Tag Archives: Christopher Hitchens

#71 – Inspiring The Aidan Project

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In a very different edition of the podcast, Aidan takes you behind the scenes of The Aidan Project. Within this reflective podcast, Aidan introduces Inspiring The Aidan Project, a potential separate podcast series which would highlight the men and women whose thinking has inspired Aidan. Aidan then presents a pilot episode for this prospective series; the pilot tells the story of George Orwell. Also in this episode, Aidan offers further reflections on Winston Churchill, following episode 69: The Churchill Myth: Many Dark Hours, and talks about every podcaster’s worst nightmare: a full-length conversation which will never be heard.

Expanded show notes:

#69 – The Churchill Myth: Many Dark Hours

Churchill was flawed like all the greats but his achievements outshine his shortcomings, Sky News, 1 February 2018.

Mary Shores web site

More information on the pilot for Inspiring The Aidan Project:

Copy of Copy of UPSTART

Potential artwork for Inspiring The Aidan Project

Inspiring The Aidan Project is a prospective podcast series, separate to The Aidan Project.

Inspiring would feature five-minute episodes telling the stories of the incredible men and women who have inspired my thinking, for better or worse, according to your preference.

In some instances, I may disagree with certain statements and behaviours of the luminaries in question, but this does not obscure their overall importance. This is because, as Christopher Hitchens so adeptly explained, “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

Hitchens, Orwell, Paine, Bentham, Mill, Russell, Gandhi, Voltaire, Luxemburg, Hume, Aristotle and Arendt are examples of notables who have passed on. However, Inspiring would also profile living persons, too. After the introductory episode, each edition would be an episode unto itself, which is to say, you could listen in any order.  Episodes would neither be released in order of how I rank their influence – even if this were possible – nor according to the year of their birth. All episodes must simply meet the criteria, which is principally of being a person who inspired me to think critically. It may be, too, that a given person was somewhat dogmatic and prone to superstition; nevertheless, their immense moral courage and/or grand ideas served to inspire me, thus meriting their inclusion.

I want to pay homage to the men and women who inspired me, because I merely stand on the shoulders of these giants. I hope these persons could inspire you, too.

Your feedback will be important to me: I want to hear what you think of the vision, the format, the pacing, even down to the cover art and podcast’s title! Please get in touch.

After I have collated your feedback, the podcast could be launched as a separate entity to The Aidan Project, to be made available via this web site and via all major podcast providers. Episodes could possibly be released within a number of ‘seasons’, ala Netflix.

Kind regards,
Aidan

Aidan Coughlan
2 February 2018

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#70 – Notes on the Great Debate: Paine Versus Burke

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In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan looks at the remarkable debate that is, according to some historians, the origins of left versus right politics – or progressive versus conservative. In the late eighteenth century, Edmund Burke went up against Thomas Paine, each offering entirely different opinions on the French Revolution. Paine, writing in his most celebrated book, Rights of Man (1791), argued: “Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” Burke had spoken out against the revolt in France, saying the chaos and upheaval would eventually be settled by a dictatorship. He was right. Paine certainly did not see Napoleon coming. Britain avoided revolution; instead, Britain moved further to the right. This episode further explores some of the themes from episode 69, The Churchill Myth: Many Dark Hours. Aidan also gives his damning verdict on the dire standard of discourse on social media, where debate is certainly not great.

Related links:

How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently.

#69 – The Churchill Myth: Many Dark Hours

#58 – Notes on Shame and the Modern Pillory

Guest Appearance on Miracles and Atheists

‘The Great Debate’ bibliography:

Paul Langford, ‘Burke, Edmund (1729/30–1797)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography web site, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4019, September 2012, accessed on 14 October 2017.

Mark Philp, ‘Paine, Thomas (1737–1809)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography web site, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/21133, May 2008, accessed on 14 Oct 2017.

Jonathan Sperber, Revolutionary Europe 1780-1850, (Harlow: Pearson, 2000).

Adam Zamoyski, Phantom Terror: The Threat of Revolution and the Repression of Liberty 1789-1848 [audiobook], (New York: Harper Audio, 2014).

Guest Appearance on Miracles and Atheists

On Thursday 18 January, I appeared as a guest on Miracles and Atheists, a live Facebook show in which believers and non-believers engage in civil discourse. I discussed atheism, my view on miracles, the collision between religion and secular values, Christopher Hitchens, faith healers, and much more. A replay is available – my guest spot begins at around 02:36:00.

