I really do understand why looting upsets people so much. For one, it's a sign of a complete breakdown of social order, since property ownership is pretty much at the core of a US conception of what social order is all about. (I have some other issues with that, but they're just theoretical and I don't really debate the basic point.) For another, it really feels like adding insult to injury at first glance. Bad enough for the place to be utterly devastated, but don't make it worse afterwards.

The more I think about it, though, the less that it bothers me, or rather the less that certain types of looting bothers me.

First of all, if people are taking things that would be ruined anyway, more power to them. If you're in the storm zone, electricity is cut off, and contact with the outside world is cut off, and you can get to food in refrigerators and freezers without doing more damage, hell, use it! Keep yourself alive and fed. It's not going to do anyone else any good.

For the other things, mostly it's just stupid (what are you going to do with a television?), but many of the neighborhoods that were hit are very poor and people have just lost everything they owned. I'm not saying that looting is the right thing to do, but I'll also say directly that the party I'm going to be feeling sympathy for in this situation is not Wal*Mart. Looting other people's houses, neighborhood stores, etc. is pretty low. Looting chain stores owned by huge corporations who are just going to write everything off to insurance? I'm not saying it's right, necessarily, but I'm feeling a complete lack of moral outrage about that.

Of course, like a lot of mass behavior, the more disturbing aspect is that once looting starts, it no longer draws those sorts of fine distinctions. Organized looting of grocery stores and clothing stores for essentials would be fine and, really, even admirable (the organization part particularly). Complete chaos of people breaking into any structure and taking everything that isn't nailed down is mob behavior, and all forms of mob behavior are deeply frightening.

The part that annoys me the most is that the above fifteen minutes of thought and five paragraphs of text is an order of magnitude more analysis of the issue than CNN has shown in a day and a half of coverage.

Posted: 2005-08-30 09:25 — Why no comments?

I strongly recommend, as well, the most recent post at Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog Making Light:

"White people find things. Black people loot things."

Posted by Jon Lennox at 2005-08-30 19:03

Last spun 2022-02-06 from thread modified 2013-01-04