Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Firemen or Pyromaniacs, You Be the Judge

(c) John Cirillo

It's gotten so a reductio ad absurdum argument is being met, down at the Texaco, with agreement.  Strange days indeed.  People used to cite the Fireman as hero par excellence.  Hundreds of brave firemen lost their lives during the 9/11 World Trade Center inferno by running up the stairs in an effort to save the civilians on higher floors.  Yesterday, driving to work and listening to the right wing talk show on our local "Rush Radio" station beaming out of Rawleigh, the hosts and callers were in agreement that that Tennessee Fire Department did exactly the right thing when they stood and watched a guy get burned out.  He hadn't paid his fee.  Tough shit.  Case closed.  (Later on in the day some other conservative yammerers argued that the Tennessee FD was actually a government entity, so that's why they watched the fire.  Possibly some conservatives take both positions at once, since in their "world" contradictions are merely interesting features, like calves with two heads.  Whatever.)

I thought firemen put out fires.  That was their job, and indeed, their definition.  A guy in a fire suit or driving a fire truck is not a fireman.  Kramer proved that definitively some years back.  If you're a fireman, you put out the fire.  The whole department in Tennessee, who sat and watched this guy lose his house, belongings, and several pets, because he hadn't paid a $75 fee, the whole department should be fired.  Period.  Probably they should also be put in jail for a while too--for negligence.  I don't know whether that's legal or not, so I can't argue that point.  But the whole department should be fired, without any doubt.  They didn't do their job.  That's a simple and obvious situation.  Fire these guys.  Find some other men who are willing to be firemen. 

"Bbbbbut," the guy at the Texaco argues.  "The guy didn't pay his fire fee.  It serves him right."

Let me remind you of something Ronald Reagan did, back in the early '80s.  Not that I'm a big fan of Reagan, mind you.  In fact, I think much of our current disaster can be laid at the feet of Mr. Reagan.  However, back in the early '80s, Mr. Reagan fired a whole group of people--Air Traffic Controllers--because they went on strike.  The idea was, being an Air Traffic Controller was so critical a job that it was dangerous to the public to allow them to strike.  That is to say, they were betraying their fundamental task.
Nope, said Reagan.  You're outta here.  Of course this was viewed as a right wing victory because Mr. Reagan "broke" a union.  And indeed, that's one way to look at it.  But I'd argue that underlying that was simply the fact that Air Traffic Controllers have a duty to public safety that cannot be exempted--it's who they are.  And it's that duty that gave Reagan the support he needed to fire the whole group of them for striking.

I have no idea at what management level the Tennessee Fire Department made the decision to go watch the fire.  Pyromaniacs watch fires.  Did they all do a circle-jerk while they were watching?  One would think that some "Chief" made this decision about the fee.  Can police do the same thing--work on a pay-as-you-go basis out there in Tennessee?  If a bank doesn't pay it's fee, do the cops just watch the robbery unfold?  Or the home being invaded?  What's the difference?  Cops/Extortionists--you make the call.

I used to argue, down at the Texaco, that we actually all wanted a world--a society--where the common good is defended, i.e., that the idea that everyone should pay for each specific "service" if they wanted it, or not if not, undercut all of us.  The police example was usually the reductio that got traction, at least in itself.  Some of the boys still balked at public schools, because the idea of an educated citizen was too abstract for them.  Apparently now they've come to accept the Fire Department case.  I'd guess privatizing the police is just around the corner.  I guess "dangerous to the public" has become an anachronism, a vestige of those old socialist times when Ike and Uncle Joe divided the planet and ruled with iron fists.

Some of this goes along with the gun fetishists club.  "Gun people" seem to think that everyone should have a gun, and be ready to use it.  That would fix up things for the criminals, eh.  And save us lots of money we now pay for police protection.  Which we can spend on more guns I guess.  Neato.  These folks may find themselves, one night, standing out in the cold and listening to the ammo go off like popcorn amidst the inferno, whilst the guys in the fire hats make a big circle and frolic around the it was halloween.

It's a world Ms. O'Donnell, in her pointy hat, will find herself at home in I guess.

1 comment:

  1. that's an interesting comparison, the PATCO break and the tennessee firemen/firewatchers. all i know is that it is frightening and depressing to see the ennui that is sweeping this country. ennui, self-righteousness, selfishness, lack of comradeship (whoops--comrade: is that a commie word?), lack of altruism, lack of sharing. i read paul krugman's column yesterday and felt so sad because he was so right.