While the world waits for Michael Jackson’s autopsy toxicology results, all of this still dwelling on this has got me thinking: given all of the praise and eulogies (all that is expected when someone of note dies) I wonder is it possible to think of Michael Jackson without thinking about or bringing up the allegations of molestation? I remember in the days that followed Jackson’s death, when I listened to (former MTV VJ) Kennedy’s radio show, a caller said that it was too early to start in on all of the talk about what Michael “supposedly” did — that it was too early for all that negativity. He said that we have all the time in the world to talk about whether or not Michael molested kids, and that we should, at least for a time, try to remember the good things. Engaging in talk of well-rounded profiles can come later. Kennedy’s response was that, in order to get a well-rounded picture of the person, we have to discuss both the good and the bad. The fact that Michael Jackson died shouldn’t automatically wipe away any of the bad that he may have done. That makes sense. But, (and despite the fact that a logician would most certainly say that this is not possible) they’re both right. If we ignore the bad stuff we’re doing a disservice. If we dwell on it, we’re no better than a pack of circling buzzards. Look, for what it’s worth, I don’t think that we’ll get the definitive word on exactly what Michael Jackson did any time soon. What he did with Corey Feldman or Emmanuel Lewis is up for speculation as long as no one says anything or offers something like video of Michael feeling up some kid. I suppose, like thinking about the identity of Jack the Ripper, we won’t really ever know. But in the meanwhile, damn, it’s hard not to think that he did. But damn, the guy made some really good music. I’m listening to an one of our finer urban music radio stations right now, and “Never Can Say Goodbye” is on. Damn, it’s good. (for the record, “Never Can Say Goodbye” is one of the few songs that I can think of that both the original and the remake are good. I’d also put on this list, “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Proud Mary”, Led Zepplin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Dancing Days” — covered by 4 Non Blondes and STP, respectively, Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” as covered by Alien Ant Farm, and the nine inch nails cover of Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” … wait, actually I liked that remake better than the original). Where was I? Was I anywhere? Anyway, thinking about Michael has got me thinking, of course, about how all of this fits into philosophy. I heard it said that, if there is no God then all is permitted. Meaning, what’s the point of being moral if there is no one to punish you for the evil that you do — assuming that the fear of eternal damnation is what will keep you from doing bad things. I thought of a twiat on that sentiment when it comes to celebrities. If there is no famous person, feel free to say anything that you want about ’em. This came to my mind when I listened to a guest on Coast to Coast “channeling” Michael Jackson! The guy had been dead for less than 72 hours and he was already appearing on a late-night talk show!?! I’m not saying that there is no need to say anything bad, we should if there is something to say. But, it seems that when a famous person dies, it’s the ultimate talking behind your back, except there is nothing you can say to dispute whatever anyone says about you. Someone can say that Michael Jackson was a ringleader in an Illuminati child sex/murder ring — there’s absolutely nothing the guy can say. So what’s my point? My point is is that people are right when they say that we should look at both the good and the bad about anybody, living or dead. And we shouldn’t praise a person for molesting children. But, can we praise a child molester? I mean, Michael Jackson was a stellar artist, that is undeniable. But do the allegations of child abuse outweigh what he did musically? Is it possible to do something so horrendous that no matter what good you do is cancelled out by the bad that you did? (Like how I feel whenever I watch a Woody Allen movie or a Lakers game). Or we capable of doing something that is so brilliant that no matter what we have done (it doesn’t make things ok, but) it mitigates what we did so that people will look fondly on us? I’m not talking about forgiving someone for doing harm to other people. What I’m saying is that we think of the bad as truly bad, even unforgivable, but we also bestow praise (for the good things) when we speak about the person as well. When I was thinking about whether we actually do this, a couple of people immediately sprung to my mind: filmmaker Elia Kazan and Founding Father (and 3rd president of the United States) Thomas Jefferson. Elia Kazan, director of cinema classics such as, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden, ratted out his fellow Hollywoodians (and suspected Communists) to the government during the HUAC days of good old Senator Joe McCarthy. Careers of Communists, communist sympathizers and suspected Reds were destroyed by suspicions or allegations of being un-American. There are plenty of tales of suicides and all-around bad lives of those who were blacklisted. So when Kazan was awarded (sometime later) the Oscar’s lifetime achievement award, there were some in the entertainment industry who were not pleased the a traitor and a ratfink was to be given an honor. They didn’t think of Kazan as an esteemed director who deserved the lifetime achievement award, instead they saw a man who was willing to aid in the stiffling of freedom in America. That, according to those who saw Kazan as nothing more than a traitor, was unforgivable. To them, the man could have written the Bible — it wouldn’t have erased what he did. On the other hand, try this out for kicks — on any 4th of July, around any random crowd of patriotic Americans, declare your unflinching hatred of Thomas Jefferson and all that he stands for. Carry plenty of ice and band-aids ’cause you’re gonna need ’em. In Jefferson’s Notes On the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote that Native Americans (then affectionately refered to as “savages”), are “feeble” and that they “have no ardor for his female” and “he has no vivacity, no activity of the mind”. On blacks, Jefferson wrote, ( this is where the fun begins) ” their existence appears to participate more in sensation than reflection”, and “that in memory they are equal to whites; [at least he gives us that — author’s comment] in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid.” First, there are plenty of white people who are incapable of tracing the investigations of Euclid! Second, it’s pretty hard to read Locke or study the pre-socratics when you’re busy doing things like, let’s see…. picking cotton and/or being raped by your master!!! But I digress. Let’s not forget the fact that Jefferson did own slaves, and due to confirmation by way of DNA evidence, fathered at least one child with an under age slave (since sexual activity between masters and slaves was often non-consentual — it didn’t matter whether it was or not — either Jefferson was a rapist or a child molester as Sally Hemmings was in her teens when she had her first child. Think about that). But we do not say that Jefferson deserves no praise. He, afterall, is why we are here, living in these United States instead of living as subjects of the British crown (although if we were, we’d have unversal health care, but that’s another issue for another writer to handle). Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and he increased the nation’s size with the Louisianna Purchase. The fact that he owned slaves, or was for lack of a better word, a racist ( not in the way that Glenn Beck says that Barack Obama is a racist, but a real, deep down negroes-are-stupid kind of racist) is overshadowed by the fact that Jefferson was an essential element to the founding of a nation and to the spread of democratic principles both here and abroad. So, for Jefferson, his moral wrongs did not cross pollenate. The wrongs he did did not infect the good he did. Ok, that works for writers of the Declaration of Independence, but Michael Jackson was an entertainer. He may have made us happy, but he didn’t make us a nation. Plus, he was accused of committing about the worst crime that a person can be accused of, child molestation. ( I guess the only one that is worse is genocide). Pederasts even rank low among criminals. But I’m listening to Michael Jackson and I feel that doing so, and enjoying it, and praising him for his music isn’t wrong. I’m not really hung up on the possibility that he may have touched some kid’s privates. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. Is it that the good that Michael did outweighs the bad that he accused of doing (and most likely did do)? How bad does a bad act have to be before we say that a person’s evils cancel out whatever good that the do? Ok, let’s think up a thought experiment. Let’s say that Michael Jackson did molest children. First point: as far as criminals go, a molester is a hands-on kind of pervert. He can’t say that his act was unintentional of that he accidentally put his mouth and hands (and possibly his penis) where it shouldn’t go on a person under the age of consent. We’ll all agree that this is super-inappropriate. But, we say, Michael brought us joy. He contributed to more charities than any other musical performer, he did “Thriller” for goodness sakes! (fun fact: So-called “shock rocker” Marilyn Manson says that he stole all of his moves from Michael Jackson. He says if you don’t believe him, watch the video for “Thriller” and then watch his moves. Exactly the same!) Can we say that Michael’s talent and spreading of joy to the world mitigates what he did to a handfull of kids? If we say (as one very mixed up utilitarian might) that the answer is yes, then let’s take someone else and see if we still feel the same. How about Hitler? One, philosophers, although they are reluctant to admit to this fact, love Hitler. He’s the ultimate go-to guy for any thought experiment. A friend and I thought that it would be a good idea to set up a shrine for good old A since philosophers rely on him so much. In hindsight that would have been a really bad idea. Ok, let’s say that Hitler was a really good artist. Really good. (he wasn’t but that’s besides the point. He was better than I am anyway). But let’s pump him up a little. Let’s add that he was a totally awsome woodworksman and cabinetmaker. Good old A could build a chifforobe that can withstand a hurricane. And let’s say, since he loved animals so much, that he was working on a parvo vaccine. And since his own childhood was so dreadfully unhappy, let’s say that he devoted his spare time (when he wasn’t plotting the final solution) to advancing what we now call child advocacy. Given such a people-oriented Hitler, is it possible that the fact that he invented World War II be overlooked? Kant says that when we perform an act, our intent determines the rightness or wrongness of the act. So, for example, if I give to poor people, but I do it, not out of my duty to serve the needs of others, but out of my need to serve my own narcissistic desires (pats on the back, being told that I’m such a great humanitarian, civic awards that I’ll brag about, guest spot on Oprah), no matter how many homeless people benefit, my act was never morally right. But the intent behind my act to be judged pertains to that act. I know that for Kant, what motivates my actions is GOOD WILL. For Kant, having a good will inclines a person to perform morally right acts. The logic is, is that if my will is good, I will do right things, as my actions are a reflection of my character. Kant would say that if the intent behind my act was ill, no matter the consequence, my act was morally wrong. But if the moral value of an act is tied to intent, if our intent behnd the act is good, then a watercolor cityscape by Hitler, or his creating the first effective parvo vaccine is good — they stand apart from Hitler himself. Still, if we speculate that Michael Jackson did not intend to do harm to any child, but by having sexual contact with them, wanted to show them how much he loved and cared for them, how are we to judge the rightness or wrongness of an act if the intent was to show genuine love for another person? But somehow this still sounds strange to us. Because our feeling is still that someone like Hitler, even if he did do good, deserves condemnation, and that we’d have a difficulty separating the acts from the man ( or that we won’t take his actions in total, as opposed to individually). But, does this mean that we cannot appreciate Michael Jackson’s music in light of the molestation allegations? Does the bad extend to taint something that is unrelated to his sexual behavior? Wait, he grabbed his crotch when he sang, right? What was up with that? Do we, as they say, throw the baby out with the bathwater? If we do, does than mean that Jackson’s music (and the fact that so many people were positively affected by his music) is morally unpraiseworthy? Would it be morally wrong for me to own a gate-leg table made by Hitler or to own a copy of Blood On the Dancefloor? Are our all of actions all morally connected? If I say that it is ok to own Michael Jackson cds even though he is a child molester, yet say that someone who owns a painting by Hitler is morally wrong for doing so, how do I defend myself against charges of inconsistency? Honestly, I don’t know how this works out. All I know is that so long as I don’t know, I’ll still feel a little odd listening to Off the Wall. So I’ll have to do it with headphones on.