This question has haunted me for years. I’ve had many candidates over the years, but could never settle on one. Until now. I guess I should say first what I mean by contemporary.
Contemporary = Someone who has lived during your lifetime, whether it be 5 seconds or fifty years.
Christopher Hitchens has always been near the top of the pile, I do love a good polemicist whether or not I agree with them. Over the years I’ve come to disagree with his positions more but he was always, first and formost, and interesting persona. There have been other atheist philosophers like Bertrand Russell and A.J. Ayer, whose thinking I admire, but none of them encapsulated my experience enough to solidify my choice. None of them were perfect humans, or role models I would necessarily emulate. That’s not ever been a criteria.
I was only peripherally aware of this person during my youth. I’d never read any of his books, seen any of his plays, or moved in the same circle of society until much later. My first experience of Gore Vidal was watching “Firing Line” on ABC Featuring William F. Buckley. It was then a matter of backtracking from there to get an idea of who Gore Vidal was.
Of all the things Vidal did that I admire, the one thing that stands above the others is his daring advocacy of sexual naturalism during a time when to speak publicly of queer issues was to risk life and livelihood. He wrote a scandalous book called “The City and the Pillar” in 1948, followed by “Myra Breckinridge” in 68 and “Myron” the sequel in 74. They all were stories about people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. It was bold, and he took a fair bit of shit for it over the years. I think the gay community owes him a debt of recognition, at very least.
He dabbled a fair bit in politics over the years, was an actor, screenwriter, served as the president of the American Humanist Society circa 2009. He has some fairly prescient quotes; one I find amazingly relevant this election cycle.
” There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently . . . and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.” Quote “The State of the Union” (1975)
I imagine we’d have much to talk about if I had the chance in his contemplative years, but just before the wet brain.
Who’s your pick?