A couple years ago, I was invited to a friend's house for some celebration (I forget for what). The friend who invited me is a committed Trotskyite. That is, he adheres to the ideals prescribed by Leon Trotsky, the communist Russian revolutionary. More broadly, my friend embraces much of the violent communist prescriptions: that there must in all likelihood be a violent revolution for the eventual good of all and the relief of the working classes.
My friend knows that he's right. And to paraphrase Joseph Heller: my friend has courage, and he is not afraid to volunteer the lives of others for justice (at least rhetorically....I have never personally known him to hurt anyone and his lifestyle is, as he himself forthrightly admits, "bourgeois.")
Anyway, we were at this party and someone was there who, I assume, shares my friend's Trotskyite sympathies. This "someone" commented on the death of Jerry Falwell, which had happened just a few days before. For those who don't remember, Falwell was one of the leaders of the "New Right" conservative movement that helped propel the Republican ascendancy of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whatever else Falwell was or was not, he was not a friend to the cause of Trotskyism.
This someone, at the party, raised his glass of wine or bottle of beer or whatever he was drinking and declared a toast to celebrate the death of Jerry Falwell.
Now, I could stop here and expiate on the immorality of those who fight for "social justice." And maybe I'd be right. But I'm writing to note that I, too, raised my glass (or maybe it was a beer bottle).
I suppose I could try to excuse my action by saying I was under peer pressure, or by noting that I didn't want to come off as a prissy moralist by declining the invitation to toast the death of someone else. But I need not have come off as prissy had I simply and politely decided not to join in. And even if I had so come off, would that have been bad? Maybe looking like a prig is sometimes the price one has to pay for doing the right thing.
(For what it's worth, I think it's morally problematic, at best, to toast the death of anyone, no matter how bad I think that person to have been or how much I disagreed with that person. There is, of course, the hypothetical instance of the death of an oppressive dictator against whom a world war has been waged. But Falwell, whatever his other faults, was not in that league.)
I have at times done bad things. I have, occasionally, for example, gossiped about others. Sometimes, my friends have corrected me, have called me out on some of the bad things I have said, and corrected me. I felt shamed but, after the fact, grateful that I was set aright. At this party, I had the chance to do the same for someone else, to remind him that certain excesses go over the line. Whether he would have heeded that admonition or gotten defensive, I don't know. But the thing is, I didn't stand up for what I thought was right.
I hope I do so next time.