For more information on Miracles and Atheists, see https://www.facebook.com/miraclesatheists/.

Follow The Aidan Project on Twitter and/or Facebook for updates on upcoming external appearances.

#68 – Notes on Pascal’s Wager

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In this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan examines Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a talented French mathematician, physicist, inventor and writer, but he is most famous for his theological work. Pascal’s famous wager argues that it is rational to believe in God, because the benefits of this belief being justified when you die are vast: Entry into heaven, avoidance of hell. By contrast, said Pascal, even if God does not exist, the costs of living as if God does exist are trivial. To not believe in God, therefore, is irrational. Whilst it also means you will never know that God does not exist if He, in fact, does not exist, you risk fiery damnation if He does exist. Your life is a bet, believed Pascal, and, on the balance of probability, there is only one way to place it – on belief.  In a mathematical sense, if we believe in God, and He exists, the rewards are infinite, and if we are wrong, the losses are hardly worth worrying about. If we do not believe in God, but we are wrong, the punishments are potentially infinite. Aidan examines the merits of Pascal’s Wager, and explores its common criticisms. Place your bets.

Further reading:

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Transworld, 2006).

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve, 2007).

Paddy McQueen and Hilary McQueen, Key Concepts in Philosophy, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010).

Pascal’s Wager, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/.

Bertrand Russell, What I Believe, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004 [originally published 1925]).

The Quran, Chapter 29, Verse 46, https://quran.com/29/46-56.

 

#64 – Notes on Jerusalem Syndrome

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The status of Jerusalem is a leading news story, following Donald Trump’s historic announcement that the United States will recognise the Holy City as the capital of Israel. Aidan looked at the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine back in episode five, The Demise of the Two State Solution. The ancient city of Jerusalem, well known for its importance to the Abrahamic religions, is also at the centre of a peculiar religious psychosis, called Jerusalem syndrome. On this edition of The Aidan Project, Aidan explores Jerusalem syndrome, a clinical psychiatric condition, defined as a temporary state of sudden and intense religious delusions, which manifest while visiting or living in Jerusalem. Examples of Jerusalem syndrome include that of a man from Austria, who became enraged at hotel staff who would not prepare for him a last supper, and a man from the United States Midwest, who was found wandering the city, dressed in a white robe, claiming to be the Apostle Paul. Indeed, many people have become intoxicated with religious devotion in Jerusalem, including Homer Simpson. In a 2010 episode of The Simpsons, the phenomena served as the key plot point, with Homer believing himself to be the Messiah. Aidan also looks at Christopher Hitchens’ verdict on Jerusalem syndrome, which was as unforgiving as one might expect.

References:

Christelle Evans and Jonathan Behar, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, Student BMJ, 14, 2006. [Subscription required]

Yair Bar-El, Rimona Durst, Gregory Katz, Josef Zislin, Ziva Strauss, Haim Y. Knobler, ‘Jerusalem syndrome’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176, 1, 2000.

Homer Simpson isn’t the only would-be ‘Messiah’ in Jerusalem, CNN, 29 March 2010.

Jerusalem Syndrome: the madness that grips foreigners on the streets of the holy city, The Telegraph, 26 March 2016.

Trump Jerusalem move sparks Israeli-Palestinian clashes, BBC news, 7 December 2017.

Recommended reading:

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, (New York: Twelve Books, 2007).

Related episode:

The Demise of the Two State Solution

#55 – Notes on Monarchy: House of Wax

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Christopher Hitchens asked in The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favourite Fetish“Why, when the subject of royalty or monarchy is mentioned, do the British bid adieu to every vestige of proportion, modesty, humour and restraint?” This podcast episode seeks to explore this, and related, questions.

Why, after executing a King, did the British almost immediately experience a distinct feeling of buyer’s remorse? What purpose do the British think the Royal Family serves? And how intrinsic is the yearning for monarchy within the British identity?

In Rights of Man, Thomas Paine, wrote stridently that he thought the British monarchical system absurd. Indeed, he helped establish the United States of America in opposition to monarchy. Christopher Hitchens said the British have a ‘fetish’ for all-things Royal. George Orwell, a man who experienced, wrote and was fearful of autocracy, explained that the British see their monarchy as a safety-valve against tyranny. Orwell pointed to the dictatorships, in stark contrast to British constitutional monarchy, which had suffocated democracy in Germany and Italy in the prelude to World War 2.

