When do you not mind breaking the law?

Over at Willow Tree, Rachel Ann asks:

Under what circumstances is it okay to break the law? I don’t mean jaywalking, or grand theft auto either, I mean something in between.

Pretty much whenever I think 1) there’s virtually no chance I’ll get caught, and 2) I don’t believe that by breaking the law I’d be making a significant contribution to hurting another person. (Breaking the law in the context of a political protest is a different matter; there sometimes I’d find it worthwhile to break a law even if there’s a significant chance I’d be caught. But I don’t think that’s the sort of thing Rachel Ann was thinking of.)

So, for example, I don’t hesitate to get stoned (or when I do hesitate, it’s not because I’m disturbed by the law-breaking). Nor would it bother me morally to shoplift from a huge corporation. (I don’t shoplift anymore – haven’t for years – but that’s not a moral decision, I’m just not as fearless as I once was. Or as needy).

Of course, I realize that shoplifting – and, for that matter, smoking pot – does contribute in a small way to harming other people. If I was the only person in the world to shoplift, it would be pretty harmless; but the cumulative effect of millions of shoplifting incidents is to raise prices and unemployment by some degree. But to me, this sort of “cumulative” harm is similar to the harm caused by driving when you could walk, or flying across the country, or failing to protest my government vigorously, or not buying the most fuel-efficient car available, or any other activity in which some of the costs are externalized. Yes, it’s the wrong thing to do; but being one of millions who contributes a tiny bit to a larger social harm is something I’ve learned to live with on a day-to-day basis.

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173 Responses to When do you not mind breaking the law?

  1. 101
    Jake Squid says:

    You use oil gotten at far less than it’s real value – for fuel, for food, for clothing. The money that should be going to the people who live in the countries that produce that oil & who work for the mult-nationals.

    You buy clothing and electronics and other goods manufactured w/ slave labor. You eat food that is harvested by people earning less than minimum wage. That is theft.

    So, when I say that nearly all Americans are thieves I speak for myself & my society. I guess that those living in the northern states in the early 1800′s didn’t profit by slavery in the south. Yeah, right. We all (even those of us whose families weren’t in the States yet) profit from that past slavery. Be insulted if you want (which takes quite a bit of denial on your part about how you are able to have the quality of life that you do), but that is the truth.

    And, of course my position is insane. Addicts choose to be addicts. They had a goal & they achieved it. Ahhh, Robert’s world.

    Besides which, everybody knows how lucrative petty theft is & how little time it takes & how very, very easy it is. Much, much easier than having a straight job. Look at all the wealthy folks who made their fortunes burgling garages. Look at all those folks living very comfortable lives – vacations in the south of France, 3 sports cars, spacious & modern home – by burgling garages. Just like people on welfare! It isn’t true about welfare and it isn’t any more true about petty theft.

    Try finding out about such things before you make such idiotic & ignorant statements.

    And, hey! while you’re at it… Can you tell me what my “higher truths” are & where I can study them too?

  2. 102
    mythago says:

    The idea that people living in a country so fantastically rich that our poor people have cars and air conditioning are somehow REQUIRED to steal in order to survive is fantasy.

    Robert, you’re going off into false either/ors again. The fact that our country is fantastically rich does not mean that every citizen of our country is fantastically rich (and many of our poor would be astonished to hear that they all have air conditioning and cars, by the way). Nor does it mean that nobody steals for any reason related to survival.

    The question is … and I thought this was the original question … under what circumstances is lawbreaking justified?

    No, the original question was “When do you not mind breaking the law?” That’s a very different question. A person who steals bread in order to eat may be unhappy about that theft and see it as evil, if a lesser evil. A person who bribes government officials to get preference in awarding contracts may not have any “justification” at all other than the fact that they make money out of what they do.

    but I understand the normal motivation behind theft & do not condemn it

    I guess I don’t really give a shit about the mugger’s deep inner turmoil or the question of to what degree we are guilty of “theft.” Maybe you can go and tell some of the urban poor I work with that it’s “understandable” if a mugger takes $100 from them–which to you may be a new videocard, but to them is the difference between electricity this month AND groceries or sitting in the dark.

  3. 103
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Ahh Jake, thank you. While not totally agreeing with you on all of it, I definitely agree with the majority.

    When reading the ‘why don’t these people work for a living rather than steal’? Well, first thing that popped into mind with regards to that is that in many communities, Walmart is the only place work is readily available. I can definitely see why a community that has been taken over by the Goliath would have dissidents that would choose to go the route of a modern day Robinhood rather than a modern day Judas.

    Wealth is unevenly distributed in the US, and jobs are often scarce due to the upward momentum of most money into the hands of the small percentage that makes up our extremely wealthy. Plenty of people can’t afford to live on the wages that our society considers appropriate due to it’s death-grip on an overly consumerist/capitolist outlook. Far too many are not insured or underinsured, and this is considered – well no, this actually isn’t considered much at all, which is one of the problems. Companies like Enron make a home-run with multitudes of employees retirement savings and they are slapped on the wrist, while someone who shoplifts a few times is considered a repeat offender and ends up doing hard time. Yes, yes and yes, our culture is far too focused on the petty, and far too unconcerned (or fearful?) or delusional when it comes to the problems that affect us all. Big business as it works today is stealing the promise of an even moderately prosperous future for my children, and that just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Someone spoke earlier about why we have so many folks incarcerated and attributed it to more room and ability to afford said prisons. Why the hell aren’t the Enron officials taking up residence in these cells then?

    I guess the bottomline for me is, while I might agree that it’s not all ‘good’ to blanketly condone the petty thefts that occur in the US, please spare us from your waxing poetic about how it hurts the cogs in the wheels of our society. Many of those cogs need hurtin’.

  4. 104
    ADS says:

    Well, Jake, I’m sure we can all agree that no one ever says “I want to be a junkie when I grow up!”

    However, at the same time, to become a junkie, at some point in one’s life, one must make the choice to do drugs, yes? Yes, addictions are very hard to break, and some people may well have a genetic predisposition towards becoming addicted to certain substances. However, to suggest that junkie-hood is somehow something that is forced on people is just silly. Yes, we should probably do more as a society to help people once they get themselves to that point, but to suggest that others made that decision for them, or that there was no choice in the matter at all on behalf of the person addicted to whatever substance is just ridiculous.

  5. 105
    ADS says:

    I guess the bottomline for me is, while I might agree that it’s not all ‘good’ to blanketly condone the petty thefts that occur in the US, please spare us from your waxing poetic about how it hurts the cogs in the wheels of our society. Many of those cogs need hurtin’.

    The bottomline for me is, the cogs you’re hurting with petty theft are the cogs that don’t need hurting – namely, the workers who have to make up the price of goods that get stolen while they’re responsible for the merchandise, either directly out of their pockets or through wage decreases and price increases.

    Why this is a hard concept is beyond me.

  6. 106
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    I’m not hurting anyone, ADS, as I don’t, nor have I shoplifted. I think it’s been brought up plenty that the essential argument is one that doesn’t condemn it for the sin you do. Just like you’re unwilling to condemn those who steal more, I’m unwilling to condem those who steal less.

  7. 107
    monica says:

    ADS, you don’t seem to really understand that someone can be a lot angrier at massive corporate fraud than petty theft, hence be less bothered by said petty theft. You said you understand that relative difference, but then you go and argue in the opposite direction again…

    Painting all profit as a form of theft may be overdoing it, but you do sound a little too concerned in defending the good name of the mega players who also do charity and plant trees and are nice to kids. I don’t think all corporations are evil monsters, but it seems natural to me that people’s sympathies should go more towards individuals who are less fortunate and rich than the owners and stockholders of some mega company. You don’t have to be a communist for that.

    Oh and I don’t buy the thing about shoplifting causing a rise in prices or a decrease in wages. Unless in the US shoplifting is so massively widespread, and involving huge sums, as to rival the extent of tax evasion and fraud in Italy (30% of the GDP… lowering it to US levels would be a huge improvement…). But then it wouldn’t be shoplifting anymore. It’s by definition an insignificantly small theft that wouldn’t affect the business in a single store, nevermind a whole chain.

    I don’t see the big deal in saying, ok, it’s not right, it’s not the cleverest thing to do for whatever reason, but it’s not a serious crime and it doesn’t have serious effects, so I think it’s natural to not be that bothered about it.

  8. 108
    ADS says:

    Just like you’re unwilling to condemn those who steal more, I’m unwilling to condem those who steal less.

    I have condemned those who steal more. Over and over and over again. I just don’t see it as an either/or. They can both be wrong. More wrong and less wrong, but both still wrong.

    ADS, you don’t seem to really understand that someone can be a lot angrier at massive corporate fraud than petty theft, hence be less bothered by said petty theft.

    I am a lot angrier at massive corporate fraud than at petty theft. I am less bothered by petty theft. All I’m saying – all I’ve been saying – is that it does bother me, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t bother Amp morally to shoplift himself, which is what he said. Anyone reading anything more into my posts than that is just projecting, since I’ve said nothing about considering petty theft a worse crime than corporate theft, nor have I said that I don’t think corporate theft exists, nor have I said that I think corporate theft is a good thing.

    [I]t seems natural to me that people’s sympathies should go more towards individuals who are less fortunate and rich than the owners and stockholders of some mega company. You don’t have to be a communist for that.

    It’s only natural if a) the individual is actually needy, and b) the corporation has actually done anything wrong. I feel more sympathetic towards a corporation that doesn’t employ illegal or unfair business practices and that gives back to the community than towards a college kid who decides to steal a DVD from that corporation. And why wouldn’t I? One is a law-abiding entity that is giving back, and the other is a criminal with no reason for taking things that don’t belong to them other than their own selfish desires.

    Oh and I don’t buy the thing about shoplifting causing a rise in prices or a decrease in wages.

    You don’t have to buy it, but anyone who has ever worked in retail setting prices or determining wages will tell you that it’s true. What you seem to be missing is that no, the theft of a singe candy bar from your local grocery chain isn’t in and of itself going to cause a decrease in workers’ wages (unless that store has a policy of making the employees on duty make up the cost of missing merchandise out of their pay, which some do) but that shoplifting, as a whole, absolutely does. Yes, each individual instance is small, but overall it adds up. So while taking a candy bar may only take a quarter of a cent from the cashier’s pocket in the long run, try asking the cashier if they’d like to give you that quarter cent, and see what they say. I guarantee you, they’re not going to be so accomodating with their money as Jake seems to be.

    I mean, what, are we only allowed to be morally offended by one thing at a time? Then tell all of the domestic violence victims that we can’t get morally offended by what their partners have done to them because rape is a bigger problem. Or say thet we can’t get involved in the gay marriage debate because there are still too many states that don’t have sexual orientation in their hate crime laws. It’s a false choice, and one I won’t be subject to.

    To sum up, bigger problem than corporate theft? Of course not. Something that I think should still bother Amp morally? Yes. (Which, if you read my comments, is what I’ve been saying all along.)

  9. 109
    monica says:

    Of course we can morally offended by more than one thing at a time, ADS. But the people who are saying that shoplifting bothers them less than action other things, are expressly making a relative comparison.

    All I’m saying – all I’ve been saying – is that it does bother me, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t bother Amp morally to shoplift himself, which is what he said.

    Because he is he, and you are you. The question in the post was personal. We’re talking about petty crimes, and the level of personal ‘tolerance’ of petty crimes. No one’s talking of changing the laws to make shoplifting legal and no one is advocating shoplifting, people have explained their reasons for being less bothered about it than about other things. It’s really that simple, at least, I thought it was…

    I feel more sympathetic towards a corporation that doesn’t employ illegal or unfair business practices and that gives back to the community than towards a college kid who decides to steal a DVD from that corporation. And why wouldn’t I? One is a law-abiding entity that is giving back, and the other is a criminal with no reason for taking things that don’t belong to them other than their own selfish desires.

    Ok, at least it’s clear now. We have different priorities and different ideas of sympathy, then.

    I just think that respecting the law to make money is not automatically a guarantee of morality. Just like shooting heroin is not automatically a guarantee of “immorality”, and it definitely isn’t a condition for me to deny sympathy. Law-abiding doesn’t always equal moral and legal doesn’t always equal fair, that’s all. I thought that was the point of the question… not some lecture on morality.

    As for the effects of shoplifting, nevermind how much petty shoplifting – not organised crime robbery of shipping containers – really impacts any business, take that policy you mentioned, of making the employees on duty make up the cost of missing merchandise, well that would be probaly illegal where I live, and definitely suable. But nevermind if it’s legal or not. Do you think it’s moral? Do you think it’s right for the employer to make the worker pay for something he hasn’t done? Do you think it’s a fair business practice?

