Who the hell are you to disregard the man's wishes?

With all due respect, I think that this is a somewhat different situation. I had a friend who was an exceptional metalworker commit suicide recently*, and his goodbye note also asked everyone to destroy his work. We have all kept his creations, not only out of selfishness, but also because we considered this request to be a result of his depression rather than a true wish.

Even if the person involved is of sound mind, I do draw a distinction between works of art, which are in many senses public material, and personal diaries, which are written with no audience in mind and may contain much that is nobody else’s business.

*Damn do I miss you D’ Drennan, you were a work of art in your own right

That’s never stopped anybody before and it won’t (IMHO) stop anybody in this case.

Greed is more powerful than friendship or trust apparently.

I’m sorry to hear about your friend, but what about Guin’s example of Queen Victoria’s diary? Like it or not, Pope John Paul II is a public figure, and a historical figure. To a very large extent, he gives up his privacy, especially after his death. 100 years from now, 500 years from now, historians studying his life and times are going to use those diaries to gain a fuller understanding of him and his decisions as Pope. Are you willing to deny the future historians that chance?

Also, the Pope’s dead. If he was right about how the universe works, he’s now exsisting in perfect harmony with God’s infinite love and forgiveness, and no longer cares about petty details like what happens to his personal papers. If he was mostly right about how the universe works, he’s roasting in hell right now and is too busy boiling in a lake of lava to give a damn who reads his Hello Kitty diary. And if he was totally wrong about how the universe works, he’s simply ceased to exsist as anything except a mouldering bag of non-sentient biological matter. In any case, his secretary going back on his word isn’t hurting anybody. No harm, no foul. On top of that, this is going to help historians for centuries to come better understand this major figure in the Church’s history and our era in general.

Nobody has been harmed by this, an incalcuable number of people have (or will be) helped by this. What’s to complain?

Yes, I do think that a person’s stated wish for privacy, even a public person, overrides any future historian’s desire to delve into his motivations. My feeling is that a public person’s * public* acts, such as papal decisions, are matters of historical record, but that no one (historian or otherwise) has a right to know about his private doubts and fears without his consent. If I ever became Pope (hah!), I would want to be judged on my wise decisions and my charitable actions, not my secret and never entirely overcome desire to masturbate. That part is between him and his confessor.


There’s a lesson here. You can’t count on even your best friends honoring your wishes after you are dead. Not even if you’re the pope!

My questions from the GD thread, plus embellishments:

Seems like lots of famous folks make this directive and have it ignored by their successor to the eventual benefit of mankind. Emily Dickenson wanted all her poems burned, Kafka (as mentioned here by Captain Amazing) instructed Max Brod to burn his unpublished manuscripts, Ceasar Augustus himself intervened to prevent Virgil’s unfinished Aeneid from being burned in accordance with the poets wishes, and I’m sure there are a few others I’m forgetting. Should their wishes have been followed to the detriment of generations to come? What if Shakespeare had wanted all copies of his works destroyed? Einstein?

As a professional historian, I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

It’s ideas like that which make grade school history so painfully boring. It’s a dry recitation of facts and dates-- deeds acomplished by apparently plastic, perfect people who made momentous decisions without any internal struggles. Personal details make history human.

People in high offices who affect the course of history give up any rights to privacy after their deaths. We need to know not only that a decision was made but why the individual came to that conclusion.

In the museum in which I work, just about the only donated objects which make us scream with delight are personal letters and diaries. Those are the true treasures. I think if you asked any serious historian which they’d rather have, a priceless objet d’art or a fat bundle of diaries, they’d pick the diaries hands down.


One of my personal rules: Never have an accomplice. They will ALWAYS roll on you. Not to mention the need for a split. Probably the only reason I’m a free man today.

Miller, you wanna stick with that “honerable” tag? :wink:

High school would have been easier…

I agree that knowing motivations makes history more interesting, and in many cases more relevant. I agree that it would be nice if more personal records were available to historians.

