Several conservative blogs I frequent have had comments sections burning over in fury about Ted Kennedy. No need to list why - you already know the things he did. Within the same threads others, equally conservative, have had less invective, choosing to comment more on what the Democrats are making of his death. Some object to the sappy hagiography of a deeply flawed individual. Others analyse why he was so iconic to the left.
A third group, also conservative, strives to be as gracious as they can. I understand all three groups but lean emotionally more to that last group. It seems polite. Don't speak ill of the dead. As a typically blunt person, perhaps it seems odd that I should tend to this last category. It seems odd even to me, so I have tried to piece together where this attitude comes from. Why would we consider it simple politeness to behave this way. It is not as if such a rule were universal in our society - it certainly has not been on the left in the last decades.
It seems an older value, a politeness more common in an earlier era. Is it also regional, more a New England thing? Is it even more ancient, left over from superstitious times when people feared that the recently dead were more of a danger, until they were finally put to rest on All Hallow's Eve? Did it hang on longer on places with stable populations, where memories were long and grudges held?
I relate it to the New England virtue of modesty, where one does not make a scene; one does not brag; one does not discuss how much you make or how much expensive things cost; one's religious beliefs are not advertised to an admiring bog. I can't make a solid intellectual connection, but these things seem related in my mind and I cannot fully shed them even when I disagree with them.
The entire concept of modesty set me thinking in other directions, one of which I will develop as an addition to my series on the origins of liberal values. But for now, I am most concerned with this one value of not speaking ill of the dead. Is it an archaic value that we should allow to fall out of fashion, or is it intimately tied up with other whole packages of virtue?