WE SHOULD NEVER HOPE THAT ANY HUMAN BEING DIES:
A radical right-wing blogger named Andrew Breitbart died yesterday. In response to my comment about this on the MasonScott.org Facebook page (“There is now one less venal charlatan in the universe”), I received a slight scolding from one of my readers. The grievance leveled against me was understandable: It is in bad taste to take the death of anyone—no matter how despicable they might be—as “good news”.
Point taken. But let’s take this interlude as a “teaching moment”.
Do I hope that the world’s most despicable humans will die ASAP? No. I don’t pray for the death of, say, a David Koch or a Benjamin Netanyahu or a Mark Levin or a Karl Rove. Rather, I pray—every day—that such figures will stop doing / saying the horrific things that they currently do / say…and that, in the meantime, everyone on the planet will stop listening to them (and, where applicable, stop empowering them to do what they do).
We can hope that certain things transpire which make the world a better place, but this does NOT entail wishing for any particular (bad) person’s elimination from the world. Why shouldn’t such a (noble) hope entail such a (ignoble) wish? Because of the categorical imperative: Any given person’s life must never be sacrificed (as a means) in order to bring about a better state of affairs for the world. All people must be seen as ends in themselves as well as means; never as a means alone…no matter how noble the end.
Some people make the world a better place; some people make the world a worse-off place. This is uncontroversial to say. The former tend to (in some way, to some degree) alleviate the death/suffering of other humans; the latter tend to (in same way, to some degree) contribute to the death/suffering of other humans. It does not contravene the categorical imperative to note that the world is better off with more of the former and fewer of the latter in it.
Indeed, the only way for a bad person to stop doing bad things isn’t for that person to cease to exist. Indeed, there are much more humane ways to get bad people to stop doing harm than to bring about their non-existence. After all, short of severe psychological disorders, people can always change.
So… I pray that as many people as possible will become good human beings (and that humanism will become the prevailing modus operandi of mankind). The core maxim of humanism is that every human being matters, and should be afforded a minimal threshold of rights: human rights. This precludes the hope that ANY human being be harmed—even the most despicable.
That said, the fact remains that there are some people who are “better” humans than others. That is to say: There are some people who make the world better off by their being in the world, and there are some people who make the world worse off by their being in the world. This depends on the kinds of things that they do (which itself is generally predicated on the kind of person that a person is).
There is no “hope for a person’s death” involved in stating a brute fact in the form: The world is a slightly worse place because person X (as he currently is)is a part of it; therefore the world would be a slightly better place if person X (as he currently is) were NOT a part of it. Such a recognition doesn’t entail “hoping” that any harm comes to anyone—regardless of who they might be. Rather, the above statement is an (objective) observation about a state of affairs.
When a despicable person (someone who does things that contribute to the death and/or suffering of other human beings) is no longer part of the world, the world is—logistically—slightly better off due to that change. Recognizing this fact isn’t a matter of “hoping” that they die. Rather, it is a description of conditions.
The point is to bring a better scenario about by preventing bad people from doing bad things without compromising their human rights. There are plenty of ways to do this (e.g. eliminating their ability to do harm, education, therapy, medication, implementing a pro-social incentive structure, etc.) Again, people can always change—the key is to foster probity while discouraging iniquity assuming that the person will continue to be part of the world for the foreseeable future.
Be that as it may, if and when a bad person does pass away, we can morn the loss of a human being qua human being…while celebrating the fact that the world is now a slightly better-off place for having one less bad person in it.
Fact: The world is now a slightly better place because Andrew Breitbart is no longer a part of it. Why? Because he can no longer spread his poisonous bile and his vicious invective (not to mention promulgate his deranged ideology). It is tragic that the cessation of that poisonous bile came about due to his death. As a humanist, I would have much rather seen that the cessation came about because Andrew became a decent human being. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t have the chance to do so.
As a humanist, I’m dedicated to human rights—which pertains to all humans qua humans. Here is the colossal irony: It is I who fight to ensure everyone–including Andrew–will have guaranteed access to healthcare and to a high-quality education…while it was Andrew (and his right-wing compatriots) who fought against such things.
My condolences go out to Andrew’s friends and family. Perhaps now they might recognize that healthcare is a right, not a privilege…and that preventive health for all civilians is an important element of a civil society. In the world Andrew fought so vehemently against, Andrew might still be alive. We should pray that lessons have been learned by his sycophants.
As an adherent to Jesus of Nazareth’s message, I will forgive you, Andrew; but I will not forget the harm that you did. May there be few others like you in our future.