to do the humane thing and have the little fella put to sleep this Friday.

I’ll remember how he used to be the most dexterous dog I’d ever seen; as a young dog jumping up the barbecue like a mountain goat to stand on top of the chimney and look over the neighbour’s fence. I’ll remember his cheeky sense of humour and naughty nature, a nature that did however have limits; Joe never tore up good clothes, just old rags; he once jumped up on my young cousin who then cried and so he never jumped up on a child again (even though it was pretty harmless to begin with). I’ll remember how if he was hurt and someone was distressed for him, he’d be more concerned with cheering them up than about his own injury.

Joe has been a smart dog, an independent dog and even a crazy dog, but also a kind and good friend. A better friend to others than a lot of people in my estimation to be frank.

Bye bye little buddy.


RIP Joe 1992-2007.