  10. 110
    Radfem says:

    I’m still wondering why it’s an either/or. If you disapprove of shoplifting activism, then you are FOR evil corporate corruption and exploitation. If shoplifting and those greater crimes can be explained off as “relative” in your defense, then that rule also applies to those who disagree with your philosophy.

    For those who shoplift to make a political statement, I’ve expressed my opinions on that clearly WITHOUT raising up shoplifting to a capital offense. Go ahead, flaunt your ability to steal and not even be suspected of doing such, if it makes you feel better. But let’s be clear, you ARE doing it to make yourselves feel better, just calling it something else.

    Corporate theft is what is being done by an entity towards others. Individual theft from that company is your role in ensuring that you’re making life more difficult for those who work in that company WHETHER you choose to acknowlege it or not.

    And you know what if the college twit, who ripped me off had told me he did it because the company I worked for was committing a greater crime against him, and of course me, the nameless, faceless entity he and other smart people like himself had taken it upon themselves to save, I’d have slapped the facial features right off of his face.

    Of course then my boss, the “evil” company would have taken HIS side and fired my little ass.

  11. 111
    Radfem says:

    Sorry for that. Ten years later, you’d think I’d be over the fact that some idiot delayed my thirty cent raise by three more months….

  12. 112
    Jay Sennett says:

    Radfem, everything you say I agree with 110% and appreciate your efforts at positive, rather than negative, action.

    I’m gonna throw a reframe of this discussion from my prospective.

    When I transitioned from female to male 10 years ago, I almost immediately started using the men’s room, even though my driver’s license said F. Of course, I was breaking the law.

    I don’t think this is the type of law that Amp had in mind when he originally posted. But it is a law that many, many, many people get really freaked about when people break it.

    Frankly, given the number of trans people I know who have been arrested, harassed, beat up and escorted out of bathrooms simply because they were trying to pee makes the discussion about shoplifting to as a fuck off gesture to the man laughable.

    I broke the law. But I believe my behavior was ethical. It was an act of civil disobedience and need.

    I both minded and did not mind. It was simply something I needed to do knowing full well that I could get carted off to jail, where I knew I would be treated like trash, including the possibility of sexual assault.

    It is interesting that this thread has taken on literal laws. But what about laws of compassion? The law to do no harm? Every time we buy gasoline we contribute to the suffering of the slaves used by oil companies.

    I for one really mind breaking that law, even though it is perfectly legal to buy gas in the u.s.

  13. 113
    ADS says:

    Monica,

    If you will go back and read the last long comment that I directed at Amp, (number 27) you will see that what I am doing is asking Amp why he groups his own shoplifting (when he acknowledges that stealing is and should be against the law) on a moral level with things that are not agianst the law (eating meat and driving cars) and things that he thinks should not be against the law (doing drugs).

    I understand that people have different moral takes on things. I am asking why he takes the particular moral take that he does. I am not trying to press my idea of morality on him, or anyone: I am asking why. Now, you are talking about whether we should be bothered terribly much by other people’s shoplifting. That’s fine, and a different question to ask. But I am asking about Amp’s shoplifting in particular, and why he is not morally bothered by his own shoplifting when he knows it is against the law and thinks it should be against the law. My question is about why he views lawbreaking differently when he commits it against what he terms “huge corporations” when, I would assume, he would find it morally offensive in other people if they committed it aginst him. I am not telling him that he should feel differently. I am asking why.

    As for this:

    I just think that respecting the law to make money is not automatically a guarantee of morality. Just like shooting heroin is not automatically a guarantee of “immorality”?, and it definitely isn’t a condition for me to deny sympathy. Law-abiding doesn’t always equal moral and legal doesn’t always equal fair, that’s all. I thought that was the point of the question… not some lecture on morality.

    Maybe you missed the part where I compared the non-needy college thief to a corporation that doesn’t employ illegal or unfair business practices. I don’t know how much more clearly I can put it. Assuming you will admit that the fact that a corporation does make money does not make it inherently unfair or immoral, then would you still feel more sympathy for the person stealing the DVD? Or would you always have more sympathy for the little guy than the big, regardless of what they’d done? My sympathies are, all other things being equal, based on people’s actions. If that means that I have different priorities than you, so be it.

    Lastly, as for the question of whether penalizing employees for other people’s stealing is moral or not – of course not. But, (and I’ll make the connection even more clearly, since it seems to be a hard concept) Kim told me to stop worrying about shoplifting hurting the cogs of our society, because “many of those cogs need hurtin’.” I am pointing out that the cogs hurt are sometimes the wrong ones, especially when you’re stealing form an awful corporation, which is why even stealing from a terrible horrible corporation is still stupid and counterproductive, and ultimately wrong – like kicking the wife of an abuser to get him to stop abusing her. No matter who you mean to hurt, or what your reasons are, you’re still just hurting someone else. And that bothers me. Morally, as it were. No, it doesn’t have to bother you than such stealing just makes the poor poorer, but I still think it should.

  14. 114
    ADS says:

    For the record, Jay, (even though your question was not directed at me) I think you were perfectly right to do what you did. And the distinction I am trying to make with Amp is about the diffeence between feeling fine about breaking laws that you don’t think should be laws (like your bathroom rules, or Amp’s drug use) and feeling fine about breaking laws that you think should be laws. (Like stealing.)

  15. 115
    Radfem says:

    Thanks for your post Jay. I think that’s a perfect example of challenging an unjust law through civil disobedience. Yeah, it’s the ethical thing to do imo, and yeah you could go to jail for it, even though those who assault you won’t.

    I’ve worked with several Female to Male transgenders on police issues, though it’s new for me and it’s not a common experience, largely because the region I live is very conservative, not particularly tolerant of a lot of people who don’t fit the right racial, gender, sexual orientation, etc. mold in the so-called tolerant state. Gays and Lesbians in this region are still more likely to be closeted, and even if they are not, very, very careful.

    I’ve done civil disobedience several times and have it on my record from six years ago. At the time, it was the necessary thing to do, but it did impact people negatively. The white population including many of the activists vilified us. The Black community supported us. At the time, I hadn’t seen an action so polarized along racial lines, well at least since the for and against protests involving naming a high school after Martin Luther King, jr.

    The sad thing though is that it pushed reforms in my city much faster in the following three months than in the previous 12 . But then the only time Whites really are motivated to improve a situation, is when they think it will prevent African-Americans from doing something horrible to them. , even the federal government. So, I can relate with sometimes doing things that violate the law and realizing at the same time, that you’re stuck with a system in place, that won’t change on its own.

    But if you are concerned about situations facing workers in a company like Walmart, I don’t think stealing from Walmart and telling yourself, it’s some sort of selfless, risky act for someone else isn’t either accurate or fair.

  16. 116
    Brian Vaughan says:

    Radfem, did you mean to leave the civil disobedience you performed undescribed? I’m curious what you’re talking about.

  17. 117
    Jay Sennett says:

    Radfem,
    Thanks for your post. I think that you have highlighted, (perhaps I have as well), that “minding breaking the law,” is layered and complex.

    But if you are concerned about situations facing workers in a company like Walmart, I don’t think stealing from Walmart and telling yourself, it’s some sort of selfless, risky act for someone else isn’t either accurate or fair.

    I agree. Stealing from WalMart to support low paid workers does not have the same ethical/moral equivalency as blacks folks breaking the law to move intractable white people to do the right thing.

    I think white and male priviledge functions in such a way as to hide this type of distinction from us. You’ve done a wonderful job on this thread pointing out this fact.

    I’ve also been arrested for civil disobedience. Our efforts were vilified and several protesters were jailed. Sadly not much has changed. But I would do it again and learned much about the great human spirit watching so many of us follow our hearts.

    If you need any advice, assistance or have questions regarding trans people, feel free to contact me via my blog. My email address is there.

    Yours in the work.

  18. 118
    Radfem says:

    Nope.

    I’ve been arrested twice for obstructing a public building, in each case the main administration building of the police station.

    I was also arrested via mail and prosecuted for several misdemeanors involving a demonstration that took place on a state highway, which was shut down by some sympathetic CHP officers, who were upset at the Miller shooting. I plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct-obstruction of a public thoroughfare, and served 40 hours of community service, and two years summary probation.

    At the time, it was the most right thing to do, to push the city to reform its police department, and I’m not ashamed that I was involved. If I were to do it now, I wouldn’t have chosen a highway because there were people on there who were stopped for 15 minutes, even though traffic was very light b/c it’s a commuter highway. Most of the motorists honked in support, but some were unhappy. Even heard a few racial slurs, because the protesters were mostly African-American although interestingly enough, most of those prosecuted were Latino or White. None of the woman’s family members who protested except for two cousins were prosecuted.

    Of the thousands of people who protested on highways that year, the 20 of us, two pro-life activists in the North-West and Al Sharpton in New York, were the only ones prosecuted.

    The protest was supported by African-Americans. Whites even liberal whites sympathetic to the cause opposed it and distanced themselves. I was forced to resign from two organizations, afterwards.

    Out of that protest came the federal criminal grand jury convening for the four White officers involved in a shooting of a young Black woman in her car. And reforms implemented by the city involving the department stepped up. And the federal and state investigations, which had stalled, somehow got going again. The state imposed a consent decree on our police agency a year later.

    When we left the freeway, we were met by 85 officers including two SWAT teams, but no one was arrested. Of course, we were accused of trying to start a riot when what we did was prayed. Three months later, the “ringleaders” were identified off of video, tracked through DMV and sent letters of intent to prosecute in the mail, though I found out when a journalist called me. We hired a lawyer together, then the state bar decided to reopen a really old investigation against him, then suspended him for six months, so we went pro-per for a while.

    The reason we kept it going as long as we did was because four of us were also cited for child endangerment, and one person was unjustly charged who wasn’t there.

    A team of lawyers in L.A. including three who had worked for Johnny Cochran took our case. I met them at the DNC. All were focused mainly on police misconduct cases with the LAPD and other agencies. My attorney, Carl Douglas, argued some of our written motions for us in court, and we were able to get charges against the non-participant dropped, and Child endangerment charges against three of the four people dropped, including one erronious charge against a woman who was charged for endangering a child who wasn’t his, who had walked btwn her and me. He had more interaction with me, but he was black, she was black, so she was charged.

    I learned a lot about civil disobedience. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of introspection, both for yourself, and for others, and for others who might be affected by your action. Some people are, let’s go do this, and get arrested. No, it deserves some serious consideration, and planning and being accountable for your actions, meaning that if you break a law, you do the time(not meaning you do time for an arrest for a law you didn’t break). Punishment is part and parcel of civil disobedience. And that part isn’t always easy to accept, but it’s important. I learned about things done right, things done wrong.

  19. 119
    Radfem says:

    Ignore the “nope” that begins my post. I don’t know where that one came from.

    And Jay, thanks. I’ll check it out. Thanks for your posts….

  20. 120
    monica says:

    ADS, I think we’ve been going round in circles here…

    even stealing from a terrible horrible corporation is still stupid and counterproductive, and ultimately wrong

    Look, I don’t believe I said shoplifting is clever, or productive, or so totally cool and right, in fact, I think I said the opposite. I am not in the least interested in making a moral case for shoplifting. I do not disagree in principle with what you’re saying about it being wrong, ok? I don’t even need to hear it. I know that already. I think.

    It just seems to me the reaction to the suggestion that someone may, even while recognising it is morally wrong, not be that bothered about it was disproportionate to the actual act itself.

    Maybe you missed the part where I compared the non-needy college thief to a corporation that doesn’t employ illegal or unfair business practices.

    No, I did not miss that. It doesn’t change a thing, in my view. Because I cannot compare an individual to a corporation. I cannot have “sympathy” for a corporation as such. I cannot hate it as such, either. I am utterly indifferent to a corporation, small, big or huge, I can only consider the actions its leaders, or workers, or individual members, take in a particular direction or another. A corporation is not a “big guy”, it isn’t one person, it has big guys and smaller guys inside it.

    With an individual, there is a person with their history, that’s the level where sympathy can go. My sympathies are based on people, not just their actions. I don’t feel automatic sympathy for every law-abiding person, and I don’t feel automatic scorn for every person who breaks the law.

    I think we’re using “sympathy” in a different meaning here. For me it doesn’t mean “approval”. I don’t condone or approve or go yay woo hoo with anyone who shoplifts anything… and I sure don’t think it’s the best thing in the world to be a junkie, either. I am simply not in the least inclined to get on a high horse and get all that preachy about that. I don’t understand the need to.

