In my head, I have these two ideas, which seem to be unrelated in real life, but feel to me connected at some basic level.
There’s a great deal of glee in certain circles over the high price of gas. Andrew Sullivan, for example, advocates a huge tax on gas so that it’s upwards of $5 per gallon so that people will be forced to find alternate, more environmentally, safe ways of getting around and so that car companies will feel the market pressure to make more fuel efficient cars for those of us who are still determined to have cars, even though, is this high-priced-gas world, miraculously, we would all live near plentiful and efficient public transportation.
This has always pissed me off because rural people often don’t live near their jobs or their jobs involve driving things for a living and so it seems like a way to punish non-urban people without too much cost to the urban folks.
There are other flaws, but that’s been my complaint.
I was thinking about the folks in New Orleans, though, who didn’t have cars to evacuate. And I was thinking how funny(sad) it is that here they were living some environmentalists’ dream of urban public-transportation depending folks and how, when they really needed plentiful and efficient public transportation, it never came.
In other words, I think the "give up your car" movement overlooks the hard lesson we’ve learned that we cannot depend on our local, state, or federal government to give us help when we need it and we must, if we’re going to be as safe as possible, depend on ourselves and each other.
At lunch on Saturday, Coble and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance we have whose life has passed the point of "a series of unfortunate mishaps" into "I’m fucking myself up for reasons known only to me" and how this would be sad except that he’s managed to parlay his ability to make only the wrong decisions in any given circumstance into occasional free housing, lots of free meals, and lots of other good, cool stuff that any of the rest of us might like, but not only don’t we go around asking for them, we’d be embarrassed to ask others to provide them, and mortified to accept them, if someone figured out we might like, say, a car.
And I was thinking about how the libertarian ideal is that there won’t be any government hand-outs; people will just give charitably. Previously, my objection to this has been that people’s money tends to go where their attention is. You give to SIDS-related stuff one year because a co-worker’s sister lost a kid that way. The next year you give that money to hurricane victims. After that, it goes to the Humane Society. This leaves non-profits scrambling for money, year after year.
But I’m seeing that the related idea–that your money goes where your attention is–is very exploitable by the squeaky wheel. The person with the audacity to ask for things tends to get them, where the people who have been trained to suffer quietly or to make the best of circumstances, no matter how bleak, never pop up on the radar of people who are willing to help.
I don’t know. Maybe these two ideas are related by the fact that it’s the people who are doing the right thing, who are doing the things we want to encourage, are the ones that get hurt.
Most of us want to ease the suffering of our fellow community members (however we understand community), but figuring out how to do that without causing the suffering of others seems nearly impossible.