Friday, 5 August 2011

Obituary for a Stranger

The guy I wrote about previously has apparently died. I bring it up because it seems he was a decent enough guy, from the very little I've gleaned about him, and I want to make it clear that my thoughts on how other people should have reacted to his calamity is separate from my ability to appreciate the importance of his life, even as a stranger.

What do I know about this John? I know the woman he dated, which doesn't reflect (in my head, at least) that well on him. But then I only knew her a long time ago, when she was young and foolish, so I'm prepared to give them both the benefit of the doubt and say that she's probably matured and he was not so silly to get involved with her. I also know he ran a very interesting-looking organisation, dedicated to the narrow but important issue of keeping cops from driving like cowboys. That's good, but what really impresses me is the emphasis they seem to put on empirical evidence - clearly someone at least partially after my own heart. And that's the complete sum of what I know about John.

I say any death is a loss; I'm generally against people dying, and this case is no exception. Donne's little poem sums this thought up nicely, but I realise none of this carries the same strong emotions I'd have if it were someone close to me. That, I think, is normal and unsurprising. I don't think false emotion would be appropriate, just as much as complete indifference would be wrong.

What I certainly won't do is recant my earlier claim; my friend should not have publicly invoked every random crazy superstition in John's name, especially now that I know he was quite keen on the empirical approach himself. It seems almost disrespectful (and this specific claim is just my own interpretation, possibly missing many key facts) to besmirch his legacy of rationality with a big, blotty stain of other people's stupid at the end; fear and blind panic - however understandable - are not the way to save innocent lives from wreckless police driving, and they're not the way to save someone in hospital either. But even if he would have done the same foolish thing for someone else, I still stand by my claim that it was the wrong thing to do. We should be better than that.