Monday, October 18, 2010


By now you’ve probably heard about this story. A resident of Obion County, Tennessee, Gene Cranick, lost his home and pets to a fire because he forgot to pay the annual $75.00 fee for fire protection.  Gene Cranick lives outside the South Fulton limits, therefore he must pay the South Fulton fire department the fee for protection.  

He didn’t pay the fee, and he didn’t get service. A neighbor, who had paid the fee, called the fire department, fearing his own house would burn. Firefighters showed up, protected the neighbor’s house, but refused to save Cranick’s house. That’s right—they refused to help. Cranick and his family lost all of their possessions in the Sept. 29 fire, along with three dogs and a cat.

What do we make of this?  Does it matter if Cranick actually did forget to pay the fee, or as some speculate, he just didn’t want to? What would the fire department have done if Cranick had told them there were people trapped inside? 

The firefighters “did the right thing,” said Kevin Williamson of the National Review. “The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates—and the problems they create for themselves are their own.”

Contrast that with what Eric Zorn said in the Chicago Tribune. “The unluckiest or most hapless among us” will sometimes experience disaster, and “it violates our collective sense of decency to stand by while others suffer.”

The Boston Globe last Sunday reported on a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research that found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979.

The article goes on to say “According to the findings, today’s students are generally less likely to describe themselves as “soft-hearted” or to have “tender, concerned feelings” for others. They are more likely, meanwhile, to admit that “other people’s misfortunes” usually don’t disturb them. In other words, they might be constantly aware of their friends’ whereabouts, but all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.”

Do a thought experiment,” said Mark Davis, a professor of psychology at Eckerd College in Florida who’s spent the last 30 years studying empathy. “Imagine if humans didn’t have the capacity for empathy. What would it mean if, in fact, we never gave a damn about what happened to other people? That’s an almost an inconceivable world.”

Imagine. And think about what Kevin Williamson said.

Which world do you want to live in? 

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