    And I don’t do shoplifting. I don’t care for it. I don’t “justify” it. And I don’t hate people who make money and I don’t consider all profit theft. I &heart; PROFIT. I swear I do. Even if I don’t make any.

    But, since the example was a silly candy bar and a DVD, not a crime gang who robs the warehouses of a company… Seriously. I live in a country with an extremely high level of corruption, with huge frauds committed by corporation and banks, who lied to people about their investments and there’s thousands still waiting for their money back and the trial will take ages and the culprits have all gotten with it anyway. And it wasn’t the first case either. And our government is full of crooks and they’re ruining this country. So excuse me if I’m really not that bothered myself, for my own reasons which may not be someone else’s, about someone stealing $20′s worth of crap…

    It’s not a matter of one bigger crime “justifying” the other, even stealing a single cent from a person is still theft, I have never denied that. But would I pour on that the same kind of anger that I’d pour on bank fraud that goes unpunished?
    Yet that’s what it sounded like, that’s the tone of outrage you used, and coupled with all those nice pictures of corporate charity, well, sorry, it just sounded a bit surreal, that’s all.

  21. 121
    monica says:

    aah, screwed up with the bold, sorry…

    [No problem, fixed now -- Amp]

  22. 122
    monica says:

    Lastly, as for the question of whether penalizing employees for other people’s stealing is moral or not – of course not.

    That’s it? Doesn’t it bother you a little more than that?

    Shouldn’t it be made illegal, perhaps?

    No, it doesn’t have to bother you than such stealing just makes the poor poorer, but I still think it should.

    It’s not that it doesn’t bother me, it’s that it’s not true. And as for the worker having the price of the stolen goods detracted from their own pay, that is a pathetically wrong practice that is even worse than the act of stealing itself, because it is an abuse of power, it is passing the bucket of responsibility onto the person with the least responsibility and least power to react, and I personally believe it should be illegal. As theft is already.

  23. 123
    ADS says:

    Monica,

    I think you’ve read a lot of emotion into my posts that isn’t there. I haven’t commented extensively on my feelings on corporate fraud (I will, however tell you that my actual job is to fight it, and it fills me with rage I cannot express in words) because that’s not the point of this thread. We were talking about shoplifting, and why some people (specifically Amp) are not bothered morally by shoplifting themselves. And I think we’ve got a semantic issue here, because I think you’re reading my posts to mean that I think that everyone should be rolling on the ground in agony over the idea that someone once pinched a snickers bar from the Duane Reade on the corner. I suppose that while Jake was going on about how we should all bend over and lick the boots of the people mugging us all “Please sir may I have another?” I may have got a little het up, but my ultimate argument has always just been about Amp. (And, dude, if you’re still reading, I really would look forward to reading your answer if you get around to it. I’m very curious to see what you have to say.)

    Thank you for talking to me, though. I’ve appreciated it. Sorry if I’ve sounded frustrated. It’s been a long week.

  24. 124
    Ampersand says:

    ADS, addressing me, wrote:

    Your clarification seems to state… Well, I’m not sure what your clarification states. You do think it is wrong to steal, but you think your part of the wrong is so small that it doesn’t matter, because so many people do it? Am I right about that?

    Well, let’s stick to the specific example of stealing small amounts from a huge corporation. (Note that I’m not making any statement about if the corporation is good or evil compared to other corporations). I can certainly think of examples of stealing that would bother me a lot more than the example of some kid shoplifting a candy bar from WalMart; I’m sure you can, as well.

    With that caveat (sp?), I’d say you have it right.

    Here’s how I think of things.

    1) Can the individual actor, by individually abstaining from this wrong action, cause the harm to be stopped or significantly mitigated?

    One of the ways I categorize immoral actions is, “if I stopped doing the immoral action, would it make a significant different to the problem being discussed?” In the case of shoplifting from huge companies – not unlike driving SUVs, doing cocaine, etc – there’s no doubt that to do those things is wrong. However, the contribution of any individual’s single action to that moral wrong is so tiny as to be all but insignificant.

    (This is not a binary distinction between single and multiple, but a continuity of scale. Someone who owns stock in BigEvilOilCo is one of millions of stock-owners, and bears only a tiny responsibility for what BigEvilOilCo does; someone who is one of twelve members of the board of directors doesn’t bear sole responsibility, but does bear a hell of a lot more than a single random stockholder does. And so on.)

    2)People bear only limited blame for the freely chosen actions of others.

    Another thing I consider is, “is this person directly responsible for the harm caused, or is the harm indirect, through catalyzing a third party to do harm?” So, for instance, if A shoplifts a candy bar, causing B to have his pay docked by her supervisor C, then I do think A is a little morally culpable for that harm – but a hell of a lot less than C, who acted directly on B, is. (Assuming that C wrote the policy).

    If a company has a policy of docking pay directly from workers’ paychecks for shoplifted or lost materials, then that’s disgusting and unjust. But the primary blame belongs to whoever wrote that company policy, not to any individual shoplifter. Direct agents bear more blame for the harms they cause than indirect agents do.

    3) What is the scale of the harm?

    Is the harm being caused large or small?

    For example, being a tiny, indirect contributor to rape and genocide is much worse than being a tiny, indirect contributor to supporting industries that underpay workers.

    4) Corporations are not people, and should not get the same moral consideration that a person deserves.

    This isn’t really a central part of my morality or anything, but it seems to be a significant, yet unstated, area in which you and I disagree. So I thought it was worth mentioning.

    So that’s how I approach these things. This doesn’t lead me to conclude that shoplifting isn’t wrong. Except in instances of genuine need (or, I suppose, as part of an organized shoplifting protest of some sort), shoplifting – even shoplifting from a huge corporation – is wrong. It contributes in a tiny way to a significant (but short of genocidal) harm.

    So I admit, I overstated the case when I said that it doesn’t bother me at all morally. I do acknowledge that it’s wrong, like eating meat or doing cocaine or driving when you could take the bus. But it’s a fairly minor wrong, and it’s not something I’m prepared to be judgmental about.

    But, from what I understand, you do think that stealing should be against the law.

    Stealing in general? Yes. Shoplifting? Below a certain value cut-off, I think shoplifting should be a misdemeanor, leading to a fine and restitution, but no other punishment. You know, like failing to pick up after your dog.

    But, (and again, correct me if I’m wrong) according to your argument, we shouldn’t concern ourselves with stealing (but only from huge corporations, for some reason that I still do not understand) because so many people do it that, despite the fact that it does hurt people, and despite the fact that it is against the law, and despite the fact that that law is a perfectly fair law, you don’t have a problem with it, morally?

    Well, I do think you should concern yourself with shoplifting from huge corporations, to about the same extent as you concern yourself with friends who smoke pot, or drive SUVs, or drive at all when they could instead take public transit, or leave graffiti on an already graffiti-covered fence, or fail to pick up after their dogs.

    (And the reason I specified a huge corporation is twofold; one, given the scale involved, a single theft of a single $15 CD is meaningless to WalMart; and two, I think corporations are not persons, and shouldn’t be accorded the same moral respect as people.)

    (And shoplifting laws vary from state to state, but I do think some of them are grossly unfair, in the sense of carrying potential punishments that are very disproportionate to the crime..)

    Are you suggesting that if the candy bar is owned by a rich person, it is now more acceptable to steal it?

    Absolutely. Given the choice between stealing a candy bar from Donald Trump, and stealing a candy bar from some third world worker who has saved up for weeks to buy the candy, I think it’s far more acceptable to steal from Donald Trump.

    I mean, I assume that you were never is a position where stealing a candy bar was going to be the difference between starving to death and living another day: if you were, then of course, taking something from the person who can best afford it is the lesser of two necessary evils. I am willing to bet, however, that you never found yourself in this position.

    Not in that exact position, no. I did once make a habit of shoplifting faux-firelogs from a Caldor’s in Boston, during one of that city’s coldest winters, when we had no heat other than the fireplace. But that was many years ago.

    I also, for the sake of honesty, shoplifted a lot as a kid, not out of real need but out of materialism and thrill seeking and misplaced entitlement.

    (However, keep in mind that it has been around a decade since I last shoplifted anything, and I don’t plan to shoplift anything ever again.)

    So, am I to understand that the fact that stealing is against the law doesn’t make it any worse, in your opinion, than eating meat?

    Well, sure, being against the law causes a small additional harm, in the way that Tara described in comment #26.. On the other hand, the harm caused by supporting the factory-farm corporate meat industry – which systematically tortures animals – seems to me to be much greater than the harm caused by shoplifting. So that comparison is kind of a wash for me.

  25. 125
    Radfem says:

    “If a company has a policy of docking pay directly from workers’ paychecks for shoplifted or lost materials, then that’s disgusting and unjust. But the primary blame belongs to whoever wrote that company policy, not to any individual shoplifter. ”

    Gee, thanks loads for your kind words about the unjust policy that you believe is primarly responsible for the injury your decision to steal puts on workers you steal from….And where does your action fit into this equation? Or does it fit it all?

    Employees can get written up for being short-changed or ripped off b/c of failure to appropriately keep watch over inventory or money entrusted to us, i.e. money if you’re a cashier. Inventory, if it’s in your department. Writeups, can be simply a warning, a mark on your record, but you come up for a pay review and it counts against you, in terms of moving up to the next level on the pay scale, as all writeups do. It doesn’t matter if a crime was committed, what matters that what was lifted, was done under your (un)watchful eye.

    I treat big retail employees, fastfood and convenience/gas station employees with respect and courtesy because I’ve been there. One way of showing them respect is not to rip them off to either get a rush, make a political statement against corporate America’s takeover of the masses or to tell myself my action is anything but what it is, theft.

  26. 126
    Radfem says:

    The above only applies if the employer actually believes that someone else did the stealing, b/c after all the customer’s always right, and not you the employee which puts you in a whole different mess. Fortunately, I never had to deal with that, but I know others I worked with, who did.

  27. 127
    ADS says:

    My very, very last comment before I have to leave to do Passover prep -

    Given the choice between stealing a candy bar from Donald Trump, and stealing a candy bar from some third world worker who has saved up for weeks to buy the candy, I think it’s far more acceptable to steal from Donald Trump.

    See, I think this is where I want to make a point. This isn’t about a choice between doing one or doing the other. Of course, if your choice is between stealing from Donald Trump or stealing from my sister, who has no money, then it is more acceptable to steal from Donald Trump. My question, however, was not about the choice between the two. It was about the choice between stealing and not stealing, and whether the answer to whether it’s acceptable to steal – not because you need to, not because you have no heat or food or clothing, and not because someone is holding a gun to your head and you have to steal from someone – is, in your opinion, different based on the income level of the victim.

    And it’s not so much that I see corporations as people, rather it’s that I see the people in the corporations. Because, ultimately, you’re not stealing from a faceless entity with no needs – you’re stealing a little less apiece from a whole lot of people. How that loss is portioned out amongst the employees and stockholders and taxpayers – that’s someone else’s call, and there’s a lot to be said about how those decisions get made and whether the decisions that are made are fair. In the end, though, it’s the person stealing who puts into motion the gears that mean that someone, somewhere, is going to get less money than they earned.

    That’s how I look at it.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  28. 128
    Ampersand says:

    First of all, have a happy passover!

    Second of all, I think you’ve forgotten what you wrote. You now say:

    Of course, if your choice is between stealing from Donald Trump or stealing from my sister, who has no money, then it is more acceptable to steal from Donald Trump. My question, however, was not about the choice between the two.

    That’s simply not true – your question was about if it was more acceptable to steal candy from the rich. Here’s your exact words:

    Are you suggesting that if the candy bar is owned by a rich person, it is now more acceptable to steal it?

    If you want to ask a different question now, that’s fair. But it’s not fair to ask me one question, and then to respond by claiming that you asked an entirely different question.

  29. 129
    Ampersand says:

    “If a company has a policy of docking pay directly from workers’ paychecks for shoplifted or lost materials, then that’s disgusting and unjust. But the primary blame belongs to whoever wrote that company policy, not to any individual shoplifter. “?

    Gee, thanks loads for your kind words about the unjust policy that you believe is primarly responsible for the injury your decision to steal puts on workers you steal from….And where does your action fit into this equation? Or does it fit it all?

    As I said in the same post you’re responding to, I think that the shoplifter bears some responsibility; but less than the boss does. (Would it be too much trouble for you to actually read all of the posts you respond to?)

