A Philosopher's Blog

Michael Jackson: Weighing Good & Evil

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on July 7, 2009

Today is, of course, the date of the memorial service for Michael Jackson. While vast throngs of people are weeping at their perceived loss and praising Jackson’s perceived greatness, some folks have some harsh things to say.

New York Representative Peter King has pulled no punches in his remarks. He called Jackson a pervert and has been highly critical of the hoopla surrounding his death. The gist of his view is that Jackson’s past (alleged) misdeeds outweigh the fact that he was a good singer and dancer-hence, to praise and honor him so lavishly is a mistake. King also added that the people who have died doing real good, such as soldiers, should be honored.

In general, King does make two good points.  First, people should be publicly honored for doing good rather than merely entertaining people. In an interesting coincidence, I am teaching Plato’s Apology in my Intro class today. This dialogue contains the following relevant passage:

There is not any thing more adapted, O Athenians, than that such a man should be supported at the public expense in the Prytaneum; and this much more than if some one of you had been victorious in the Olympic games with horses, or in the two or four-yoked car. For such a one makes you appear to be happy, but I cause you to be so: and he is not in want of support, but I am. If, therefore, it is necessary that I should be honoured according to what is justly my desert, I should be honoured with this support in the Prytaneum.

Socrates‘ general point can be taken as this: while people are inclined to heap great honors and love on those who entertain and amuse them, our real debt is owed to those who provide the reality of happiness. That is, to the people who do more than just create illusions to amuse but change the world in better ways. While Jackson did donate some money and time to charity, his main function was as an entertainer. While he should be praised for this, the praise should be suitable to what he actually did.

Second, it is quite reasonable to take into account a person’s misdeeds when assessing him and deciding what honor and praise are fit. On the positive side, Jackson was an impressive entertainer and he did donate some time and money to charity. On the negative side, there seems to be evidence that Jackson was improperly involved with children. After all, he was acquitted of child molestation allegations in 2005 and in 1995 he settled another such case out of court-allegedly to the tune of millions of dollars. Of course, because he was acquitted and the other case was settled, it is not completely clear what he did or did not do. Naturally, the fact that he settled out of court does cast some negative light on him. But, this is hardly conclusive-sometimes innocent people do decide to settle a case outside of court. Given these facts, claiming that he did actually molest children would be problematic (and perhaps slanderous).However, these facts do provide adequate grounds for legitimate concern.

Sorting out the overall balance of a person’s life can be challenging. After all, there is no clear measure of how to weigh the good a person does against the evil they do. And, of course, the nature of the misdeeds matter quite a bit. For example, although Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior is supposed to have plagiarized some of his work, it seems clear that his good deeds massively outweighed that academic failing. Whether the misdeeds were relevant to the good a person did also matters. For example, a soldier who killed enemy soldiers to save his fellow soldiers did some wrong, but had to do that wrong (killing) to do what was right (save his fellows).

In Jackson’s case, if he did (as Peters alleges) really abuse children, then his entertainment value would certainly be outweighed by those (alleged) misdeeds. To not condemn this sort of thing would be to say that it is okay for a person to molest children provided that he entertained people. That is, of course, absurd.

Of course, some folks (such as Al Sharpton) are saying that the alleged misdeeds should be ignored and the focus should be on the good he did. While that is the sort of thing one often says of the recently departed, that seems to be the wrong approach to take. If we are going to praise a person for what good he did, then honesty and fairness also compels us to condemn the bad things he did. Naturally, the special circumstances of death do move us to correctly forgive small misdeeds and flaws. But, death does not provide a complete moral absolution.

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27 Responses

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  1. kernunos said, on July 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I vote evil. Child molestation? that is about as bad as it gets. If he was a poor man with no talent this would not be talked about in the same manner.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2009 at 4:57 pm

      True. A poor person with no talent wouldn’t be able to pay off settlements and would most likely have ended up in jail, and then on one of those lists.

    • Peaches said, on August 26, 2009 at 3:05 am

      Can you just beee quiet!!!! i freaken am ****** about what your saying!!!!! Michael was GOOD!!! You can’t judge him only God can

      • Alethea said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:01 am

        You are judging others by judging their comments. Judging our opinion about Michael is a judgment in itself. You can’t have it both ways.

  2. aletheamarinanova said, on July 11, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Any good that Jackson did for children is cancelled out, ipso facto, by any harm that he may have done to a child. Not only does one deed cancel out the other, but child sexual abusers often do outwardly nice things for children as a blanket of protection in order to shield them while they abuse other children.

    • aletheamarinanova said, on July 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

      I meant to say that not only does any bad action cancel out his good actions, but….

