Rotting Corpses

A few weeks ago the most important news story concerned the fight over the remains of Anna Nicole Smith. Several parties went to court to argue over where the actress’s body should be buried. In a macabre sidelight, her flesh was decaying even as the lawyers for the various parties contended, objected, and postured before the eccentric judge.

The news is grimmer today. Thirty-three people were killed in a murderous rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech University and many more were injured. Before all the blood had clotted, politicians and editorial writings rushed to their microphones and word processors to call for gun control. However, other voices were heard on talk radio. Right wing pundits were calling for the right of teachers and others to carry weapons in schools and other public places.

This argument over the dead bodies of the Virginia Tech students is much more distasteful than the legal wrangling over Anna Nicole’s body. The stakes are higher: Who is to be the heir to all the pity and sympathy generated by the massacre? There is a logical fallacy called Argumentum ad Misericordium, argument from pity. It seems to me that half of all political arguments involve an appeal to the people’s emotion of pity; the other half involve frightening them with rising coastlines or murderous Muslims or some other scary scenario.

I am embarrassed to be part of a culture that politicizes hurricanes and greedily seeks the blood of the dead to smear on its flag. The philosophical structure of the state is a wonderful building, but its stones are rotting corpses and its mortar is fear. It is not a fit place to live.