    Writeups, can be simply a warning, a mark on your record, but you come up for a pay review and it counts against you, in terms of moving up to the next level on the pay scale, as all writeups do.

    In a company the size of WalMart, shoplifting happens every hour of every day, dozens or hundreds of times, on every single employee’s shifts. It’s therefore not a realistic way WalMart can distinguish between one employee’s performance and all the other employees’ performances when ti comes to pay reviews or promotion reviews.

    If they are saying “well, there was shoplifting on your shift, so no raise for you,” then that is almost certainly an excuse for not giving a raise. It’s mistaken to assume that if there was no shoplifting at all, that Wal-Mart wouldn’t just find some other excuse not to give raises.

    Besides, one individual act of shoplifting makes next-to-no-difference. I’m not saying it’s not wrong – it is wrong – but it’s certainly nowhere near as wrong as the decision by a boss to unjustly dock pay from workers – an individual act that makes a large difference.

    I treat big retail employees, fastfood and convenience/gas station employees with respect and courtesy because I’ve been there.

    I try to treat them (and other folks too) with respect and courtesy because I beleive they are entitled to respect and courtesy because they’re fellow human beings.

  30. 130
    Ampersand says:

    ADS wrote:

    I suppose that while Jake was going on about how we should all bend over and lick the boots of the people mugging us all “Please sir may I have another?”? I may have got a little het up….

    Look, Jake didn’t say that. Jake didn’t say anything CLOSE to that. Please resist the temptation to hyperbole when summing up the views of those you disagree with. (And I’m not saying you’re the only one who has made this same error!)

    , but my ultimate argument has always just been about Amp. (And, dude, if you’re still reading, I really would look forward to reading your answer if you get around to it. I’m very curious to see what you have to say.)

    When you have more time, I hope you’ll be able to respond to my answer at more length. But I certainly understand y0u not having time anytime soon!

  31. 131
    Radfem says:

    Well, when you make asinine statements like that one, it’s tough to finish your posts, and I’m sorry but to people here, this almost seems like a dry, intellectual exercise to toss around a bit, for discussion sake, but to some of us, it’s just not. Or it hasn’t been.

    I think that the shoplifter bears some responsibility; but less than the boss does. ”

    The shoplifter bears 100 percent of the responsibility for his or her act. You make a choice, please take responsibility for it.

    Sounds like more of the same: if the person you steal from blames you as much or more than the boss, do you stick around long enough to tell us how wrong they are? No wait, it’s a stealth act. That’s what makes it more satisfying I guess, or more of a political statement.

    Because it’s less wrong, in some philosophical equation, that makes it right?

    I didn’t always treat people with respect for being people like I should have b/c when I was young, looking back, I was kind of a jerk. Working in these jobs myself helped me learn better. Now, I treat people like human beings. I’ve mellowed and matured in my old age. But I have enough “niceness” in my grumpy old inperfect soul to not steal from employees and attribute my action to some political agenda.

  32. 132
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    It’s a point of view though, Rad. Many people feel that the system is inherently flawed to the point of corruption, and don’t feel compelled like some to work within the confines of a flawed and corrupt system. It all seems like so much grey area to me, and I think the attempt of either side to draw black or white conclusions is overly simplistic and wrong.

    Unfortunately, all of these issues are more symptomatic of a flawed system, rather than antidotal. Also, I guess my own personal stance tends to lean more towards the Robin Hood’s, even if they are individually moral simply because us little people turning on each other plays right into the hands of the Goliath’s that create and perpetuate the sweeping injustices.

    While I don’t personally choose to steal things (or really be much of a rebel law breaker at all), I also don’t see much of a point in shifting blame or focusing too much energy on the little symptoms of a much larger and much more harmful problem within our society. If that makes me (or others like me) amoral in your eyes, well that’s your view, but it doesn’t make it so.

  33. 133
    Radfem says:

    I think I’m glad to be “wrong” then. This isn’t an argument I would even want to “win.” I’m just giving a different point of view.

    The system’s corrupt???? Really? Thanks for that information.

    Hint: most of us on this thread were probably among the last to figure out the above, because most if not all of us have benefitted from this corrupt society at others’ expense. Among these benefits is the ability to go into a store, even steal without attracting any scrutiny or being labeled a thief.

    But corruption, yeah that’s new to me.

    (for me, the harassing calls at night, and cop harassment is kind of a subtle hint that all is not well in this world of ours)

    Simplistic? Nothing in my view of the world is simplistic. I’m certainly not engaging in if A is A and B is B exercises on this thread. I deal with a hell of a lot of grey that would put this intellectual exercise to shame. Hint: there’s not much of a difference btwn good in the “grey” because everyone thinks they are “good” and few actually are.

    Robin Hood stole from the wealthy and redistributed to the poor. When you shoplift, who are you giving “wealth” to? You are taking an item that you could easily pay for but choose not to, because you don’t want to contribute to a corrupt institution. You may or may not be causing someone else to take the burden of your um, activism. There’s a lot of denial here on that issue. Of course! Blame that on the corruption in society!

    Robin Hood committed his acts overtly, becoming a target who was protected by those who supported him.

    And in case you don’t know, and there’s no reason you should, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the um, minor things, in the greater societal problems of this flawed society of ours. In fact this thread is pretty much it, for that.

  34. 134
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Cripes Rad, could you be any more bristly, I don’t think you really are getting enough sarcasm into the points you’re making.

    I didn’t say you’re wrong once, nor am I aware of anyone else saying that. What I said, and what you seemed to agree with is that this is a point of view argument. I wasn’t schooling you on the corruption of the mega-corps, I was stating that this is why I (and I think many others) see it as a grey issue, rather than a black or white one.

    As for the Robin Hood analogy, I’m sure plenty are stealing for their own benefit, but I’m sure plenty are stealing for the benefit of their families. Who knows? Further, I’ve stated repeatedly (in every post I’ve made on this thread in fact) that I don’t personally shop-lift, but you seem hell bent on making the point that I do, or that I might as well be due to my own rather grey point of view on the subject.

  35. 135
    Radfem says:

    The issue of shoplifting to feed one’s family is not an issue that has really been discussed on this thread. That is another issue entirely. What has been discussed is people who didn’t have to do that, shoplifting and justifying their actions, by varying extents, on greater evils including a corrupt society.

    “Many people feel that the system is inherently flawed to the point of corruption, and don’t feel compelled like some to work within the confines of a flawed and corrupt system. ”

    Who does? Most people don’t want to work within a corrupt system unless
    A) they really believe they can change things and do things differently from their predecessors, b/c they won’t succumb to the same tempations or get bogged down in the sytem’s built in and maintained flaws.

    B) they are using the system to promote their own agenda in the guise of reforming the system b/c they want the status and power inclusion brings.

    C) they are aware of the flaws of the system, but use those flaws that would otherwise impede them, against the system, to try to make change

    I thought of one more but it’s slipped my mind.

    Oh yeah,

    D) People in less privilaged positions or status may not have as many options or as much safety working outside the system.

    I’ve met all these four types which are not always discrete but can combine. The people in B, usually get what they want, and it takes a while before their motives are outed. The people in A, are most prone to frustration or burnout unless they compromise their values to get minimal gains, which usually aren’t long term or substantial . Or they “sell out” while telling The Cs often win some victories but there’s usually time inbetween. The Ds often do better, but face the risk of alienating their constituents by appearing to support a system that is corrupt, and impacts different groups of people differently and being used by the system to hinder reforms as “examples” that couldn’t exist if the system were corrupt.

    Working outside the system, or the “masters house” as it has been called(in my city, it’s called the plantation), is harder, more difficult, puts you more at risk, and is very, very tricky in spots. It can pay off long-term although the failure to see short-term gains paired off with inevitable failures makes it less of an attractive option to most people. It’s easiest for white male fairly affluent straight people who fit the paradym the most, and face the least risk of backlash or punishment. Of course, this class is the least likely to choose this option, for obvious reasons. And when they do, they often put the least energy into the hard work this means of change demands, and they often aren’t interested unless they’re in charge. People who feel they benefit less from the corrupt society, might choose this option and may or may not balance it with the higher risk they face if they exercise this philosophy of promoting change.

    I do most of my work outside the system b/c I have enough privilage relatively speaking for it to be less risky than for others, but I can manuever through the system and speak it. I used to be a lot harder on those who work within the city than I am now. I’ve often found that it’s best just to work on common ground and work together on common ground issues rather than fight each other about who’s the best. The above Bs are the biggest barrier, because the minute there’s a possibility that they might not achieve their goals, they will hinder yours, burying it under a lot of “niceness”. I’ve gotten a lot better withh the Bs.

    This is just one system, and my observations on it. I’m not intellectually or academically trained in political systems, nor do I have any degrees in this area. Our mayor does have a degree and it hasn’t done anyone outside his pet cause, the university, a lick of good.

    You made assumptions that I thought you were amoral. I don’t necessarily think those who shoplift it and justify it as an act of protest against a system, (which of course, they don’t challenge in the ways that system more clearly still benefits them), is exercising entitlement. Entitlement to steal, even though their act might have a negative effect on others whether they choose to think about it(which of course entitlement says you don’t have to do this) or not.

    btw, I will put away the sarcasm when you put away the condescension. And I’ve just done my part. *shrug*

  36. 136
    Radfem says:

    “I didn’t say you’re wrong once, nor am I aware of anyone else saying that. What I said, and what you seemed to agree with is that this is a point of view argument. I wasn’t schooling you on the corruption of the mega-corps, I was stating that this is why I (and I think many others) see it as a grey issue, rather than a black or white one.”

    Actually, in a passive-aggressive way, you did. And if you want to say I’m wrong, then go ahead. But I’ve got my own opinion, based on my own life experiences, thank you.

    To me, the crux of the issue is that there’s this attitude that if you go in a business and steal something, without it being necessity which is a different issue, then it’s not your fault that you did it, it’s not your fault that an employee you may or may know, or may or may have not even seen, pays for it in some way. Or that your unseen theft might result in the finger being pointed in another direction. To not even consider that, while at the same time, blaming a corrupt society for your actions, or saying there’s so much “grey” in our society, hey, I’ll be “grey” too, only I’m going it for good, while society is “grey” because it’s corrupt, is offensive to me. As offensive in its own way, as the corrupt society is, NOT because I’m equating the gravity of the two, but because both actions especially when exercised by individuals who receive a lot of privilages in this society by birth, really arise from the same place, the common link between what is really offensive about both the society itself and the individual’s action to “protest” it. You’re not really protesting at all. You are exercising privilage, because FTMP, you can steal and never even be suspected, because all eyes will be looking the other way.

    In the above, I’m talking more about people who commit the actionis themselves. If you just don’t care if other people, then you don’t care. I don’t sit all day and think about the stealing all day either. It pushes my buttons more b/c I’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s action, WITHOUT MY CONSENT, but paying the full burden of that action. Maybe, because it was a man who did it, and I was a woman(and lots of cashiers are women as are Walmart employees in general), he felt it was his right to do that to me, because men are over women in this society. *shrug*

  37. 137
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    My apologies if I came off as condescending, that wasn’t my intent. The tone of this conversation (and not just among our personal conversation) has seemed to be one that has held far more animosity and inferences of lesser or greater moral highground, which likely has made my own tone harsher than it ordinarily would be.

    I can certainly see your points, though I still don’t share the focus on the same aspects of it as you, which I think is where the major break in our communication is. We’re probably not going to agree, but I don’t think that it makes either of us more right or wrong than the other. The more I think about this topic, the more frustrating it becomes for me because their are several nuances that pull me in all sorts of different directions and provide all sorts of intellectual and moral dilemma’s for me when I try to formulate a coherent or definitive belief. The best I can do is say that it’s all grey to me and I guess conclude that I’m unwilling to judge, condemn or condone except for on an individual basis, since so many hypotheticals come into play.

    I know that doesn’t address your complete post, hopefully though it suffices with regards to any meeting of the minds that you and I are likely to have on this subject!

  38. 138
    Ampersand says:

    Well, when you make asinine statements like that one, it’s tough to finish your posts, and I’m sorry but to people here, this almost seems like a dry, intellectual exercise to toss around a bit, for discussion sake, but to some of us, it’s just not. Or it hasn’t been.

    What’s wrong with dry intellectual exercises? It’s a big world; there’s room for a lot of approaches to discussing morality.

    My first job was in a huge grocery store – possibly the biggest one in the northeast USA. I had fun and made friends, but I was also treated like crap, threatened with a knife, etc (most of my co-workers believed I was gay, and I refused to endorse their homophobic value system by denying it; plus there was the general harassment every non-masculine boy, straight or gay, gets).

