For Whom The Bell Tolls, or, Death and the Dutton

Pretty sure I’ve quoted this here before, because I think it’s so powerful, but it’s relatively short and it bears repeating:

No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 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 any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions John Donne

It first came back to me when I heard that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had contracted COVID-19. Dutton is a vicious and awful man, who has brutalised refugees for many years and continually seeks opportunities to brutalise them more and harder.

Unlike quite a few others, though, I didn’t wish that he’d die from the infection. There was an online debate about ‘civility’, but to me that isn’t the point: the point is Donne’s poem. Anyone’s – any human being’s, and arguably any animal’s, but that’s a more complex conversation for another day – death diminishes me.

If I’m to genuinely be a humanist, then Dutton being voted out of office and losing his power to harm is something devoutly to be wished, but his death is not something I can wish for.

The other context that made me think of Donne was the sentiment – probably only pronounced in black humor, though in many cases I don’t think so – that “don’t worry, this virus only kills the old and sick”.

That, too, devalues the lives of others and, I would argue, devalues our own lives by extension.

There are good and important arguments to be had around euthanasia but that’s also something for another day. When it’s a death from disease, what we ought to be doing is whatever we can to ensure that others live.

None of us is an island.

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