Friday, July 10, 2009

Hitchens in Palo Alto

I organized an event with a local atheist group to go see Christopher Hitchens in Palo Alto last night. The talk was hosted by the Commonwealth Club but not advertised very much - I stumbled across the event on GoldStar about 5 days earlier.

He only spoke for about an hour. The topic was "Iran, Iraq, North Korea". When I mentioned the talk to Derek he predicted Hitchens would mention that he's the only writer to have visited all 3 countries, and he did so in about the first 30 seconds. He told several interesting stories of totalitarianism in all 3. These that stand out in my mind:
  • Iraq - The tale of Hussein's cold-blooded rise to power (related here in an Atlantic article), noting the similarities to mafia tactics.
  • North Korea - The almost comical similarities to Orwell's 1984.
  • Iran - He was mostly hopeful in discussing Iran, noting that it is a moderate country ruled by an extreme minority, and the demographics are shifting the right way (something like half the country is under 25). He made a similar point of Palestine.
His overarching them was that any government that considers its people iis property are dispicable, and we should not shy from labeling them as evil.

Overall it was good, but short. He didn't mentioned any major ideas I hadn't read or heard before. He made the requisite joke about whiskey. But he's smart and articulate and funny and skeptical, so I dig him.

After the talk we had a lively discussion at a local pub.


Derek James said...

Sounds like fun. I like Lafayette, but I do miss being in a place where I can see talks like this. The only live talk of Hitchens I've seen was when he attended a seminar at SMU about vice and morality. It was called "Can we keep our bad habits and still live the good life?" Three guesses what Hitchens answer to that was.

Philip said...

Ha! A better question to him would be whether a good life is possible without vices.