Do you praise or condemn the dead?

Deader than a doornail

In passing, I made the argument that because an individual’s life project was closed, we no longer have any right to vilify him for his shortcomings – that we should be honoring his contributions of society instead, especially if we (media and public) have been vilifying him the entire time until his death.

Before death, an individual’s life is an open book, a project to be completed. That’s when we have free reign to disparage and criticize for the wrongdoings or failures. After death, the meaning of the individual’s life is complete, a closed book, and finished.

Michael Jackson’s death has closed off all his possibilities, and puts him at the mercy of others – us. As long as he was alive, he could, through his actions, change the meaning of his future, and his past as well. For example, according to, in the latter stage of his career, he made some songs that are not universally regarded as spectacular, and there was something he could do to change the way in which these songs were evaluated. Had he lived, he could go on to create better songs, even better than his early stuff. This would result in his middle stuff no longer being judged as “mediocre” but as transitory, as works leading up to his mature stuff. Now that he is dead, this possibility is closed off to him. His music remain what they are and there’s nothing he can do to change their meaning. Nor can he do anything to convince the living to remember him as anything other than the creator of songs that declined after 1987. That’s why i said his “book” or project was closed.

Also, were he alive, he could cease being a Nancy-boy by simply engaging in macho behavior. Now he’s dead, and that path is closed him and he is at the mercy of the living.

Our situation is different than Michael Jackson. Since we are free and thus ceaselessly obligated to transcend the given through action, we can, and must evaluate the meaning of our own past actions for ourselves, even if we make use of input from others in doing so.

In other words, we should not be emulating the dead – we should never delegate to others the task of determining the meaning of our own lives. Whosoever is too dependent up on the judgment of others is trapped in a hell of their own.

So, we the living have the capacity to change our situation, or at least try, if it’s not satisfactory. If we’ve behaved in a less than reputable way, we can do something about this by changing how we act in the future. Most of us are frozen in a set of habits and customs that cause us misery, but of which almost none of us make any attempt to change.

We are defined by what we do. Many chose to make excuses for their actual actions, and they want credit for their good intentions, or some phony internal essence that is supposedly distinct from their actions.

In other words: there is no Christ to pay for our sins. No God to forgive them. If we mess up, this is an ineradicable fact. If it is possible to make amends and ask for forgiveness, this is the business between us and our victims. A forgiving God is not party to this transaction. We can stop deceiving ourselves and leave excessively cruel relationships, but there’s no escape from our responsibility for what we do.

Published by


...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.

One thought on “Do you praise or condemn the dead?”

Leave a Reply