In the moments after Scalia’s death was announced, there were immediate exhortations — some of it concern trolling, some of it genuine appeal to courtesy — to not speak of the great damage he did to the lives of many as part of his public office. To think of his friends and family, and what they would like to hear said about him. To not speak ill of the dead.
And you know what? It does nobody any good to not speak ill of the dead, especially not the friends and family of the deceased.
When I die, I fully expect somebody to haul out every mean, nonsensical, jerkwaded thing I ever said and read it from a podium at my funeral.
(Which will not be a funeral, by the way, because Mr. A has strict instructions. But.)
I expect that people with whom I have interacted in various contexts will have various things they remember about me. I expect some of those things will be unflattering. I have fucked up some things in my life flatter than hammered shit. I have done stuff I’m not proud of. I have been intemperate, impatient, impractical and unkind, and that was mostly before 9 a.m. today.
Ask people not to speak of that, and not only are you asking them not to speak of me, you are asking them not to speak of themselves. You are asking them to forget their own experiences, their own lives, the way we pushed and changed and loved each other (and didn’t). It’s a silencing, and it’s a particularly mean and final one, because while you are listening to the Oration of the Sainted Dead, you are hearing what that person did to you denied and told that your very memories are an affront.
No one deserves to tell anyone how to remember anyone else. If I knew a man who ruined lives, who used a position of power against the already weak, does it matter that others knew him in another context? When we die, we are what we leave behind in the minds of others, all others. Everyone we touched.
If we are not prepared to face what that looks and sounds like, if we do not think we’ve earned as many good things said about as bad ones, then we need to live our lives differently than did Antonin Scalia, lest someone speak ill of us someday.
3 thoughts on “Please Speak Ill of the Dead”
I’ll start. Scalia’s death marks a great victory for the American people. It must be like the relief that Russians felt when Stalin died. A truly monstrous, depraved, evil specimen that belongs dead.
In regards to your funeral: you won’t be there. Don’t speak for your family and friends, they may not agree with you.
And the funeral isn’t for you; it’s for the living. You’ll be quite beyond having any say in the matter.
When you are dead you lose all control over your legacy and what people say about you, or remember about you (you don’t really control that now, but at least you can respond). The rule of not speaking ill of the dead is a societal one, sort of like not belching loudly at the table. It’s just a kindness to the rest of us. You may not care about the belches, but the rest of us do.
Same reasoning in either case. Except, as I say, in the case of death, you won’t be there to expect anything. Leave the expectations to the living. If I don’t jump on Scalia’s accomplishments with criticisms of his person, it’s out of respect for his family.
He’s beyond caring. Besides, from all accounts, he’d relish the argument. Except, as I say, he’s not here to have it anymore. So why should I make his family his proxy? Time enough for that when he’s in the ground, and the mourning has at least been tempered.
OK Funeral Police. If you want to believe that *you* have no control over your legacy, go on ahead and just lie quietly dead in your box. Other folks have other ideas and they are quite capable having these ideas without your input and tut-tutting.
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