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Shoplifters Of The World, Unite And Take Over!
February 28, 2002 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Shoplifters Of The World, Unite And Take Over! An interesting NYT article(reg.req.)says stealing from restaurants is increasing. But it's still only 3% of tableware costs and allegedly doesn't contribute to higher prices. I confess I often lift the odd item from hotel rooms. Not just as "souvenirs" - that would be hypocritical. As booty. So, what ethical constraints and liberties do MetaFilterians think should be taken into consideration when stealing? Does it matter whom you're stealing from and how much money you've previously spent on them? And, for the more immoral fellow members, what are the best strategies for liberating certain objects?
posted by MiguelCardoso (259 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I do datamining consultant for retailers. Shoplifting, spoilage, malhandled presentation items, etc, are called "shrinkage" in the industry. They usually account for about 2% of gross for groceries and the like, and possibly up to 5% of gross for higher value item retailers.

What do retailers do about shrinkage: they know about it, they predict it, and they add it to the bottom line. So, when you steal from an airline or a restaurant, you add to the price of the goods and/or service for everybody else.

Thanks for that.
posted by costas at 7:14 AM on February 28, 2002


Cripes. I don't do consultant. I can barely stand being one. Note to self: preview more carefully in the future.
posted by costas at 7:15 AM on February 28, 2002


Preview my arse. That's a damn good point costas.

I look at all the peasants living round my area, littering the street with their crap, and I know it adds to the cost of the community eg. my tax as well as making it unsightly.

I also work in the engineering trade, and we are constantly dogged with w*nkers on sites nicking our equipment for no good reason except it is shiny.

However....if you want to dodge the barriers on the tube, a rolled up newspaper held forward to the side of the waist of the person in front of you and then kept in the middle of the barrier as you walk through, holds the sensor for the gate open. Works a treat particularly if carrying the Financial Times.
posted by Frasermoo at 7:29 AM on February 28, 2002


Does it matter whom you're stealing from and how much money you've previously spent on them?

I spend plenty of time on airplanes, in hotels, and eating at restaurants. I never really occurs to me that I should steal something. Heck, I tend not to even take the stuff that it is ok to take from hotels rooms (the shampoo, the candy in the candy dish, etc.).
posted by obfusciatrist at 7:31 AM on February 28, 2002


On the one hand, boo hoo hoo for the designer celebrity chef restaurants, into whose 90% profit margins the theft of a steak knife or an embroidered napkin cuts deeply, in much the same was as the aforementioned steak knife slices into a $85 New York sirloin.

On the other hand, (addressing one of Miguel's questions), there is no ethical contraints to be taken into consideration when it comes to stealing, except the primary ethical constraint not to steal. While your comment about booty made me choke on my apple with laughter, the sense of entitlement in consumers and the hypocrisy of rich guys condemning (largely) the poor for theft and then walking away with a $1200 ice bucket with little or no lingering questions of morality is enough to make me choke for other reasons. Or a picture of someone's mother? Sons of bitches. That's not the same thing as pinching the single-use soaps at a hotel, is it?
posted by Hildago at 7:38 AM on February 28, 2002


ummmmm - Hildago, "90%"? Even MS can "only" eeek out 80% in their salad days (which are over, margin-wise). A high-end restaurant usually only has the spotlight for a given number of years, so bully for them if they focus on higher end stuff. To be honest, the $$ is in the wine list, not the food.

But back to Miguel's question: I run a few businesses, and it never fails to shock the hell out of me what people will take and/or try to get away with. It seems to come down to people imagining that they are paying too much and they want to "try and get a little more".
Hell, if you're a major customer I'll MAKE SURE that I take care of you in different ways - but don't steal everything that isn't nailed down.
posted by crankyrobot at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2002


Regarding shoplifting: Have I? Yes. A lot? Yes.

Is it something that I'm proud of? No, but I'm also not ashamed of it. In truth I haven't stolen anything in the last 5 months or so, but this past summer was probably the most profitable summer of my life. Jobless (actively searching though) my roommates and I shoplifted probably 50% of our groceries. Sometimes much more. Our basic rules of operation were: Never steal from independant stores, or from people, don't steal petty things, (ie: why steal deodorant, when you can pay for that and steal cheese or tofu, which are far more pricey, and just as necessary.) try not to steal independantly produced items (market food, farmer grown) because it may be being sold on consignment, which would be like stealing from the farmer.

We also stole alot of books from chapters. Books are expensive, chapters is bad.

Rationale: Large chains can take it, not only that, but large chains are a threat to small businesses which makes their losses, in my books, negligable.

The problem is as follows: Stealing becomes habitual. by the end of the summer, i was stealing stupid things, like picture frames and candy. (it was getting so easy, that i almost felt like a jerk for paying for something i knew i could steal) I was starting to feel kind of chumpy and petty, and when one of my roommates got caught (no charges) I got sketched out, and decided that since I was now employed, the benefits of stealing were not worth having a record, especially since I could afford to pay for things. So i stopped, pretty much cold turkey.

Although I don't regret what I've done, (and support ethical thieves worldwide) I'm glad I've stopped (mostly) if for no other reason than because it's nice to not always be a little bit paranoid of getting caught. And to know that I'm in control of myself.

By the way, I think that the number of people who steal from work would be an interesting thing to look at as well. Again, I have a good job, and I stopped because four pens in my pocket are not worth losing my job.
posted by paultron at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2002 [1 favorite]


Stealing is stealing. . .it does not matter from whom.

I'm certainly not setting myself up as perfect but I think that anyone who takes something without paying for it be it, services or goods, and then saying that it's justified because the person or company that these goods and services are liberated from is greedy and rich is missing the point.

It comes down to us who are doing the taking (and we all do in different ways) and these little decisions, repeated over and over, add up to a life. To try to live as cleanly as one can is a good thing to do, I think.
posted by Danf at 7:54 AM on February 28, 2002


"Professor, what's the word for pirate treasure?"
"Well I think it's booty!"


...but seriously, this sort of minor theft is often what nails people for bigger crimes -- like the idiot I knew who stole a container of Armor-All from a 7-Eleven, while carrying some fairly serious pharmaceuticals. Oops, I guess that's five years in prison. Moron.

There's got to be some kind of biological theft impulse, because otherwise I really can't explain why seemingly-normal folks would try to snag a few free grapes at the grocery. Christ, they've got a freaking huge SUV, and they can't be bothered to buy a few bucks in produce?

But above all, remember kids, if you're going to steal, make sure you aren't in the process of committing a larger crime first!
posted by aramaic at 7:56 AM on February 28, 2002


ummmmm - Hildago, "90%"? Even MS can "only" eeek out 80% in their salad days (which are over, margin-wise). A high-end restaurant usually only has the spotlight for a given number of years, so bully for them if they focus on higher end stuff. To be honest, the $$ is in the wine list, not the food.

90 was something of a hyperbole. I don't know what their profit margin is. I know that the cost of their ingredients isn't in proportion to the cost of their products, and that as opposed to Microsoft, it doesn't cost tens of millions of dollars to develop a plate of spinach pasta with vinaigrette. I hope my point, such as it is, is still clear to you.
posted by Hildago at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2002


Am I stealing from my employer by reading metafilter at work?
posted by panopticon at 7:58 AM on February 28, 2002


There are tons of goods and services where the profit margins are well into the 80-90% range. Repeat after me: the price of an item is determined by the buyer, not the seller. If you offer exceptionally good consulting work for $1,000/hr but no one is hiring you, your going rate is $0/hr, not $1k.

My point is, if you go into an expensive restaurant, willing to pay 90% profit margin for the ambiance or the experience, you cannot quite turn around and call the owners unethical for taking your money. However, you stealing from them is.
posted by costas at 8:00 AM on February 28, 2002


Oh, to add to that, and answer your question about strategies, here are some "good" ones:

- Chapters is almost too easy. The shelves are the right height that you can see over them comfortably to know if anyone is looking, but they can't see you sticking books in your bag. Also, there are no cameras, and many of the stores have a "No Chase Policy".
- Walmart is pretty easy, but it still gives me the willies.
- At the grocerie store, the most punk rock (read: fuck off, or so stupid it works) strategy i've seen used is the Left Hand Maneovre. Basically, hold a few things you'd rather not pay for in your left hand (below your waist) when you go through the checkout. Have your money ready, and just pay for your other stuff and get out. The best part is that if they see the food, you can just play stupid and pretend you forgot it.
- The movie theatre near my house has an elevator that goes straight down to the cinema level, bypassing the ticket guy.
- and finally, one for everyone: Free Photocopies. Staples (Business Depot) works on the trust policy. So when you're done, just put all your copies in your bag, write down how many you want to pay for (usually i'll make about 300, pay for 50.) and pay for them. They won't know, they won't ask. Kinko's on the other hand, has those little counters, but a good strategy (and a proven one) is when you're done copying, drop the counter on the ground. The impact will screw up the counter, and set it to some insane number like 65,479,008 or something. Then just look embarassed, and explain that you dropped it, and you actually only made about 20 copies. They're always very good about it.

i realise that confessing to stealing is not necessarily the best way to "make friends", and I don't expect my rationale to fly with everyone, but the topic came up, and i thought i should add something from the other side.
posted by paultron at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2002


paultron: quite funny that you'd steal cheese but pay for deodorant. Cheese has near 0% profit margin, it's there because it draws people in the store. Plus, grocers hate it due to its limited shelf life. Deodorant on the other hand has a fat profit margin, it's probably heavily discounted by the supplier and has no shelf life.
posted by costas at 8:14 AM on February 28, 2002


paultron: "Rationale: Large chains can take it, not only that, but large chains are a threat to small businesses which makes their losses, in my books, negligable."

I think you're missing the point. These losses are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices -- they are not absorbed by the sellers. So any time you shoplift, you're violating your own self-imposed rule: "Never steal from ... people."

Here's the other thing that I never understood about stealing: Don't you think that everyone would love to get things for free? How did you come to the conclusion that you are so special that you don't have to pay? (bad analogy alert) It's like when you're waiting in backed-up traffic on an exit ramp, and all these people drive past you in the regular lane then butt in at the last possible second. I always think: "Sure, we're all just waiting because we like it. But you're special, so you get to go at the front of the line." I don't get the mentality.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:17 AM on February 28, 2002


paultron, leaving the morality of theft aside, I for some reason feel great contempt for people who abuse trust policies like the one you mention at Staples. Yeah, sometimes I take things I shouldn't take from places - but I like to think that when I'm on my honour, I can be trusted.

As for your other strategies, sure, if people want to steal things and risk being caught, then fine. No, I don't think it's 'right' - but I sometimes do it. I have been known to 'liberate' stationery from my office in the (distant) past. I never kidded myself that it was anything other than straight-out theft, though.
posted by different at 8:17 AM on February 28, 2002


Shoplifters will come up with any number of stupid rationalizations for why their behaviour "isn't bad." Each and every one of those excuses is illegitimate, and only serves to make the behaviour that much sleazier.

Let's take, for example, "Chapters is bad."

No, Chapters is not bad. It's a fucking godsend for those of us who only had pissy-assed little "Coles" stores and tiny independents to shop at. My entire selection of books consisted solely of the top-fifty bestsellers until Chapters showed up and made it possible to see a huge variety of alternatives.

Chapters made it possible to sit down and actually browse a book before deciding whether it was worth buying. Chapters made it possible to order in a book without being punished: no prepayment, no risk if I decided not to buy it, no problems with returns if it turned out to be unsuitable. Chapters was open past five, so I could go there after work.

And then it nearly goes down the tubes, in part because assholes like you, who have no respect for the property rights of others, decide to "liberate" books because, hey, Chapters has more than one store and is listed on the TSE. Thanks, fucker: now my store has limited hours, less selection, and may end up tanking.

With friends like you, who needs enemies.

Or let's look at cheese, thief: twenty kilometers north of my home was a small dairy plant and cheese factory. Thanks to creeps like you, it's closed: its owner (Dairyland) couldn't afford to keep it open. Why? In part, because *YOU* wouldn't pay for your cheese.

That's fifty-odd people out of work. I'm sure they're just _delighted_ that you, in infinite wisdom, have decided that stealing cheese doesn't actually hurt anyone. It's not like the producer need pay anyone for its production, eh?

Your rationale is stupid, sickening, pathetic, and does not serve you well. Gettafuckingclue. You're hurting people who don't deserve to be hurt.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2002 [1 favorite]


I'm very uncomfortable with this thread. Especially because I've been guilty of almost everything on this page. I've lifted from stores, restaurants, theaters, schools, charities, you-name-it.

Do I feel guilty? Sometimes. Sometimes not. People keep telling me that karma's going to catch up with me. Yeah, probably.

My biggest crime? I hate paying at movie theaters. It's common knowledge that studios get most of the ticket price from the first few weeks of a film. Theaters really only make money on concessions. So, if I've only got a fiver in my pocket, I'll slip by the ticket dork and buy popcorn from the theater. I especially do this with a movie I KNOW is going to suck.

Like "John Q". I knew it was going to be lousy, but I wanted to see HOW lousy. So, I slipped past the ticket guy (no one making minimum wage wants to argue with you over whether you got a ticket or not and you can always say "I want to see if my friend is here yet."). And I was right. I would have felt cheated if I paid to see it. Is that wrong? Yes. But I felt no guilt about stealing, because the product was lousy.

And before anyone comes down on me, let me say that most of my thefts were (as the president would say) "youthful indiscretions."

Like when I said that I stole from charities, here's the story:

In high school, I worked as a volunteer for Jerry's Kids. We manned phones all night long and spent the day on street corners soliciting change from motorists. After 16 hours, we were dead on our feet, so we figured that Jerry owed us.

So, we took money out of the cans and bought a pizza. It wasn't until years later, I realized how wrong that was.
posted by ColdChef at 8:37 AM on February 28, 2002


It's interesting that some folks on this thread mention airplanes. There really isn't all that much that can be stolen and we carry extras of the safety cards and such if anyone feels the need for a "souvenir". There has been an odd trend the last couple years, though.
Seatbelts. Yes, they unhook and steal the seatbelts. While the fashion bit started in Norway, it is apparently popular over on this side of the pond too. I never will understand people...
posted by eszetela at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2002


Christ I wish MeFi was audio so I could sample Miguel saying booty -- b, b, b, b-booty!
posted by lbergstr at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2002


So pay up your ten bucks, Chef, and if you don't like the movie, DEMAND A FREAKIN' REFUND. Sheeyit, it's not rocket science!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 AM on February 28, 2002


From a worker's perspective, there's the viewpoint that companies are stealing from employees, by underpaying them dramatically for their work.

There were people that worked at one record store and got paid minimum wage, every night they would walk out with CDs, until a few would get caught and fired. At a second store, the employees got paid $10 an hour and were intensely loyal to the store, and wouldn't even think of stealing. (this is a true example)
posted by drezdn at 8:46 AM on February 28, 2002


I shoplift often. I don't have a personal moral relating to whether it's right or wrong. I just feel that it isn't so bad since I'm not stealing from an actual person.

The key to shoplifting is your attitude. It's all about not looking like you're shoplifting. Usually I just pick something up, evaluate if it will fit in my pocket without being noticed, and walk around til nobody's around or will notice, and casually slide it into my coat pocket.

One thing I won't do again, but was quite fun to actually pull off, was when I pushed a shopping cart with a couple discmans, a nice cordless phone, and a Mad magazine right through the local Wal*Mart's doors. I just told myself: "I bought these," and before I knew it, I was pushing the cart towards my friend's car.

I'm not ever doing it again, just because it was a big risk, and I knew that the Wal*Mart's cameras were never viewed (it pays off to know someone who works at the place you shoplift from), so I thought I'd give it a shot, and I figured if I got busted I could always just run like hell.

There's a definite rush to shoplifting for me, much like the same rush you get when you find an insanely sweet deal on something. Money saved. I could easily pay for a lot of the stuff I steal, but I don't, just because I'm a cheapskate.
posted by trioperative at 8:47 AM on February 28, 2002


I've always thought of stealing as wrong. I've never shoplifted anything in my life. I'm the sort of person who drives back to McDonalds when I realize they gave me a dollar extra in change.

But when I was in college, we were required to be on the meal plan and the food was awful. At some point, I decided that every time the food was really bad I would steal something from the dining hall as revenge. Most meals it the food was just mediocre, and I would take the caps off the salt and pepper shakers. If it was worse I would walk out with utensils or dishes. One day the food was so bad that I enlisted a whole group of people to help me and we walked out with all kinds of stuff -- flatware stuffed in our pants gave us bellies. A voluptuous friend shoved bowls in her cleavage. Someone wearing cargo pants filled his pockets with silverware. And I stood in the middle of the crowd and walked out with a napkin dispenser and a tray. After about three months of taking the caps off the salt and pepper dispensers, the school replaced all the shakers with disposable capless ones. It may not have been change for the better, but it was nice to know that I at least had some impact on my college during the undergraduate years.

My dorm mates and I ended up making art with all the caps I had stolen.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:51 AM on February 28, 2002


"ethical thieves worldwide"????!!! I'm not going to start judging anyone - most of us have done something bad at some point in our lives. But for crying out loud, if you are doing something bad, don't call it "ethical."
posted by tdismukes at 8:52 AM on February 28, 2002


If we don't pay for our cheese, Jerry's kids have already won. Is that what you're saying?

