I suppose this is what happens when private agony becomes public spectacle, especiall in a world in which blogging and the Internet have transformed backyard gossip into an international demolition derby. There is a lesson in all of this for lesser mortals; privacy in matters involving life, death, and religion ought to remain quite simply private. And going beyond that basic point, I take an additional lesson for myself: blogging can be dangerous to one's health.
I sympathize with anyone going through cancer, whether they're a celebrity, or a public intellectual like Hitchens, or a friend, or someone I just met at the hospital. I've seen what it does, and I've seen what chemo does to people. Hitchens' fans are going to have to come to the realization that esophogeal cancer has a low survival rate, mostly because it's a cancer that tends to be detected too late.Yet.When you're a public intellectual who goes out of his way to be provocative—which in some ways is the job of a public intellectual; Mark Twain was no less so, for example—one is on the public stage, and one's life is going to be acted out in public. That's a choice.So I don't think privacy is the issue. And there are degrees of privacy. If one wishes to speak out publicly, in any media, one becomes semi-public at least. It's a question of what one discloses or doesn't disclose, which are all choices. It's certainly true that the Facebook phenomenon has made the quasi-celebrity-lifestyle of living one's life in public view seem reasonable as well as fashionable; but that's because public culture is celebrity-driven to a large degree.In any pubic forum, you have to take what you get. No one can control the responses. (As it is so often, Rabbi Wolpe's is one of the best responses.) I'm sure Hitchens is comfortable with getting responses he doesn't agree with; he's very thick-skinned after all. So people do what they do, and you either accept it as well-intentioned or shrug it off as unwanted. As is often the case, it's the man's acolytes rather than the man himself who end to overdo things.