  3. Diva said, on July 15, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    my tribute to Michael Jackson
    from my heart
    love you….
    check this out…

    Martha Perez Diva

  4. laure said, on July 16, 2009 at 8:14 am

    one important thing in this case is that people like to slander the rich and not the poor, what can anybody possibly get from a poor one…? and even if mj did abuse children, what a low sunken parents are the chandlers to accept money in place of justice. this only proves that all this child molestation stuff is a mere lie, a mere lie that was another fact that led michael to death…

    • kernunos said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:45 am

      Poor pedophiles do not pay anybody off. They also get ‘slandered’ in local newspapers and media. there is also a database that will let you know where they live.

  5. aletheamarinanova said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:38 am

    A mere lie? What do you base that on? That he has money and was able to escape justice by paying off the first boy’s mother? That he is a good singer? That he has done a number of nice things for kids? (By the way, that is what pedophiles do so that society thinks they are “safe”)

    He escaped justice in the second case by being lucky enough to have had a star-struck jury but he didn’t even take the stand in his own defense. If you were falsely accused of sexually abusing a child, would you refuse to pay off the mother? Would you take the stand in your own defense to fight the charges? You bet you would. Because that is what innocent people do. Guilty people pay off the accuser and they refuse to take the stand.


  6. Diva said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Michael (RIP)
    I pray for your soul
    the only one who knows about you is God
    the rest of the world……
    dont listen to them….
    nobody judge you except God
    and you are on hes arms…..
    resquiestat in peace….
    Love you……

    • kernunos said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:46 am

      He is probably burning in Hell at the moment if God is judging him.

      • Peaches said, on August 26, 2009 at 3:02 am

        Lay off of Michael Look at how many fingers are pionting at you! before you accuse others or say things like this!!!!!

  7. aletheamarinanova said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Only God can judge a person’s soul, but God gave us all a mind and a body in order to take action against injustice and to speak about things that are not okay if it will help others. It is NOT okay to sleep in the same bed with little boys if you are a 44 year-old man, and to have a picture book of naked boys in that same bedroom (check the court documents, this evidence was found in his room). This behavior is NOT okay and we need to speak of it. Children come first. Children need protection and TRUTH. If openly declaring that grown men cannot share a bed with a little boy is considered “judging others” then God help us all.

  8. Diva said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I said GOD!!!
    I no think so…..

    • kernunos said, on July 16, 2009 at 10:12 am

      You started it. 😛

  9. Diva said, on July 16, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Michael Jackson
    thanks God you are not here to read this bad things
    all i know if that really happen (what them said here) where the parents was?? and so send them to jail too!!!
    all i know is this i believe you was and you are innocent!!!
    and all i know is if you are guilty God take care off that now then you death only God nobody else !!
    I believe in God and i believe in Justice!!!
    and i believe you treat that kid as your bro or your son.
    and i believe the only one responsable here is the parents!!!! nobody else

    • kernunos said, on July 16, 2009 at 10:15 am

      There is an offer on tv right now where you can get 4 Michael Jackson Lithographs for the low, low price of $10.00 but you had better act now! There is a limited supply and no more will be created when they have all been sold. Hurry!

  10. Peaches said, on August 26, 2009 at 2:59 am

    I think people should just back off and leave Michael alon he didn’t do all that stuff to little kids,It’s just Media making him sound bad but he was a very very good person he had a sickness that caused him to turn white in his case! so he’s dead now let him rest in PEACE!!!
    Okay you shouldn’t judge people beore you judge others look at all the fingers pointing back at you!!

    • Alethea said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:13 am

      The media had nothing to do with courtroom testimony, transcripts, comments made by the jurors, and certainly nothing to do with Michael having a picture book of naked little boys in his home. The media had nothing to do with the fact that he slept in the same bed with one boy every night for almost a year and that he gave wine to children and called it “Jesus Juice.” That, in and of itself, is blasphemy.

  11. Diva said, on August 26, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Live Michael Jackson alone!!!!
    live he on (RIP) lets pray for he
    reader then be rude….

    • Alethea said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:03 am

      Let us pray that you learn to edit and spell check your posts so that we can all fully comprehend what you are saying.

  12. Diva said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:04 am

    yes lets us pray for it
    no matter what you understand what i say no?

  13. Diva said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:07 am

    it’s anybody here ever have been acusse on false??
    if no then no one of you understand whats going on whit Michael Jackson and hes pain,are you people eveer paid atention on hes face how sad it looks???
    just look at the photos after he have been acussed
    if you really smart then you can judge and be Michael Jackson Judge then you can see he seem like he was on pain but no for hes sickness hes pain was on hes soul…..

    • Alethea said, on August 26, 2009 at 8:20 am

      >just look at the photos after he have been acussed>

      Maybe you ought to look at the photos of naked little boys that were found in a picture book in Jackson’s home.

      One does not have to be “really smart” to use their common sense and good -God given- judgment to discern if another human being has committed crimes against children.

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