These questions of national identity are, of course, subjective. But by looking at past events (such as the Civil War and its regicidal aftermath), analysing the various arguments made over time (Paine, Orwell, Hitchens and others), and seeking to understand the continued reverence for monarchy, we can gain an insight into the British identity and its apparent obsession with Royalty.

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“Remember, I am your King, your lawful King, and what sins you bring upon your heads, and the Judgment of God upon this Land, think well upon it, I say, think well upon it, before you go further from one sin to a greater; therefore let me know by what lawful Authority I am seated here, and I shall not be unwilling to answer, in the meantime I shall not betray my Trust: I have a Trust committed to me by God, by old and lawful descent, I will not betray it to answer a new unlawful Authority, therefore resolve me that, and you shall hear more of me.”

So said Charles I at his trial for treason in 1649. History tells us that those conducting his trial would have been well advised to have listened to these words of defiance. Indeed, republicanism in the UK is about as able to face down the monarchy today as Oliver Cromwell was when, already dead, he was exhumed after the Restoration, and beheaded. Such memories, such ghastly memories, are as much a part of the British identity as pomp and circumstance is.

At the beginning of the podcast, Aidan briefly comments on the high emotions surrounding the Catalonia referendum, and the awful Las Vegas shooting, which both occurred on 1 October 2017.

Bibliography

Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (Oxford World’s Classics), (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 2001).

Linda Colley, Britons: Forging The Nation 1707-1837, (London: Vintage, 1992).

Christopher Hitchens, The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favourite Fetish, (London: Vintage Publishing, 2012).

‘HM Queen Elizabeth II — Coronation Day Speech — 2 June 1953’, YouTube website, https://youtu.be/S2pgmKeGEZg, 2015, accessed 1 October 2017.

Simon Jenkins, A Short History of England, (London: Profile, 2012).

John Laughland, A History of Political Trials: From Charles I to Charles Taylor (Proquest eBook), (Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2015).

George Orwell, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell: Volume III, As I Please, 1943 – 1945, (London: Secker And Warburg, 1968).

J.A. Sharpe, Early Modern England: A Social History 1550-1760, (London: Bloomsbury, 1997).

Charles Spencer, Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I, (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, (London: Penguin, 1985 [first edition 1781])

‘The Monarchy: popular across society and ‘here to stay’’, YouGov website, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/09/08/monarchy-here-stay/, 8 September 2015,  accessed 1 October 2017.

‘The Trial of Charles I’, BBC In Our Time website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00kpzd6, 2009, accessed 1 October 2017.

Clips

‘Blackadder II’, BBC Television, 1986.

‘The Devil’s Whore’, Channel 4 Television, 2008.

Images

‘Queen Elizabeth II’ at Madame Tussauds, Madame Tussauds web site, www.madametussauds.co.uk

Queen Elizabeth I portrait, Royal Family web site, www.royal.uk

Queen Elizabeth II by Andy Warhol, Guy Hepner web site, www.guyhepner.com

 

Seek And Ye Shall Find

 

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Today is Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday

Today is the distinguished Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England on 18 September 1709, Johnson is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”. He is undoubtedly a key figure in the Enlightenment and the development of the modern English language.

When I was pondering the remarkable work of Johnson, I recalled a story within an oration by Christopher Hitchens. Addressing the issue of free speech, Hitchens describes a curious exchange shortly after the publication of Johnson’s first dictionary. The following short passage is from a transcript of Hitchens’ speech, made at Toronto’s Hart House Debating Club in November 2006.

When it was complete, Dr. Johnson was waited upon by various delegations of people to congratulate him, of the nobility, of the quality, of the Commons, of the Lords — and also by a delegation of respectable ladies of London, who tended on him at his Fleet Street lodgings, and congratulated him.

“Dr. Johnson,” they said, “we are delighted to find that you have not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.”

“Ladies,” said Dr. Johnson, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.”

To be clear, we undoubtedly live in a world in which there is great injustice, hatred and bigotry. But we spend far too much time arguing about trivialities, rather than focusing on what really matters. If you actively seek offence, then you shall surely find it.

Aidan

Related podcast

#16 – On Liberty and Free Speech

Further reading

‘The Skeptical Libertarian’, Christopher Hitchens: “Freedom of speech means freedom to hate.”, https://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2014/09/30/christopher-hitchens-freedom-of-speech-means-freedom-to-hate/ [accessed 18 September 2017]

‘Who was Samuel Johnson? The father of the modern dictionary’s funniest entries’, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/samuel-johnson-father-modern-dictionary-funniest-entries/ [accessed 18 September 2017]