Was Heinlein right? Is Pay to Spray really the ‘Crazy Years’?


Should your house be allowed to burn to the ground if you forgot to pay the annual fee for firefighting services? That happened this month to a family in a rural Tennessee town where homeowners must subscribe for fire protection. The media dubbed this practice “Pay to Spray.”

The family had paid the annual fee every year, but forgot this time. Unfortunately, a fire in their yard spread, and two hours later began to consume their home. Firefighters came to the scene, but only to stop the fire from spreading to the home of a neighbor—whose subscription was current. At the endangered house, the father pleaded with firefighters, promising to pay whatever they wanted, but they refused to assist and watched the house burn to the ground.

This incident reminds me of the “Crazy Years,” an ominous reference in science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein’s epic project known as Future History. Heinlein produced this long series of stories and novellas starting in 1939. The dean of science fiction foresaw a time in the late 20th century when lunacy would prevail—and rational thought and morality would be cast out. However, it’s always hard to put one’s own era in perspective, let alone accurately chart the future. Since Heinlein first used the phrase, many periods have been called “The Crazy Years.”

Today, I’d like you to add a “Comment” (below) about how you react to this incident in Tennessee.

Did the fire department do the right thing? Or was the response wrong? Would you even call it—crazy?

Here are two opposite reactions to the incident. One blogger for the National Review Online wrote: “What moral theory allows these firefighters (admittedly acting under orders) to watch this house burn to the ground when 1) they have already responded to the scene; 2) they have the means to stop it ready at hand; 3) they have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their trouble?”

In response, another blogger on the same site responded: “The world is full of jerks, freeloaders, and ingrates—and the problems they create for themselves are their own.These free-riders have no more right to South Fulton’s firefighting services than people in Muleshoe, Texas, have to those of NYPD detectives.”

Now, it’s your turn! What do YOU think about the incident in Tennessee?

Do you think our era qualifies as The Crazy Years? What examples would you cite?

Add your “Comment” below.

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