    Of course, many people have gone through much worse than what I went through – although not everyone gets threatened with a knife. But your implication that I’m dry and you’re not because you’ve had bad retail experiences and I’ve never had them, is nonsense. (Of course, maybe that’s not what you’re implying and I’m just misreading you; if so, I’m sorry for misunderstanding you.)

    The shoplifter bears 100 percent of the responsibility for his or her act. You make a choice, please take responsibility for it.

    I agree! The shoplifter bears 100% of the responsibility for their own act. And the boss bears 100% of the responsibility for their own act, too. What I don’t agree with is the idea that the shoplifter is 100% responsible for what all shoplifters together have done, or for what the boss does. The shoplifter is responsible for their own acts, and so is the boss.

    That’s what makes it more satisfying I guess, or more of a political statement.

    As I’ve said over and over, I’m not claiming, and have never claimed, that shoplifting is a political statement. (In theory, I guess there could be shoplifting as a political act – 100 people blatantly “shoplifting” while passing out fliers explaining their political point, or something like that – but that’s not the kind of shoplifting I’ve been discussing on this thread).

    Because it’s less wrong, in some philosophical equation, that makes it right?

    As I’ve said over and over, it’s wrong to shoplift. Wrong, not right. I just don’t think that it’s a particularly terrible evil; it’s a minor infraction, like driving instead of taking public transport, or trespassing.

    But I have enough “niceness”? in my grumpy old imperfect soul to not steal from employees and attribute my action to some political agenda.

    I’m not sure if this is addressed to me or not, but in case it is: I’ve never said shoplifting is justified by some political agenda.

    I’m trying hard to respond to you with the respect and courtesy that I genuinely believe you deserve; I admire your posts, and your work, a lot. At the same time, it’s hard for me to do that when you treat me like crap just because I don’t agree with you. (Maybe that’s not your intent, but it’s sure how you’re coming across). I’d be grateful if you could try and tone the contempt down.

  39. 139
    mythago says:

    I just don’t think that it’s a particularly terrible evil; it’s a minor infraction, like driving instead of taking public transport, or trespassing.

    Let’s be honest, first of all, and point out that it’s theft. Calling it ‘shoplifting’ doesn’t make it any less thievery.

    Second, it’s ridiculous to put this in absolutes. Theft from a store is always no worse than trespassing?

    like driving instead of taking public transport

    When you have had to take small children on Portland’s public transit system, you can get up on the high horse. In the meantime, you’re speaking from a position of privilege. You live in an urban area that has money and interest to support a public-transit system. And you may or may not know this, but the quality of transit in Portland depends a hell of a lot on what neighborhood you’re in.

    However, the contribution of any individual’s single action to that moral wrong is so tiny as to be all but insignificant.

    No snowflake takes the blame for the avalanche.

  40. 140
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Umm Mythago – as an aside, I think you’re jumping the gun on the area the household lives in. The first week we moved in, we were burglarized, me 8 months pregnant with Sydney, spotting the man shining a flashlight into my bedroom while my husband and I slept. I can only thank sleepiness that I didn’t immediatly freak out, and instead called out asking if it was one of the upstairs housemates which gave the man time enough to react and get out rather than panic and turn on my husband and I laying in bed. We suffered no less than 1,500.00 property loss, and the upstairs suffered around the same. We live in an area commonly referred to as ‘felony flats’. We’ve had no less than 3 meth labs busted in our general neighborhood, and had our direct neighborhood taped off twice in the past two months. While physical violence seems fairly low in our area, we by no means live in an area that is free from a plethora of other types of crime, which we by no means have been spared from (ie. property damage, theft etc.). The neighborhoods prior have all been outer north and northeast near Killingsworth 7 or 8 years ago and these neighborhoods were by no means areas of priviledge.

    Also, if you recall, Amp lives with a 1 and a half year old downstairs which he regularly does uncle duty with, including carrying her squirming little body around in an assortment of inconvenient situations. While my husband and I of course deal with the majority of these situations, he’s not a virgin to them by any stretch of the imagination.

    Guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re mistaken about what you perceive our neighborhood to be like, and mistaken about what you believe to be Amp’s exposure to inconvenience and unsavory situations that occur using public transit, when considering his decision to utilize public transit.

  41. 141
    Ampersand says:

    Let’s be honest, first of all, and point out that it’s theft. Calling it ‘shoplifting’ doesn’t make it any less thievery.

    Are you worried that there might be someone reading who is unaware that shoplifting is theft, whom I’m trying to fool?

    Shoplifting is the particular sort of theft I’m talking about here; being accurate is not dishonest, nor is anyone here not aware that shoplifting is a form of stealing. If I talked about “theft” rather than being particular, someone inevitably would accuse me of saying that all thievery is okay, when that’s not what I’m saying.

    Second, it’s ridiculous to put this in absolutes.

    I agree; sorry if I seemed to be making absolute statements. Of course, we can all think of particular instances which would make shoplifting better or worse than driving an SUV, or eating meat, or trespassing, or whatever. But in general, I think that petty stealing from big companies is in the same general “ballpark of wrongness” as those other minor evils.

    (Should I confess that years ago, when I worked for Simon & Schuster, and for J.P. Morgan, I stole a lot of office supplies?)

    When you have had to take small children on Portland’s public transit system, you can get up on the high horse.

    I’m sorry if it seems like I’m on a high horse (I’ve been careful, when listing “sins,” to mention several that I’ve been guilty of myself). Actually, I’m trying to make just the opposite point. I’m saying that we are all snowflakes, and it makes sense for us to cut each other a little slack rather than casting blame on each other for the avalanche. (Great saying, by the way! Is that original?)

    I don’t have much right to be on a high horse about someone who drives, and neither do I have much right to be on a high horse about someone who shoplifts.

    * * *

    Of course, for people who really need a car, the public transit system won’t do. (I should have specified “for those who can use public transit”). I don’t deny that at all. But the truth is, there are plenty of people who don’t have kids, and who are within walking distance of a decent bus route, who choose to drive anyway. Heck, if I could drive, I might be one of them – I love it when I can get a ride home from work.

    (By the way, I don’t know if you’re in Portland. But there are many parents who use Portland’s buses with their young kids – I see them all the time. But, like you said, it depends on the bus route you take. For going between Hawthorne and downtown, a bus might make sense for a parent; for going from where we live to where Kim attends college, a bus would be horrible. And given the huge amounts of shopping and chores involved, I would never begrudge any parent a car.)

  42. 142
    mythago says:

    Are you worried that there might be someone reading who is unaware that shoplifting is theft, whom I’m trying to fool?

    Surely you’re able to distinguish between completely concealing a fact and soft-pedaling it. Nobody is really unaware that “collateral damage” means “killing innocent civilians,” but saying the former makes it sound a little less awful, doesn’t it?

    I’m saying that we are all snowflakes, and it makes sense for us to cut each other a little slack rather than casting blame on each other for the avalanche. (Great saying, by the way! Is that original?)

    Sadly, it’s not. But surely you’re not really going down the slippery slope of saying that we’re all snowflakes, i.e. we’re all engaging in the same kind and amount of harmful wrongdoing–therefore nobody has any right to criticize wrongdoing by another.

    I lived in Portland for seven years, and I might have been one of those parents you saw with kids. You might not have seen me waiting in a cold rain for forty-five minutes with a crying toddler because a bus was late, or wearily trying to entertain a baby and a little kid on a hot bus ride that took nearly an hour (but would have been ten minutes in a car). If you were riding the buses that run frequently through Hawthorne or 21st Street, you sure didn’t see me rushing to catch a North Portland bus that only runs every hour and then not reliably.

  43. 143
    Charles says:

    On Portland Buses:

    Indeed, the 14 extends out to 82nd and beyond (one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city). And the 4 runs up Albina every 15 minutes most of the time (and did even before the recent ferocious spate of gentrification spread up Mississippi Ave). And the 9 runs frequently along NE 27th past Killingsworth, and did even when Alberta was still mostly abandoned, and our neighbors were some of the nicest drug dealers I’ve ever met (even if their clientele could get a little weird). Living somewhere where the buses suck is a major pain, and understandably leads to people preferring driving to busing (and doing so if they are lucky enough to be able to afford a car).

    But please don’t claim (or just imply) that we must be rich to live on a good bus route in Portland. Kim already described our neighborhood to you, so you could probably guess that it isn’t along 21st (or along Hawthorne, although we do share a bus with Hawthorne).

    We have always chosen our houses carefully by bus route, because we have always had a high people to car ratio in our household (and several non-drivers), and we lucked out totally to end up on the 14 route this time. And I recognize that people can’t always make their living choices to take that into account, so please don’t take that as me blaming you for having lived in St. John’s where the bus commute takes ages.

    For what its worth, I drive to work every day, even though it would only take me 2 hours (including 20 minutes on foot) to get there by public transit (as opposed to 30 minutes to an hour by car). I consider this a far worse act than shoplifting. While I can’t think of a way to outlaw unnecessary driving without having absurd and disastrous side effects, I would definitely favor radically increasing CAFE standards to mitigate the harm of driving. And the children who die as a side effect of smog aggravated respiratory infections suffer far more than the workers whose wages are docked for poor shoplifting prevention.

    On your comparison of collateral damage to shoplifting:

    Actually, collateral damage might mean killing innocent civilians, it might mean destroying buildings, or it might mean looters ransacking the libraries we didn’t bother to protect. It might even mean the effects that shoplifting has on employees. It is the ambiguity of collateral damage that makes it an effect whitewashing euphemism.

    Shoplifting means shoplifting. It is a specific form of theft. If you think it is an unmitigated evil, then you will be one of the people who rushes in to condemn Amp to the fires of hell when he mentions that he used to do it and doesn’t feel particularly bad about it (exaggerating for dramatic effect, please don’t take it as a comment on any actual poster here). If you think it isn’t that big a deal, you’ll probably stay off of the shoplifting threads until you see something so ridiculous you feel you have to jump in. If you think of it as a blow against the Man, then you’ll leap in glorifying shoplifting. However, you are unlikely to come in and defend Amp because you hadn’t realized that sholifting is theft.

    Is there a single person on this thread who has suggested, even once, that shoplifting is not theft, or even that it is not really theft?

    I certainly haven’t seen Amp do it.

  44. 144
    mythago says:

    But please don’t claim (or just imply) that we must be rich to live on a good bus route in Portland.

    You inferred that; I did not imply it. What I was flat-out saying is that bus service in Portland is not universally spiffy, and that wealthier people get more of Tri-Met’s attention.

    Indeed, I used to live near Mississippi Avenue pre-gentrification. It was a short walk to the #5, which ran constantly and often. It had to; it was a main commuter bus all the way up to Vancouver, as I recall, and had a huge number of riders. The #4, a few blocks in the other direction, was not quite so efficient.

    And I recall that Tri-Met nearly had a torches-and-pitchforks mob on its hand when it suggested changing one of the #14 routes from every 15 minutes to every 17. (Don’t you dare mess with our trips to Hawthorne and Powell’s Books, you bastards!)

    exaggerating for dramatic effect

    Hey, I can do that too! If you’re one of those people rushing to defend Amp’s attitude that it’s OK to steal from any company that has a certain dollar volume, you probably believe shoplifting really isn’t theft and are commenting on this thread because you’re tired of seeing mindless worshippers of the corporate ideal defending WalMart from the loss of a 60-cent candy bar.

    Now that we’ve gotten all that out of our systems:

    It is the ambiguity of collateral damage that makes it an effect whitewashing euphemism.

    No. It is the use of language that obscures what is going on. Literally, ‘collateral damage’ means damage that happened as a result of your intending something else. Are you really suggesting that anybody thinks it means something other than destruction to innocent persons as a result of war? That somebody really believed it was about accidentally knocking over a flowerbed with your tank?

    Of course nobody thinks shoplifting isn’t theft. But calling it ‘shoplifting’ suggests that it’s a lesser kind of theft; you’re merely lifting something from a store, see, it’s not like pulling a stereo out of a car or stealing cash out of a co-worker’s purse.

    In England, stores have signs that say “Thieves will be prosecuted.” I’ve never heard anyone opine that this is harsh or confusing and they really should just call it shopping.

