Richard Tanner, a Criminology Professor at The University of Maine, today submitted a paper that clearly disproves the romantic notion that only the good die young. In fact, Professor Tanner’s work goes on to show that good people outlive the bad ones by an average of fifteen years.
This Modern Philosopher visited UMaine’s Orono campus today to speak with Maine’s newest celebrity.
“I was working late in my office one night, when I heard that Billy Joel song blasting from somewhere nearby,” Tanner explained as we strolled across the campus on a gorgeous Spring day. “It’s a very romantic song about a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl falling in love, but the chorus perpetuates that silly notion that good people are the only ones who meet early, untimely demises. As much as I enjoy Billy Joel, the song made me sick to my stomach. That was when I knew I had to prove that theory wrong.”
Tanner asked for a sabbatical and started on his research. “There is so much data available in this electronic age,” he told me as he waved to students and smiled at his new found popularity. “I didn’t even have to leave my home to work on this paper. Of course, I did get out just so I wouldn’t become a shut in. When I did leave the house, I spent most of my time in cemeteries, where I calculated the ages of the dead by reading the headstones.”
So what were his guidelines for what made someone young? How did he judge good and bad? “It was a slippery slope, but I had to set some rules in order to make this work. I decided that young would be anyone under the age of 25. As for good and bad, I decided that bad would be anyone who had a criminal record, died in the act of committing a crime, or just rubbed me the wrong way. I basically had to use my judgment, but I think I was pretty consistent in categorizing the dead.”
Tanner spent one year on the project, and went back as far as one hundred years to make sure his pool of data wasn’t too narrow. “The war years really threw off the numbers,” he sad sadly, “because a great deal of good people died far too young. That’s why I wanted my information to come from such a wide sampling.”
Ten UMaine Criminology students helped compile the data and earned class credit in the process. “I was very open to their ideas as to what constituted good and bad. That way, I was getting a young and an old perspective.”
So what’s the bottom line, Professor? “Of those who died younger than age 25, 68% fell under the heading of bad. That’s more than double the percentage of the good who died young. A life of crime and drugs really does comes with a price. The Angel of Death is clearly partial to whom he chooses.”
What does that mean for us? “Live a good life, obey the law, stay out of trouble, and you will live much longer. The proof is right there in the numbers.”
“It also means that Billy Joel needs to write a new song,” Tanner told me with a chuckle, and then started to hum a few bars of Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”.
Does Tanner think his work is going to change the way people live? “I hope so,” he answered after thinking long and hard on his answer. “Then again, if people want to keep proving me wrong, it only means that there will be less bad people in the world.”
Fodder for Deep Thought, isn’t it, Modern Philosophers? What do you think about the Professor’s theory? Were you surprised that the numbers proved that it’s not only the good who die young? What other Billy Joel songs do you think should be put under the microscope by UMaine’s faculty?
I look forward to reading your comments.
You got a nice white dress and a party on your Confirmation. You got a brand new soul. And a cross of gold. But, Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information…