“Of the dead, say nothing but good”

We used to widely honor the instruction to not speak ill of the dead, at least in media and public communications. But in our modern era of social media, the instinct is largely the opposite. When a prominent political figure passes away, those who loathed the figure jump online and instantly proclaim how happy they are that the person has died, how terrible the figure was, how they hope that figure is burning in hell, etc.

You can find a lot of hackneyed columns disputing the old edict to not speak ill of the dead, particularly after the death of a prominent conservative, with all the columnists convinced they’ve discovered the amazing truth that indisputable villains of life die too, and no one would object to speaking ill of Adolf Hitler.

The aphorism dates back to Greece in 600 b.c., and the modern advocates for speaking ill of the dead seem oddly confident that the ancient Greeks and Shakespeare and everyone else before them could not possibly have grasped the moral nuances of this uniquely modern circumstance of a controversial figure dying.