  45. 145
    mythago says:

    There are enough 14-riders who are able and willing to complain to Tri-Met that when I lived in PDX (I moved out in 2000), changing times by two minutes created an uproar. Meanwhile, the North Portland bus system–other than the 5–sucked. And there was purely lip service paid to the fact that commuter lines to Beaverton and other suburbs were anemic at best. (Perhaps I’m misremembering and it wasn’t the #4 but a different bus line that went around North Portland by an extremely circuitous route. I recall that there was a shooting that directly prompted the installation of security cameras on that bus line.)

    When I lived in NW, I had absolutely no trouble getting a bus to go pretty well anywhere I wanted more or less reliably, although the OMSI route really sucked. When I lived in N, good luck. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to skip waiting five more minutes for a bus. It was a matter of applying for job where you would not be hired unless you had a car, or of risking being late to work if Tri-Met was having a bad day. (Yes, I know that cars can have traffic problems and so on, but oddly, employers are more sympathetic if you got stuck on that big wreck in Tigard than if you were late because Tri-Met screwed up again.)

    Mind you, this is all kind of a digression from my complaint about Amp’s absolutist statement that taking a car rather than public transit is the moral equivalent of shoplifting.

    I would definitely favor radically increasing CAFE standards to mitigate the harm of driving

    Why don’t you personally mitigate the harm of driving by taking the bus, since you claim you could be doing this and are careful to live on bus routes?

  46. 146
    Radfem says:

    Well, Amp, you can respect me or not. I am not trying to be rude but when I feel condescension about things I feel really strongly about, it’s hard to extend that respect back. And I don’t engage in dry, intellectual exercises about many things. It’s hard for some of us to do that with things that affect us. No offense, but it’s not my style. Not that others can’t do it, but it’s difficult for some of us. I have the same problems with feminism, for example. But, I will try to restrain my tongue in the future.

    Okay, so it’s neighborhoods. Interesting topic. I just moved and am trying to figure out my new neighborhood which I don’t spend enough time in to get to know, since I still have major ties to my old. Ironically, it got too expensive to live there, but then that’s the wierd thing about gentrification. All those efforts to reshape or renovate a neighborhood are for people who haven’t come yet to take your places yet.

    I lived for 18 years in an apartment complex, that during a seven year period, was divided in half (for some reason)btwn the 1200 ganster crips, and the Eastside Riva/Tiny Dukes gang . Unfortunately, although they used to be allied against another neighborhood acoss town, that alliance broke, allegedly because of the prison gangs didn’t want the two races aligned with one another on the street anymore than inside the prisons. I was close to a lot of my neighbors, mostly families. Some on welfare, SSA, Disability; others working nearby, but usually further away. We had a variety of landlords, some good, some apathetic, some collecting rent in methamphetamine. We had three or four labs(not surprising considering that for a long time, the Inland Empire in California was the meth capital) in the complex and had to be evacuated each time they were cleared out, which takes hours b/c if there’s no one there, they have to be de-boobytrapped and then everyone within 400 feet has to go across the street to wait while police, hazmat and fire come out and do their thing. That’s a good ice breaker for the new neigbors.

    Someone was shot and killed at the bottom of my steps. Another person was shot and lived, because gunshot wounds to the buttocks aren’t usually fatal. We had shootings weekly, sometimes shots fired nightly. Hit the floor, then call 911 but they rarely sent anyone. I got out one time, and went looking for an officer, found a grump and talked him into coming to the complex, and that time it was b/c a mid-level drug dealer shot up the wrong apartment in relatiation for being stiffed by his lower man. Four wounded, including children. That’s hard. Drivebys. Then, once there were two guys who robbed a liquor store across the street and the store owner shot and killed one, and the other was shot but made it across the street. Then a couple times running off men who were trying to break into my apartment. Standing inches away from one man, with only a pane of window glass between us, but he ran off pretty quickly.

    The police were either apathetic…or they came in groups to rough people up. Our department at the time consisted of different gangs of roving cowboys. But the university was growing, they needed more student housing w/o paying for it, and they were concerned about parents of students being affected by the crime, so about three years before I moved, they brought in gang, narc and other units. SWAT a few times set up a mobile command center next door in the vacant lot, for about a year. You couldn’t fart without an inquisition if you said hi, to the “wrong” person.

    Then the complex, which at that point was 25 percent occupied was taken over by a company which bought it from the city, and rents started their continuous unchecked(and not always legal) rent increases. I started looking for more housing about a year ago, but couldn’t afford to buy or buy to do major repairs on any place in my neighborhood, which I liked despite the crime, b/c most of my friends are there. So I bought in a middle-class neighborhood next door.

    A friend of mine is running for council where I used to live, so we’ve been working on a platform, beginning with rent control, because that’s an issue for many people who aren’t students, b/c the students at least get some breaks in the rental housing as the university buys more and more of it up. Also, wierdly enough or not, a lot of the rentals are upscaling and then becoming condos, beginning in the low-100s. The Condo market is livening up, b/c housing is getting more expensive as is renting. But development issues are big, because the city government wants to drive African-Americans and Latinos out of the area(and also the city) because white middle-class folks, and college students are much more attractive to them. It’s terrible because it’s a really nice neighborhood, of nice people.

    Gang violence is cyclical so it’s down now, but a murder of a youth coach that had really hit hard, was just reopened as a “cold case”. Our only gang intervention program got a reprieve last Wednesday, after a politics-driven meeting. Police union v community, with the police chief in the middle. Business as usual.

    Our transit system can’t really get itself together. They alienate riders by changing routes with little notice and little to no public imput, then to keep their federal matching funding, they raise fares to make the difference in lost ridership. The traffic congestion, particularly in the southern part of the city has slowed down most of the bus lines. Most of the lines are btwn cities in the county, rather than intra-city.

  47. 147
    Radfem says:

    “Mind you, this is all kind of a digression from my complaint about Amp’s absolutist statement that taking a car rather than public transit is the moral equivalent of shoplifting.”

    I think if you drive a car, you should carpool if possible, or walk if possible, or if you are able. But taking public transit isn’t always realistic, or possible. It depends a lot on the transit system, how it’s mapped out, equipped, what the operation hours are, fares, passes, etc, frequency of strikes or shutdowns(i.e. due to cancellation of insurance liability policies). Some are better than others. Some cities are more suited to them than others.

    Many transit systems operate on alternative fuels, less on diesal which is an air pollutant. The strength of diesal fuel was that it allowed buses to go further without breakdowns. They experimented with Methanol, but besides being highly toxic to deal with, buses broke down on average, every 7500 miles. CNG(compressed natural gas) has a better record of nearly 10,000 miles. They are cleaner to burn, but they put more wear and tear on most buses’ engines and parts. Broken down or stalled buses can make people commuting to jobs, school, doctors appts, etc. late, which may penalize them.

    Again, a lot of it is on individual transit systems.

    The MTA in L.A. sucks, for example and I rode it all the time in L.A. everywhere b/c I don’t have a car. The main strength it has is a passionate bus riders’ union who fought that bloated, corrupt company for years, just to get some gains. Another thing that plagued the MTA was that per mile, more money was spent on rail transit. Less money is invested on buses which travel between cities in So. Cal. for example, more on Metrolink(commuter train) which of course, costs the traveler more money, even when the three or four buses which would otherwise be needed had their fares combined. That disparency in money invested in bus v rail transit is a big thing here.

  48. 148
    Kim (basement variety!) says:

    Mythago – was the shooting in 1998ish on the 4? The month I moved here, I was staying with Amp, Charles, my eventual husband Matt and the others and that incident actually occurred directly in front of the old house (like right in front of it, 20 feet away on the road). One of the reading housemates actually did a floor dive because the shot was so close. Unless of course it was an earlier shooting that you’re speaking of. But yes, the buslines in some of the neighborhoods are frightening. I know that situation kind of kept me skittish about taking the transit for a good year at least. I reluctantly succumbed after my car died when we were living on N. Morgan (again on the 4 & 5), and pretty much used the 4 to go to work since it was the fastest to downtown.

    Okay enough of my blathering about the bus-rides.

  49. 149
    mythago says:

    I believe it was, Kim.

    I’ve tended forget this because I’m old and wrinkly now, but driving also meant nobody would be harassing me or trying to pick me up (as happened on the bus). One friend of mine actually quit taking the bus because she got tired of harassment.

  50. 150
    Charles says:

    I drive because I’m unwilling to lose an additional 5+ hours a week of my life to my job. My job is on the other side of the city (out in Hillsboro) from where we live. We could (conceivably) have moved to somewhere that was much closer to my work, while not being much farther from Amp’s work, but we never found anywhere that was within a few blocks of a west side max line that we could afford. That still wouldn’t have helped with Bean’s job, since she got it after we moved, and it is in a different corner of the city from my job.

    I think that the wrong I do by driving to work instead of giving up those 5 hours each week is probably greater than the harm that would be caused by me stealing a candy bar from the near-by Fred Meyer. On the other hand, the benefit I gain from the harm I cause is much greater for driving than it is for stealing (5 hours of my life each week versus a candy bar that isn’t worth a tenth of an hour of my labor). If I could somehow steal a candy bar each week and have that shorten my commute to work by more than an hour a day, I might well choose to do that rather than drive. However, if I needed to steal a tv each week from the near-by Walmart in order to save myself 5 hours from my weekly commute, I wouldn’t do that, as I suspect that the harm caused by that large of a theft would be greater than the harm caused by driving instead of taking public transit.

    Anyway, increasing the CAFE standards would be much more effective than decreasing my personal driving, since it would side-step the snow-flake in an avalanche collective action problem. Of course, it is more likely that I would decrease my driving than that Congress will increase the CAFE standards any time in the near future.

    Driving causes harm whether you have another option or not. Buying factory farmed meat does harm whether you have a choice or not. Stealing from stores does harm whether you have a choice or not. To my mind, you should try not to do harm, and you should be mindful of the harm you cause, even if you have no other choice. Certainly, you should be far more mindful of those harms which you cause which you could choose to stop doing. Ideally, you should be sufficiently mindful of them that you stop doing them. Obviously, I am not sufficiently mindful of the harm caused by my driving for it to be more unpleasant than the sacrifice of 5 hours a week.

    One way in which shoplifting is worse than driving or eating (factory-farmed) meat is that shoplifting is more likely to directly harm another individual, while factory-farming and driving tend to have extremely dispersed effects. The smaller the store you steal from, the less dispersed the effect, so the worse of an action it is.

  51. 151
    Ampersand says:

    It seems to me that how good or bad a bus route is also depends on your schedule. I used to have to wait an hour or more on weekend nights for the number 9 to take me home, and I think I sometimes had substantial waits on the 4, as well – but that’s because I work a lot of late nights.

    Even now that I’m on the 14, if my timing is wrong I’ll have to wait a half-hour for the next one. Still, way better than the number 9.

    Mythago wrote:

    Mind you, this is all kind of a digression from my complaint about Amp’s absolutist statement that taking a car rather than public transit is the moral equivalent of shoplifting.

    You may have missed it, but as I explained, I didn’t intend to make an absolutist statement. Of course, individual circumstances can easily justify driving a car rather than taking public transit. That seems obvious (just as it’s obvious that shoplifting can be justified in some circumstances); I’m sorry if I gave the impression I believed otherwise.

    Of course nobody thinks shoplifting isn’t theft. But calling it ‘shoplifting’ suggests that it’s a lesser kind of theft; you’re merely lifting something from a store, see, it’s not like pulling a stereo out of a car or stealing cash out of a co-worker’s purse.

    Well, I think stealing something from a huge corporation is a lesser kind of theft than stealing a car stereo or stealing cash out of a co-worker’s purse, because the harm of shoplifting – sorry, of “thieving” – from a huge corporation is far more diffuse. If I steal a twenty bucks from your purse, that single act of theft causes significant harm to you (unless you’re rich). If I steal a $20 DVD from Costco, that single act of theft causes significant harm to no one (although it does cause a very diffuse and small harm to a large number of people).

    My larger point here, I think, is that I don’t think the “politics of personal purity” – not wearing leather shoes, refusing to use computers because computers are made from components that contribute to deadly wars in Africa, etc – are useful or productive. It makes almost no difference to the world if Charles drives to work or not; his individual contribution to the problems caused by car pollution is to tiny to have any significance (although, to be fair, he did make a point of getting the most fuel-efficient decent car he could afford).

    Even if you want every little snowflake to do its part, I think Charles probably has more of a chance of making a real difference to the world by contributing one half-hour a week to working for better CAFE standards (for instance, by writing a letter a week to a Senator or a newspaper). It is through collective action, not individual action, that real differences are usually made. People who focus inward – “am I being as personally pure as possible” – are, in my view, mistakenly focusing on the wrong target.

