Decency: A Eulogy

"We had to kill Decency, because taking a stark, unyielding, impolite look at a person’s legacy is the only way we’re going to learn from it. That, and a good laugh keeps our dread at bay."

Decency: A Eulogy

Thank you all for taking the time to come here, I know it would have meant the world to them. Appearances, after all, mattered most to our departed friend, and it would warm their heart to see so many attending their funeral.

I first met Decency when I was very young, probably in the same manner as many of you. My mother introduced us, and together they taught me how to be a “good person,” I learned why some jokes were not acceptable to tell. I learned why giving a houseless person a meal, or some money, was a reward all its own; that that was something you did to help a fellow human being, because that’s what decent people do.

As I grew older, the relationship between Decency and I grew more... strained. I began to notice that some people either had never met Decency, or hadn’t paid attention to their lessons, or simply didn’t care. They all seemed to get by just fine. In fact, some actually seemed to be rewarded for it.

There were also the comedians, those souls who not only ignored Decency, they told Decency to shove it. I, like many others of my generation, grew up on highly irreverent comedy, laughing hysterically at the antics of the boys from South Park or the incisive skits of Dave Chappelle. I found, in that laughter, that stripping away respectability could allow someone to engage with difficult subject matter in a way that allowed them to confront the contradictions inherent in life and modern society.

This would in turn prepare me for my journey into the lawless world of the mid-2000s internet. By this point, Decency and I had found an understanding. I knew there was a time and place for certain jokes. That there were some things you just didn’t make fun of. That the first rule of comedy was to know your audience and play to it. Appearances must, as ever, be maintained.

But online, it was ALWAYS the right time to make fun of something. There was ALWAYS an audience for even the most depraved of humor. And oftentimes there was a place offering complete, anonymous protection from any repercussion in making said jokes.

It was in this environment set against a world with crumbling economies and expectations that the millennial consciousness would hit the social media sphere.

At this point, I imagine many of you are wondering why I’m talking so much about millennial humor at a funeral for Decency. Well, that’s because this generation, whose kills range from fabric softener to monogamy, can now count my old mentor Decency among our trophies.

You see, the more I learned about the way things worked in the world, the more I came to realize that the common conception of Decency was something else to what I had learned. That Decency was used, more often than not, to silence people opposing the established order. People were told there was “a time and a place” to bring issues up. That there were some things you just didn’t question or criticize. That the first rule in a society is to know your audience and not alienate them.

I’m not sure how it happened. How my mentor, who had helped make me the person I am today could have been led so astray, but I could see it so clearly. Decency didn’t just want me to be polite. Decency wanted me to be quiet. That was when I knew, much as it would hurt, Decency had to die.

I wasn't alone in this belief. Most societies hold that speaking ill of the dead is simply not to be done. While a family grieves, while the loss is still fresh, Decency demands that we hold our tongues. There is, however, a growing movement to put paid to such a conceit, especially when dealing with figures who wielded great power in life. To the horror of the neoliberal base of the Democrat party, upon the death of famed senator John McCain, there was a great deal of celebrating, not his life, but his death.

And just recently, with the passing of David Koch, a wave of vitriolic humor emerged, culminating in Ron Perlman getting his twitter deactivated for wishing the Koch brothers a “speedy reunion.”

Naturally pearls were clutched, wails were uttered and teeth were gnashed. Commenters declared Decency dead, and longed for the good old days, when opponents in politics could still have respect for one another.

Respect, though, is a two way street. And the shared trait among everyone who was gleefully mocking the deaths of these men, was neither of the two respected them. In fact, they had dedicated the majority of their time on earth making the lives of those people a living hell.

McCain liked to paint himself a free thinking maverick in the political arena, who was “part of the main,” and sought peace among nations. Never mind that he voted in lock step with the Republican party almost every time and authorized every war he could get his hands on. David Koch styled himself a libertarian philanthropist while creating and funding the Cato Institute, a leading conservative think tank that can be credited with formulating the modern conservative platform and making his billions as the leader of one of the premier oil and gas companies in the world, with all the environmental devastation that comes with it.

Both of these men held immense power in their hands, and both used it primarily to further their own interests against the health and safety of others, while doing the bare minimum required to put on a good show of philanthropy for the press. Both of these men came from industries that have a vested interest in ensuring that the lasting effects of their actions aren't looked at too closely.

Millennial humor has been called “neo-dadaist” referring to the pure absurdist art movement of the early 1900s, which emerged out of a widespread discontent with capitalist society as well as war and nationalism. The mirth with which the deaths of these men is met with is an extension of that; a dance with the absurd. We are living in the time of brand twitter, “marketing as storytelling,” the commodification of every basic necessity in the gig economy. The contradictions of capitalist society have never been starker. What saner path is there through a world gone mad than to be just as mad? To realize that all things die, all things are impermanent, and the attempt to lionize the dead in spite of their obvious hypocrisy is simply the established order trying to maintain their dominance. We had to kill Decency, because taking a stark, unyielding, impolite look at a person’s legacy is the only way we’re going to learn from it. That, and getting a good laugh keeps our dread at bay.

Future generations will be paying the price for Koch’s greed and McCain’s warmongering for decades. There are hundreds more at the same heights, all balanced precariously in a world that is quickly unraveling. If their response to the obvious crisis is to jealously hoard their wealth in the hopes that they’ll die before things get too bad or they’ll outlive the coming cataclysm, you can be damn sure we, the ones who won't have a ticket on the Mars shuttle or a room in the bunker, aren’t going to be polite or decent about it. We are sure as hell going to have fun at their expense, since they’ve had so much fun at ours.

So yes, here lies Decency: proud servant of the ruling class, brought low by the murderous hands of the faithless, irreverent millennials. May its masters soon follow. Thank you all again for coming. Now, let’s yeet this sucker into the clay.