Saturday, November 20, 2010

9-11 "Heroes"

Is it just me, or is there something queasy about the "heroic" firefighters, police, and so on who "toiled in the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center" suing the city and getting a $625 million payout? Isn't a willingness to sacrifice part of the definition of heroism? Isn't bravery the willingness to take risks? Is it not possible for anything in America to be free from the taint of legal wrangling and a demand for cash?

America is lawsuit crazy. I think this is deeply connected to our devotion to capitalism and our suspicion of the welfare state. When Americans get sick, they worry about who will pay and many of them start looking for someone to sue. When Europeans get sick they don't have to worry, because they know that their national insurance plans will pay all their bills. So they don't sue anybody. In America, everyone has to work to get the money to pay the bills, and we are proud of this. But it makes us fear disability, which exposes us both to poverty and to failure, because an American who can't work to support himself is a failure in the most fundamental way. A European who can't work may feel some of the same anxiety, but he knows that he will never go hungry and that his government will look after him without humiliating him. He does not have to find someone to blame and sue.

Payouts from the World Trade Center fund are going to people with colon cancer and thyroid cancer, which probably have nothing to do with exposure to smoke. But who can blame those people for joining the lawsuit? What other recourse do they have? Who will take care of them, if they don't have the money to pay?

I believe in a just society, people are free of those fears. In America, that makes me a leftist opposed to the American ideal of standing on your own two feet. But until illness and disaster are completely banished from our lives, I think we should look after people who suffer them.

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