I've stolen occasionally, including a couple of the aforementioned steak knives from Outback Steak House. They probably owe them to me as an advance payment for the coronary bypass operation. That, and really everything else I've ever stolen have been joy-ride type affairs just to see if I could get away with it.

I've never stolen habitually or stolen anything very valuable. I haven't been in the position of needing to steal for food, so I can't say how I would react in such a situation. To be honest with you, I would probably wrestle with the ethical dilemma for about as long as it took me to get to the bin food aisle at Safeway.
posted by Kafkaesque at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2002


Theaters really only make money on concessions. So, if I've only got a fiver in my pocket, I'll slip by the ticket dork and buy popcorn from the theater.

People are so irrational about money. Do you think that the money you pay at the concession stand and the money you pay for a ticket get locked up in two separate safes, and the ticket money gets airmailed to Hollywood? No, the theater takes it all, and they pay for the right to project the movie whether you pay or not, and they pay their suppliers whether you pay or not. In the end, the theater gets screwed; it doesn't matter which thing you elect to not pay for. (And ultimately, moveigoers get screwed because their ticket proces are higher, as others have said.)

"youthful indiscretions."

Whoa, guess "John Q" has been out longer than I thought.
posted by rodii at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2002


god how i hate morrissey
posted by otherchaz at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2002


PS: Do you guys realize you're confessing to crimes in a public forum? Do you want your current or future employers hearing about this? (See Heather Hamilton threads on the lack of anonymity here.)
posted by rodii at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2002


A few years ago, I was shopping at one of our downtown Walgreen's locations (a.k.a. "Homeless Depot"), when I noticed a squat, unkempt young woman watching me, rather warily. No idea what this person is up to. Uncomfortable, I look back again to see if she's still watching--she pulls out a tube of Vagisil (tm) cream, squeezes out a little on her finger, and starts nibbling it. Needless to say, I didn't look back again.


Later, a co-worker told me that that was a fairly common ploy used by chronic shoplifters. Do something mightily disgusting to force people to look away, then stuff your pockets with the goods.


posted by gimonca at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2002


A while back I bought a book from an Amazon independent retailer. Didn't want to give Amazon any of my customer info to sell, so I asked the guy if I could buy the book via e-mail. I hadn't even considered cutting Amazon out of their commission, but he had a problem with it.

We decided that he could buy an Amazon gift certificate and then tear it up to cover the commission. Then he offered to ship me the book before I sent my payment. That level of trust from a total stranger was refreshing.

So I screwed him out of the money. ;)
posted by jeffhoward at 9:10 AM on February 28, 2002


I understand the thrill of shoplifting, especially for the young and idiotic. As a college student, I lifted several lager glasses from pubs throughout Amsterdam because they had cool silkscreening (and in an episode of karmic justice, had the backpack that held said items, my walkman, and a camera stolen from my sleeping friends in Centraal Station).

However, I do not understand justifying the practice by saying things like "we get paid jack, so we take our wages in some other way", "their markups are unjustifiably high", or "their service/products are crap." If you really think those things, then quit/complain/refuse patronage. Send the objects of your ire a direct message rather than act in a passive-aggressive manner. Don't use so-called moral outrage as an excuse for petty theivery.
posted by Avogadro at 9:17 AM on February 28, 2002


This thread is like a handy list to help me keep track of who I'm better than. Better than.
posted by techgnollogic at 9:19 AM on February 28, 2002


Wow...there's a lot of kleptos posting today ;-)

Seriously, it is interesting seeing how people try to justify stealing anything.

"I wasn't stealing from a person, so it's ok"
"I buy a lot of things at that store, so it's ok for me to take something"
"I need a new belt" (personally, that thing about taking seatbelts off planes was a new one)

Stealing is stealing, folks. Some instances of the crime may have good intentions, like a person stealing food to feed hungry kids at home. But, regardless of the reason, it is stealing.
posted by JaxJaggywires at 9:20 AM on February 28, 2002


five fresh fish: So pay up your ten bucks, Chef, and if you don't like the movie, DEMAND A FREAKIN' REFUND. Sheeyit, it's not rocket science!

Seriously, do you think theaters give refunds if the movie is shitty? If so, I could save a fortune, because I see at least three movies a week, and only one good one every two weeks or so.

rodii: People are so irrational about money. Do you think that the money you pay at the concession stand and the money you pay for a ticket get locked up in two separate safes, and the ticket money gets airmailed to Hollywood?

I have friends that work at theaters and they always used to sneak me in free, providing that I bought something from the concession stand. As I said, I pay for movies I like (or think I may like) and SOMETIMES sneak into shitty movies. I think the greater crime would be for me to pay full price to see "Joe Dirt." That might lead studios to believe that shitty SNL movies are a good idea. And then, we all lose.

Whoa, guess "John Q" has been out longer than I thought.

Oh, and I snuck into "John Q" after paying full price to see "Donnie Darko." And, believe me, if you saw "Donnie Darko" at full price, you deserve to see as many fucking free movies as you'd like. Lord, it weren't good.
posted by ColdChef at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2002


Commie kid: "Shoplifting from big corporations is ethical!" <- good
Enron executive: "Fooling investors is ethical!" <- bad

MeFi Morality(tm)
posted by dagny at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2002


So pay up your ten bucks, Chef, and if you don't like the movie, DEMAND A FREAKIN' REFUND. Sheeyit, it's not rocket science!

Can you do that ? Legitimately I mean. Watch a whole movie, decide that it sucked, walk outside and get your money back? It doesn't sound plausible to me, but if it can be done, there are a few movies I am owed on for sure.

More to the point: I have done my share of bad things. Mostly as a teenager/kid. I do have a collection of pens at home, but that is because they migrate there in my pocket. I rarely remember to take it out. Should set a task reminder for it I guess.

Paultron: You need to grow up or something. To think that you can rationalize your stealing into the "they" deserved it and "they" didn't aspects is total BS
posted by a3matrix at 9:27 AM on February 28, 2002


(pulls crystal ashtray (( belguim, 6 euros' wholesale)) from Miguels coat)
Waiter: "...and the matches...the rocks glass also".

what do any of you know about theft?
"Your rationale is stupid, sickening, pathetic, and does not serve you well. Gettafuckingclue. You're hurting people who don't deserve to be hurt." YOU NEED TO GET A FRIKIN IDEAR SON. 'No honor amongst thieves' who said that huh? well, i can tell you it was NOT a thief. The trinkets (Loot:) miguels talkin about lifting is almost expected . In most of these posts i hear 'bad is bad is bad'. theft is theft?. fine, steal the Orloff diamond then steal grapes from the grocery store, get caught, then see how the sentences work out time wise. Take the phone-box thief from sunny CA. Guy could empty phone boxs...thats skill. Take Enron, thats....hell, its a skill (boiler room) but look at the repercussions...your bickering over morals, when the question is ethics. Half the movies in Hollywood are about theft. We glorify then condemn it. Rodiis' right, you folks are fessin to stuff that should be left to yourselfs".But above all, remember kids, if you're going to steal, make sure you aren't in the process of committing a larger crime first" thats a great example....armor all. a pro does not
steal from family and friends
steal for thrills
steals all the valuables
never carry a gun
never steal from those whom cant afford the loss
split loot fairly
NEVER TALK
lose the tools
do not brag.
posted by clavdivs at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2002


I would have felt cheated if I paid to see it. Is that wrong? Yes. But I felt no guilt about stealing, because the product was lousy.

How about just not going to see movies that you know are going to be bad? If it had turned out to be good, would you have forked over the ticket price? I don't think you would have.

Does the same logic mean that it's ok to steal bad food/books/clothing because they aren't worth the stated price? If you don't want to pay what something costs, just don't consume it.
posted by anapestic at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2002


I just remembered the motto a friends older brother once told us:

It's not what you make, it's what you take home.

He went off to jail at some point after that, because of his motto.

Poetic justice ?
posted by a3matrix at 9:29 AM on February 28, 2002


I've never watched an entire movie and then asked for a refund, but I have watched the first half-hour or so, realized that the opening credits were going to be the highlight of the flick, and then asked for and received a pass for another movie. I think watching the whole thing is far less justifiable, since rarely do movies crap out in the last minute.
posted by Avogadro at 9:31 AM on February 28, 2002


PS: Do you guys realize you're confessing to crimes in a public forum? Do you want your current or future employers hearing about this? (See Heather Hamilton threads on the lack of anonymity here.)

Thank you rodii for making the point that everyone in this thread who has admitted to theft of any kind seems to have forgotten about in less than 24 hours.

I think we should just call Miguel "Honeypot" from here on out because he was able to draw in so many willing confessors.

(note to others: when Miguel starts asking about who has downloaded kiddie porn, think twice before hitting the post button)
posted by briank at 9:34 AM on February 28, 2002


....had a friend who went to Eastern Mi. uni. He had a dorm and we would cruise around Ann Arbor looking for reality signs...not the ones for houses, but the sign outside the relators office. Almost an entire 3rd floor dorm had different reality signs in their windows...that was fun...for 15.
posted by clavdivs at 9:35 AM on February 28, 2002


Avogadro - I don't know...A.I. died pretty far into it ;-)
posted by JaxJaggywires at 9:35 AM on February 28, 2002


What an amazing thread. Suddenly my pre-pubescent history of mild, office-supply-centered kleptomania is so much less weighty than it was before.

... bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it's been twelve and a half years since my last confession.
posted by Sapphireblue at 9:37 AM on February 28, 2002


People who steal make me sick. Any sort of justification you use is bullshit. My opinion of quite a few people has been lowered today.
posted by owillis at 9:39 AM on February 28, 2002


"Can you do that ? Legitimately I mean. Watch a whole movie, decide that it sucked, walk outside and get your money back? "

You can absolutely do that. In fact, a friend of mine felt so cheated by a movie he saw at the dollar matinee a few years back that he demanded, and received, a refund of his one dollar admission.

Now that's a bad movie.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:42 AM on February 28, 2002


anapestic : I would have felt cheated if I paid to see it. Is that wrong? Yes. But I felt no guilt about stealing, because the product was lousy.

How about just not going to see movies that you know are going to be bad? If it had turned out to be good, would you have forked over the ticket price? I don't think you would have.

You make a good point. Although it's never happened (I've never gone into a movie that I know is going to be shitty and been surprised--most of the time, you just know), I know that I probably wouldn't pay if it turns out to be good. However, take a movie like "Joe Dirt." I wouldn't pay to see it, because I know it's going to suck, but who have I harmed by seeing it in an theater that would otherwise be empty?

I know there's the analogy of the guy who wants a free airplane ticket because, "You're going that way, anyway." But I see it differently. To me, it's almost like reading a magazine in Barnes and Noble instead of buying it. I'm not going to buy "PRINT" because it's damn expensive, but would it be considered stealing if I read the entire thing in the store?

Does the same logic mean that it's ok to steal bad food/books/clothing because they aren't worth the stated price? If you don't want to pay what something costs, just don't consume it.


Okay, but by your own analogy here, if I have a bad meal in a restaurant, I will ask for my money back. If I buy a CD that sucks, I will sell it back to the store. But, you can't unread a book or unwatch a movie. If theaters had a policy of paying you back if the movie sucks, I wouldn't feel like I had the right of sneaking in every now and then.

To me, the crime is somewhat victimless. Except, of course to David Spade's career. But, for god's sake, he's been coasting as it is. If he goes down, it's not because I snuck into his crappy film.
posted by ColdChef at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2002


You can absolutely do that. In fact, a friend of mine felt so cheated by a movie he saw at the dollar matinee a few years back that he demanded, and received, a refund of his one dollar admission.

And that illustrates a point I tried to make earlier: it's not worth a dollar to that theater to argue with you. So, is that stealing?

(However, when the movie gets to the dollar theater, that ticket purchase is going straight to the theater, not the studio, so in that case, I'd probably just let them keep their damn dollar. My ethics appear to be somewhat flexible.)
posted by ColdChef at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2002


What do retailers do about shrinkage: they know about it, they predict it, and they add it to the bottom line. So, when you steal from an airline or a restaurant, you add to the price of the goods and/or service for everybody else.

Right, so, if you shop at a particular large store and never shoplift from it, then you're just subsidizing everyone else's shoplifting activities without deriving any benefit from it yourself; in other words, if you don't shoplift occasionally, you're not getting your money's worth. ;)

As far as seeing movies you know are going to be bad goes, I like one friend's approach -- she buys a ticket for a movie at the megaplex that she does want the money to go to, and then goes and watches the guilty pleasure movie instead. Once the theater's torn your ticket, they don't really seem to give a shit where you go. I think it's a great idea, and it's what I plan to do when Episode II comes out.
posted by webmutant at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2002


My wife and I got our money back for "America's Sweethearts" halfway through. We had rented it.
posted by mecran01 at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2002


hahahahahaha

oh man, this is one of the best threads I have read in a while.

The best unanswered question has to be
"if you read mefi at work, are you stealing from your employer?"

and then that last statement by owillis...man. that is cool, do you work nights? Self employed? unemployed? I have to assume you wouldn't be stealing company internet access and taking money without performing your contracted service by reading and posting to mefi, so which is it?

This is great...thanks everyone...entertaining as always
posted by das_2099 at 10:00 AM on February 28, 2002


Okay, so...I just called four theaters in town (yes, I actually did) and asked them what their refund policy is. Three of four said that they'd give you a voucher to see another movie (not good for the first two weeks of a new movie--but nighttime price, not matinee) ONLY if you left during the movie.

The other theater said that they only give refunds if there is a mechanical problem with the projector. "What if the sound is really bad?" I asked. "Well, that's a matter of opinion, so if we don't think it's bad, we won't give you a refund."

I know which theater I'm sneaking into from now on...

Oh, and while I sort of see the logic of the other three theaters, sometimes you just don't know if a movie sucks until the very end, so...my crime spree continues.
posted by ColdChef at 10:09 AM on February 28, 2002


I'm not going to buy "PRINT" because it's damn expensive, but would it be considered stealing if I read the entire thing in the store?

If the reason were "because I wanted to save a tree," would that be better?

Also, how many of us have walked out of a store carrying something by accident? Seriously by accident - you're ten blocks away and you realize there's something in your hand. I know it's a great excuse for kleptos, but does that happen for real for anyone else?
posted by phoenix enflamed at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2002


i don't think i've ever accidentally walked out of somewhere with something in my hand. and i'm still torturing myself over the last time i allowed a cashier to make an error in my favor.

we're trying to have a society here, people.
posted by brigita at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2002


that is cool, do you work nights? Self employed? unemployed?
I'm one of America's jobless who doesn't steal. I guess looking at this thread I'm in the minority.
posted by owillis at 10:15 AM on February 28, 2002


Can everyone make sure to steal just a little more today to make up for Owillis here?

Slacker.
posted by Kafkaesque at 10:22 AM on February 28, 2002


Right, so, if you shop at a particular large store and never shoplift from it, then you're just subsidizing everyone else's shoplifting activities without deriving any benefit from it yourself; in other words, if you don't shoplift occasionally, you're not getting your money's worth. ;)

Let me keep beating that dead horse: grocers, for example, determine shrinkage on a weekly basis (some daily; some, believe it or not, hourly). Lowering prices for such companies is a competitive advantage, so less shoplifting will mean lower prices, almost right away.
posted by costas at 10:26 AM on February 28, 2002


My sister and I once stayed at a quite expensive hotel while attending a trade show. We ordered coffee one morning...and they sent it up in a 6 cup carafe...and with a room service bill for $18.00. (plus 20% tip) For coffee!

There was much discussion about whether the $18.00 included the $8.00 thermal carafe. :) That night at the bar, we teased the hotel manager about it and told him that if we weren't such nice girls, we would have assumed we got to keep the carafe. The next morning he had 2 of them sent up to the room. New, wrapped and with a card.

So, we didn't steal the carafe...but the concept raised it's head. :)
posted by dejah420 at 10:30 AM on February 28, 2002


The other theater said that they only give refunds if there is a mechanical problem with the projector. "What if the sound is really bad?" I asked. "Well, that's a matter of opinion, so if we don't think it's bad, we won't give you a refund."

This sound problem happened to me recently, when I went to see Harry Potter, a movie that probably made the theater a little bit o'money. During large chunks of the film it sounded like a dumptruck was idling in the aisle. Then at the very end, the film broke, so I guess we missed the last five minutes of the film. The manager tried to argue that since none of us had complained about the sound during the film (untrue), and we had only missed the last five minutes, we couldn't get our money back. And we didn't get our money back, we got vouchers, which for me was just as good but there were a couple of grousers in the crowd.

And as far as movie related theft goes, I once worked in a theater. The manager felt bad that he couldn't pay us as much as he wanted to, and since we lacked a ticket-ripping guy on all except the busiest nights, he showed us all a way to make extra money. Simply - the box office person (me) would rip the ticket and sell both halves at full price. We were "allowed" to make $20 a night extra, which was nice when you're a teenager, but now that I look back on it it I think we were caught up in some guy's revenge fantasy against his company.

