Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Our Personal Moments of Idiocy

We’ve all had them, you and I and that wayward hunter that apparently let his illegal fire get away from him and caused the huge California fire that threatened Yosemite. A stupid moment gone wrong, his life in ruins and unbelievable damage with unknown consequences.

There, but for the grace of whatever god you believe in (or don’t), go you or I, when we are momentarily careless or think we can squeak by, driving with a drink in us or nudging common sense in the wrong direction. Maybe we get away with it and, in reflection, nothing more than a ‘whew’ moment. But it’s common, more common that we care to admit and it’s in us all. No one escapes. A few are left to deal with the disaster of unintended consequences.

So, it was the fire that put this thought in my mind over breakfast this morning. What happens to this idiot who lost control of something he never intended? He (do we automatically assume it’s a ‘he?’) is no doubt a fine family man (or not), with a good many friends who value his intellect and good fellowship (or not) and pays his taxes, coaching a Little-League team (or not).

What do we do with him that serves justice? Jail? Bankruptcy? Both? 

It strikes me that there are moments of idiocy for which there is no truly justified punishment. If I were to sit in judgment on this one, I wouldn’t have a clue.

Family, employer and friends would troop in to establish a reputation of sorts in the community. Those devastated by the loss of their homes would testify, numbers would be crunched, horrific photos of the burned-over land projected on a screen. If there was a firefighter death—thank god there was none in this fire, but eighteen were lost earlier in the year—that would be added to the pile of evidence. Someone must pay.


This man was not an idiot before his momentary idiocy. He did not intend the consequence of his moment in all our shoes. His life will be, at the very least, shattered by what he has done.

Where do we take it from here?

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