We've No Right to Judge Her!

I found this sentiment expressed over at Roderick Long's RIP for Amy Winehouse. Well, let's distinguish at least three quite different senses in which we might "judge" her:

1) We might (try) to judge that state of her soul. This is obviously (I think) an symptom of awful hubris. We do not know whatever, perhaps terrible, hardships she may have faced in her life, and how adequately she rose to their challenge. To try to do 1) is to declare oneself God.

2) We might try to pass some political judgment on her life. Given that she is dead, there are obvious difficulties with doing this, but while she was alive, this was the kind of thing drug warriors sought to do. I think such efforts are dumb: the effects of such prohibition are far worse than are the (genuine) problems they seek to solve. While I would not object to communities regulating, for instance, the marketing freedom of drug dealers or the places where drug sales might be allowed, I think prohibition is such an obvious failure that any political realist ought to oppose it.

3) We might judge her in the common, social sense that we hold her up as an example of how not to live one's life. And this form of judgment, I think, is both necessary and unobjectionable. We are social beings, and we learn from the examples of those we see around us, often far more than we admit. Now, it is a good thing if this form of social judgment is tempered by the Christian sentiment, "There, but for the grace of God, go I!" None of us know what challenges or hardship Winehouse faced, or if we ourselves would have met them better or worse than she did. Nevertheless, it is perfectly sensible, indeed, even almost obligatory, for, say, the parents of impressionable teens to "judge" Winehouse in the sense that we might say to them, "See, this is why you want to practice temperance: look what happened to this beautiful, talented lady when she failed to do so!" That we study and learn from the examples of others' lives is such a fundamental part of our nature as "rational, dependent animals," that the demand we not judge Winehouse in sense 3) must be deemed destructive idiocy.


  1. It's true that the response, "You have no right to judge her!" is probably not something the author literally believed. But I could understand why she flipped out. The first person said, in response to Roderick's message of RIP, something like, "Winehouse should have said yes, yes, yes."

    Not cool, in my judgment.

  2. Well, it means she should have said "yes" to rehab. (You know the song reference, right?)

    Here, the songwriter pens a tune very explicitly rejecting the notion she might need rehab. Then she dies, through her... lack of rehab.

    I think the commentator's remark is very natural. I have heard it about a dozen times now. It is the first thing my 12-year-old said when she heard the news. I did not think for a moment it called for censure.

  3. Just to follow up: I saw Winehouse when she was a celebrity guest on a British show. (It was sorta like Hollywood Squares, but with fewer people.) It was a "saucy" show with people trading barbs.

    At one point the host said to her, "Amy, I think your answer should have been 'yes, yes, yes.'" Now that was funny and appropriate. (I think Winehouse may actually have been drinking before going onto the stage for the show, so it totally fit.)

    But to say it after she just dies, and in response to someone offering condolences? My sources say no.

  4. Yes Gene, I'm very familiar with her Back to Black album. That's why this is such a sad story.

  5. I thought you probably knew the reference, but I wasn't sure.

    I just don't see the problem here. When my daughter said it, it was not malicious at all. It was more like, "Well, there's a lesson here for us."

  6. Gene, I know your daughter and believe that she wasn't saying it as a zinger. I got the impression that the person posting on Roderick's site was sending out a zinger, in her mind.

  7. Yeah, I guess a lot depends on the context and tone of voice. And the web ain't got no tone of voice, which makes it tough to judge!

  8. Strong agree with judgement category 3. being legitamate.

    I basically don't know who Amy Winehouse is, but in regards to what Bob Murphy was talking about I feel it is very important to be able to have a laugh about serious and tragic events.

  9. (Avram: The thing is, we're dealing with someone who thinks this is funny. Pity is, I think, the only charitable option available to us.)

  10. Who said I thought the zombie video was funny? Did you see the blooper reel? I wasn't the one who couldn't hold it together.

  11. Bob, when text in these comments is in parentheses, and starts with someone else name, that means it is an aside, and you are not supposed to hear it.

    (Avram, revision: We are dealing with someone who doesn't even find his *own* attempts at humor to be funny. There is no hope of getting him to come around on the dead person jokes. Come to think of it, his skit *was* a dead person joke!)


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