“Live and Let Die” is probably best known as being a song by Guns and Roses. But what does it mean?
To live and let die, means to live your life how you want, and allow others to live it how they want. Do not interfere with them, even if their lifestyle means they’re going to kill themselves.
“Live and let die” is a philosophical quote which means you should live your life how you want, and allow others to live theirs how they want. Even if their way of living is going to kill them, you shouldn’t stop them.
Let’s say someone is addicted to drugs. Most people would say that you should try and help them. But following the “live and let die” philosophy, you realise that not only is this not your life to meddle with but even if you did, the druggie might not be too grateful for you.
Live and let live
“Live and let die” is based upon one of the oldest phrases in philosophy- “Live and let live”.
Nobody knows whom the original person to coin that quote is, but it goes back many years.
It’s the sort of thing you might say when someone is doing something you disapprove of but doesn’t hurt anyone. For example, if someone is smoking cannabis, you might not approve of their choice, but no harm is being done, so you allow them to do it.
The reason why “live and let live” is so memorable is because of the three L’s. It sticks out in your mind.
The place you probably heard “Live and let die” is in the song written by Paul McCartney, initially written for a James Bond film of the same name, and sung by the band “Wings”.
However, the version most of us will be most familiar with is the one sung by “Guns and Roses”. The people in this band added some heavy drum beats, and sensational electric guitar to lift the lyrics up, and bring them to the next level.
Even though the Guns and Roses version is more memorable, the Wings one is still pretty good.
You’ve probably heard the song thousands of times, but I doubt you’ve ever really listened to the lyrics to try and figure out what the song is singing about. Despite the film it was written for, it has nothing at all to do with James Bond or spies.
The song tells the tale of a young man who used to say the phrase “live and let live”, he would go about his life, and let others go about theirs. But through going through hardships, his outlook changed. He became nihilistic and just said, “fuck the world”. And because he didn’t think that anything mattered, he didn’t care who died.
“Live and let die” is also the title of a James Bond film. We won’t be getting into the whole film here, but here’s a quick summary.
James Bond has to stop the drug lord “Mr Big”, whom he learns is the dictator of an African country. At the end of the film, James Bond kills him when they’re both in a shark tank.
Bond knows there’s no point in trying to save him. He’ll just be annoyed that Bond ruined his drug empire. And so, Bond kills him.
There is a massive problem with the whole “Live and let die”philosophy. And that is it’s just selfish.
If you’re just doing things because you want people to be grateful, your motivations are corrupt, and you’re not doing things for the right reasons.
Kant would argue that you should do what’s right, regardless as to what the consequences are. So even if he become hated for saving someone’s life, you should still be doing it.
A Utilitarian would argue that to do good means to bring the most amount of pleasure to the most amount of people. Even if the person you saved isn’t going to be grateful, their family and friends will be going through so much pain if they were to die.
Therefore, the right thing to do would prevent that person from dying.
Criticism of “Live and let live”?
You can also look at “Live and let die” as a criticism of the more popular “live and let live”.
If you live your life how you want, and allow others to live their life how they want, you’re saying that you should never interfere with others, no matter what.
Even if death is the end result of your lack of interference, it’s not your responsibility to change people.
I’m sure that most of us are going to want what’s best for everyone else.
In this James Bond film, had James followed the “live and let live” philosophy, Mr Big would continue to kill people for his drug empire, and the best thing for everyone is to kill him.
If we want to get political, you could look at “live and let die” and as something that an Anarcho-Capitalist or extreme Libertarian would say. These people don’t want the government to tell people what to do at all.
If that means people kill themselves, that’s what it means.
Such an ideology might be seen as Nihilistic.
When you can use it
I don’t want to be too dismissive of the phrase, because there are some situations where it’s a good idea to follow the advice.
For example, if you catch a terrorist.
Should you let him live, then many others will die, and those others will be innocent people. So the best thing to do would be to kill them or allow someone else to kill them, even if you could stop them.
By letting this one person die, you’re allowing others to live.
This is what happened to James Bond when he killed Mr Big.
“Live and Let Die” is the name of a James Bond book, a Wings song, a James Bond film, and a Guns and Roses song.
It’s a play on the classic “Live and let live”.
While “live and let live” tells you that you should let others live their life how they want to, “Live and let die” goes and step further by saying that you should do so even if it ends up with them being dead.
There is a massive philosophical, ethical, and political debate which you can have over such a quote. But one thing that nobody can debate is that the Guns and Roses song is an absolute jam!