• Michael Van

Michael Jackson & The Atom Bomb

[this entry contains zero humor]

I just finished Leaving Neverland, the HBO miniseries interviewing and documenting 2 firsthand victims of child sexual abuse from the late famed icon Michael Jackson. The victims recount, very explicitly, the sexual predation that took place, the way it destroyed their families to the point of suicide and disownment, and the trauma that remains to this day. It is without contention, a true tragedy how someone with such iconography and power, would abuse it such ends. It is scary, creepy, sickening, and disheartening. Michael Jackson preyed on little boys, and coerced them and their families into keeping it quiet.

This entry is not:

  • Claiming Michael Jackson did not sexually prey on children.

  • Justifying or endorsing sexual predation.

This entry is:

  • Underscoring the freedom of open dialogue and thought.

  • Advocating that when we evaluate something, we look at the whole picture, and do not succumb to recency bias, or shock value.

The question I want to propose now is: Would the world have been better off without Michael Jackson?

Let’s do an objective pros and cons list:


  • Sexually preyed on children, ruining them and their families' lives.


  • Single-handedly propelled the careers of some of his sexual victims, and financially supported their families.

  • Donated millions of dollars to charities focusing on third world countries and children.

  • Entertained and inspired millions of people through music and performance, marginally improving millions of lives.

How many thousands of people decided to go into music, to theater, to dance, to film, or aspired to their own creativity and wonders because of MJ? Or how many people looked at starving countries in a different perspective? How many people thought deeper and harder than they ever had before about racial relations because of MJ? I know I did.

These values are hard to quantify – but then, so are the effects of child sexual abuse. These aren’t ethical apples but - MJ sold 750 million albums. Let’s say that 1 out of every 1,000 of those albums marginally inspired someone. Of those 750,000 people let’s say another 1 out of every thousand had a life-changing-ly profound inspiration from his music. It's not ridiculous - people are fanatical about music. 750 profoundly inspired people. In my opinion, between all of the outliers and the truly, profoundly inspired people - Michael Jackson, just through his music, drastically improved more lives than he did ruin lives through child molestation.

This doesn’t take into account lives Michael Jackson may have directly saved as a result of millions of dollars of charity and aid, through very tangible physical nourishment and healthcare, which by itself I also estimate to be orders higher than the number of lives demolished through sexual predation.

I’d even be as bold as to say that without the charity and aid - just through performance - 750,000 marginally improved lives outweighs the deep sufferings of a relative few. Added up bit by bit, the overall volume of good is much larger than the volume of bad.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas

In the short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas there exists a utopian city of Omelas - intelligent, civil, clean, and happy. But the price for this utopian city comes at the tragic cost of a single child, who is kept locked in a basement under the city, malnourished and neglected. Everyone in the city knows of this child’s existence, and that their utopian city could not exists without the torment of the one child. While it takes some time for many to become comfortable with this predicament after learning it, they choose to stay, justifying that releasing the child would end the happiness and perfection of the city for everyone else. They do not practice forgetting or ignoring the tormented child, instead they think actively in its suffering, as they are indebted to that suffering for their own utopian lifestyle.

But there are the ones who walk away from Omelas, who choose not to participate in such a lopsided deal of a society. But is wherever they go any better? Is there any such society without unjust suffering? And is the society better in which one suffers greatly and many live fruitfully? Or where all suffer mildly and live mediocrely?

The Atom Bomb

At least 200,000 people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from atomic bombs during WWII. But How many people did it save?? It's an unappetizing thought making this moral calculation - but apparently it is estimated that of millions of Allies, and tens of millions of Japanese, would have died in a more grisly, drawn out warfare had the atomic bombs not been dropped.

Knowing that millions of Net Lives Saved would be the outcome, I would most certainly make that same decision to drop the bombs. Quite simply, it saved lives in killing so many in such a fell swoop. And perhaps many millions more in that such a demonstration of awesome power may have prevented other future warfare and casualties.

Back to Michael Jackson:

Knowing what we know now about MJ's pedophilia and predation, if we could go back in time and prevent Michael Jackson from ever happening, what would we choose to do? I still think that the world is a better place today having had him, than had he never existed at all.

Had there been no Michael Jackson, I estimate that a significant number of people would have died from undernourishment and lack of medical access, many more than would be sexually violated. And that millions of people’s lives would be marginally duller having never seen him perform or listened to his music.

I'd argue that in a world with Michael Jackson, the whole culmination of those millions of tiny marginal bits of pleasure and inspiration more than compensate for the trauma of a few lives, in the grand tally of overall societal happiness.

It’s sad, sickening, and tragic what happened to these boys. But to demonize Michael Jackson and wipe him from our memories is just bad social-utilitarian math.

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