This little scheme paled in comparison to what the concession people did. Concession worked on inventory, so you counted your cups/containers/candy at the beginning and end of your shift and hopefully it balanced with what was in your drawer (this was pre-register...we did it all in our heads back then, kids). Concession also cleaned the theater after a show. So they'd look for popcorn containers that were no butter or "lightly soiled", or drink cups that had water or clear soda and put them back into inventory, re-sell them and pocket the money at the end of the shift. And apparently this was a widely used practice in the theaters in our town. Yeah, eeew. I told the manager about that one, and they got a "talking to" but you can see from the first anecdote that we weren't exactly working in an environment with high moral standards. And I'm leaving out the garbage bags full of poporn we used to take home, stale candy liberation, the midnight screenings that were full of unauthorized refreshments and "beer night". The theater eventually closed, strangely not because it was being run by a lunatic (albeit a highly entertaining lunatic) but because a the chain that owned it built a multi-screen right down the road.
posted by kittyloop at 10:54 AM on February 28, 2002 [1 favorite]


I think the really interesting thing is in comparing morals/ethics within each person -- for example I don't steal, but I have done other (arguably much much worse) things with a clear conscience.

So, those of you that don't steal -- what bad things have you done, and why?
posted by aramaic at 10:58 AM on February 28, 2002


owillis, I think it's amazing that you're getting slammed for your statement. I also think it's amazing that people have the ability to rationalize theft in a way that it doesn't bother them. I always assumed that shoplifters felt some guilt.

Like brigita said, we're trying to have a society here. The hubris you must have to convince yourself that you are somehow "above" the normal rules that apply to everyone else. The fact is, if you steal, you're just a leech living off the hard work of others. Feel free to rationalize that any way you want, but it's the truth.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2002


"...those of you that don't steal -- what bad things have you done, and why?"

I had sex with my best friend's wife, because she had an awesome rack.

I didn't get in on the "boyzone" thread, so I figured this was my chance.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:11 AM on February 28, 2002


So, those of you that don't steal -- what bad things have you done, and why?

I once killed a man just to watch . . . oh forget it.

Between this thread and the "fuck the music companies, I deserve free tunes!" thread, it's a kind of depressing day for me.

That people actually ask for refunds because they willingly went to a bad movie is mind-boggling to me.
posted by Skot at 11:17 AM on February 28, 2002


Chef, I'm sorry to hear that you've such poor judgement that you see three bad movies every week. I should have thought that you'd change your movie-watching behaviour, rather than steal the opportunity to see yet another bad movie.

And, yes, I have left a bad movie and obtained a refund. The key, of course, is to not be so stupidly masochistic as to sit through the entire thing. If it's an awful movie, you'll know it within ten or fifteen minutes. Go out and demand a refund or a gift certificate to get you into the next movie. Be polite, be firm, and be dead serious, and you'll get it.

Clavdivs: You sicken me. That's all the response you deserve.

Chef, again: "but would it be considered stealing if I read the entire thing in the store?" Fuck, *YES*. The author sure as hell didn't work on his book for a year just so you could steal the information in it. Give your head a shake, boy.

Someone else: "Also, how many of us have walked out of a store carrying something by accident? Seriously by accident - you're ten blocks away and you realize there's something in your hand. I know it's a great excuse for kleptos, but does that happen for real for anyone else?"

I have. And I've gone back and paid for it. Accident is no excuse.


I am simply appalled by the prevalance of posters who apparently have completely failed to develop socially-beneficial ethics. Talk about egocentric, fuck-everyone attitudes. Sheeyit, little wonder this society is the shits.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:19 AM on February 28, 2002


Proudhon would say "property is theft"...

For everyone who is opposed to shopping lifting (and I should point out that I don't do it), are you certain that you're not stealing somewhere else in your llife? Do you download music or videos that you didn't pay for, do you fudge on your taxes, is your 'leave a penny/take a penny' karma leaning heavily to the 'take a penny' side? Do you live in New York, a city built on land bought in what was essentially a real estate scam.

It's hard to be able to claim that we've never worked this system to get a little something extra.

I am curious as to whether stores (besides passing shoplifting costs on to the consumer) also collect any insurance money on items that were stolen?

Not to make an excuse for shoplifting, but could it be that more people shoplift because advertising convinces that we need more than we can afford? By pushing us into the stores to purchase, are advertisers pushing some people to pocket?
posted by drezdn at 11:21 AM on February 28, 2002


How's the wind up there on your high horse, Owillis? I hope a gust doesn't come though and knock you off.

Yeah, this is a very interesting thread. I used to steals lots of things, although I've cut back alot lately since I started my new job. I used to work as a bartender, and over the course of a summer, I probably stole 10 or 11 full bottles of booze (I was stocking up for moving back to college). That's not to mention the drinks I consumed on the clock, and the occasional pint of Guinness that I took home to enjoy after work.

I always felt bad about, a little bit. One of my bosses was pretty nice to me, so I tried not to steal while I was on his shift. My other boss was a dick, so doing anything to screw up his count at the end of the day was well worth the risk. I know this really isn't a good reason, but it's true.

I've also stolen some things that were a little more directly related to real people, not corporations. When I was attempting to form a band years back, I ripped off a bunch (3) of studio mics from my high school. I felt really bad about it, so a few weeks later, I broke in though the loading dock (they never locked it, it was common knowledge) and returned them.

I think the worst thing I ever did was steal a car stereo from a guy I knew, and didn't like. He really pissed me off for reasons not worth going into, so when I saw his car, unlocked in a dark part of the street at night, I went nuts. I was in, and out, in 30 seconds. I just took his radio, and threw it into the Charles River. I felt really good after I did it, but about 6 hours after, I started to feel really guilty. To this day I feel like a real big dick for what I did.

But I don't think I felt any guilt when I ripped off a video camera from Circuit City. It's a pretty easy scam. You either find a friend who has a receipt for something fairly expensive (dvd player, video camera, CD player.. something you can carry around. No TV's or anything they keep in stock in the back), and take it from him. You can also search the garbage bins right outside of circuit city for a nice receipt, but I wouldn't do this during the day. Go in, make a note of who is working at the return counter, and go right for the item you're going to steal. Walk around with it for a bit, and then go and try to return it. If they let you return it, you'll have to sign a few things (obvious tip: use a fake name), but then you'll have a few hundred bucks in your pocket. If they wont, just walk out. They assume it's yours. If a security alarm goes off, just run. They can't touch you when you're outside the store.

Also, keep in mind, shop lifting is pretty small time, and it doesn't really drive up the costs for anyone. What drives up the costs are the pros who do this. Credit card fraud, inside jobs, robberies. That's where most of higher prices come from, not this nickel and dime bullshit.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2002


owillis, I think it's amazing that you're getting slammed for your statement.

For what it's worth, my comments toward Oliver were purely in jest. I'm pretty sure he knows that.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:24 AM on February 28, 2002


I'm hard-pressed to think of a MeFi thread that made me more (angry|sickened|saddened at how morally bankrupt society has become) than this one. It's astounding how some people feel they can walk through life -- stepping on whomever they choose -- with their heads held high.

To me, the crime is somewhat victimless.

Somewhat victimless? What the hell does that mean? There either is a victim or there isn't, and 99.99% of crimes have victims, whether the ill effects upon them are immediate/obvious to the criminal.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," you cry! "Your moral slate is no more clean than any of the rest of us!" Perhaps not, but the acts I've committed are petty and marginally illegal things (downloading MP3s, driving in excess of the speed limit, visiting MetaFilter during working hours, whatever) will never leave me sitting in a jail cell, especially with an attitude of righteous indignation.

Blah.
posted by Danelope at 11:26 AM on February 28, 2002


kafkaesque, I didn't mean to paint you with my broad brush. I was actually referring to das_2099's comment. The fact that your post was made with a wink was duly noted.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:29 AM on February 28, 2002


but the acts I've committed are petty and marginally illegal things...downloading MP3s

Say I'm a musician... Which I happen to be. In order for me to have a decent sounding instrument, I'll have to pay $500. A good amp will cost me between $500-$1500 depending on what I want to sound like. If I play guitar, I will have to buy strings say roughly every week I practice at $5 a pack, not to mention all the cables to make everything work.

Now I have equipment... Next I practice for 5 or more years, say 10 hours a week (this value is low) without pay, and have to cover the $10 a week in gas just to get to practice... Practice with the band, a group of four other people who have invested $2000 or more in equipment...

In order to tour we will have to buy a van... Low end cost $1000 dollars, high end cost $30,000.

If we'd like to record a single song, so that you can hear it, than we'll have to book studio time. Studios cost $30 dollars and hour and up, the more you pay the better you sound, and one song, professionally done, will take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours or more to work on.

So I invest all this time and money into creating a single song, and than someone "steals" it and puts it up on the internet, and than you download it... And I never get paid for all that work.

So is downloading MP3's really that "petty"... Personally, the theft of a candy bar seems far more reasonable to me, but I don't have much of a problem with either one
posted by drezdn at 11:39 AM on February 28, 2002


sweetjesus: "How's the wind up there on your high horse, Owillis? I hope a gust doesn't come though and knock you off."
* * *

"But I don't think I felt any guilt when I ripped off a video camera from Circuit City."


So in your world, the person who steals from Circuit City need not feel guilt, but the person who is against stealing deserves to be taken down a peg? This post has been an eye-opener.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:40 AM on February 28, 2002


I only steal from the terminally ill, they're gonna die anyway. I'm sure I get much more enjoyment out of their pain medication and food then they would have.
posted by Mick at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2002


Re: Stealing from Chapters.

They may be a big company, but they're really in the hole, and your stealing doesn't help.

They owed me about $1700 for about a year, but I only got it after hassling them quite mercilessly. Losers like Paultron help them lose more money, which helps me not get paid. In the end, Paultron, you are always stealing from people.
posted by websavvy at 11:55 AM on February 28, 2002


So in your world, the person who steals from Circuit City need not feel guilt, but the person who is against stealing deserves to be taken down a peg? This post has been an eye-opener.

No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, I've done these things, and yes some of them are bad, but from time to time we all do something stupid. I regret breaking into that car, but I don't have any regrets about stealing from circuit city. They knocked 3 local appliance and electronics stores out of business when they came, and between them and Best Buy, they killed Lechmere. I'd rather pay for anything at Lechmere any day, than buy anything from Circuit City again.

But for someone to pretty much come in and say "FORSHAME!!!!" and then point the finger at all of us in this thread who are admitting our past transgressions, while coyly implying that he's never done anything wrong, is bullshit.
posted by SweetJesus at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2002


So I invest all this time and money into creating a single song, and than someone "steals" it and puts it up on the internet, and than you download it... And I never get paid for all that work.

As I said in my comments in last night's MP3 discussion, I am far more likely to buy your album after I've had a chance to listen to it and know that I enjoy it. That is, of course, unless your music is shit, in which case I wouldn't have purchased your CD anyway. In my particular case, which is the one being addressed here, the MP3 format and the sharing thereof is doing you a big favor and increasing your sales. Without out, I would never have heard of artists like Broder Daniel, and I'll be purchasing at least two of their albums as soon as I get paid tomorrow.

Still care to toss accusations?

I only steal from the terminally ill, they're gonna die anyway.

Wow. That's the most obvious troll I've ever seen. You truly have a talent, sir.
posted by Danelope at 11:57 AM on February 28, 2002


Let (s)he without p2p installed cast the first stone...
posted by BentPenguin at 12:17 PM on February 28, 2002


rodii: Do you think that the money you pay at the concession stand and the money you pay for a ticket get locked up in two separate safes, and the ticket money gets airmailed to Hollywood? No, the theater takes it all, and they pay for the right to project the movie whether you pay or not, and they pay their suppliers whether you pay or not. In the end, the theater gets screwed; it doesn't matter which thing you elect to not pay for.

This is really not true. The money might not be kept in separate safes, but it is recorded in separate columns on the books. Box-office take for specific movies is what makes the world of Hollywood go round. By Saturday afternoon, you can find out the nationwide take of a particular movie from the night before. Most of the money does in fact make its way back to Hollywood. When Ben Affleck agreed to take points instead of a flat rate for his work (or lack thereof) on Pearl Harbor, he was not talking about points on the theaters renting the film from the studio (which doesn't happen, at least not in modern America; the studio is all too happy to lend the theater the movie and then take the money from ticket sales...it is actually slightly more complicated, as there are contracts involving the theater's right to stop showing the movie, and the studio's right to pull it). The gross from individual movies is also a major factor considered by marketing departments in terms of how heavily they want to continue to saturate the TV and radio with ads. That is why, when you complain about a movie and the theater lets you see another one, they usually give you "passes" instead of just telling you to walk into the other movie; they are supposed to keep track of exactly where your money went.

Anyway, my own confessions will come later; now I have to leave so I can sneak into a university class I did not pay for.
posted by bingo at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2002


If stealing is wrong, then stealing from anyone is wrong. The question of whether or not it serves a larger social or political purpose (ie fuck the man!) is worthy of discussion yet entirely separate.

Correllary, countering accusations that your act of theft is immoral with accusations that the person accusing you has done similar acts in the past does not exonerate you. While it allows you to avoid the realization of guilt, it doesn't remove the guilt. Whether or not it is worthwhile to experience guilt over a crime is, again, worthy of discussion but entirely separate from the issue.

Is stealing wrong?
posted by Hildago at 12:18 PM on February 28, 2002


If my high horse doesn't mean I'm pathetic enough to be ripping stereos off from circuit city then high-ho silver, away!
posted by owillis at 12:19 PM on February 28, 2002


I only steal from the terminally ill, they're gonna die anyway.

Wow. That's the most obvious troll I've ever seen. You truly have a talent, sir.


It is possible that that may have been a joke, Danelope.

Calling each other losers and saying things like:

Clavdivs: You sicken me. That's all the response you deserve.

is just silly.
posted by Kafkaesque at 12:19 PM on February 28, 2002


five fresh fish:Chef, I'm sorry to hear that you've such poor judgement that you see three bad movies every week. I should have thought that you'd change your movie-watching behaviour, rather than steal the opportunity to see yet another bad movie.

And, yes, I have left a bad movie and obtained a refund. The key, of course, is to not be so stupidly masochistic as to sit through the entire thing. If it's an awful movie, you'll know it within ten or fifteen minutes. Go out and demand a refund or a gift certificate to get you into the next movie. Be polite, be firm, and be dead serious, and you'll get it.


In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I am a screenwriter, and that I see bad movies specifically so I know what NOT to do. However, by this argument, I AM getting some kind of benefit from seeing bad movies--therfore, I should pay for them.

Dammit. Okay, you got me there...

I still hate to support crappy movies, but you make a valid point.

Chef, again: "but would it be considered stealing if I read the entire thing in the store?" Fuck, *YES*. The author sure as hell didn't work on his book for a year just so you could steal the information in it. Give your head a shake, boy.


Ah! But what if I read the SAME book at a LIBRARY? Now, am I ripping off that same writer? Gotcha there, don't I??? Except for the fact, of course that libraries PAY for their books. Okay, gimme a minute to think about this...

Okay! How about this? If I read a newspaper sitting on a bench (it was just sitting there, go with me) am I stealing because I didn't pay for it? Someone had to pay for it (a newstand or a consumer--but not me), and the writer's not going to get any more money even though other people are reading their stuff.

Answer me that, Smartie-Boy!
posted by ColdChef at 12:22 PM on February 28, 2002


If my high horse doesn't mean I'm pathetic enough to be ripping stereos off from circuit city then high-ho silver, away!

It was a video camera, but that's splitting hairs. If you consider me pathetic for ripping off a video camera once, then so be it. People are made up from more than the sum of a few actions. I think you're jumping to a snap decision, but it's clear that you've already made up your mind.

If you've done something in your life at least as karmicly bad as I have, then by your own argument, you're pathetic too. Just remember that.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:24 PM on February 28, 2002


You could always do virtual shoplifting
Webb, a computer consultant from Dallas, was browsing his local CompUSA when he saw a young man walk toward him listening to an iPod. Webb recognized the iPod's distinctive ear buds.

The teenager stopped at a nearby display Macintosh, pulled the iPod from his pocket and plugged it into the machine with a FireWire cable. Intrigued, Webb peeped over the kid's shoulder to see him copying Microsoft's new Office for OS X suite, which retails for $500.
posted by KnitWit at 12:34 PM on February 28, 2002


People are made up from more than the sum of a few actions.

Yes, but those actions say a lot. I would find the "power to the people" justifications in this thread funny if it wasn't so sad. The whole "well, I wouldn't steal from an indie/mom+pop store" excuse or "they owed it to me" is just a way to apply sad moral relativism where nothing is truly ever bad. You don't have to be religious or a bible-beater to realizing taking something that you do not own from someone is wrong. There's no wiggle room there from where I'm standing.

And now I ride away...
posted by owillis at 12:34 PM on February 28, 2002


The teenager stopped at a nearby display Macintosh, pulled the iPod from his pocket and plugged it into the machine with a FireWire cable. Intrigued, Webb peeped over the kid's shoulder to see him copying Microsoft's new Office for OS X suite, which retails for $500.