    (I’m not saying this to criticize anyone here on this thread; I’m sure everyone here does do larger actions for the benefit of the community, although I suspect few of us do as much as Radfem or Bean. My point isn’t to slag anyone here, and if you think that is my point, then you’re misunderstanding me.)

    Radfem, I’m not asking you to write in a dry, detached style – I’d never ask that! You write in your style, I write in mine – that’s fine with me.

  52. 152
    mythago says:

    Amp, you did flat-out say that shoplifting is the same as driving a car instead of taking transit. Yes, you can qualify any of those statements to weigh them, but as you originally phrased it, it’s a privileged, judgmental piece of poo. I’m glad to hear it doesn’t accurately reflect your sentiments.

    If I steal a twenty bucks from your purse, that single act of theft causes significant harm to you (unless you’re rich). If I steal a $20 DVD from Costco, that single act of theft causes significant harm to no one (although it does cause a very diffuse and small harm to a large number of people).

    See, you’re weighing your arguments again. What if your co-worker is wealthy, or if she will get the $20 back from a Crime Victims’ Fund by reporting the theft and filling out a form? No harm done then. Whereas if a Costco employee gets written up because he failed to see you walk out with that VCR, that’s, what, ‘diffuse harm’?

    (I spent some time working at a Kinko’s in the age of the ‘zine, where it was considered cool and a blow against the Man to rip off supplies and copies. Never mind that the store tracked supplies and unpaid copies, and lost profits, and that individual store clerks got crap for it–to be fair to the managers, there are people who think giving their friends free stuff is a perk of the job–or that the manager, who was hardly rolling in dough, had to justify lost profits or losses due to theft. Any concern about harm to real, individual people could be safely blown away by saying that we were corporate drones and therefore deserved it.)

    It is through collective action, not individual action, that real differences are usually made.

    False dichotomy. Charles can both take the bus to work and lobby for higher CAFE standards. Unless his life is so jam-packed that he can only get that half-hour of lobbying time by taking the quicker car commute, it’s hardly either-or. (Not to criticize Charles; we’re just using him as an example ;)

    I agree that by itself, the politics of personal purity is not effective. Done collectively, it is effective. Charles can take the bus and try to persuade others to do the same. There is a sticker a lot of bicyclists wear that says ‘One Less Car’. You may argue that one less car is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but a whole bunch of One Less Cars add up.

    In other words, making individual choices as a catalyst to persuade many others to do the same is collective action. Of course lecturing and being holier-than-thou is counterproductive. But if I can show my co-workers that hey, I bike to work, and it’s pretty damn cool, maybe they, too, will bike to work. Or vote yes the next time a vote on expending city funds for a bike path comes around.

    No one snowflake can stop an avalanche. But it also doesn’t stop the avalanche for the snowflake to say “I’ll just keep on going down this mountain until the government builds a snowbreak. It’s not like my stopping is going to affect any of the other snowflakes.”

  53. 153
    Ampersand says:

    Amp, you did flat-out say that shoplifting is the same as driving a car instead of taking transit. Yes, you can qualify any of those statements to weigh them, but as you originally phrased it, it’s a privileged, judgmental piece of poo.

    That’s not true. Here’s how I originally phrased it:

    Well, I do think you should concern yourself with shoplifting from huge corporations, to about the same extent as you concern yourself with friends who smoke pot, or drive SUVs, or drive at all when they could instead take public transit, or leave graffiti on an already graffiti-covered fence, or fail to pick up after their dogs.

    First of all, since you’ve insisted on making a federal case of this, please note that I said people should take public transit “when they could.” You’ve read that as saying “anyone who drives rather than standing an hour in the rain at a bus stop after walking two hours carrying three children is a scumbag.” But that’s a ridiculous misreading of what I said.

    Someone who gave my words the normal benefit of the doubt would consider that “when they could” could reasonably be interpreted as “when they could reasonably take public transit without suffering much for it.” For the record, that’s what I meant.

    My “absolutist” statement that people should always take public transit, regardless of circumstances, is a fiction you made up. That’s not how I originally phrased it, and not how I meant it.

    I stand by what I wrote (although not by your ridiculous interpretation of what I wrote). I think shoplifting and needless driving are about equal concerns, in general. But since I’ve been arguing all along that shoplifting is, although wrong, no big deal, it’s unfair of you to claim that my saying that these things are about equally wrong is being “judgmental” on those who drive. Like shoplifting, I think driving when you could take public transit isn’t something anyone should be very judgmental about. There is no other reasonable reading of what I’ve argued here.

    It’s true that if I took your holier-than-thou view of shoplifting, then saying that shoplifting and needless driving were similar would have been unfair and judgmental. But, obviously, I haven’t been taking your view of shoplifting.

    I agree that by itself, the politics of personal purity is not effective. Done collectively, it is effective.

    Well, if it’s part of an organized collective action – such as “the workers are on strike at Safeway, so everyone should shop elsewhere until the union says otherwise” – then I agree it can be effective. But lacking that element of organization, such actions have rarely if ever created real change.

    Many of the people who shop at Wal-Mart are poor; they shop there because their money goes further there. I don’t think a “don’t shop at Wal-Mart” campaign will ever be effective, because people aren’t willing to make that real material sacrifices when there’s no promise that everyone else will be making the same sacrifice.

    If Charles could be sure that, by giving up his car and losing ten hours a week to public transit, everyone else who would lose ten hours (or less) a week would take the same action, causing a significant change, then I’m sure Charles would find the sacrifice (which would be a lot) worth it. But for him to do that with no assurance that it would lead to any significant change is not something that he and tens of thousands of other people in similar situations will ever realistically do. I don’t say this to criticize Charles; on the contrary, lacking a guarantee (or even a plausible likelihood) of significant collective action, I think it would be ridiculous to ask Charles to lose two hours a day to public transit.

    In contrast, improved CAFE standards – while hard to pass – would at least hold some promise that the costs are spread widely and the effects would be significant. It’s a slim chance that CAFE standards will be improved, but not as slim as the chance that unorganized collective action – “Charles can take the bus and try to persuade others to do the same” – will have a significant effect.

    Not that I have anything against trying. But in the real world, the “politics of personal purity” seem to be more about people who want to disassociate themselves personally from blame than about trying to make real widespread change. Not all the time, but a lot of the time.

    Whereas if a Costco employee gets written up because he failed to see you walk out with that VCR, that’s, what, ‘diffuse harm’?

    What if, as a result of someone stealing a candy bar from Costco, the manager beats the employees with a baseball bat? Is that still primarily the shoplifter’s fault, in your view? I’d assume you’d say not. So at some point we agree that management ought be blamed for management’s unfair actions, right?

    I think that if an unjust write-up is given (say, for someone having walked out with a candy bar or a CD, something that employees cannot reasonably be expected to prevent 100%), it’s a little bit the shoplifter’s fault, but primarily the fault of the bosses. Both the shoplifter and the bosses are primarily responsible for the decisions they made, not the decisions other people made.

  54. 154
    mythago says:

    since you’ve insisted on making a federal case of this

    You could have saved yourself several paragraphs by simply telling me you’d rather I not post on your blog. I’ll take the hint.

  55. 155
    Ampersand says:

    You could have saved yourself several paragraphs by simply telling me you’d rather I not post on your blog. I’ll take the hint.

    You’ve misread me. I’m actually quite delighted that you post on “Alas,” and I’d be sorry if you stopped posting here. There was no hint intended, at all.

    If I wanted you to stop posting on “Alas,” I’d just say so – just as I’ve said so to plenty of posters in the past. But the truth is, even when I disagree with you or think you’ve been unfair, I love your posts.

    Anyhow, you have by no means been asked to stop posting; on the contrary, I invite you to post as much as you want, whenever you want.

  56. 156
    Ampersand says:

    On rereading my post (#155), it’s clear that I was way too p.o.’ed and as a result I was rude to Mythago. Although I stand by my arguments, I can’t stand by how I put them. I should have edited it another couple of times to remove needless snark and an insulting tone before posting it.

    So I’d like to publicly apologize to Mythago for that.

  57. 157
    Amanda says:

    I’ve been made to understand that in order to circumvent Lawerence vs. Texas, sodomy has be redefined in Texas to encompass hetero- and homosexual relationships. So now the vast majority of the state is a buncha criminals, including the people who passed the law. Yea, Texas!

  58. 158
    Charles says:

    I definitely disagree with Amp on what he calls the politics of personal purity. While certain forms of personal purity may have no measurable benefit to anyone but the person maintaining their own purity, most forms of personal purity are part of a process of social change.

    The only way to get more people to ride the bus is for more people to ride the bus. Each of those people must decide for themselves that riding the bus is the best thing to do. Plenty of people are going to decide to ride the bus because they can’t afford a car, but many more will have to decide to ride the bus because it is better to ride the bus. As more people ride the bus, the bus company (particularly if it is a public bus company) will increase bus coverage, making it easier for others to decide to ride the bus. Also, if I ride the bus, I will be more likely to lobby the city to improve bus service, because it will be to my direct benefit. Taking the step of personal purity places me (or would place me if I weren’t selfish of my time) in a position where working for what I believe is right is also working to my personal benefit. Taking one big step (giving up my car) would give me much more incentive to take the numerous little steps (lobbying for better bus service and bicycle lanes, talking to my friends about not driving, whatever).

    To take another example, on which I think we all agree on the virtues of personal purity, the only way to have a society that isn’t made up of sexist assholes is for individual sexist assholes to stop being sexist assholes, and one of the ways that you make sexist assholes stop being sexist assholes is that you move the definitions of acceptable behavior, and one of the ways you move the definitions of acceptable behavior is to change what you do, and to change what you call wrong.

    The difference I see between these things and shoplifting is that I don’t really care if we one day have a society free of shoplifting. I would like to see a society in which shop clerks are paid well, but if you look at the range in pay between different stores, it is clear that rate of shoplifting (while it may locally determine whether or not your wages are docked, or you miss out on the low-shoplifting bonus, or your fired for letting a tv get stolen yet again) does not determine wages. Does Costco actually suffer tens of thousands of dollars per employee les shoplifting each year than Walmart? I doubt it. Yet somehow, Costco finds the money to pay its employees much better than Walmart does. Does Costco still provide bonuses or inflict docking for high shoplifting rates? I don’t know. Does a high shoplifting rate Costco still pay better than a low shoplifting rate Walmart? Almost certainly. Is not shoplifting from Walmart a meaningful way to effect the wages of Walmart employees? Yes.

    Of course, not shopping at Walmrt also deprives them of profit, which causes them to not give out raises. How much would you need to shop in order to balance out the harm you do by stealing? How much not shopping at Walmart equals shoplifting a candy bar? Why is not shopping at Walmart considered perfectly virtuous, even though it harms Walmart employees, while shoplifting from Walmart is considered monsterous?

    However, shoplifting still is more likely to do local grievious harm than driving (even if, unlike driving, it pretty much never kills anyone), and it provides trivial benefit to the thief. I don’t shoplift, I don’t approve of shoplifting, and I do kind of look down on shoplifters (as I look down on anyone else who does things for the thrill of them even though doing so harm others). But then, I drive unnecessarily, I don’t approve of driving unnnecessarily, and I do kind of look down on people (like me) who drive unnecessarily.

    I think it is partly the utterly trivial benefits of shoplifting that make people so prone to be pissed off at shoplifters.

  59. 159
    mousehounde says:

    Some folks seem to be saying that stealing by shoplifting is no big deal because everybody does it, so it’s OK if you do it too..

    As I read the responses, I kept hearing my Mom’s voice in my head going “And if everyone jumped off a bridge, you’d do that too?”. And it made me wonder about the folks with kids who think that stealing is no big deal. So, anyone with kids who thinks it’s no big deal: What do you do if your child, or a child you are watching shoplifts while you are out shopping? Do you pat them on the head and tell them it is OK and explain how it is a “Big Evil Company” and it’s not a bad thing to steal from them? Or do you make them take the item back and apologize, and tell them that stealing is bad?

  60. 160
    mousehounde says:

    In the original post, Ampersand said:

    But to me, this sort of “cumulative”? harm is similar to the harm caused by driving when you could walk, or flying across the country, or failing to protest my government vigorously, or not buying the most fuel-efficient car available, or any other activity in which some of the costs are externalized. Yes, it’s the wrong thing to do; but being one of millions who contributes a tiny bit to a larger social harm is something I’ve learned to live with on a day-to-day basis.

