An eye for an eye.

When I was a j-fellow at the University of Michigan two years ago, a seminar by Bill Miller was one of the many unexpected and delightful treats. I forget what the title of his chat was, but I went in with low expectations, thinking it would be 90 minutes of law-school yammering. It wasn’t. He took us on something of a romp through such topics as the nomenclature of justice, the nanny culture of managing risk and Icelandic blood feuds, keeping us chuckling throughout.

One thing he said that night that stuck with me: The phrase “life is cheap” is used as a phrase of condemnation, but actually, it’s a sign of great progress. If you run into someone in your car and cause them to lose the use of their leg, which would you rather do? Pay them some money, or give up the use of your own leg? Valuing life cheaply is actually what allows civilization to advance.

I never thought of it that way.

Anyway, he’s written a book about the concept. Laura Miller reviews it in Salon. You’ll have to watch an ad, but pfft, it’s worth it:

Of course there was no insurance in those societies. We like to think that life was cheap in those cultures, but the problem was that it was so expensive they couldn’t get anything done. Life is cheap with us, despite all our talk about how we can’t have capital punishment because human life is too valuable. Do you know there are these signs up on the Michigan highways that say, “Kill a worker, pay $7,500”?

Is that supposed to warn you to be careful not to hit a highway worker with your car?

Yes, because not only are you going to go to prison, but you’ll pay a little fine. But everyone who drives by and reads it sees it as an insult. Seventy-five hundred for a highway worker! “Hey, I’ve got $7,500, let’s knock one off!”

Posted at 10:05 am in Popculch |

One response to “An eye for an eye.”

  1. brian stouder said on February 20, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Sounds interesting indeed; I will check it out the review tonight. But I wanted to comment about ‘kill a highway worker, pay $7500’ –

    a few summers ago we loaded up the family and and rolled down to Orlando to see Mickey (etc) – and on the way back north, we were on I-75 somewhere south of Atlanta, and mowing crews were out. We were on a section of interstate that was 5-lanes wide both ways – and we were on the third lane in from the right.

    It was maybe 3 in the afternoon, my lovely wife was driving, the kids were engaged with the 12VDC tv/vcr (a great, great thing for long trips, btw) and traffic was heavy.

    A highway worker timed his move, and then bolted from the shoulder on the right all the way across the 5 lanes to the median – we probably got within 40 feet of, which scared me enough that I uttered an expletive….and as we were still reacting to him, ANOTHER bolted – crossed 2 lanes of traffic and STOPPED ON THE WHITE LINE so that we whipped right past him!!! I thought we were going to hit him for sure!

    So indeed life IS cheap – that guy was betting his life that we wouldn’t drift out of our lane….(Pam talked me out of dialing 911 to report that guy, as the road signs implored us to with regard to ‘impaired drivers’. He was clearly an ‘impaired highway worker’!)

    1303 chars