Though we're all arguing here, I think we can all agree that this is really, really funny.
posted by ColdChef at 12:38 PM on February 28, 2002


Personally I have never stolen much (yeah, a steak knife, some of those cool buttons every teen wore in the 80's) I do think the honesty in here is great. If not for these confessions I would never have guessed that so many regulars here have stolen. Maybe now I won't think those statistics on shoplifitng are so inflated.
posted by allpaws at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2002


Well, I guess you've just never done anything really wrong in your life Owills. Or you have, but you'd just rather point the finger. Either way, congrats.
posted by SweetJesus at 12:42 PM on February 28, 2002


an interesting aside: shoplifting is the only crime that is more likely to be perpetrated by a woman.

of course, i picked up this nifty nugget of knowledge from one of those Wildest Police Videos programs they show late night on Fox, so take that as you will.
posted by brigita at 12:43 PM on February 28, 2002


Geez. I had friends who liked to go out on Saturday morning, get a matinee ticket, then stay for a 2nd show. Two movies for the price of one! $2.50 instead of $7.50! A whole $5 for lunch! (By which time you're starving.) I could see the point of saving the money, and I didn't think it radically impacted the theaters profit-wise, but boy. By the time that was over I was desperate for sunshine.

I think it's hilarious that someone would try to skip out on a ticket, but then pay the highway robbery concession prices. That's completely irrational. Don't you get that the movie is just there to make you a captive audience for the overpriced soda? Pay for the ticket, subsidize the entertainment you like, and sneak in some Orville Redenbacher's and a Coke.

Then you have people who take from hotel honor bars, and frantically restock from the local Walgreen's before checking out ...
posted by dhartung at 12:51 PM on February 28, 2002


property is theft.

the land we Americans live on is stolen.

coldchef is so entertaining that he shouldn't have to live by the laws of the rest of us.
posted by goneill at 12:58 PM on February 28, 2002


A quick question for all of you confessing your past indiscretions:

Are you doing so to teach us all how to do it right, brag about your criminal past, or is this your albatros, and you feel the need to confess to anyone who'll listen?
posted by KnitWit at 12:59 PM on February 28, 2002


People who claim to never steal remind me of people who say they never lie. If we really are honest with ourselves we would see that everyone steals at some point in their lives.

It doesn't matter if it is MP3s, undertipping, under reporting on your taxes, or pinching a few veggies from your mom's refrigerator. Things like MP3s and undertipping appear to be petty until viewed in the context of the total retail cost after a year.

The only issue is the degree of cumulative harm and self delusion involved. All that being said, I prefer a relatively honest MP3 downloader who still purchases CDs to an Enron executive who attends church on a regular basis.
posted by Sqwerty at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2002


(On a different note, that Smiths song quoted at the top link is quite good, although I prefer the song "Ask" over it anyday.)
posted by GirlFriday at 1:15 PM on February 28, 2002


Sinse this original thread was about stealing from restaurants (w/o reading yhe NYTimes), I have all too much experience in assholes running off. The worst is i had 9 tables, and one of them w/ a $140 tab decided to get up and leave...without paying. Thankfully, our employer doesn't require us to pay tabs where people run away like that. Beware, though...some friends who serve in the restaurant business are REQUIRED to pay the money out of THEIR pocket if these assholes get up and leave. Yes, i'm bitter when people pull this crap off.
posted by jmd82 at 1:18 PM on February 28, 2002


pinching a few veggies from your mom's refrigerator

oh man. I do this all the time.
posted by panopticon at 1:21 PM on February 28, 2002


I worked in retail for a while in college. All these 'victimless crimes' and revenge justifcations for theft? Thanks a lot, motherfuckers.

When a store loses too much in one week, the staff gets fired. Where I lived, people who are fired aren't eligable for UI. I watched several managers get fired after shoplifters took bigticket items, and I damned near lost my job myself after some jackass got out of the store with a leather jacket.

Aren't you proud of yourselves, that your little 'rage against the man' costs people their jobs? You don't hurt companies by stealing from them - you hurt the little people eking out a living.
posted by kristin at 1:29 PM on February 28, 2002


I stole lots of porno mags from the local bookstore when I was in my mid-teens. My cover was simple...

The local library down the street (also a great place to steal from, in those pre magnetic detector days) used to put 33 record albums into this extremely ugly bright yellow plastic bag with a drawstring emblazoned with "I've been to the library!". Most patrons immediately ditched the bag after leaving the library so as not to be pummeled by roving gangs of tuffs'. I, on the other hand, realized that I could use the dork bags for a more sinister use.

With my freshly checked out 15 year old Poco album in bag, I would browse the hobby magazine section of the local bookstore. When the counter girl was facing the other way I would cram lots of porn into the bag. I would then walk up to the counter and purchase some kind of dorky hobby mag and leave with the booty.

I'm older now and realize my mistakes (getting busted by my Chief of Police dad didn't help), but I can't help but feel my cockles warm when I remember how devious I was.

*Sniff, sniff*

Talk amongst yourselves...
posted by sharksandwich at 1:33 PM on February 28, 2002


Imagining everybody here at a MeFi party and two distinct groups forming; one of them strangely conscious of their wallets and drinks; the rest of us trying in vain to engage them in conversation, not understanding why they keep being politely kept at arm's length.

Me: Hi owillis! I'm Miguel!

Owillis(patting wallet for comfort): Um...excuse me for just one second...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:34 PM on February 28, 2002


It's better to steal porn than to give pornographers money. As a nationaly known anti-porn activist I give you absolution, sharksandwich, as long as you disposed of the materials properly afterwards.

I have a friend who used to take books out of the library, remove the metal check-out things, return them, and then go back and take them. For some reason she only did this with books by Charles Bukowski.
posted by goneill at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2002


Oh, and I forgot to mention: the same friends were so cheap, that during college, they would go to this all-night roadhouse for coffee and conversation. At the end my friend leaves no tip, I end up leaving an extra-large tip for myself to fractionally make up for it. Mention it to him.

"I don't pay the waitress tax,' he avers. "If they're meant to earn $5/hr the management should just pay it to them straight."

"But if they did that, then the food prices would be much higher."

"Doesn't matter. Besides, the service is lousy -- why should I pay for that?"

The college-students-not-paying-tips, lousy-service connection did not seem to have been made in his head ...
posted by dhartung at 1:53 PM on February 28, 2002


Hey kristin, you were ripped off by a dire and unreasonable employment policy, not shoplifters. The expectation that employees will somehow magically guarantee full payment to their employer is as much a form of theft as pimping is.
posted by Sqwerty at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2002


Nope. I was ripped off by people who felt entitled to take things that didn't belong to them, regardless of the consequences to everyone other than themselves.
posted by kristin at 1:59 PM on February 28, 2002


The expectation that employees will somehow magically guarantee full payment to their employer is as much a form of theft as pimping is.

Heh. You just implicitly called her a prostitute. Heh.
posted by ColdChef at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2002


I don't get people who say stealing is stealing and attack those who justify their acts of theft. That's what ethics is all about. It's not the same for a fat millionaire to steal a loaf from a starving orphan than for a poor man to cheat a big corporation out of five cents.The law itself makes a lot of distinctions between the many different types of theft, based on ethical and political criteria. They vary deeply in different societies.

Each individual should make ethical distinctions between say, sneaking into a movie he wouldn't pay to see and say, stealing a quarter from the theater's till; stealing vegetables from your mother or a stranger, etc. It is engaging in ethical behaviour not to steal from mom and pop shops but and prefer "more victimless" targets. So saying "justifications are BS" is missing the point entirely; as so many honest posters have shown here. Yes, honest, George Washington-style.

Everybody knows it's not right to steal - or at least isn't proud of it. But ethics is much more complicated and involves definite choices. That's why it's so interesting and, ultimately, insoluble. In Portugal we say "ladrão que rouba a ladrão tem cem anos de perdão" - a thief who steals from a thief is forgiven a hundred times over. This saying definitely condemns stealing but shows that not all stealing is alike.

I'm sure every culture has it own Robbing Hood-like equivalent.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:08 PM on February 28, 2002 [1 favorite]


As has been said and repeated, we're trying to have a society here.

I hate cameras and cops. I feel this way because I believe that most people are sufficiently intelligent to be able to distinguish between right and wrong. I'd prefer to be obeying the law because I consider it a good idea rather than due to threat of force. Although this is a self-selected sample of the MeFi population, I'm beginning to doubt my personal philosophy.

Full disclosure, I believe that people should travel at a reasonable and prudent speed (to paraphrase the old Montana law) which is often much less than but sometimes greater than the posted speed limits. I've never shoplifted but I did try (and fail) to collect a full set of dishes from my college cafeteria. I love reading but I rarely buy books, I don't need paper and I can carry the information in my head.
posted by Octaviuz at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2002


Metafilter: we're trying to have a society here.
posted by rodii at 2:14 PM on February 28, 2002


It's not the same for a fat millionaire to steal a loaf from a starving orphan than for a poor man to cheat a big corporation out of five cents
Sure it is. They're both bastards. One may be a bigger bastard, but both bastards nonetheless. Poverty is not a free pass to commit crime.

It is engaging in ethical behaviour not to steal from mom and pop shops but and prefer "more victimless" targets.
Stealing just isn't ethical (man, who thought this would be such a radical notion - talk about "if it feels good, do it" on a massive scale), so there's no real rationale there.

My wallet is fine, but where the hell is my watch? Cardoso!!
posted by owillis at 2:16 PM on February 28, 2002


Metafilter: we're trying to have a society here.

Kafkaesque, please also add this to the tee-shirt slogan list. Thank you.
posted by ColdChef at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2002


Audio: You know, we're living in a society!
posted by owillis at 2:18 PM on February 28, 2002


Yeah anyone keeping a blacklist or what?

I have never stolen *anything* consciously. And on the one or two occasions where I have taken things occasionally I have been quite honest about it and I'd imagine people who ran the place were quite grateful.

I believe it is my responsibility to be the last hope for mankind's basic goodness. If we all lose faith in that we're finished.
posted by Settle at 2:19 PM on February 28, 2002


Is that Settle of tit fame talking?
posted by goneill at 2:24 PM on February 28, 2002


I'm not calling kristin a prostitute. Though I do believe that many employers do look at employees as if they wage whores and treat them accordingly.

Remember that there are plenty of employers who do not punish employees for the actions of others.
posted by Sqwerty at 2:31 PM on February 28, 2002


I believe it is my responsibility to be the last hope for mankind's basic goodness.

Well, "tits'' are basically good.
posted by ColdChef at 2:32 PM on February 28, 2002


Best. Thread. Ever.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2002


Sorry to derail the current moral debate/pimps n hoes flavor this thread is developing with another smarmy confession, but...

A couple of years ago, my Dreamcast stopped working. After deciding it was to much trouble to box the damn thing up and ship it to Sega for them to check it over, I went to Wal-Mart and (legitamately) bought a new one. I kept the receipt, took it home, repacked my broken DC in the new DC's box, went back to Wal-Mart to return it, and stupidly forgot the fact that they'd check the serial digit on the back of the unit with the digit on the receipt. They figured something was amiss, refused to take it back, and I got the hell out of there quick. Now I have two Dreamcasts.

So, one time, I almost sort of shoplifted but kind of got caught because I'm dumb.

Another, time, however, I stole a pack of Camels from a grocery store. My karmic punishment for that was a pack a day habit that still dogs me twelve years after the fact.

Moral: don't steal unless you're not a doofus. And never, ever steal cigarettes.

*hack*
posted by andnbsp at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2002


There are moral absolutes. And theft of property is absolutely wrong.

Moral relativism will ultimately prove the downfall of this society. When any action can be justified, there are no limits to the harm that is caused.

Those of you wishing to stretch your brains a little will want to read "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," by Peter McWilliam, http://www.mcwilliams.com/books/books/

Peter's dead now, killed by a merciless federal government, a victim of the "War Against Compassionate Drugs."
posted by five fresh fish at 3:06 PM on February 28, 2002


'I kept the receipt, took it home, repacked my broken DC in the new DC's box, went back to Wal-Mart to return it, and stupidly forgot the fact that they'd check the serial digit on the back of the unit with the digit on the receipt. ' My friend did this with his PS one. It worked. He used his broken one before as a decoy (he got broke into alot) and we called it the faux station. was it wrong, yes, do i feel sick (my idea) no, not one bit. (gets a slap from St. Dismas) FFF, wasgonna let you pass, but....some day you may be gettin mugged, some 'thief' may save your butt, and then what, your gonna condemn him...dont like hypothe-etics? i got a book for you, 'I, willie sutton' THIS IS NOT A MORAL QUESTION. it is an ethical one. please look these up.
posted by clavdivs at 3:16 PM on February 28, 2002


'And theft of property is absolutely wrong.' not one person here has said stealing was 'alright' of course it is not alright, as is breathing dirty air or paying the "Friend of the Court" (BAH) etc.
posted by clavdivs at 3:19 PM on February 28, 2002


Pathetic.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:16 PM on February 28, 2002


(I hate 3 posting but...) i meant the muggin,FFF, as a real scenerio (happened to me) this guy whom saved me was a player, real street-wise. I was a "worker" in the neighbourhood, not a 'tourist' nor a "HoMEboiy". (resident) I'm gonna turn this guy? No, not if i like using spoon with my cornflakes. it was not meant in any context but the real. Miguel raises a question which BREACHES moral behavior (modern, no tribe/wife, shiny stone idol swap and grab in the trees bally-hoo) He reaches the ethical question. take Sher. Holmes (boy:) that ya-yeah injecting limy had a ...memisis, nemisi...whatever. moriarlity...no moriarity...well, this cat could PP and MS at 105% with that potion of master thievery...adam wirth aka adam worth. Doyle admits using Worth as a frame of reference to the ethical conduct of the professional criminal vs professional investigator....Pinkerton and Worth...the story is there. pinkerton, unlike the old man, thought the skill involved in professional jobs was of course wronglyplaced, but he had a one=sided grin for stories like the fellow (probably bow back bob ere some such name) who tried to saw his way INTO a moving boxcar for purposes of dynemitin the CHUBB (fine folks there) ya gotta laugh, weither the stupidity or timerity (sic sp). I cant say we are all thieves for having stolen. how callow. I know a guy who did 12 yrs on REDUCED- first time. |HUGE crew. today the most well respected person, stoic even. has dinner with judges and all. Wille sutton said of the 1930s penal system that there were few paths for a reformer, one who seeks pentience. Once a thief always... yadadadada."what are the best strategies for liberating certain objects?" now what are you hoping for? hmm, some new tricks? rekeying Fords? hmmm. ok Lisbon...David Niven. Cary Grant.James Caan. Robert Denero. Val Kilmer...whom shall it be.?
posted by clavdivs at 4:25 PM on February 28, 2002


now your stirring ere. back your words or go fishing.
posted by clavdivs at 4:27 PM on February 28, 2002


Pathetic.

You think *this* is pathetic? Point your moral outrage to The Great Amazon.com Camera Gold Rush to see some REAL depravity.

MetaFilter: Turning soceity to the shits with egocentric, fuck-everyone attitudes since 1999.

;-)
posted by andnbsp at 4:37 PM on February 28, 2002


Clav: you shouldn't post when you're tripping. And your weak attempts at justification remain pathetic.

Theft is wrong. One's actions later in life do not ameliorate the wrongness of the act.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:58 PM on February 28, 2002


Wow... gotta agree with the surprised ones here...

I'm amazed at how fucking entitled most of the posters seem to think they are. If anything goes wrong in their lives, or they feel they aren't exactly compensated... they make up for it by stealing? If everyone was compensated according to what they personally felt they deserved, we'd all be incredibly rich.

But, the point is, society only works if MOST people don't play the game like that. If we all were like this, no one would be paying for anything, and there would be NOTHING TO STEAL. I've noticed many people try to justify these actions by saying that shoplifting is small time, that it doesn't hurt profits because it's a small % of the take, etc.... that is only true because most of us don't shoplift. Exactly who would fund these products you are stealing if we all stole???

This seems ridiculously obvious, but people are either missing the point or they feel they deserve an exception, because they're so fucking entitled.

In addition, the comment about how easy it is to abuse the honor system points out something else - the more accepted shoplifting/stealing is, the less you'll see honor systems. Surveillance/security will keep increasing. If I owned a retail business, I'd be spending tonight wiring my place up with motion detectors, cameras, face-recognition.... we wouldn't need that sort of intrusive crap if people were honest. The same thing goes for colleges --- my alma mater (Caltech) has an honor system that is respected by most students, so we got to take ALL of our exams on our own, with no supervision. At most schools, enough students feel they deserve an exception that this sort of thing can't work, and students complain about proctors and having to take a test at 8 AM. I could take that same test at midnight or 4 PM or whenever I wanted... because we had a largely functioning society.

Being out in the real world is very depressing.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:47 PM on February 28, 2002


I don't get people who say stealing is stealing and attack those who justify their acts of theft. That's what ethics is all about.

Miguel -- That's what an inconsistent and arbitrary system of ethics is about. It's difficult for me to imagine a workable system of ethics that depends on everyone stealing when they want to.
posted by Hildago at 5:52 PM on February 28, 2002


Well, that's not really fair. I can see stealing being part of a workable ethical system if everybody, all the time, examined the consequences of what they were doing and only stole if they knew that was the right thing to do, and weren't just rationalizing the temptation to get what they want without paying. But of course we know that could never happen, because, to quote Bob Dylan, "people don't do what they believe in, they just do what's most convenient, then they repent."