    I went back and re-read the original post for this thread and I finally figured out what bothered me so much about it. I thought at first that what bothered me was folks trying to defend the lesser of evils. Or trying to defend stealing as some sort of protest against the “Big Evil Corporations”, but after thinking about, what really bothers me is the apathy it seems to condone. “I alone cannot fix things through my actions, so I don’t even have to try. Just me, alone, not doing things I know are wrong will not influence others, so I don’t need to bother. I am just one of many doing things that contribute to a bad situation, so it is OK if I do them”. How can anyone expect the world to change or get better if people are not ready or willing to do what is right on an individual basis? Will my not stealing from Walmart change the way they pay employees? No, but I am not contributing to lost profits. And profit does determine wages. Will my combining all my errands into one driving trip save the oil industry? No, but I haven’t added to the problem more than I could have and every little bit helps. Will my recycling efforts at sorting out plastics and glass save the planet? No. Should I stop doing the little things that might help? No. Little things that individuals do add up, either for good or bad. Should I be apathetic and say everyone else does does it so why shouldn’t I, or should I do the little bit I can do and hope it helps a little bit along the way?

  61. 161
    Jake Squid says:

    what bothered me was folks trying to defend the lesser of evils. Or trying to defend stealing as some sort of protest against the “Big Evil Corporations”?, …

    Can you point me to the comments that defend stealing/theft/shoplifting as “some sort of protest against the ‘Big Evil Corporations’?” I ask because I don’t remember anybody doing this. It seems to me that that is a strawman set up by those arguing that shoplifting is always wrong against those who see shoplifting as a very minor problem on a societal scale. In fact, I believe that it was Josh Jasper (totally on the “shoplifting is a major bad thing” side) who first brought this up. Without support & out of thin air invented that as my position.

    So, can we fucking quit it w/ the “shoplifting as a form of protest” is stupid arguments? Nobody in this thread is arguing that that is a good or valid or effective means of protest.

    Well, at least it provides me with a good example of how a strawman argument is created & how it proliferates.

  62. 162
    Jake Squid says:

    Sorry – correction:

    In fact, I believe that it was Josh Jasper (totally on the “shoplifting is a major bad thing”? side) who first brought this up.

    I should have added that that was in comment # 57.

  63. 163
    Brian Vaughan says:

    I think I’d pretty much said that I could justify shoplifting as a form of protest, but I dropped that argument.

    Mousehounde said, And profit does determine wages.

    No, it doesn’t. Per capita GDP has more than doubled in the last forty years in the US, so the volume of profit has increased dramatically, but wages have remained the same. Wages are determined through the conflict between workers and capitalists. If workers increase their organized resistance to their own exploitation, they can increase their wages. Otherwise, they don’t benefit from increased profits at all. In fact, rising profits mean increasing social power for capitalists, which harms workers.

  64. 164
    Jake Squid says:

    Huh. Brian, you may have written that – but certainly not before comment #57 by Josh Jasper. This is just adding to my education. I guess the strawman picks up steam if the other side addresses it.

  65. 165
    Radfem says:

    I saw a bit of the “strawman” argument earlier on the thread, and then defense of the people who said they shoplifted or didn’t feel bad about it, because corporations they take from, commit worse human rights abuses.

    I don’t build strawman arguments, Jake. It’s not a term I even think of that much. Although I noticed that it’s ALSO tossed about often to deflect POVs that are different than the accuser’s POV.

    Some of the kids with the most asthma and messed up lungs live in the Inland Empire. Part of that is caused by vehicle traffic. However, industries(i.e. dairy) which spew particulates, and the trucking centers, which exist to take freight that comes to and from railroads and transports that to outlets, cause most of the lung damage in the kids in my region, according to studies. The highest concentration of particulates in the country, and the highest asthma rates are in Mira Loma, which has many of these trucking centers.

  66. 166
    Radfem says:

    I tend to be quite tolerant of drivers, until they thumb their noses at the same traffic laws that others especially pedestrians might need to be safe.

    Whether b/c it’s the law or a common courtesy, drivers should turn left on the green arrow, stop and look right, before turning right. Stop at stop signs and traffic lights. Drivers should also honor crosswalks, and not zip around you, try to scare you while flipping you off for having the audacity to want to cross the street in one piece in less than an hour. And please don’t use your cellphone, put on makeup or fool around when you’re driving your car. Instead, put down your distraction of choice, and chug down a bottle of your favorite liquor, b/c that’s about as safe.

    Please make sure your kids are safe in your cars.

    These might seem like stupid laws to laugh at, and certainly they don’t apply to you(and I mean “you” in general, not specific to people here) but I don’t particularly want to see my life flash by, while I bounce off the hood of your car.

  67. 167
    Radfem says:

    I guess these are the strawmen:

    (and I’m not picking on anyone at this point, because I’m pretty much through with the shoplifting thing, especially since I’m going to behave myself here. )

    quotes from this thread:

    “I can’t walk into Walmart without stealing something (even something small). I just walk in there, and feel like hitting something, so this is my metaphysical hit. I realize this contributes to all of this, but I’d like to think this says to walmart “Pay your employees a real wage! Stop using slave labor!”? I’m willing to pay more for that.

    Although, the point is mute, cuz I stopped shopping at Walmart. ”

    –antigone….

    “Again, my point is not the “evilness”? of the person or entity being stolen from – although that is an interesting other point. My point is the relative harm done by the single, specific shoplifting act, relative to the total wealth owned by the victim of the theft.”

    “Frankly, I have no problem with stealing from certain entities. Walmart is a good example. It’s not like 99% of Walmart employees are paid a living wage or treated with respect or have the opportunity to advance up the corporate ladder. It seems to me that Walmart is largely responsible for the long term decline of our economy (drive smaller businesses out, force manufacturers to sell at the price Walmart determines, illegal labor practices, nearly 100% of products sold are made outside the US, etc.). Walmart is evil. So, just the same way that I have no problem with Dahmer being killed by somebody, I have no problem w/ anything that inflicts damage on Walmart. ”

    Also, I actually had the argument about whether it was okay to use shoplifting against a corporation as a means of protest several times, including just several weeks ago, with a university student, who’s an activist. So, maybe I’ve come into contact with it, more than you have. So, not that I’m really good taking orders on what to discuss and what not to, and how to base my argument from men, I don’t feel in this case that I should do so. *shrug*

    So if I don’t discuss this issue, bear in mind it’s not because of your little meltdown a few posts ago. I’ve said my piece.

    I would like to thank the two people on this thread who knew what I was talking about, and weren’t tellig me to f-ng drop this straw-man thing already. It’s appreciated.

  68. 168
    Jake Squid says:

    Radfem,

    I have appreciated everything that you have written in this thread. You’ve given me more than a few things to think about. The strawman to which I refer was not coming from you (as I remember it) – the strawman began in comment #57. I believe that I wrote that I didn’t see shoplifting as political statement to be an effective method in the real world. My position was that shoplifting doesn’t matter much to me because I see it as being a very insignificant problem on a societal level – especially when compared to other problems that I pointed out.

    That position brings about some interesting moral & ethical points; is it okay to steal from thieves (mine) and is the damage to individuals such as employees significant enough to make shoplifting a more significant problem (yours).

    I don’t believe the bit that you quoted from one of my comments has anything to do with shoplifting as a political statement or protest, nor do I believe that I have ever taken a position in favor of such.

    So, not that I’m really good taking orders on what to discuss and what not to, and how to base my argument from men, I don’t feel in this case that I should do so. *shrug*

    My interpretation of that may be wrong but…. it didn’t seem like I was giving an order as to what to discuss so much as I was trying hard to point out that the only ones bringing it up were the “anti-shoplifting under any circumstances” crowd who were trying to pin a position on their opponents that their opponents hadn’t taken. Perhaps I don’t have the definition of strawman quite right?

    Refusing to condemn shoplifting or agree that it is a significantly bad thing does not equal supporting shoplifting as a political statement or as a small victory over the establishment.

    And, actually, until reading back through just now I hadn’t associated you with the strawman argument. But in comment #89 you took a comment I had made & twisted it (maybe too harsh a term – “misinterpreted” might be better) into saying that one had to shoplift in order to care about the massive damage inflicted on our society by Walmart when I had, in fact, said no such thing. But, to your credit, once I pointed that out you did not bring it up again in relation to me.

    I’m just finding the disconnect between what the “not always bothered by shoplifting” crowd is arguing & the refutations by the other side. The ABbS folks have been arguing as if the NABbS folks support shoplifting for activist reasons when that is clearly not the position taken by the NABbS folks. Most of your comments have been against shoplifting as activism & not aimed at the NABbs crowd – that is not true for several others.

    And that ABbS argument has obviously risen out of the cloud of dust of this thread as mousehounde wanders by at comment #162 and wonders how people can defend shoplifting as activism. So rather than a good discussion of why, perhaps, the NABbS folks might want to rethink their position or why the ABbS folks may want to look at the bigger picture, we have the lambasting of NABbS folks as supporters/encouragers/perpetrators of shoplifting as activism.

  69. 169
    Radfem says:

    “Refusing to condemn shoplifting or agree that it is a significantly bad thing does not equal supporting shoplifting as a political statement or as a small victory over the establishment”

    Okay. Then, having a philosophical difference of opinion to the above, doesn’t mean you support corporate evil, or exploitation of employees by corporate evil, or that you aren’t “educated” on the above issues, or that both can’t be dealt with similar beliefs. (which actually is another side of the “grey” area)

    I had more but it went, with the power which just came back on, and I spent all my spare energy running two blocks to city hall to deal with the utility company. I just wish I knew before I left the office that the biggest hotel in town had also lost power… might have helped, as I told the restaurant owners downstairs…

  70. 170
    ADS says:

    Wow. Okay, so this thread has moved in several directions since I left on Friday to cook for forty-five people, and as such, I’m pretty much going to leave it where it is. I just want to clear up two things, which i’m not going to bother quoting directly: Amp, I hope you’ll figure out what I’m talking about.

    My comment about Jake: I know it was hyperbole. I was trying to lighten the tone a little by using obvious hyperbole, because I thought we were all getting a little overwrought about a topic that seemed to be devolving into the realm of silly. I know that it can be hard to judge tone over the interenet: sorry if I didn’t do a good enough job in making my point.

    And about my question: when I said “Are you saying it’s more acceptable to steal from a rich person,” I did not (and still do not) think that that question implies that you have to steal from someone, all it asks is whether the crime of stealing is, (again and still, barring dire need) somehow lesser if the victim is rich. Because I don’t think it is. Yes, if you need to steal something to keep from starving, the lesser of the two evils is to take from someone who won’t starve themselves for want of the thing you’re stealing, but once you’ve removed that element of need, I don’t see a difference between stealing from a rich person as opposed to a middle class person.

    That was all.

  71. 171
    Susan says:

    Don’t steal. Bad karma. Also, if when you count the change and it’s short you’d go back and demand a correction, then you’re obligated, if you count the change and it’s over, to go back and give back the difference.

    If you wouldn’t go back if it’s short you’re off the hook.

    The economic status of the “victim” is irrelevant.

    If you’re actually starving you have the right to steal enough food to live. How many of us are in that situation??

    Don’t break traffic laws, you’re putting yourself and everyone else on the road in danger.

    Be aware that the person from whom you bought the weed will not necessarily put that money to moral uses.

    Don’t shoplift. You’re stealing from shareholders (many of them economically marginal), employees, and you’re increasing prices for everyone else, so you’re stealing from them too. This is OK why?

    THERE ARE NO CORPORATIONS. THE CORPORATION IS A FICTION. THERE ARE ONLY PEOPLE.

  72. 172
    ginmar says:

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. It’s not yours–don’t take it. I’ve worked in situations where I got blamed for shortages. You don’t take stuff that’s not yours. I’ve had coworkers take stuff from my bag on the theory that because I had it and they didn’t, it was okay. It really does seem there’s something privileged going on; when I was catching shoplifters, some of them would take stuff they wanted, and call it rebellion while others would take stuff just to take it with the same excuse, but in some cases the former group really needed it. They just didn’t want to admit it for fear of damaging their pride. Either way I’d get blamed for it. Aside from which—-reading the theories of why it’s okay gave me a shiver. I’m very uncomfortable with giving an act like this a symbolic meaning where there’s an exchange of property of some sort. As a woman who’s still regarded as property by some groups, I have to feel that in my bones. At one point there was some pretty ferocious rhetoric making rape a symbolic act of rebellion against The Man, and the lingering after effect of that is the belief that women are just The Man’s property.

  73. 173
    Q Grrl says:

    Wow! Awesome post Ginmar.