I inadvertently stumbled over a provocative Facebook post by a friend of a friend of a friend. My friend is a principled and intelligent liberal: apparently I stumbled on to a chain where each link was a little more detached from reality and reason.
The stranger’s post involved the story from two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the collapse of a crucial highway bridge in Atlanta. Investigators found the the collapse was caused by a fire.There were no deaths or injuries caused by the fire and the explosion it sparked , but i severed the vital roadway that runs north-south through downtown Atlanta and carries 250,000 vehicles daily, City Fire Department investigators arrested three homeless people on suspicion of involvement in the fire. Eventually only one was charged: Basil Eleby, a homeless man, was arraigned on charges of first-degree arson and criminal damage to property. He had many previous drug and assault arrests, according to Fulton County jail records.
To this my friend’s friend’s friend—his name doesn’t matter—responded,
Three people are now under arrest for the fire that led to the freeway collapse in Atlanta – 3 homeless people. I predicted this. But rather than seek out revenge on these 3 for the tremendous inconvenience they’ve caused, can we take a moment to realize that no person reading this has ever known the reality of sleeping under a bridge. None of us have been compelled to light a fire under that same bridge in order to keep our bodies warm.
And can we please have a conversation about funding mental health for the homeless? And can we please have a conversation, not based in shame, not based in revenge, about getting homeless people off the street?
Yes, these 3 folks have done something that has inconvenienced many people. Lighting that fire is something they have probably done countless times before. Can we take this as an opportunity to deal with the real problem? It gives me no satisfaction that the person charged with the worst of this situation will have his homelessness solved by a jail sentence.
Now, I’m sure this individual is a really kind, compassionate individual. I’m also sure he’s the kind of person who is always saying things like “Why is anyone going hungry in the richest country in the world?” to the vigorous head-nodding of his friends, and his friends’ friends. (I am willing to bet money that he was a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter; probably Occupy Wall Street too.) This kind of statement, however, is policy and ethics static. It literally makes people stupid, and leads them away from useful, objective, dispassionate analysis, not towards it. It is an irresponsible Facebook post.
Of course, it is also flagrant virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Now everyone knows that this guy is oh so compassionate and such a good Christian, who rejects revenge, and wants us to apply the Golden Rule to the poor and the weak. Applause, please. Yes, you’re a wonderful human being. Unfortunately, thinking like this impedes policy solutions to problems, by simplifying them and dumbing them down into their most emotionally distracting components, while pretending that hard truths don’t exist. Continue reading