But I do not agree that you need to have this information. You want it. It makes your job, as a professional historian, more interesting and successful. I would argue that it is not my responsiblity to give up my privacy just to increase your job satisfaction. How does the fact that you’d really like to know the pope’s innermost thoughts (i.e. your personal curiousity) outweigh his desire to keep them to himself (i.e. his right to privacy)? Legally or morally, could you explain this?

I’m with you danceswithcats. Religiots once again acting as great role models.

I don’t know the legal issues. I leave that to others to discuss.

Morally, I see no problems with it. On the contrary, I think it was wrong of the pope to try to deprive future generations of an incredibly valuable resource. To have a record of history through the eyes of the pope, writing daily his impressions of world events? Inestimable value, I say.

It’s my belief that if you accept a position in which you make decisions which impact the lives of millions of Catholics around the world, you’d better be prepared to share your motivations. He gave up his rights to privacy when he took what is arguably one of the most important positions in the world.

It can further be argued that you can’t really seperate the man from the position in this case. It is not my “personal curiosity” since, truthfully, I have utterly no interest in the pope or his doings. What I do have an interest in is ensuring that future generations who are interested are not robbed by a single man’s reticence.

A historian’s duty to try to preserve the past and record the present as throughroughly as possible with an eye towards what future scholars would want. Future generations will bless the name of that defiant secretary, as they now do the people who refused to burn Emily Dickinson’s poems, or Kafka’s manuscripts, or any of the other long-sighted individuals who correctly ignored a selfish request to destory something precious.

This is not so.

It occurs to me that my first response was rather more gentle than I meant it to be.

You, the paparazzi, and the Weekly World News share an attitude that I find completely revolting.

There, that’s better.

Perhaps his instructions were with the 'ol twinkle in the eye kinda
" Oh no, just go ahead and burn that old stuff. Who’d be intereseted in the scribblings of an old man. Really. I’m just a simple man and it’d be prideful to think anyone would be interested. Vot, you’d vant dat schtuff clutterin’ da place up? Go 'head, burn it"
I’m just saying.

Well, now, that’s just retarded. There’s a difference between hounding some semi-sentient movie star every waking moment while they’re alive, making up bizzare scandals about them shacking up with Bat-Boy in a cabin in Aspen, and wanting to preserve a document of the thoughts and motivations behind one of the central figures of the 20th century. I also strongly disagree with the implication made by mischievious that history is only of interest to historians. These documents are important to the whole of humanity. A historian’s desire to preserve them is hardly selfish.

If you want to try to cast this as some sort of moral issue, I have to ask again: where is the harm? Who has been hurt by this? The pope? Pope’s dead. He doesn’t have any feelings left to be hurt. His family? What family? He was a very, very, very old man who never married and had no children. Sure, the secretary broke a promise. To a dead man. To the material benefit of humanity as a whole. Who gives a shit?

Lissa stated (twice) that he gave up his right to privacy by becoming a public figure. I don’t care what your motivation is, that is a disgusting attitude.

If you have to ask this, I honestly can’t give you an answer you’d understand. Suffice it to say that I believe a promise to a now dead man should be kept. Humanity would have had to just soldier on without whatever alleged benefit might accrue.

Obviously, I do.

I’m a bright boy. Give it a shot.

So we now entertain the notion that promises made to the living are null and void upon the cessation of respiration and circulation? That should make the probate of wills a free-for-all.

The real paradox that I read in these posts is that if he was a such an important person and figure, don’t his desires have merit? Or is this selective logic-you’re a very influential figure until you’re dead, and then we’ll do what the hell we want, because history is more important than you, now.

I call bullshit. The library at Alexandria burned, so did London, Chicago and many other places of historical significance. As we’ve learned from forestry, a burn clears out the dead stuff and makes way for new growth, a rebirth of sorts. How do you know that JPII didn’t want his writings gone, such that present and future Catholics weren’t constrained by his views?

Perhaps he’ll become the patron saint of ignored promises.