Ahh, it feels good to get that quote out.. it's been waiting for its time to shine all day.
posted by Hildago at 6:01 PM on February 28, 2002


FFF, sir, no one protesting that stealing is NOT wrong. rain is wet. etc. it is the ethics sir, the ethics. I happen to take Owillis' stance, it is wrong and there are no conditions upon which stealing is justified, even duress, but that is debatable. 'Janking' the movie theater is wrong, morally. Ethics wise, 'Janking' the theatre is wrong because it is CHEAP. you seem bent upon....

FFF: (standing on rubicon)

Guard: "move along sir"

upon that note...gracias senor Cardoso...and the Dylan says it best.
posted by clavdivs at 6:07 PM on February 28, 2002


I'll admit to shoplifting a bit in my misspent youth. Small stuff, cigarrettes, beer, candy bars, etc. Me and my freinds thought it was really cool, getting free stuff and "sticking to the man" at the same time.
As I got older, I quit boosting stuff, aminly because I could now buy them and two it seemed like dumb kids stuff. I didn't feel guilty till about 4 years ago. I woke up one morning to find my car stolen and when it was recovered there was about $3k worth of damage done to it.
The whole day I walked around ranting "I work my tail off to pay for that car and some prick happens along and decides he wants it...that really frosts my ass..."
And then I made a rather obvious connection. Shoplifters arent sticking it to "the man" cause the man will stick it right back to you in higher prices, in the end all theives are doing is screwing everyone else including themselves.
posted by jonmc at 6:08 PM on February 28, 2002


"do not ameliorate" nor exonerate. The lesson of Sutton was the youth emulating Sutton in the 50's. that sir is pathetic, which willie admitted. redemption is what i'm talkin. you seem to want to take away anyones right to even decide what is bad or good given your rigid moral code. that in and of it-self is theft. what is left is bereft of further debate. my rapier is due back at the guild and Kaf gets pissed when tools are late.
posted by clavdivs at 6:15 PM on February 28, 2002


I think stealing is the wrong word. I think I would prefer the term arbitrage. Money is only one of many co-existing units of value and exchange. Shoplifting, for example, is really a currency exchange, weighing up the social cost of the act versus the dollar value of the item. The astute speculator can make a nice profit with the right transaction.

People who say "Of course I could steal something, but that is too simple and it is wrong!" are not making an important point, they are persistently over-valuing social currency vs monetary currency. These people will find it difficult to profit when arbitrage opportunities present themselves (unlike the chiefs at Enron).

So, would you kill someone for $1,000,000?
posted by hifimofo at 6:15 PM on February 28, 2002 [1 favorite]


Hildago - I meant that saying theft is theft forgets that there are very different kinds of theft. Getting on MetaFilter during work is stealing time(meaning money)from your employer. But suppose there's nothing to do - or that working at that particular moment would be against the company's interests. Then you could argue you were simply stealing electricity; i.e. less money; but still stealing.

Ethics is about making those distinctions. Take ColdChef's example. (I know I have) Sitting in a movie theatre watching a film you suspected was rubbish and indeed is; that is being projected for the whole room and if there are empty seats(otherwise you'd be cheating the theatre out of a paying customer)is still theft. Even if you walk out after ten minutes in a theatre that refunds patrons who pay tickets and refunds(and so technically you're just avoiding the hassle of buying the ticket and being refunded for it)it is still theft.

But it's ethically different - and less reprehensible - from stealing ten dollars in cash from the theatre owner's pocket. Of course if the person who sneaked in, thinking the film was a dud(i.e. ColdChef!), found it to be OK, then he should pay for the ticket afterward, if he wanted to be ethically coherent.

Hey, Hildago - it's complicated! Do you really think I was arguing for a "workable system of ethics that depends on everyone stealing what they want to"? Is that what the maids at the Ritz say when they find all the cute little toiletries missing from my room?

So you can say theft is theft, sure - I don't think people would disagree on what constitutes theft or call any form of theft moral - but if you lump together all forms of theft then you are innocent of ethical reasoning. Judges and juries, apart from the law, do it all the time. Otherwise it would all be "an eye for an eye"- and chop off the hand of anyone who steals anything. It's also a bit creepy. Who would be left to type MetaFilter? :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:22 PM on February 28, 2002


walked out of a store carrying something by accident?

That I have. I'm a hands-in-the-pocket walker, and realized once, several hours after the fact, that I hadn't been paying attention in a store and slipped a small case of eyeshadow into my pocket (Didn't put it in the cart cause it kept slipping through the cracks.)

I felt rather bad about that, for I have never lifted an item from a store in my life.

However.

I'm a graphic design student, and haven't paid for any of the programs i own. We're talking thousands and thousands of dollars worth of software i've recieved from friends or pulled off of Hotwire.

And, strangely enough, i feel absolutely no guilt. it is a case of coming up with excuses. I can't afford the pricetag on Photoshop or Flash. Not going to pay a hundred bucks for some filters.

My (pathetic) reasoning? There's no way I can afford it now. But in the future, when I can, I will! Adobe is gaining a life-long customer!

Question is, will I when the time comes? Or still "borrow" copies and spend my 600 bucks on something else?
posted by Windigo at 6:25 PM on February 28, 2002


If I walk out of a theatre after ten minutes and get a refund it is not theft. It is a consensual transaction: I choose to leave and they choose to give me my money back.

A consensual transaction can not be theft. That is why, when you spot a helluva deal at a swap meet, it is not theft to purchase it at the asking price... or even to haggle the price down. The seller consents to the transaction.

And it is why lifting sneakers at Walmart, pinching the dinner knives, or jacking your neighbour's stereo is theft: the transaction is not consensual.

Each and every one of you who is desperately attempting to rationalize away your behaviour needs to go read Ain't Nobody's Business.

It will educate you, enlighten you, and help you come to understand that the foundation for a rationale and workable ethical/moral system must be constructed on the basis of consent. As soon as you breech consent, you necessarily must be acting unethically/immorally.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:35 PM on February 28, 2002


So, would you kill someone for $1,000,000?


No, I'm the squeamish type. Though some god fearing ten commandment type people do see a difference between killing and legal executions. The same sort of relativism applies to how people determine what theft is. Rather than decrying the falure to adhere to absolutes, shouldn't the point be to recognize that ethical bell curves exist?



posted by Sqwerty at 6:36 PM on February 28, 2002


Five fresh fish: I meant if you sneaked in without paying.

off-topic: there's a great girls' band here in Portugal called três tristes tigres.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:37 PM on February 28, 2002


When I worked at a large electronics retailer, it was well known that the shrinkage in our store was HUGE. The worst in the country for our chain, I believe. In one quarter alone we were missing a quarter of a million dollars in TELEPHONES. I don't even want to know what the figures for the other items were. People were hooked up with the loss prevention employees; they would stuff two laptops down their pants and walk out. One laptop for the LP guy, one for themselves. It was bad. I did not participate in this crime ring, but I didn't report the people who were involved either. Not even the office was safe; at one point our accounting guy was pretty much led out in handcuffs. Note: do not buy a 30 thousand dollar car when you are just an assistant manager at a retail store. Bad idea.

The whole thing made me scared and uncomfortable. I didn't like it, but I wasn't innocent of stealing in my life either. I shoplifted laxatives and ipecac when I was actively bulimic; I was too embarassed to buy them. (What would you think if an 85 lb. girl walked up to your register with laxatives, ipecac, and dexatrim?) I didn't want to deal with the funny looks or potential questions. So that's my excuse; shame made me do it!
posted by xyzzy at 7:40 PM on February 28, 2002


Ethical bell curves my ass.

When you harm someone's person or property, you are in the wrong. It is that plain and simple. There is no grey area here.

You moral/ethical relativists may whinge on all you like about how it "all depends," but it does not "depend" on the situation.

I'll cede that there are situations in which one might do the wrong thing for a greater cause, but the wrongdoing is still wrong. It is not relieved by the good that may come of it. The two are wholly separate entities, and do not intermingle.

As for all the excuses we've read in this thread, not a single one of them lays claim to any greater cause. Every one of the justifications has been based on greed, selfishness, stupidity, laziness, or mean-spiritedness.

What really surprises me is that so many of our petty little MeFi thieves seem to be too stupid to understand that not only are they hurting innocent others, they're also hurting themselves. Theft is not a victimless crime. Someone always pays... and in the end, it usually means we all pay.

It's just sickeningly selfish.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:15 PM on February 28, 2002


I've never shoplifted, but I did liberate three large fern-like plants from the arboretum/water display thing at a certain mall in Stamford, CT.

I just wondered if anyone would stop me if I acted like I should be making off with the plants.
No one said a thing.

I gave them their freedom in a big, largely empty planter outside. I don't know how they're doing, as I haven't been back.
posted by dong_resin at 8:17 PM on February 28, 2002


Someone always pays... and in the end, it usually means we all pay.

Annnnnd...fade to badge. Cue the "Dragnet" credits and theme song.
posted by ColdChef at 8:19 PM on February 28, 2002


I haven't stolen anything in many years, in terms of physically taking something out of a store without paying for it. But in terms of not paying for movies or using an employer's time/equipment for my own purposes...I consider those actions to just be part of life. And I don't feel bad about the small amount of shoplifting I did as a kid, either. It's really not a question of whether anyone else approves, or whether it's against the law; my morals come from within, and my concience will tell me without much deliberation what is the right or wrong thing to do at any given moment.

Suprisingly enough, goneill said something above I was going to say myself: property is theft. In other words (speaking for myself), property is an arbitrary and man-made concept. There is no invisible arrow hanging in the air between you and your posessions, indicating that they exist for your use. I agree that in the interest of keeping the world from falling into chaos, we need to have certain guidelines in place to keep us from hurting each other. But that doesn't mean those guidelines are all right, and it doesn't mean that ethically they should be followed all the time.

Miguel is right on in his posts above about the moral complexity of the way that people's motivations for theft interfere with the rules for society. There are a lot of companies doing a lot of things, to workers and customers and others, that I consider to be wrong. The fact that those things are not illegal means fuck-all to me. If you're rich and powerful enough, you can have an effect on the laws that get passed, in your own interest; that doesn't mean that those laws are aligned with some kind of objective moral standard. There are salespeople all over the planet who operate on the basic idea that they will say whatever they have to in order to get the customer's money; often in a legal guise, to me this is stealing. Huge companies launch multi-million dollar marketing campaigns with the intention of manipulating the public into buying their products for reasons that have nothing to do with the products, because the public is not sophisticated enough to see through the manipulation; I think that is stealing.

And, honestly, I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right, etc. etc. I'm not saying it's only okay to steal from the sort of company I mentioned above. I'm saying that it's a complex world, with all kinds of people in it trying to do all sorts of things to each other, and we each have to do what we think is right.
posted by bingo at 8:28 PM on February 28, 2002


fff: "And your weak attempts at justification remain pathetic."

I wouldn't go swinging this around while you've been using nothing but bald assertion to 'back up' your view throughout this thread. So how about throwing us some of the genuine arguments from that Nobody's Business?
posted by EngineBeak at 8:58 PM on February 28, 2002


So you can say theft is theft, sure - I don't think people would disagree on what constitutes theft or call any form of theft moral - but if you lump together all forms of theft then you are innocent of ethical reasoning.

Miguel -- Well I see your point, but I think we're coming from two fundamentally different places on the issue. It's certainly easy to recognize that there are degrees of effect that doing something wrong brings about, and I wouldn't ever disagree that it is preferable that someone steal a more or less worthless item than that he or should should steal a very valuable item.

But in either case, and in every case where theft takes place (in an uncomplicated world where you never have to, say, steal medicine to keep people alive), it is better by far from most every angle not to steal. And even in those cases where not stealing causes more harm than not, you've simply got a case of utility that proves only that sometimes there is no perfect solution, as even the best possible actions can involve some bad things.

MY point is that I'm not gonna hunt you down for stealing shampoo, just that even though it's not the end of the world if you do, it's still not right to do it. Hobbes, Mill, Kant, et cetera.
posted by Hildago at 9:06 PM on February 28, 2002


I'm sad that this thread has gotten to 141 comments without anyone mentioning Winona Ryder.
posted by aaron at 9:08 PM on February 28, 2002


And, honestly, I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right, etc. etc. I'm not saying it's only okay to steal from the sort of company I mentioned above. I'm saying that it's a complex world, with all kinds of people in it trying to do all sorts of things to each other, and we each have to do what we think is right.

But the key to this argument is what we mean by 'right'. I suspect your definition is something like "faciliatory, convenient, practical, advantageous, etc."

Am I right? (ha ha)
posted by Hildago at 9:09 PM on February 28, 2002


Hildago: No, my definition is more like, "what my conscience tells me is right." It may be what's convenient, and it may be something that involves sacrifice or pain on my part. But it's not something I need legislated for me, and if you tell me that I'm missing out on some set of objective rules, all I can say is that I can't believe they're objective if they're not already wired into my brain.
posted by bingo at 9:16 PM on February 28, 2002


On preview: Wynona Rider!

fff is absolutely right, morally. For instance, anything following from the "do not do unto others what you wouldn't wish them to do unto you" is morally right. Such as his example "It is wrong to harm another person or his property". But morality is one thing; ethics are another.

"Do not steal" is a moral precept. But suppose there are two ways of saving someone's life: either steal a pill from someone else's medicine cabinet or steal a car so you can him to hospital. That's ethics. Ethics is about weighing choices.

A recent example is the case of those siamese twins in the news(either kill one and save the other or they both die). But really we're faced with ethical decisions every day of our lives and how we spend our money is one of the big ones. Do you buy that porn magazine or give the money to charity?

Lest I be accused of choosing extreme examples, this is in fact how ethics are discussed by philosophers. An old chestnut, discussed every year in seminars everywhere: you know Hitler is going to be responsible for millions of deaths. If you kill him, they'll all live. What do you do, considering the moral precept that taking any human life is wrong?

Philosophers say you're missing the point if you answer "Kill the guy" or "Don't kill the guy", precisely because ethics is distinct from morality. With stealing you have the same depth of discussion. This is not moral relativism("everything is right or wrong not absolutely but according to a specific framework")and much less ethical relativism("the justifications for choosing certain behaviours cannot be dissociated or discussed without taking into account the specific cultural framework involved).

In fact, ethical relativism is so rare it doesn't exist! Moral relativism, on the other hand, is alive and well. So I subscribe entirely to fff's and others' views on what it entails. They should not be lumped together, even in a carefree environment such as this one. Fff indicates this confusion by repeatedly writing "moral/ethical relativism". They're not just words, you know... ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:31 PM on February 28, 2002


Excuse the typos and the unconscious(I swear, Judge!)theft of Hildago's medicine example. To try and sum up: Morality is about deciding what's right and wrong. Ethics is about deciding, when two or more courses of action are wrong(or right)which has the least harmful(or the more beneficial)consequences. That's crude, but it'll do.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2002


'mentioning Winona Ryder.' Neroism. the use of name or large praetorians to get one free if caught in the act of robbery. hugh grant is familiar with this skit. very unprofessional. "and it may be something that involves sacrifice or pain on my part. " finally an element concerning ethics. to objectify stealing is rather like objectifying....anythingpickit...opps. the subjective circumstances are the ethical core. the newspaper analogy, thats objective yet subjective upon its...the definition is what is unclear to me...occurence. a simple and highly effective example of possession in modern law, hell going back to the codexs of Hammurabi. The acceptence of socities punishment-"sacrifice or pain on my part" is what is key. to steal a grape, get caught and confess. without protest, accept the punishment. what is 'wrong' other then the intial act. (remember the thief PAYS for his crime) to me, what is wrong is not in the grapes theft, but why the grape. Perhaps humans are more concerned with the subjective aspects of stealing more then anything. esp the why.
posted by clavdivs at 9:53 PM on February 28, 2002


Stealing is ethically wrong. Not that I haven't done it, but I've seen the ere of my ways. I firmly believe that what goes around comes around.

Do I condone it on a Les Miserables level? Sure. Do I condone it on a spoiled middle-upper class white kids level? Definitely not. Making excuses might make you feel better, but it makes you look dumber.
posted by catatonic at 10:07 PM on February 28, 2002


God knows I love Bill Clinton and I would vote for him a million times over - but the so-called definitions of the word "steal" sound soooo much like "depends on what the definition of is - is" but even less ambigous and with even less merit than Bill.

You may not think property is theft, but society does and as we've said here "we're trying to have a society here".

Miguel: the examples you provide of stealing a pill to save a man are pretty irrelevant to the "thrill stealing" we're talking about here. Lord knows I want to watch the Superbowl on that big projection screen tv but because I don't have the money in no way gives me the right to take it.

There are some things in life (most things I would say) that have a wrong and right. No amount of lawyering changes the underlying truth.
posted by owillis at 10:13 PM on February 28, 2002


Don't forget the stolen kisses, owillis!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2002


owillis: I don't see how you can so vehemently denounce stealing as morally unconscionable, but you can love Clinton, despite his admitted adulterous behavior. Come on, the guy was ethically bankrupt.

