What's wrong with looting?

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Colby Cosh has a contrarian, but I think quite possibly correct take on looting:
but isn't much or most "looting" of the sort we're seeing in New Orleans just "salvage" in fast-forward? Are there really shop owners in downtown NoLa who think it's super important that their furniture or electronics are ruined by moisture over the next month rather than stolen? Isn't it arguably a good thing that valuables are being retrieved--by poor people who contrived to last out a hurricane without much help from the authorities--from a city that, for all relevant purposes, is now gone? I don't for one second apologize for anyone who uses violence against a neighbour; beheading and being fed to the crocodiles is too good for that sort. And non-violent looting cannot and should not be excused when the target is a good that's non-perishable and invulnerable to water, like jewelry. But it's pretty hard for me to get worked up about reports of people breaking and entering into pharmacies or convenience stores. Surely the wise merchant will have already written off inventory of that nature.

The non-perishable test is a pretty hard line to draw in practice, but purely as a matter of cost/benefit, this sounds right.

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3 Comments

I can't disagree here. Were I in the same position, I'd see nothign wrong with breaking into a flooded and abandoned grocery store to salvage food and drink.

However, I think this may be a bad policy because it sets up a general situation of lawlessness. Having the police or national guard or someone comandeer the stuff in the grocery store and hand it out is in many ways a waste of resources (since they clearly are needed elsewhere), but it might slow down the slide into anarchy that seems to have happened.

This whole thing is creepy. When Iraq fell apart after we invaded, I guess some part of me thought "those guys are sh*tting in their nest, because they aren't used to the lack of secret police and informants ready to kill them if they get out of line." I assumed that people in the US, while we might be just as inclined toward insurgency, would be much less inclined toward random violence, lawlessness, etc. I guess I should have known better....

John, the idea that looting and chaos are foreign to America is a relatively new one--forged, I hypothesize, in the aftermath of 9/11. During the eighties and nineties, looting and chaos were simply understood to be the inevitable consequences of such "mass disasters" as home-team victories in major sporting events, to say nothing of hurricanes, floods or even large-scale power failures.

Obviously, I prefer the new, higher expectations, but I'm not entirely confident that they'll survive the next few local catastrophes.

the issue isn't the minor looting for food/drinks/diapers. the issue is the looting of guns, appliances and things that aren't really justifiable in this situation.



i believe there is a strong element of payback too. i am sure that many feel like they have been taken advantage of for so long that now is the time to finally get back a little bit of what they have lost.



we must not forget all the social problems that were there before the hurricane. the gangs and the drugs are still there even in the floodwater. i am sure that many are taking advantage of the situation to gain more power. can you imagine being an addict in new orleans right now? is that the center circle of hell?

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