Apparently I don’t have the drive to blog more than a couple times a month, so I’ll just go head and own that fact and say to anyone who enjoys this blog or simply wants to spy on me that you should just sign up for an email notification or add me to Google Reader. I do note that I had a big spike in traffic last week but since I was not linked by anyone I’ll go ahead and assume that someone or a group of people found me all at once. Don’t be bashful, the comment section is there for a reason and friendly hellos, pats on the back and strong criticism are all welcome.
Anyway, Amy Winehouse died today. I don’t know what happens when you die. My suspicion is that beyond the body breaking down into its elemental parts the answer is “nothing.” In other words, whatever the essence of Amy Winehouse was, the thing that made her a conscious being, is in all likelihood gone. Of course, I could be wrong about this but no one can contradict my suspicion with evidence. Since no one has ever returned from the abyss we simply don’t know. But this is not really what the death of this 27 year old musician made me think of.
What I am thinking is: should I feel bad for her? Viscerally I don’t. I’m not cold-hearted, I feel terrible for all the people whose lives were ended in Oslo recently (92 of them) by a man who posed as a police officer then shot people and finally set off a bomb. They didn’t ask to die or nor did they do something risky that made their deaths more likely. No, just minding their own business. But the same can’t be said for Amy Winehouse. Her drug problems are well documented, most famously by her. I’m going to go ahead and assume her death is drug/alcohol related for purposes of this conversation. If that turns out to be wrong, I’ll come back and edit it.
So did she have this coming to her? Are the wages of sin death? No, I’m not saying that. Frankly “sin” is not a concept I subscribe to and “just desserts” is a cold self righteous idea that only serves a self justifying purpose under these circumstances. I only think that consequences are ever deserved in the sense that they motivate people not to do harm or literally prevent them from doing harm. You need that for societies to work. But Amy’s death serves no good purpose for Amy or anyone.
I believe that people are free to do as they please with their lives so long as they do not harm others. But setting aside the issue of others for a moment and sticking to whether Amy deserves any sympathy (yes, I know I said there is no more Amy, just follow me here!), I respect her right to live hard, take a lot of chances and burn brightly and out quickly. Her life after all.
Each person is as amazing phenomenon in and of themselves. We might be the only sentient creatures in the whole cosmos (though I suspect not) but in any case this brief moment of consciousness we are each experiencing is exceedingly rare. For me, the realization that this might be all there is makes me value it more. It makes me want to get things as right as I can before it is over, which could be any time. I don’t believe there are any second chances. But who am I to say that a particular kind of long life is better than another kind of short one. Only individuals can decide that for themselves (or decide that a certain kind of life is worth the risk).
So if you want to do risky things, I respect your right to. On the other hand, if you then experience those risks, I don’t really feel bad for you. You confronted them knowing what they were. In the law we call that concept assumption of the risk and it is a complete defense for those whose negligence harmed the person who saw the danger being created and chanced it anyway. This is common sense, right? It is not a question of deserving anything or hoping that bad consequences will follow from risky choices. On the contrary, I would have loved to hear her make more music. It it is merely the realization that each of us own the life we have and the foreseeable consequences of our decisions. Like anything else that belongs to us, we take care of it or we don’t. How and how well are up to the individual.
My sympathy is for those who love her and for those to whom she brought enjoyment. They didn’t play fast and lose with her life, she did. I think I can rightly direct some judgment in her direction for living her life in a way that did ultimately harm others. None of us live in a vacuum. The thing that promotes the most happiness for all is the thing which is, to me, the best most moral choice. Taking more care with her life would have been just that. But this principle should never override personal autonomy. Still, every risk we take is not just for ourselves but for others who get no say in it but who will be affected. Similarly, others take risks every day that we cannot control but which will affect us. Balancing being true to self while thoughtful of others is something that one simply grapples with. This is just the nature of existence. We balance as best we can.