The good is often buried with their bones

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.


About irreparabiletempus

God have mercy on me, a sinner.
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3 Responses to The good is often buried with their bones

  1. David says:

    Eh. People celebrating the death of assholes are, in fact, imagining what it would have been like if the asshole hadn’t had a negative impact on their life. They are also applying the same standard to themselves — if my ultimate influence on the world is super negative, then yes, of course people should judge me. People aren’t rejoicing that a human life has come to end. They’re rejoicing that a negative influence on the world has come to an end. The lack of the alternative past for the asshole is in fact the cause of sadness, which is why the asshole’s non-existence is celebrated because the cause of sadness is now removed. I have no idea who this person is, but your reasoning is really weak here.

    • 1. i was citing yglesias, but i think there are a lot of other people who expressed joy at breitbart’s death.

      2. it’s possible that they are not celebrating the end of human life but instead the end of a negative influence (i dunno, i’m not michael mapes). the reason i think we should be really clear that we’re sad a human life has ended upon someone’s death, and also sad that that person lived the way they did, instead of just saying you’re happy someone is dead, is because we live in a world that is often hateful and violent. many, many people are intentionally killed by their fellow humans every year.

      i think it’s important to state your sadness every time a human dies, and only then your sadness that his/her life was lived the way it was, to affirm the value of human life/empathy/openness to the other/etc. cultural decisions matter.

  2. David says:

    So if someone has a continuing negative impact on me, I can be sad about that. But I can’t be happy when the continuing negative impact has been removed from existence?

    Maybe a permutation of our positions is: if you’re going to be happy that someone died, that’s fine, but don’t forget to be sad that the person lived such a terrible life in the first place.

    (My point is that there’s nothing wrong with being happy with someone’s death because the person’s life saddens you. You’re just playing a glass-half-empty semantics game at that point.)

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