No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
- John Donne (1572-1631)
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Whilst I don't think that celebrating someone's death is particularly brilliant (to be honest its gauche), I also don't hold much sway with the idea that you shouldn't speak ill of the dead. Obviously tact leads you to otherwise temper what you intend to say but the awful truth is that someone's opinion generally doesn't change about someone else just because they happen to die. If you held an opinion yesterday and I die, it would be fraudulent of you to suddenly change your opinion unless that event of death really did make you reevaluate your position. If you were genuinely going to speak ill of someone yesterday, then there's not really a good reason why you should not today.
Martin Luther King Jr had a dream, that his four little children would grow up and not be judged on the colour of their skin but in the content of their character. I have heard at least two of them on the radio and they both sound like gracious people, whilst what I've actually read about Martin and his affairs, not quite so much.
Character usually manifests itself in action. That is to say that someone's actions are the outworkings of their character. If this is indeed true, then it makes perfect sense to judge and evaluate what people have done before making value judgements about their character. If you do happen to arrive at the conclusion that someone is not a nice person, then it is more than likely because of something that they have done and maybe done repeatedly which led you to draw that conclusion; it isn't particularly rational to make judgements about people until they have done something - such thinking can lead to outworkings of other serious character flaws with dire and horrible consequences.
After someone has died then everything that they were ever going to have been doing done (in the past-future-present tense) has been done done. Admittedly as the distance in time between someone dying and the present increases, then we also rely on second hand information more; eventually we reach a point where the only accounts we have are those which have been recorded by witnesses or even researchers. For instance, not only we can get something of the character of Winston Churchill because of the video and audio recordings but also he also wrote many words including an autobiography. For someone like Henry VIII there are only witness accounts of his life and actions.
However, in the immediacy of someone's death, the likelihood of finding people who have been affected by someone's life and the actions and decisions that they made is still quite high. What happens for instance if the actions and decisions that someone took, still has adverse effects on other people? Do they suddenly not have the right to pass judgement? In such cases it almost seems as if people are saying that death is the ultimate "get out of gaol free" card; by inference you may as well be horrible to people if for some hither to unwritten code of conduct, that the people who you affect adversely cannot speak ill of you afterward.
If you want to get an idea of why Margaret Thatcher's death has been marked with so varied reactions, then we need to look at how people were directly affected by her decisions and those of the government she led:
The number of people out of work in Britain has risen above three million for the first time since the 1930s.
The official jobless total, announced today, is 3,070,621. It means one in eight people is out of work.
Rates of unemployment vary across the country - in Northern Ireland it is nearly 20% and 15 or 16% in most parts of Scotland the North East and North West - only in the South East does it drop below 10%.
- BBC Website, On This Day - 26th Jan 1982.
Of course pit closures get most of the headlines because of Thatcher's verbal battle with Arthur Scargill, but it's worth noting that in just 3 years, Britain went from an unemployment rate of less than 3% to more than 10% in 1982. Couple that with inflation running at more than 20%, and a manufacturing sector which accounted for more than 20% of GDP in 1979 to less than 8% at the end of Thatcher's tenure and you start to see why the vitriol exists.
No referenda was ever held for the sale of any of the following either:
Oct 1979 - British Petroleum
Feb 1981 - British Aerospace
Oct 1981 - Cable & Wireless
Feb 1982 - Amersham International
Feb 1982 - National Freight Corporation
Nov 1982 - Britoil
Feb 1983 - Associated British Ports
Jul 1984 - Enterprise Oil
Aug 1984 - Jaguar
Dec 1984 - British Telecommunications
Jan 1985 - British Shipbuilders
Dec 1986 - British Gas
Feb 1987 - British Airways
May 1987 - Rolls-Royce
Jul 1987 - BAA
Dec 1988 - British Steel
Dec 1989 - The Water Companies
Jan 1990 - National Grid and Electric Boards
How many people directly lost their jobs as a result of Thatcher's wave of privatisation? How many people became institutional welfare recipients as a result? How many people are now second generation institutional welfare recipients as a result? Moreover, how many towns had their livelihoods kicked to pieces and I just don't mean as a direct result of closures, but all the knock-on effects in related industries.
Then you've got the events relating to the "sus" laws; the riots in Toxteth, Brixton, Bristol, Handsworth, Birmingham, Chapelton; The Met also covered up the causes of the New Cross house fire, South Yorkshire Police were "close to deceitful" in their handling of the Hillsborough disaster and yet whilst at the helm, the Prime Minister of the day approved of their actions.
Maybe you could say that a few isolated incidents might lead someone to conclude that Thatcher's Premiership wasn't perfect but there's wholesale evidence which points to something far worse.
This surplus comes from Britain's North Sea oil sales, taxes on a massive expansion of household credit debt, and the once-and-for-all selloff of national assets.
- Neil Kinnock, in the House of Commons, Leader of the Labor Party, 15 Mar 1988
She led a government which was collecting 16% of its revenues from the North Sea; sold off the silverware and still in 11 years in the Premiership, only managed to deliver a single budget surplus. Quite simply, once she'd successfully overseen the mass destruction of British manufacturing, the tax base dried up.
I don't think that celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher or anyone for that matter is appropriate. The truth is though that whilst she was Prime Minister, a lot of people were directly affected and hurt. Judge her on content of her character and arrive at your conclusions based on actions.