I'm not trying to hijack the thread here, but how can you say one is not as bad as the other? Doesn't this thread come down to whether or not said actions are moral? I respect you as one of the voices of reason on MetaFilter, but this whole thread seems hypocritical to me.
posted by catatonic at 10:29 PM on February 28, 2002


If you're a salaried employee, you're getting paid to accomplish specific tasks by specific times, not getting paid by the hour. So goofing off during work hours is not stealing unless you're not meeting your deadlines. After all, most salaried employees are expected to work overtime and weekends if necessary, without compensation, during crunch time; is your employer stealing from you?

If you're a salaried employee and your time is billed to a client, it is stealing from the client if you're billing hours you didn't actually work. This can be a difficult ethical situation, though. At my last job, we essentially had to claim billable hours, regardless of whether we actually worked or not, or we'd get fired for poor job performance. (Despite having absolutely no control over getting legitimate billable hours.)

If you're an hourly employee, you're stealing if you claim payment for hours you didn't actually work.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:31 PM on February 28, 2002


If my high horse doesn't mean I'm pathetic enough to be ripping stereos off from circuit city then high-ho silver, away!

To paraphrase Gore Vidal (via Hitchens), one should always keep one's high horse "tethered conveniently within reach." I don't really get the backlash against the stealing-is-wrong crowd either. or the notion that stealing from the rich is okay because they're rich.

If you get pickpocketed by someone lower on the socioeconomic totem pole than you, are you really likely to just shrug it off on the basis that "they needed the money more than you did?" What if you're managing a Walmart branch with 20% shrinkage and you have to layoff employees because same-store profitability is down? How would you feel about stealing from chain stores then?
posted by lizs at 10:47 PM on February 28, 2002


I really get annoyed at the thought that people should lose their jobs because of the excuse of shrinkage. The tone of entitlement involved in such an action is not all that different than thieving. If you own a store it is your own damn responsibility to provide security instead of making employees pay for your failure to produce profit at an expected rate.

At the same time if a manager discovers an employee is actively stealing from inventory, they are entitled to call the police and prosecute. Punish the thief for their actions, not innocent bystanders.
posted by Sqwerty at 11:27 PM on February 28, 2002


This guy arrives at the train station, walks to a cab and asks how much it would cost to be driven to the Central Hotel. The cabbie gives the price, the guy asks if there is any charge for the baggages. Says the cabbie, "No charge for the baggages". "All right," says the guy, "then take my baggage and I'll meet you there in a half hour".

Well, it loses something in the translation, but the point is that some nationalities take pride in getting away without paying for things.
posted by semmi at 11:40 PM on February 28, 2002


As other posters have pointed out, there is no harmless stealing - someone at the end of the line always suffers unjustly as a consequence. So the happy thieves are really saying: "It's ok if it's not someone I know". Hence the outrage among us non-thieves - we see ourselves as the someone you don't know.

Sqwerty: yeah, it may be unjust that the management punish employees for your acts. But once you know that happens, then you're complicit. And of course, the shop can go broke if its margins shrink too much...

Incidentally, I've done things I knew were wrong, and I'm not proud - and I'm not telling you what they were either, because I'm ashamed. Leaving aside the thieves with justifications - I'm absolutely boggled by the boasting tone in some people who admit it's wrong.

Shamelessness. Wow.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:40 PM on February 28, 2002


Hey i_am_joe's_spleen, don't assume that we all steal. While I personally don't steal on any conscious level, I refuse to view all thieves as equally bad.

On a regular basis I see more financial chicanery harm done by people who function on a quasi-legal basis (ENRON), while I see street people who pilfer a ho-ho from the local 7-11 are treated like social pariahs. I think that is incredibly backwards.
posted by Sqwerty at 12:02 AM on March 1, 2002


I don't see how you can so vehemently denounce stealing as morally unconscionable, but you can love Clinton

I never said Bill's actions weren't reprehensible. Not once. But count me among the suckers who believe his apologies. My main problem in this thread was the attitude of "yeah, I stole - it was cool, and I was justified". I guess its the difference between doing something wrong and being contrite versus doing something wrong and justifying it somehow. It would be the equivalent of Clinton saying "Yeah, my wife didn't bake cookies for me so I had sex with the intern" - that wouldn't change the wrongness of the action.

respect you as one of the voices of reason on MetaFilter
That. Is. Scary. :)
posted by owillis at 12:06 AM on March 1, 2002


MiguelCardoso: Morality is about deciding what's right and wrong. Ethics is about deciding, when two or more courses of action are wrong(or right)which has the least harmful(or the more beneficial)consequences.

Sorry, but I think this distinction is ridiculous (and it's not one that's made when studying ethics seriously). If one action has more beneficial consequences than another, they can't both be right (assuming that we're basically utilitarian - otherwise why are we asking about utility?). If you mean that ethics is about resolving moral dilemmas where there is no good option, that's not the same as saying that there's no right option, because whatever option is best is right - there's always a right thing to do.

Anyway, on a more relevant note, clearly it would sometimes be right to steal (ethically right, morally right, it's all the same). Aside from the obvious cases where you can save someone's life by stealing, there are evil corporations that don't have shareholders: if I could steal from Bacardi without getting caught I would feel proud of doing so. On the other hand, I do think that there is independent reason to obey laws against stealing, apart from fear of punishment and concern for the victims.

And I'm a very law-abiding person (even my parents think I'm too conformist). The closest I ever came to shoplifting was walking out of Boots and then going about twenty yards down the road whilst still carrying my shopping basket. I was so embarrassed when I walked back into the shop...
posted by Gaz at 4:01 AM on March 1, 2002


If one action has more beneficial consequences than another, they can't both be right (assuming that we're basically utilitarian - otherwise why are we asking about utility?)

I don't understand. You have the money to pay for an important life-saving operation but must decide between helping a young man or an older woman? Do you choose based on how long they have to live? Do you choose at random, as you think it unethical to distinguish between the two on any basis?

Both courses are beneficial and right. That's why it's an ethical question.

It can never be morally right to steal. I'm sorry if I was too confusing - it was late at night!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:11 AM on March 1, 2002


i would like to echo goneii's point that the us is a country which has it's roots in theft. the brutal genocidal invasion of the north american mainland is common knowledge.

brigita says 'we're trying to have a society here, people.'

indeed we are, but when this society makes no attempt at reconciling its roots, what kind of a society can it be?

i am interested to know how all these 'stealing = wrong' people cope with the idea that most of the manufactured products sold for profit in todays society do not take into account the environmental impact of their production. in effect the profits made by companies today are derived from 'stealing' from the life support system of our planet, and of our children.
posted by asok at 4:16 AM on March 1, 2002


I don't understand. You have the money to pay for an important life-saving operation but must decide between helping a young man or an older woman? Do you choose based on how long they have to live? Do you choose at random, as you think it unethical to distinguish between the two on any basis?

Both courses are beneficial and right. That's why it's an ethical question.


Of course you try to use ethical judgement to choose. But you are trying to do the right thing, so it's inaccurate to say that both choices would be right - they would both be good and admirable but only the better would be right (assuming that there is some way of choosing). This may be a purely linguistic argument though.

It can never be morally right to steal.

I assume what you mean is that morality has a set of rigid rules, so that you do moral wrong whenever you break a rule. But sometimes rules conflict (stealig v saving lives) so that's where ethics comes in. So morality is deontological and ethics is utilitarian. But I don't see an argument that we should all have a deontological morality - why should a utilitarian admit that stealing is morally wrong? Though of course she might have that as a rule of thumb.
posted by Gaz at 4:40 AM on March 1, 2002


I hate to detract from the argument over ethics that's going on, but I have a story to share:

About a year ago, a friend and I were staying in an (expensive) hotel. (Yes, we had paid for the room.) Said friend was starting a collection of hotel soaps, and was keeping them in a bag. An open bag, on the floor. It took her a couple of days of her collection not growing to realise that the cleaners were re-stocking the bathroom from that bag.
posted by eoz at 4:43 AM on March 1, 2002


Regardless of one's ethical or moral leanings, one could always Steal this Book. As an aside, the only thing I ever (consciously) stole was a marble from a display in a furniture store when I was five years old. I thought it would be a good idea to share my "booty" with my parents. They immediately punished me, and except for several pint glasses from my local pub, I haven't taken anything that does not belong to me since.
posted by madag at 5:09 AM on March 1, 2002


If you own a store it is your own damn responsibility to provide security instead of making employees pay for your failure to produce profit at an expected rate.

...and the cost of providing that security is so high that you end up losing in wages paid more than you would have lost in shrinkage, and the employees still have to be laid off. This is like saying you have to make your airplanes strong enough to survive any crash--so you make them stronger and solider and heavy and eventually they can't take off. Voila! No crashes! Problem solved!

There is no solution to any problem that doesn't involve making decisions about costs. Bad solutions abound, good ones are hard to find, and the thieves push every solution iinto the "bad" zone. Morally, the problem is that one set of people (the thieves) bear no costs for their actions, while others (the victims) bear all the costs. Regardless of whether the vicitms are guilty or innocent on other fronts, how can this be right?
posted by rodii at 6:11 AM on March 1, 2002


indeed we are, but when this society makes no attempt at reconciling its roots, what kind of a society can it be?

the only one we've got to work with so let's all do our best to follow the rules and play well with others, shall we?
posted by brigita at 6:18 AM on March 1, 2002


I have a friend who used to take books out of the library, remove the metal check-out things, return them, and then go back and take them. For some reason she only did this with books by Charles Bukowski.

I came late to this thread looking to bring this sort of theft up. Anything cool or interesting to a select few gets stolen from the Seattle Public Library. In the 60s, I knew a woman who had stolen God's Man by Lyn Ward--a first edition. There was a box set of CDs on the Beats that friend once checked out. It's long gone--the library tends not to repurchase after the sixth theft or so. I'm not fond of the moral condemnations here in general but stealing from a library is one thing I find especially sickening. It's stealing from the commons, from everybody else at once. Those who do are scum to me.

Miguel, at that party--great post, by the way--you mention, some would be clutching their wallets and others would be clutching their instinctive distrust of the holier-than-thous. Stealing is something I prefer to avoid doing. Moralizing is another: we are all human beings here. We come with flaws and blind spots. Whoever is running things in the end, let be someone other than a total hypocrite or a rigid self-righteous prig--this is my constant prayer.
posted by y2karl at 7:09 AM on March 1, 2002


Stealing is something I prefer to avoid doing. Moralizing is another: we are all human beings here. We come with flaws and blind spots. Whoever is running things in the end, let be someone other than a total hypocrite or a rigid self-righteous prig--this is my constant prayer.

Forgive the cheerleading: but this expresses exactly what I've been feeling. Thanks, Karl.
posted by rodii at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2002


Second cheerleader here(the one with the knobbly knees) for y2karl's Moses-like pronouncement. Set it in stone, by all means.

Gaz; you're right - it is linguistic. In fact you're right morally, ethically and rationally. My moral definition of right was "good". Stealing is wrong, i.e. "bad". Your definition of right is "the best possible ethical solution". Both are right...before my head explodes! Oh - and drugs are bad too, m'kay? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:58 AM on March 1, 2002


Hey,
I wouldn't steal from the library (it was a college library, making it slightly different (for some reason)). I always tip at least 20%. I pay to see crap as well as good movies.
Professionally speaking: I facilitate money laundering in the form of "alternative finance". I'm a 'good guy'.
posted by goneill at 8:09 AM on March 1, 2002


miguel@9:31PM -- Thank you for a cogent explanation. I had confused ethical versus moral. I continue to assert that morally, theft is wrong. Ethically, theft may present the better of two choices, but in no real-life example presented during this thread has that been the case. (And in no case can theft be morally right, no matter how ethically right.)

Apparently many MeFi posters are have been equally confused re: morality versus ethics. And apparently several of them haven't made it past Kohlberg's second stage (though maybe they're in transition to stage 5...) [just noticed the page then continues into some sort of religious thing. don't reject the first half of the page because of the second half.]

enginebeak: Just read the book. It's freaking huge and very comprehensive: I would not do it any justice by attempting to summarize it here.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:06 AM on March 1, 2002


There is no solution to any problem that doesn't involve making decisions about costs. Bad solutions abound, good ones are hard to find, and the thieves push every solution iinto the "bad" zone. Morally, the problem is that one set of people (the thieves) bear no costs for their actions, while others (the victims) bear all the costs. Regardless of whether the vicitms are guilty or innocent on other fronts, how can this be right?


I have no problem at all holding thieves accountable for their actions. But at the same time, holding employees accountable for the actions of others is also thieving. Think back on how some gas companies inflate prices at the pump each time there is a soundbyte in the media about OPEC raising prices. Assigning blame to other people (instead of honest prices and competent management) in order to guarantee a high profit margin for the company is theft of a major magnitude.


posted by Sqwerty at 9:29 AM on March 1, 2002


five fresh fish: no, thank you for introducing the moral dimension so forcibly, as it was shamefully missing from the description of my post. Which was, according to any standard, immoral - specially the last bit.

By the way, I'm Portuguese and an intransigent fish-eater and have never had the joy of having more than three fresh fish in my fridge. When I read your user profile I asked myself what fish they could possibly be. It would be unethical to say I wasn't envious... :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:32 AM on March 1, 2002


what moral dimension, whatethical debate? what a bunch of nothingness...FFF do you even know what they hell your saying: OPPPS sorry about the mix up...those silly defininitions. Owillis and clinton? its wrong to steal? 140 posts and thats all you can come up with. I see clearly the problems. I now know why people get hissy ay MeFi. (sorry but reading you'all stroke another with something akin to socal bag balm is...its silly.) Kohlberg...what a joke. just use Maslow next time
posted by clavdivs at 10:17 AM on March 1, 2002


As a reformed philosopher, I disagree with Miguel: marking a clear and distinct difference between ethics and morality is often a warning sign that sophistry may be lurking (remember: I said "warning sign," and not "absolute indicator"). There might be different nuances to the two terms, or there may be something in translation (i.e., if Miguel isn't a native English speaker, his native tongue might have meaningfully distinct terms that are NOT best translated into "morals" and "ethics."), but regardless of whether you're talking morals or ethics, you're talking about some combination of values and behaviors. About the only distinction between the terms that I would be willing to concede is that "ethics" tends to indicate a higher level of formality (i.e., academically serious), whereas "morality" has a subtext of less formality.

To put it more directly: Marking a distinction between "morals" and "ethics" is either a wasted effort (because it doesn't buy you any more explanatory or argumentative power), or is a move required in order for a flawed argument to have apparent credence. For what I see Miguel doing in this thread, the distinction is simply useless. Whatever he's trying to articulate with this distinction would best be articulated via alternate means.
posted by yesster at 10:44 AM on March 1, 2002


Zen Koan: if you join a thread past the 175-post point do you make a sound?

I'm sure no one's reading at this point, but having waded through the past 175 posts, I still don't feel that the "thieves" are being honest with themselves. I have the same thoughts about digital music and had much to say (also late in the game)

But that's the central thing: don't justify wrongdoing. At least be mature enough to acknowledge guilt. I've stolen in my life, no question. I don't feel good about it. I'm listening to ripped mp3's right now. I don't take the moral high ground by virtue of being him without sin. I do, however, accept what I'm doing as wrong to some extent or another. Yes, these are trade-off's we all make in life. What I find staggering about these comments is that virtually no one seems willing to at least be honest with him-or herself.

I couldn't begin to come up with a comprehensive list of excuses used, but off the top of my head, people have argued that it's OK because

1. Property is theft (so what? anyone want to send me your address so can I walk into your house and take whatever I please)

2. Theft isn't theft (arguing that stealing a CD is equivalent to stealing food for a starving family sickens me.)

3. It doesn't really matter (clearly disproven above by many more knowledgable about economics than me)

4. It's the victim's fault (he should never have had high prices (never mind that he may have done so as a result of the shoplifting which has already occurred)).

5. Money's free and stealing from someone just means that they'll pick some more off the money tree.

6. Intellectual property isn't property - (Coldchef, can I come to your house, copy down your screenplays and sell them (and not pay you?))

7. Attacking the accuser (am I at work right now? Yes. Does that make your stealing right?)

So much more, but no one's listening.

Yes, many of us steal or have stolen. That doesn't make it right.
posted by Sinner at 11:18 AM on March 1, 2002


....iiii...love you. " distinction is simply useless.' i have tried to say that as the thread is wonderfully...driven its own way rather then migvels obvious question asking. as a thumbnail cartoon, i say morals are the game. ehtics the way you play it. caveman yes, effective for the common man. you bet.

"more immoral"
miguel:..."so what do you think Mr. Gotti...."

(enter image here)
posted by clavdivs at 11:27 AM on March 1, 2002


hey Sinner,

I'm still reading. I find your assertion that peoplel who see this issue differently than you, are somehow necessarily being dishonest with themselves, to be rather presumptive. Some people don't have the same morals you do. Why is that so hard to believe?
posted by bingo at 11:28 AM on March 1, 2002


dont be sure whose listening...thats your first mistake.
posted by clavdivs at 11:30 AM on March 1, 2002


I don't want to speak for him, but I think the chefwould be happy to have you over for a beer to read his screenplays.

