Thursday, October 7, 2010

Burning Down The House

A house catches fire. A phone call is made. Within minutes, racing red machines blare a warning of their approach, and stop before the conflagration. Men and women leap from their trucks, clad in their heavy, fire-retardant armor, connect canvas hoses to bright brass connectors, and charge forward, aiming pressurized streams of water at the flames, intent on snuffing them out. Hopefully, no one remains inside at the mercy of the inferno, but if they do, these brave souls will battle heat and flame to pull them to safety. It is the ultimate act of selflessness, to give your life -- potentially -- for a stranger, to put yourself in harm's way, casting aside fear and the desire to flee, to rescue someone you do not know from the jaws of the malevolent beast.

Not more than a few in a thousand have the ability, the guts, and the selflessness, to do this. They become our heroes: firefighters, police officers, soldiers. They would risk life and limb, and not for consequential amounts of money, for they are not paid nearly as well as they should be, but because inside them is a commitment to their fellow citizens, to protect and to serve. They do what they do partly out of honor, but more out of a sense of duty.

Then how horrible must it be to know a fire burns, that lives may be threatened, and a family's life destroyed, and to be told to do nothing, because the family did not pay a fee? That is what happened recently in rural Tennessee. A family's home, set afire by the ill-considered burning of leaves, burns to the ground, because they did not pay a seventy-five dollar fee to the local township, a fee required to extend fire department services into the rural areas. The family forgot to pay the fee, and the result was the destruction of their life. The sad irony: when the fire threatened a neighbor's house, the fire department did respond, because they had paid the fee.

Now, having a fire department is not cheap. The equipment is specialized, the training of firefighters is extensive and on-going, and the maintenance of an effective firefighting force is intensive and expensive. Still, few would argue that letting a home burn down for lack of any firefighting force is a good thing; so how could it be that letting a house burn down when there is a fire company available is allowable or even acceptable? Couldn't a portion of tax revenue in the surrounding county be used to provide the service to rural homes? Did someone really think charging a fee was a good idea? What bureaucrat would let a home burn by quibbling over the payment of a fee?

That this was a shameful occurrence was bad enough; that people are making light of it in national media is worse. A family's home is destroyed, their pets are dead, their possessions gone, and they find themselves homeless, dependent on the kindness of others. What makes this a situation for mirth and offensive humor? Apparently, if you are Glenn Beck, champion of our nation's "honor," that it happened, and that it serves them right. Yes, apparently, if you don't pay your fee, you deserve to have your house burn down:

And it goes nowhere if you go onto “compassion, compassion, compassion, compassion” or well, “they should’ve put it out, what is the fire department for?” [...] If you don’t pay the 75 dollars then that hurts the fire department. They can’t use those resources, and you’d be sponging off your neighbor’s resources. [...] It’s important for America to have this debate. This is the kind of stuff that’s going to have to happen, we are going to have to have these kinds of things.
So, yes, the social contract, which is at the heart of organized society, that says despite our differences we shall live as one nation and obey all the same laws and rules, is nothing but a fabrication of "socialism," a desire for the poor and weak to "sponge" off their country. This is the "debate" that Glenn Beck wants to have.

Well, Mr. Beck, I will take you up on your challenge. I will have this debate with you, any time, any place. Because my reading of the Constitution, which makes the general welfare of the people a paramount priority, and my understanding of the social contract, which was the basis of so much of what would become our Constitution and the laws of our land, and the desire of our Founding Fathers to build a nation that ran through the good graces of its citizens, goes contrary to this idea that somehow services that benefit all American citizens are sponging. If anything, the rich in our country are sponging off the hard-working and dedicated employees of the companies that make them their fortunes. Still others are sponging off Americans by filling the airwaves with abject ignorance, petty nonsense, and unsupportable hypocrisy, but you wouldn't know anyone like that, would you, Mr. Beck.

For someone so concerned about the faith and honor of his country, Glenn Beck treats Americans as disposable commodities, nothing more than a cigarette butt to be ground under his heel, as he blathers on, filling the hearts and minds of the sycophantic with delusions and demagoguery. He is more than happy to sit atop his piles of cash, bemoaning the "socialism" he sees as rampant in this country, apparently unaware that the whole idea behind unity as a nation is the support of our fellow citizens. His claims of a need for restored faith fall on deaf ears, where his hypocrisy is so transparent, perfectly willing to watch Americans suffer and do little of substantive value to change the causes, even as he pins targets on the backs of those trying to make the changes necessary to keep our country afloat.

remediate the lives of those touched by misfortune. It is not just the way of religion, but it is the way of the human, our human duty to do whatever we can, however little it is, to help our fellow humans. It is that core value that made civilization rise up from the dirt, and it is a lack of humanity that now threatens to cast us back into the dust. Humanity is burning, and it's time to pick up a pail and put the fire out.

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