Shouldn’t We Honor Helpers?

The California Justices recently ruled that someone who helped another during an accident is liable for any harm. We should honor helpers, not make them liable–The California Supreme Court ruled a few days ago that if someone renders help to someone else and the person who has been helped is hurt, then the helper is liable. Alexandra Van Horn was in the front seat of a car that slammed into a pole. Lisa Torti, her friend who was a passenger in a car that was following, pulled her out after the accident. Van Horn is now a paraplegic and claims that it is the result of Torti having “pulled her like a rag doll.” Van Horn is now suing Torti and the California Supreme Court unanimously said Van Horn has a case and Torti is liable and can be sued. A trial will now have to determine if Van Horn is ultimately liable, if her actions did cause the paraplegia.
It’s difficult for someone who upholds the values I do, values where other-orientedness is paramount, to see how Alexandra Van Horn would sue not only her helper but her friend. But the issue here is beyond the personal relationship of these two people. Laws are meant to make the society more just, supposed to smooth out the rough edges that usually stem from people’s imperfections, flaws, even evil. And yet by validating Van Horn’s claim that Torti is liable the California Justices are creating an environment where helpers will have to think twice about rendering help. Laws ought to honor our better angels, and this ruling does the opposite. In the end it may be that Torti will be found innocent of the harm she is accused of having inflicted, but that’s not the point, the point is that acting in good faith to help another human being, she ought to be hailed, not punished.

Caroline Kennedy: Fitness v. Equality

What would appointing Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Senator do to our practice of equality?–I have no questions about Caroline Kennedy’s fitness to be a senator. For one thing I’ve read two of her books. She is thoughtful, intelligent, articulate with a grasp of many of the issues that matter to making us into a better society. She’s grown up amid politics and knows what it’s all about. She’s sophisticated, knowledgeable and savvy. But her political accomplishments, mainly raising money and supporting Barak Obama, were successful in large part because of her Kennedy pedigree. There’s nothing wrong with the name and with those who bore it before her, nothing wrong with their service and sacrifices for their country. Here’s the rub, it’s their service not hers, their sacrifices, not hers. We live in a modern society, whatever modern means in the academic literature, it is used to make us stand apart from those societies where status was derived from ascription, where one’s social class determined one’s place in the world, societies where equality was not for everyone. Without the Kennedy name Caroline Kennedy would be in a different social and political position. Without the Kennedy name her even thinking about being appointed as senator would be at best remote. However politically expedient it may end up being for Governor Paterson, or for those who support her nomination, from a larger philosophical point of view it does look it would weaken the principles of equal access and social mobility.

Confronting Our Financial Bubble?

The financial crisis is bound to lead us to confront the bubble our society has created–For the last few weeks as bailouts and rescue packages have become the order of the day, we’ve been talking about huge numbers,numbers which most of us do not comprehend. How many of us really understand what a trillion dollar means? I just read a staggering number. In a recent article the Los Angeles Times details the breakdown of the money the United States government has committed to rescue Wall Street and the financial system, although not all of it has thus far been tapped. The number: $8.5 trillion. This $8.5 trillion includes such things as $700 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program or $1.8 trillion for the Commercial Paper Program which buys short-term notes from companies which use the proceeds to pay bills. I must admit I am not clear whether these are their bills or not. In fact as I read the list, I confess I do not understand it all. Like many, I have numerous questions. My questions, though, primarily revolve around the value of money, where it comes from, leads to and means. Assuming the decision makers know what they are doing–another set of questions altogether–the many trillions we are now spending–since it looks sure there shall be more in future than the $8.5 trillion of the article–will at some point have to be accounted for. Is that when we shall come face to face with the limitations of our using money, with our over reliance on its material value? Is that when the bubble we have created about its role in our society will burst?

Human Rights–Alive and Well

The UN Declaration of Human Rights is 60 years-old, no wonder we’re still have a long way to go–It’s fashionable for many to cite the absence of a more universally applied practice of human rights as an example of how troubled the world is. While there is truth in that statement, when seen in historical perspective, one comes to another conclusion. The Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom such as freedom of religion dates to December 10th 1949 and was spearheaded by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Human history is thousands of years old, and yet coming together to agree on human rights, what some of these rights are is only 60 years old! That may seem long to someone in their teens, or even twenties, but not to the rest of us. More important in terms of recorded history human rights is still in its infancy. Yes, as we practice its principles, we’re going to experience growing pains, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to be imperfect. The point is not how ideal is our practice, but whether it is making headway in the world, in our respective countries, in terms of its being generally accepted. Fact is it is. For one thing it is now an accepted principle, even when we disagree on what rights it actually entails. And that is a human accomplishment! We are not turning back, and though progress comes too slowly for those who are suffering from its lack, be it Tibet or Myanmar, Darfur or North Korea along with so many other places, the cause of human rights is alive and well.