Lots of people are still reading this thread.
posted by goneill at 11:35 AM on March 1, 2002


that's chef [space] would
posted by goneill at 11:48 AM on March 1, 2002


Okay - ethics/morality concept #1: Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you genuinely believe that private property is inherently wrong & you don't mind if other people walk off with your money & your stuff, then I guess I can't fault your moral reasoning when you do the same to others. (Not that I want you anywhere near my things.) If you're stealing because you don't want to give up your money (your property) & you think that someone else should give up theirs for your enjoyment, then any claims you make about the ethics of your actions are merely self-serving rationalizations.

Notice that I'm not judging any individuals here. Most of us done both good & bad things in our lives. I'm judging the actions. We can't try to be better people if we don't judge our actions.

And yes, you can judge that some actions are worse than others. Shoplifting a candy bar isn't as bad as stealing someone's car which isn't as bad as burning down their house which isn't as bad as murdering someone. It doesn't make a very good excuse for a wrong action to say "It could have been something worse!"

The theoretical discussion of stealing food for the starving or medicine for someone who can't afford it seem a bit off-topic. Everyone confessing above seemed to be relating thefts motivated by thrills, malice or plain cheapness.

Bottom line, consider that your actions affect other human beings. (Big companies are composed of and owned by human beings, so no excuse there.) Each of these human beings is a real person just like you and has the same feelings and moral rights that you do. Consider that, and you can probably make the right decision the next time you have a compulsion to pick up some freebies.

<aside> clavdivs - When you sober up, will you be able to make any sense out of your posts? I know I can't. </aside>
posted by tdismukes at 11:49 AM on March 1, 2002


So, would you kill someone for $1,000,000?

Depends. Do I get to choose who it is?
posted by ebarker at 12:05 PM on March 1, 2002


Bingo: I find your assertion that peoplel who see this issue differently than you, are somehow necessarily being dishonest with themselves, to be rather presumptive. Some people don't have the same morals you do. Why is that so hard to believe?

Respectfully, because no one yet has said "all stealing is OK," only that some small parts which exculpate the speaker are. It would be hard to argue with someone who would have no problem with me walking in their door and taking whatever I chose. But when one simply defines the terms to suit their personal malfeasance, well, that smacks to me of dishonesty and self-indulgence.
posted by Sinner at 12:30 PM on March 1, 2002


marking a clear and distinct difference between ethics and morality is often a warning sign that sophistry may be lurking

yesster - as a reformed philosopher you must know that a "sophist", contrary to the common sense, is a teacher who, whether he's any good or not, receives money for his lessons. "Sophistry" is about as significant as "plumbing" or "metaphysics". It certainly does not mean casuistry or phony arguments that use the resources of rhetoric. Another loaded word.

Here's a moral question: "Why is stealing wrong?"

An ethical question: "If you were forced to steal, i.e. do something morally wrong, and had to choose a course of action which did less harm(whether from an utilitarian pov or not)which would you choose from the following list:

1)Steal a penny from someone who had only a penny and could buy a slice of bread with it and survive

2)Steal a penny from someone who would be able to buy a fresher kind of loaf?

3)Steal a penny from the owner of the bakery?"

You should never have retired if you can't make the distinction between moral behaviour("is it right or wrong?")and ethical behaviour("how can I do something wrong but less harmful?). Or, on the same plane, "something right but more beneficial?").

Why would philosophers be needed, anyway, if everything was as simple as it seemed?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:32 PM on March 1, 2002


Give and you might receive. Take and be SURE of receiving.
posted by Modem Ovary at 1:08 PM on March 1, 2002


i am interested to know how all these 'stealing = wrong' people cope with the idea that most of the manufactured products sold for profit in todays society do not take into account the environmental impact of their production. in effect the profits made by companies today are derived from 'stealing' from the life support system of our planet, and of our children

i'm guessing that you don't personally know very many product manufacturers, asok. in fact, i'm guessing that you don't know *any.* i haven't done due diligence on a manufacturing company yet that *doesn't* take into account environmental impact.
posted by lizs at 1:28 PM on March 1, 2002


Oh dear, Miguel, I thought that we'd got this sorted out. As a not-yet-reformed philosopher (heh-heh), I have to say that the question "Why is stealing wrong?" clearly falls within the domain of ethics (and you don't do a philosophy course in 'morality'). Some people think that doing what is most beneficial is all there is to doing right (utilitarians/consequentialists). Some people think that obeying certain rules is what counts, and that when there is a conflict of rules it is resolved by a rank-ordering in the rules rather than by asking what is most beneficial (deontologists). So the former seem to be interested only in what Miguel calls ethics and the latter in what he calls morality. So their disagreement is over what question to ask? I don't think so. I'd agree with yesster and say that this was all casuistry if only I understood what the point was.

Miguel, would you agree that it is right to steal in a particular case if your action is beneficial overall (and is the most beneficial of your available options)? If so then I think that the problem is all in the words.

"Sophistry" is about as significant as "plumbing" or "metaphysics". It certainly does not mean casuistry or phony arguments that use the resources of rhetoric.
Well, actually, I thought that Plato's point in the Gorgias was to show that sophistry is just rhetoric, merely flattering it's audience (a knack rather than a techne, unlike philosophy).
posted by Gaz at 1:30 PM on March 1, 2002


goneill, glad you're still here:

I don't want to speak for him, but I think the chefwould be happy to have you over for a beer to read his screenplays.

Lots of people are still reading this thread.


Sure. Seems like a nice enough guy. Think he'd have a problem with my copying it verbatim and then selling it under my name?
posted by Sinner at 1:48 PM on March 1, 2002


Miguel -
The word "sophistry" has its roots in the ancient Greek practice of teaching the art of rhetoric. The way we interpret it is that the Sophists valued winning an argument over discovering or describing the truth (which is why Socrates despised them). But in its normal usage in today's world, "sophistry" refers to arguments that inlclude intentional fallacies. Ancient usage has little bearing on current literal usage of a word, despite what philologists might say to the contrary.

In the modern history of philosophy, most writers use "ethics" and "morals" somewhat interchangeably. One exception is G. E. Moore, who used the words in a manner rather opposite to that suggested by you. Moore postulated that ethics concerned the ideals (i.e., "What is good?") whereas morals concerned the guidance of behavior (i.e., "what should I do if x").

But that brings us to the heart of the matter. Moore used the distinction to address the difference between values and behaviors, or between principles and actions. Miguel , it seems you are trying to articulate the same kind of thing.

My point is that, rather than muddy the waters with anally precise definitions, why not just address the topic you really want to discuss? If you're really concerned about the difference, say, between rule-based behavior and principle-based behavior, then discuss it in those terms. If you want to mark a distinction between what people say they believe to be right, and the actions/behaviors they actually perform, then do so directly.

The examples you gave of "moral" and "ethical" questions indicate that you are using the terms to mark a distinction that most Western philosophers have marked with the terms "metaethics" and "normative ethics." That is, the question "why is stealing wrong" is a metaethical question. It asks us to examine principles of right and wrong, what those terms mean, where they get there "force." The latter, multiple choice question you present is what would be called "normative ethics."

I do not wish to fight with you, Miguel [argue, yes, in the academic spirit of the word; but not fight]. I just thought that your distinction was (a) inaccurate, in that modern usage of the terms has them virtually interchangeable (b) unnecessary, since the heart of the matter you wanted to point out could have been addressed without the distinction, and (c) distracting, since it is both (a) and (b).

Please - I meant no disrespect.
posted by yesster at 1:59 PM on March 1, 2002


Evening sinnner,
I'm not sure that plagarism is the same as watching a movie you wouldn't otherwise pay for.
posted by goneill at 2:36 PM on March 1, 2002


goneill,

The same? No, of course not. But to suggest that simply because there's no one in the theater that the movie has no intrinsic value is silly. Intellectual property has value - as evidenced by plagiarism's wrong-ness - and good moie or bad movie, going into that theater "for free" is taking it, even if you leave with nothing concrete.
posted by Sinner at 3:08 PM on March 1, 2002


Listening to Jane's Addiction - Been Caught Stealing on repeat while reading this thread is highly recommended.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:03 PM on March 1, 2002


Preferably in pirated mp3 form.

Sorry - carry on.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:04 PM on March 1, 2002


Sinner: But when one simply defines the terms to suit their personal malfeasance, well, that smacks to me of dishonesty and self-indulgence.

What I think you're refusing to acknowledge here is that in some cases (mine, for example, re my childhood shoplifting) the perpertrator of the theft does not believe that the theft was a malfeasance to begin with. I would indeed be upset if you came over here and took stuff from my apartment. But then, I never claimed that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was my credo. Some who confessed to crimes above had declared those crimes to be morally/ethically wrong. Those who did not, reasons given or no, are not necessarily rationalizing against some internal moral compass that is identical to yours.
posted by bingo at 7:52 PM on March 1, 2002


you don't do a philosophy course in 'morality'(Gaz)

Heh. Let's keep a united front here, Gaz and yesster and me. Lest everyone think we're all barmy. ;)

Gaz: It may not even be a linguistic disagreement but a question of terminology. I studied at Manchester and Oxford where the name of the "philosophy course" was moral philosophy. I have never heard of studying "morality" either but I imagine you might be able to in third-rate theological colleges or fine American sunday schools.

As a political philosopher(this will really scare the birds)moral philosophy deals with what is right and good per se whereas ethics deals with with how to apply moral principles. Sometimes it's called "applied ethics" and it's currently in vogue, perhaps more in America, where it deals with such things as euthanasia, abortion and other real-life questions.

In political philosophy, ethics means, from Aristotle onwards, on how to conduct the good(i.e. moral)life. Moral philosophy means how to determine what is good. The distinction between moral philosophy and ethics may be debatable but it is an honourable one, practised by many contemporary philosophers and taught at many universities. For instance: Plato and Kant are moral philosophers; Aristotle and Lévinas are ethicists.

The Sophists' (and sophistry's, an unphilosophical term)bad reputations are indeed based on Plato's hatred(and misrepresentation)of them. And it has carried through to our own day. It is still innacurate though, as even the most elementary history of philosophy shows.

Gaz's original point, about linguistic criteria(though I would argue "linguistic" is innacurate too)still stands. For political philosophers "normative ethics" is an oxymoron and "meta-ethics" is moral philosophy. Though yesster's objection, regarding "modern usage", whatever that means, is acceptable to me.(You bastard! Why undo centuries of hard work?)

Apart from these small things, I agree with both of you. That and the normative principle that the cat on no account must be let out of the bag. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:35 PM on March 1, 2002


bingo: Those who did not, reasons given or no, are not necessarily rationalizing against some internal moral compass that is identical to yours.

This is exactly my point. This happy reliance on moral relativism in any situation, so long as it serves a perpetrator of some social ill. This is exactly what was meant above by "we're trying to have a society here."

bingo: I would indeed be upset if you came over here and took stuff from my apartment. But then, I never claimed that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was my credo.:

I tend to believe to the contrary, regardless of what you think, but OK. Really, it doesn't matter whether you claim that as your credo or would be upset. So long as it's OK by my moral code, I've done no wrong? Is that not your point? That there are no absolutes whatsoever?

To me, this sort of I'll-go-my-way-you-go-yours loophole is reserved for far thornier issues with many, many possible costs and benefits - the death penalty, abortion, affirmative action. But we all know that stealing is wrong, that murder is wrong, etc. Your statement that "your morals come from within" only makes sense if they roughly approximate those of the society you inhabit. Why can't I just believe that beating you senseless and taking your wallet is moral, do so and suffer neither guilt nor repercussions?

Yes, there are shades of grey (the aforemention stealing to save your dying family, or killing of Hitler as a child, or justifiable homicide), but none of those are to be found in the laundry-list of excuses above. What you will find are arguments of pure convenience which do a disservice to those issues actually deserving of some real consideration.
posted by Sinner at 10:43 PM on March 1, 2002


This happy reliance on moral relativism

Or sad? Bingo has been anything but joyful on this question. Sinner: I fear attributions of moral relativism, apart from being non-enlightenlingly shorthand, are little more than politically correct ways of accusing someone of being immoral; whereas even moral relativists concede that there are moral/immoral distinctions to be made in each culture. For instance, in ours. Whereas - if one reads the whole thread straight through - there is, in fact, no moral disagreement. A moral relativist(not that there is one on MetaFilter, that I know of)would say: Naturellement. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:01 PM on March 1, 2002


Sinner: The fact that a person doesn't think stealing is wrong does not necessarily make him a moral relativist, and it doesn't mean his morals are based on his own convenience, either.

So long as it's OK by my moral code, I've done no wrong? Is that not your point? That there are no absolutes whatsoever?

No. There may indeed be absolutes. But it may be my morals that are in tune with those absolutes, and not yours.

Your statement that "your morals come from within" only makes sense if they roughly approximate those of the society you inhabit.

So if you inhabit a society bent to evil purposes, and your morals tell you to go against the grain, it doesn't make sense to listen to them?
posted by bingo at 1:52 AM on March 2, 2002


bingo "The fact that a person doesn't think stealing is wrong does not necessarily make him a moral relativist, and it doesn't mean his morals are based on his own convenience"
"I would indeed be upset if you came over here and took stuff from my apartment. But then, I never claimed that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" was my credo"

Sounds like it's not a matter of thinking stealing isn't wrong. Sounds like you think stealing from you is wrong, but stealing from other people is okay. That's where the "based on his own convenience" comes in.
The whole "do unto others" thing is derived from the concept that other people aren't objects. They're real persons inside, with the same rights & feelings that we all have. The whole concept of ethics/morality is just based on trying to apply that fundamental knowledge in specific situations. At it's heart, evil is just the converse view - thinking that I'm a special case, that my desires/feelings/rights count and other people's don't. I've witnessed the damage caused by people who take that approach, and it isn't pretty.
Bottom line - if we aren't discussing morality here as something that applies to all of us equally, then I don't think we're actually having a discussion. We're just talking two different languages that happen to have the same words in them.
posted by tdismukes at 8:10 AM on March 2, 2002


Bingo: No. There may indeed be absolutes. But it may be my morals that are in tune with those absolutes, and not yours.

This is a ridiculous conversation. Stealing is wrong. You know it and I know it. You do feel that stealing from you is wrong, but not you from me, to simplify. You're arguing purely for the sake of argument and it's not the least bit convincing.

bingo: So if you inhabit a society bent to evil purposes, and your morals tell you to go against the grain, it doesn't make sense to listen to them?

First of all, we're not discussing some fictitious society, we're discussing ours. (However, thought I'm no anthropologist, the bedrock of almost every society I'm aware of does suggest that stealing is wrong). Regardless, are you indirectly stating that our society is evil for protecting the property of its members? Second, if you disagree with a premise that findamental to a society, well, leave and go find one more in tune with your morals. By not following the basic tenets of our society, you essentially forfeit membership.
posted by Sinner at 8:48 AM on March 2, 2002


tdismukes: Bottom line - if we aren't discussing morality here as something that applies to all of us equally, then I don't think we're actually having a discussion. We're just talking two different languages that happen to have the same words in them.

Exactly. And if it doesn't apply to us all equally, relative morality seems a decent way of describing it. Although perhaps a "subjective morality" would also work.
posted by Sinner at 8:51 AM on March 2, 2002


Is this the longest MeFi thread yet?

Tdismukes: well said, bravo.

IMO, there are only two paths.

On one of them, the only moral is "every man for himself." On that path, it's okay to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Steal, murder, whatever: there are no absolutes, no limitations.

On the other path there are absolutes, and the minimal set of absolutes is this: respect others and others' property. The two go hand in hand, if only because the line between self and property becomes pretty grey when the property is necessary to the maintenance of the self -- ie. up north in the winter, you wouldn't last a night without shelter, so respecting others' shelter is kin to respecting them.

There is no middle path where you get to respect some of the people and some of their property some of the time, simply because it immediately enters a huge grey zone where boundaries can not be determined. It inevitably leads to the "every man for himself" path.

Both paths are legitimate.

Only one of them can lead to a healthy society.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:53 AM on March 2, 2002


Just one last question, Bingo, if you (or anyone, for that matter), are still reading.

Is there anything, in your mind, that is absolutely wrong, or is it all up to you and whatever your heart desires at a given time? I apologize for seeming glib - I genuinely don't understand what you're getting at here.
posted by Sinner at 8:56 AM on March 2, 2002


miguelcardoso: I fear attributions of moral relativism, apart from being non-enlightenlingly shorthand, are little more than politically correct ways of accusing someone of being immoral; whereas even moral relativists concede that there are moral/immoral distinctions to be made in each culture. For instance, in ours. Whereas - if one reads the whole thread straight through - there is, in fact, no moral disagreement. A moral relativist(not that there is one on MetaFilter, that I know of)would say: Naturellement. ;)

To be fair, I studied very little philosophy (three or four classes)in school and have forgotten most or much of it. I'll gladly cede that battle to you. But you seem intent on proving your philosophical superiority and educating people here to the detriment of what is actually being discussed. You know exactly what I'm talking about: this late in the thread, with this few players, there's very little merit to debating the semantics of the conversation, and much more to actually participating in it.
posted by Sinner at 9:04 AM on March 2, 2002


tdismukes: Sounds like you think stealing from you is wrong, but stealing from other people is okay.

