The greatest good for the greatest number, J. Bentham’s formula, further developed by J.S. Mill, was the core of a once in a lifetime interview of Congressman Jamie Raskin by David Remnick of The New Yorker. Only 18 minutes, here it is. Going in, the listener expected that center stage would be Raskin’s extraordinarily comprehensive and skillful prosecution of the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The New Year’s Eve suicide of Raskin’s son Tommy would only be a powerful reminder of how hard Raskin’s job was and how selfless he had been to accept it.
But the historic trial, which after all was watched in whole or part by tens of millions, was merely backdrop to how three utilitarians conducted themselves. Asked by Remnick, as we hope you have now heard, to comment on what a Congresswoman had said about the “need to respect Tommy’s decision” to take his own life, Raskin responded that his daughter Tabitha, Tommy’s sister, had said that as a utilitarian Tommy had either decided that his pain weighed more than all the pain he knew his family and friends would suffer or had committed the “first selfish act of his life.” Only Tommy knows. We know that Raskin and Remnick achieved perfection in their dialog. We gasped when Remnick asked Raskin not one but several other questions about his son and the very recent suicide. He did it knowing that he was inflicting pain on this American hero. And Remnick knew from Raskin’s answers not only how excruciating the pain was but how valuable the answers and the grace and dignity of their expression would be to people suffering depression and the loved ones of those and others who had taken their own lives.
Raskin’s own utilitarian calculation moved him to not merely hang in and do his best to respond to terribly painful questions, for which he neither had nor ever would have answers, but understand the profound service he was performing for virtually every person who listened and heard. The rare exceptions are those who have not been severely depressed or never loved someone who has and/or committed suicide.
Our purpose is not to speculate about or explain this interview, but simply create enough interest with some who haven’t, to now listen to this valuable and spontaneous gift. Twice in a month Jamie Raskin has performed great public service for his country and its people.
Listening to the interview again, I’m not sure Sen. Raskin was describing himself as a utilitarian. He referred to his work as an imperative, and I understood it to be the Kantian categorical imperative.
Thank you… for presenting the exemplary remarks and actions of good normal people and the unfortunate conditions and situations they can find themselves in, and how they try to best for all concerned to deal with them…often requiring unbearably painful acts of grace, honesty and courage…. So particularly valuable and important to see at this time, in clear flagrant contrast during the recent times of the selfish sociopathic dishonest betraying actions of the the others who lie, cheat, deceive and harm and hurt so many others, apparently too often going unscathed and unpunished.
I listened to it a couple of days ago @ newyorker.com and would listen again if it hadn’t left me so devastated at the very end. Since the news of Tommy Raskin’s death, I’ve thought a lot about the exact sort of person this young man must have been. What’s particularly striking is the quality of Jamie Raskin’s own mind, so fine, so extraordinarily well-organized, so obviously brilliant, but much more impressive for the humanity he conveys every time he opens his mouth. Also, of course, a highly discriminating intelligence, honed by the discipline of decades of exquisitely refined critical thinking, a world-class b.s. detector . . . and there he was talking about his son in absolute awe and reverence of his qualities as a visionary thinker. It persuaded me that, indeed, Tommy Raskin possessed those very qualities, which makes his loss all the more unbearable not only for those who loved him. Given the context, the historical moment and the existential struggle to honor and preserve our founding ideals as a nation, his death feels like a tangible loss for the country, as well.