Humanity against The State

Or maybe just men against lawyers. These two stories have something in common, but I’m not quite sure what.

In California, “police and firefighters stood by and watched as a man drowned.” The water was too shallow for the Coast Guard boat. Their helicopter was on another call. “The Alameda Fire Department says budget constraints are preventing it from recertifying its firefighters in land-based water rescues. Without it, the city would be open to liability.” — Alameda police, firefighters watch as man drowns; seen here. There are good reasons not to jump in the water to rescue a drowning man. That it might open the city to liability is not one of them.

In Florida, police arrested two men and a woman. They’re accused of illegally feeding some homeless people. “Orlando police say they violated a city ordinance restricting the feedings.” Well, okay, I understand we have to have health and safety regulations, but I’m pretty sure long-term hunger is unhealthy. License fees, excessive regulation, fines, and now jail – these are likely to discourage us from doing what we should as humans. In the brave new world, I guess, all who hunger or thirst will go to a state-approved food provider.

What these stories may have in common is the idea of The State as exclusive source of legitimacy. It’s soft totalitarianism – “everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” – because anything outside state control might be dangerous or unhealthy.

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3 thoughts on “Humanity against The State

  1. The story about the man who drowned… it says as much about the government as it does about the subjects of that government. 75 witnesses and not one of them went in to save the man until it was too late either.

  2. I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d been in the crowd. The guy was trying to kill himself. What could a bystander do, swim out and try to wrestle him to the shore? That’s a good way to get yourself killed. That water is cold enough to kill even without drowning.

    With no boat and no cold-water gear, what else could the fire department do except wait on the shore to provide medical attention if the guy changes his mind and comes back to shore?

  3. Certainly if the man is determined to kill himself he will. And as you say, nobody should jump in unless they are trained and know what they’re doing. If it were that nobody had the training or equipment to attempt a rescue under the circumstances without unreasonable danger, that would be a tragic but understandable judgement call. And, maybe the report doesn’t tell the whole story. But the fire department says they can’t do water rescues because they haven’t had the money to re-certify, and without current certification the city would be open to liability. That’s not a good reason. The fire chief said he would attempt things off duty that he wouldn’t on duty. So off duty in his personal capacity he would have gone in, but on duty he would have stood by? And firefighters couldn’t enter the water to get the body, so a young woman, presumably a bystander, went out and got it. There are open questions, but it seems like we’re letting lawyers and red tape stop us from doing what we should.

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