Friday, 23 December 2011

Jeremy Combs 1989 - 2011

It's with great sadness that I pass on news of the death of Jeremy Combs who was a past contributor to Young Freethought. Jeremy died unexpectedly at the age of 22 on 17th December.

You can read an obituary on the Hartland Patch.

Jeremy wrote this excellent piece for Young Freethought, published on 4th April, on existentialism and suicide.

Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this difficult time.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Hitch and I

When I woke up last Friday I heard the news of Christopher Hitchens’ death on the radio. A feeling of shock accompanied what was an inevitability. I was shaken the whole day, deeply saddened by the death of a man I had never met. Why? 

The many obituaries commenting on the life and work of Christopher Hitchens are often written by those who knew him. Some very well and others very little. It would seem out of place here to offer some kind of summary of how Hitchens lived. He reflected on such things well enough himself in his articles and interviews regarding his cancer. This small piece is simply an explanation of why ‘the Hitch’ meant what he did to me and, I think, why he meant the same to so many others. 

My contact with Hitchens was small though it doesn’t appear that anyone could have spent enough time with him. Somehow in possession of his email address I sent what might be called fan-mail but to me seemed like a necessary proclamation of all I had learned from reading his work and a thank you for sharing it in the first place. I was thrilled when the response came through in the new year.

Very good of you to write in that vein: quite made my day. 
Best of luck with your efforts.
HNY and all that. 

Christopher H

That I can claim to have made a day of his still makes me proud even if he perhaps was only being kind.

When you read Christopher Hitchens’ work it is not just as if he is speaking to you in that deep and commanding timbre of his. He is ordering you to make more of yourself through the strength of his argument, flair of his pen and content of his character. Hitchens was a rare writer of whom you read and quite simply emerge a better person for it. His way was as if he knew you well. There is a fraternal intimacy between writer and reader which gives the impression of having known the writer for years. 

Now that he is dead there is a weighty void which is filled only with echoes. It’s a void that tyranny in all it’s forms falls into never to emerge the victor.  

Christopher Hitchens will remain a hero of mine for the rest of my life. A life that I can only hope might live up to the standards he championed.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A.C. Grayling on the Meaning of Life.

My attention was recently drawn to a short video posted on the New York Times website of an interview with the philosopher Anthony Grayling. In essence he is talking about the meaning of life. I quite agree with everything he says so I’d highly recommend a watch. It what follows I’ll summarise and discuss just what it is that Grayling’s wise words share. 

Philosopher A.C. Grayling
The one, and alas the only, time I met A.C. Grayling was at a talk in late January 2009 at Birkbeck College. As an even younger bright-eyed aspiring philosophy student I furiously noted down everything I could and have been wondering ever since when those notes might come in handy. Sadly, today is not that today. Nonetheless, I spied Grayling in the college cafe afterwards and, rather awkwardly, formed a little queue of one behind the fellow Grayling was talking to. Kind enough to notice my efforts, Grayling moved on his interlocutor and said hello. I blurted out this that and the other before asking him a question I was at that time a little worried about - ‘How can life have meaning if there is no afterlife?’. Grayling told me, in that lovely distinctive voice of his, that being with friends, thinking about philosophy and all sorts of other worldly pleasures and endeavours gave his life meaning. I thanked him and walked off before he yelled to me ‘Come do philosophy at Birkbeck!’. I sadly didn’t take up the offer, though I am now a philosophy student. His answer was sincere, I could tell that much, but at the time I wondered whether it really answered my question. After a little thought it becomes clear that it does and this recent video explains why. 

There is no lid, as the philosopher says, to take off in order to see meaning contained within some metaphysical vessel. It’s not ‘out there’ among the many wonderful facts of physics and astronomy. Meaning is a creation of our mental lives. The important thing to see is that this does not make it any less real than any kind of meaning (and it would be a strange kind indeed) that you could find in the spatio-temporal world, that is the physical world we live in. 

“Freedom is agony” because we now have to find and for ourselves just what it is we desire in life. This harks back to a famous chapter from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov known as The Grand Inquisitor. The title character argues to a reborn Christ that people do not desire freedom but simply happiness. For him, it is the burden of a few to take on the responsibility of free choice whilst the others obey without concerning themselves with such things. It certainly is a frightening revelation to feel how free one is. The right response, surely, is to grasp the freedom and as Grayling says, to create something. “The meaning of life is to make life meaningful” is such a wonderfully put motto. 

By setting goals that we desire to achieve meaning comes, not in achieving that goal, but in doing ones best to try to achieve it. The analogy Grayling brings with Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus is pertinent because in that scenario the goal not only will never be achieved, but is in some sense, impossible to achieve. I’ve written about this myth elsewhere a while back but it’s worth going over in case you’re unfamiliar with the story. Sisyphus was a deceitful King of Corinth who was forced by the gods to carry a boulder up a steep hill only to see it roll back down again. Sisyphus had to go back down and repeat his burden. This task would continue for all eternity. Camus then asks us to imagine Sisyphus happy. Here Sisyphus’ life is meaningful because of the attitude he takes towards it or is “made valuable by the goals it would realise if [he] succeeded in realising them.” 

Though it might be frightening it is freedom of autonomy that “is the source of the good in life”. Meaning is a creation, a creation we ought to be proud of. Thank you Anthony Grayling for expressing all this so well.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

We're Back!

After a period of quiet after the storm, YFT is back. This time our brief is bigger and so are our ambitions. We are receiving articles on almost anything from anyone under twenty one. See our submissions page for more details.

This site is fuelled by your contributions so don't be shy. If you've got an idea get writing and send it in. If you don't feel like that right now, then get commenting and shape your views.  

You may have noticed that this site has changed its domain to As a result there are new email addresses so don't get confused if you're an old-timer. 

I really look forward to hearing from you all.