Andrew Breitbart, an influential conservative media figure who was known for making personal attacks upon liberals, passed away today at the age of 43.
Given the combative nature of his politics, perhaps it was only to be expected that some of Breitbart’s political enemies would express happiness at his death.*
It doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable when someone dies to note that his/her influence upon the world was more negative than positive. But I think that analyzing someone’s negative impact on the world shouldn’t be accompanied by the ultimate conclusion that you’re glad they’re dead-instead, you should lament that the circumstances around their life led them to their unfortunate failure to redeem the world around them.
You don’t have to be much of a determinist to realize that almost anyone’s life, if faced with a different environment, could have turned out radically differently. Even the death of psychopaths, who perhaps would not turn out well no matter the circumstances, should be cause for lament that such evil existed rather than happiness that a human life has come to an end.
Ultimately, those who rejoice in the death of others are gifted with both limited empathy and imagination. Limited empathy, in that they cannot imagine that someone will in the future look at their death and speculate that their ultimate influence on the world was negative. Limited imagination, in that they cannot envision an alternative past in which the person whose death they are celebrating lived a very different life that had a substantially positive impact upon the world. The lack of that alternative past should be a cause for sadness-the fact that their current unhappy present has come to an end is not a cause for joy.
*I didn’t know that much about Breitbart, and won’t pretend to have strong opinions about whether or not he had a net positive effect on the world. We do the the best we can, and leave the rest to posterity to judge.