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Works and Days

The Metaphysics of Contemporary Theft

June 19th, 2011 - 6:33 pm

Same Old, Same Old…

Last week was another somewhat depressing chapter in a now long saga of living where I was born. I returned to the farm from leading a European military history tour, and experienced the following — mind you, after a number of thefts the month prior (barn, shop, etc.):

1) I left my chainsaw in the driveway to use the restroom inside the house. Someone driving buy saw it. He slammed on the brakes, stole it, and drove off. Neat, quick, easy. Mind you there was only a 5-minute hiatus in between my cutting. And the driver was a random passer-by. That suggests to me that a high number of rural Fresno County motorists can prove to be opportunistic thieves at any given moment. The saw was new; I liked it — an off-the-shelf $400 Echo that ran well. I assume it will be sold off at a rural intersection in these parts, or the nearby swap meet for about $60. I doubt the thief was a professional woodsman who needed a tool of the trade to survive.

2) On the next night, three 15-hp agriculture pumps on our farm were vandalized — all the copper wire was torn out of the electrical conduits. The repairs to each one might run $500; yet, the value of the wire could not be over $50. I was told by neighbors that reports and descriptions of the law-breakers focused on youthful thieves casing the countryside — in official parlance a “gang,” and in the neighborhood politically-incorrect patois “cholos” — like the fellow who recently drove in, in his new lowered shiny red pickup (hydraulic lifters are not cheap), inquiring about buying “scrap” and “just looking” before I ran him out.

3) A neighbor has a house for sale. It is unoccupied and rather isolated. I saw someone approach it on Friday, and drove over to ensure he was lawful. It was the owner’s assistant, who lamented that someone had just stolen all the new appliances out of the house — carting off the refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, and microwave. But why? Do these miscreants wish a civilization of the sort that all houses must seem occupied all the time, or are otherwise considered “communal property” for the taking? Don’t the appliance thieves have homes, and if so, do they have locks on the doors to protect their investments from the likes of themselves?

These days I sympathize with gloomy St. Augustine, writing after the sack of Rome in 410, and then again contemplating things lost when back home, near death, and besieged by the vandals at Hippo Regius. He died I think convinced that a millennium of culture was about to end. And despite a Belisarius to come, it did.

Reflections on the Redistributive State

I think the public would react in two different ways to the above occurrences — and such a dichotomy explains a lot why the nation has never been more divided.

A majority would believe the thieves took things for drugs, excitement, or to buy things like an iPhone or DVD, rather than out of elemental need (e.g., the thief hawked the chainsaw to purchase the family’s rice allotment for the week). In this view, contemporary American crime arises not so much then from Dickensian poverty, as we see in South America or Africa, but out of a sense of resentment, of boredom, from a certain contempt for the more law-abiding and successful, or on the assurance that apprehension is unlikely, and punishment rarer still. After all, Hollywood, pop music, the court system, and the government itself sympathize with, even romanticize those forced to take a chainsaw, not the old middle-class bore who bought it.

The remedy to address theft would be not more government help — public assistance, social welfare, counseling — but far less, given that human nature rises to the occasion when forced to work and sinks when leisured and exempt. I don’t believe my thieves have worked much; instead, they figured a day’s theft beats tile setting or concrete work beginning at 5 AM.

I conclude that most Americans would agree that chain-sawing a peach tree or pumping irrigation water enriches the nation, while cruising around looking to destroy such activity does not. The latter represents the sort of social parasitism that I read about each Saturday night in our environs (and, in terms of illegal immigration, once wrote about in Mexifornia — a book I seem doomed to relive in Ground Hog fashion each day — nearly a decade ago): gangbanger A shoots up gangbanger B; B goes to emergency room for publicly funded $250,000 worth of surgery and post-op treatment by C, an MD, who otherwise would have been insulted and intimidated by A or B should he have met either earlier in the day. Indeed, C is more likely to be ridiculed or sued by B than thanked. And yet C does not need either A or B; both need the former in extremis.

Where does this all end — these open borders, unsustainable entitlements and public union benefits and salaries, these revolving door prisons and Al Gore-like energy fantasies?

We are left with a paradox. The taxpayer cannot indefinitely fund the emergency room treatment for the shooter and his victim on Saturday night if society cannot put a tool down for five minutes without a likely theft, or a farmer cannot turn on a 50-year old pump without expecting its electrical connections to have been ripped out. Civilization simply cannot function that way for either the productive citizen or the parasite, who still needs a live host.

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