No. I think that objectively speaking, it's a morally neutral issue. That doesn't mean that people won't have an emotional reaction to having their stuff taken.

Sinner:You do feel that stealing from you is wrong, but not you from me, to simplify.

No, that is not what I feel at all.

Sinner: You're arguing purely for the sake of argument and it's not the least bit convincing.

I am arguing what I believe. You're refusing to accept that what I'm saying is actually my opinion. How convincing do you think that is?

The whole "do unto others" thing is derived from the concept that other people aren't objects. They're real persons inside, with the same rights & feelings that we all have. The whole concept of ethics/morality is just based on trying to apply that fundamental knowledge in specific situations.

I do not believe that is the "whole concept of ethics/morality" at all. People had morals before Hammurabi.

At it's heart, evil is just the converse view - thinking that I'm a special case, that my desires/feelings/rights count and other people's don't.

This doesn't sound like evil to me, it sounds like sociopathology. You don't think there are evil people who believe they are acting for the greater good?

First of all, we're not discussing some fictitious society, we're discussing ours...Regardless, are you indirectly stating that our society is evil for protecting the property of its members?

No, I'm directly arguing with this statement of yours (about a statement of mine): Your statement that "your morals come from within" only makes sense if they roughly approximate those of the society you inhabit.

Let's just take a couple of obvious examples. During WW II, in Germany, the law of the land made it perfectly acceptable (indeed, compulsory) for the government to commandeer the assets of the entire Jewish population, as well as those of other marginalized groups. Until about 100 years ago, slavery was a form of property accepted by many societies. Women in many societies were, for many centuries, not permitted to own property of any kind. During the French Revolution, the peasantry took over the country and decided that the property of the aristocrats was now their property. Before the revolution, the aristocrats running the country had quite a different idea. Were all these society-condoned ideas of the rights to property automaticallly connected to an objective moral standard? And if not, do you really think that people who resisted those ideas were obligated to find some kind of external validation for their own moral ideas before taking action?

Second, if you disagree with a premise that findamental to a society, well, leave and go find one more in tune with your morals.

Interesting. I thought you were arguing that morals are based on an objective standard that is applicable everywhere.

By not following the basic tenets of our society, you essentially forfeit membership.

As I discussed in a comment above, there are different types of stealing, and some of them are legal. The fact that our society condemns certain kinds of stealing only means, in my view, that like most societies, we are working in broad moral oversimplifications, partly based on the interests of the wealthy and powerful, and partly based on the inevitably slow process of trying to figure out a system of law and government that really is The Right Way. I believe that the basic tenets of our society (assuming we're both Americans) are the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and I think that I do follow those tenets. Incidentally, the word "property" was included in an early draft of the Declaration, but the founding fathers decided to strike it out.
posted by bingo at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2002


Sinner:You do feel that stealing from you is wrong, but not you from me, to simplify.
bingo: No, that is not what I feel at all.


The inference from the following quoted statement seemed pretty clear to me: "I would indeed be upset if you came over here and took stuff from my apartment."

sinner: Second, if you disagree with a premise that findamental to a society, well, leave and go find one more in tune with your morals.
bingo: Interesting. I thought you were arguing that morals are based on an objective standard that is applicable everywhere.


The statement was largely rhetorical and in support of that "objective standard": I don't think you would find such a society, essentially, so get back in line.

bingo: Let's just take a couple of obvious examples. During WW II, in Germany, the law of the land made it perfectly acceptable (indeed, compulsory) for the government to commandeer the assets of the entire Jewish population, as well as those of other marginalized groups.

Godwin. I'm flabbergasted, dismayed and disgusted by the ease with which you can compare shoplifting from a store with Nazi actions and slavery among others. Further, the sort of universal morality to which I'm alluding is exactly why those violations were eliminated. The world is not a perfect one and people do wrong all the time. That does not mitigate your doing so willfully.
posted by Sinner at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2002


fff: On the other path there are absolutes, and the minimal set of absolutes is this: respect others and others' property.

I disagree with you that that is the minimal set of absolutes, and I suspect that we also have different definitions of respect and property to begin with.

Sinner: Is there anything, in your mind, that is absolutely wrong, or is it all up to you and whatever your heart desires at a given time? I apologize for seeming glib - I genuinely don't understand what you're getting at here.

I appreciate your admitting that you don't understand me instead of insisting that I'm arguing for the sake of argument.

I'm not saying it's up to me and what my heart desires. Just because my code of behavior is different from yours, doesn't mean that I don't have one. Just because you find mine hard to accept, doesn't mean that I'm making it up to antagonize you. And just because yours is more widely accepted than mine doesn't mean that yours is objectively right. After all, for a moral code to be objective, it has to be universally applicable and permanent, right? It could hardly depend on popular opinion.

In terms of whether or not there is an objective moral standard. I really don't know one way or the other. I have my own moral code, which comes from my intuiton, but that doesn't mean that it's based on what's convenient to me at the moment. It's possible that my intuition is in tune with an objective moral idea. It's possible that everyone is in tune with that idea to a greater or lesser extent, but we all interpret it differently. Or some of us could simply be operating on different feeds than others. Maybe our creator/controller, if there is one, doesn't want us to all have the same morals. I don't know. But I do know what feels right to me (which is certainly not always the same as what feels good to me), and that is the guiding force that I will operate on. Whether I'm ultimately being guided by God or by a particular combination of brain chemicals, or some other factor, is not a question I have the answer to. And, significantly, I don't think anyone else does, either.
posted by bingo at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2002


Sinner: The inference from the following quoted statement seemed pretty clear to me: "I would indeed be upset if you came over here and took stuff from my apartment."

I'm sure the your inference was clear to you. It's the implication that I don't think was coming across. I tried to explain it to you, but if you fall back to your own inference from what I said, instead of my explanation, what can I do?

I'm flabbergasted, dismayed and disgusted by the ease with which you can compare shoplifting from a store with Nazi actions and slavery among others.

I was responding directly to this statement of yours (and I explicitly said so): Your statement that "your morals come from within" only makes sense if they roughly approximate those of the society you inhabit.

Do you not see the connection?

The statement was largely rhetorical and in support of that "objective standard."

I know it was rhetorical, but I have a feeling I'm allowed to respond anyway. Why do you put "objectives standard" in quotes? I thought you believed in one.
posted by bingo at 10:18 AM on March 2, 2002


Sinner: btw, you invoked Godwin first, when you mentioned killing Hitler. :)
posted by bingo at 10:45 AM on March 2, 2002


On the other path there are absolutes, and the minimal set of absolutes is this: respect others and others' property.


First you need to agree upon a definition of property rights. I found a great example for people to hash out, the Warner Communications copyright on the song Happy Birthday. Warners paid over twenty million dollars for the privilege of control over who may sing that song and where. They make millions in profit from that privilege every year.


How many of the absolutists on this thread have sung that song in a public restaurant? Will you be making out your royalty payment to AOL Time Warner anytime soon?


posted by Sqwerty at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2002


this late in the thread, with this few players, there's very little merit to debating the semantics of the conversation, and much more to actually participating in it.

Fair enough, Sinner. It was a derailment, if unconscious, and perhaps irrelevant. Thanks for pointing it out - specially as this is something I often do. Honestly.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:37 AM on March 2, 2002


bingo,

In fact, I didn't invoke Godwin - I referred back to an earlier statement of MiguelCardoso's, which stated:

An old chestnut, discussed every year in seminars everywhere: you know Hitler is going to be responsible for millions of deaths. If you kill him, they'll all live. What do you do, considering the moral precept that taking any human life is wrong?

I simply said "Yes, there are shades of grey (the aforemention stealing to save your dying family, or killing of Hitler as a child, or justifiable homicide), but none of those are to be found in the laundry-list of excuses above. "

Arguably, MiguelCardoso did invoke Godwin, but since he wasn't part of our (your and my) debate, you did, since you independently made "a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler."
posted by Sinner at 12:16 PM on March 2, 2002


Sqwerty,

Since there are only a few of us left here, I want to remind you that I, at least am not an absolutist. Have I sung Happy Birthday? Yes. Do I recognize that it is a kind of theft? Yes. I make a judgment as to whether it is a breach which I am comfortable making, but I am aware that it is a moral breach of some varying magnitude (diminimous in this case).
posted by Sinner at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2002


MiguelCardoso: Fair enough, Sinner. It was a derailment, if unconscious, and perhaps irrelevant. Thanks for pointing it out - specially as this is something I often do. Honestly.

I respect your willingness to accept guilt in these sorts of situations (I've seen you do it before). I reiterate that this is exactly the point I'm trying to make: accepting responsibility for guilt as opposed to redefining the "crime" away.
posted by Sinner at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2002


bingo: I disagree with you that that is the minimal set of absolutes, and I suspect that we also have different definitions of respect and property to begin with.

And that there's absolutely no common ground? I've said time and again that there is some room for interpretation here, but that some commonality must exist as that's the a large part of the compact under which society is created and maintained.

bingo: I appreciate your admitting that you don't understand me instead of insisting that I'm arguing for the sake of argument.

Honestly, I can't say if there's much of a difference there. I'm not much for ad hominem, so I'm trying to remain respectful here, but your points of view are pretty outlandish. To just blame the "victim" here and say that it's my fault for not understanding seems pretty much like Dvorak's comments last week on cult members . I quote:

Tell Erhard that something makes no sense. "You don't get it." Tell him that something is self-contradictory. "You don't get it." Tell him that something is just plain stupid. "You don't get it." This is the level of debate you can expect when cult thinking is present. But, of course, "I don't get it."

bingo: I'm not saying it's up to me and what my heart desires. Just because my code of behavior is different from yours, doesn't mean that I don't have one.

But if that "code of behavior" is entirely internal, as you said, how is it *not* up to you what to believe at any given time? Can you explain this?

bingo: And just because yours is more widely accepted than mine doesn't mean that yours is objectively right. After all, for a moral code to be objective, it has to be universally applicable and permanent, right? It could hardly depend on popular opinion.

You can find someone to believe everything (see PT Barnum). You can get someone to say that the sky is not blue, that the Earth is not round, and that you don't actually exist. The existence of their opinion, popular or otherwise, has no bearing on those objective facts. Are you playing epistemological games here, whereby *nothing* is absolute?

That's just pseudo-nihilism to avoid dodging an honest question. You still haven't said whether anything is absolute. How about me gutting you in the street "just to watch you die." That's not absolutely wrong? If that's the case, I want out of your world.

Bingo: but that doesn't mean that it's based on what's convenient to me at the moment.

Sure, but it *could* be, which is exactly the point. Then what it comes down to is that the only thing keeping you from killing me is that you don't feel like it at that particular time. You might, and if so, that's fine. But right now, you don't. Great. And if by coincidence you happen to be a responsible person, that's wonderful - you've left the door open for everyone who's ever entertained some sadistic fantasy.

Bingo: Whether I'm ultimately being guided by God or by a particular combination of brain chemicals, or some other factor, is not a question I have the answer to. And, significantly, I don't think anyone else does, either.

The original discussion was about shoplifting. The amount of effort you've expended to justify such is astounding to me. I really have no idea what you're talking about here, and I don't think you do either. What I'm sure of is that you can't or won't answer the question at hand.
posted by Sinner at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2002


For starters, Sqwerty, singing Happy Birthday in the restaurant doesn't break copyright at all.

Secondly, what you seem to be implying is that anyone who can't meet the absolute standards -- ie. all of us -- must necessarily abandon all standards.

That simply isn't true.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2002


Sinner: I think it has to do with some absurd "guardianship" notion on "my" posts where I just hang about defining stuff instead of truly joining in. A sort of annoying, dictionary-holding custodian. I hadn't thought about it till you spelled it out. Whatever makes me do it? Slave mentality, perhaps? Anyway, I'm knocking it on the head from now on. Thanks again. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 12:42 PM on March 2, 2002


At the risk of butting in with yet more unwelcome philosophizing, maybe the argument that you guys are having (bingo and Sinner I mean) could be resolved by a little bit of philosophy.

As I think Miguel has already said, moral relativism is not the opposite of moral objectivism. You don't have to believe that there are moral facts in order to think that there are correct standards of ethical judgement. Denying that ethics is 'objective' doesn't mean that you have to give equal weight to what everyone says ethically. You can say that something is absolutely wrong without saying that it is objectively wrong. The standard for deciding whether somebody is working on an ethical code or just on a self-serving bunch of opinions is that an ethical person will universalize. That means applying the same principles to yourself and others, accepting that the good of others is no more important than your own good and (perhaps) that others get to decide what is best for them. It seems from what bingo says that he does accept those kinds of rules of ethical reasoning, so it seems unfair to rule out his views because he isn't committed to objectivity.

On a more on-topic note, it's quite reasonable to say that property rights are justified but not absolute. It seems that society needs a system of property rights in order to function, and that therefore if you're going to take part in a society in a fair and reasonable way you have to respect those rights. But they aren't sacred and inviolable; they can be broken when it is better overall to do so (taking into account the damage done by the weakening of those rights whenever they are broken).
posted by Gaz at 12:58 PM on March 2, 2002


Wow, 3 days & 221 comments & there's still intelligent commentary being made.

Bingo - I'm going to make one last attempt to find some sort of common ground for an actual discussion. I do understand the idea of having & trusting an intuitive feel for what is right or wrong. In daily life, we don't have time to sit back and consciously analyze every detail of the possible consequences for every action. Therefore we develop an ability to subconsciously analyze a situation and respond quickly at a gut level. How we respond is shaped by how we were raised, our life experiences & our time spent thinking about moral situations. What I'm suggesting to you, in as non-hostile a way as I can, is that if we don't periodically examine ourselves to see how that gut-level moral instinct is working and what it derives from, then it can seriously mislead us. To use an example that might only make sense to myself: As a result of 21 years in the martial arts, I have a very good intuitive instinct about how to move in a fight to keep myself safe. However, that intuition is only trustworthy because I have for 21 years spent time in the dojo training and guiding my instinct. I really think that our moral instinct needs that same kind of self-focused work.

Gaz - " it's quite reasonable to say that property rights are justified but not absolute" Good point. There are a lot of legitimate values in the world - freedom, safety, honesty, personal property, etc, and these values can often conflict in a given real world situation. I still think that the golden rule is an essential perspective to work from in resolving these conflicts.

MiguelCardosa - I enjoy the scholarly viewpoint you can bring to the discussion. Perhaps if you just found a way to tie the definitions a little more concretely to the discussions at hand? :-)
posted by tdismukes at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2002


Is this the longest MeFi thread yet?

Not even close, less by an order of magnitude.
posted by rodii at 2:12 PM on March 2, 2002


Sinner:

fff said: On the other path there are absolutes, and the minimal set of absolutes is this: respect others and others' property.

To which I responded: I disagree with you that that is the minimal set of absolutes, and I suspect that we also have different definitions of respect and property to begin with.

To which Sinner responded: And that there's absolutely no common ground? I've said time and again that there is some room for interpretation here, but that some commonality must exist as that's the a large part of the compact under which society is created and maintained.

Indeed, I think there is room for common ground. Society should have laws, and mechanisms to maintain those laws. But that doesn't mean the laws are always right, or should always be followed.

Sinner also said: I apologize for seeming glib - I genuinely don't understand what you're getting at here.

To which I responded: I appreciate your admitting that you don't understand me instead of insisting that I'm arguing for the sake of argument.

To which Sinner responded: Honestly, I can't say if there's much of a difference there. I'm not much for ad hominem, so I'm trying to remain respectful here, but your points of view are pretty outlandish. To just blame the "victim" here and say that it's my fault for not understanding seems pretty much like Dvorak's comments last week on cult members .

So, I think this is kind of bizarre. You said directly that you didn't understand me, I thanked you for saying so, and you attacked me for "blaming the victim."

What's more, you are comparing me to people who, according to Dvorak, are willing to extend no more of an argument for their philosophy than "You don't get it," while you also say:

The original discussion was about shoplifting. The amount of effort you've expended to justify such is astounding to me.

So I'm confused about exactly what you're accusing me of here, and why.

I said: I'm not saying it's up to me and what my heart desires. Just because my code of behavior is different from yours, doesn't mean that I don't have one.

To which Sinner responded: But if that "code of behavior" is entirely internal, as you said, how is it *not* up to you what to believe at any given time? Can you explain this?

The fact that the indicators are internal doesn't mean that I'm making the code up arbitrarily as I go along. I may not be making it up at all. It may be coming from outside of me, or I may have been born with it. I think I explained this at some length in the final paragraph of my last comment.

Sinner: Are you playing epistemological games here, whereby *nothing* is absolute?

If that were what I was saying, and I meant it, why would it be a game? I have a feeling that there are some absolutes, but I don't know what they are. We could all be brains in vats, or something.

How about me gutting you in the street "just to watch you die." That's not absolutely wrong? If that's the case, I want out of your world.

Ah. But we're both in the same world, no matter what, aren't we? There are people out there who reason exactly as you describe, i.e. gutting someone to watch them die, without a shred of guilt. I don't like such people. But the fact that they exist suggests to me that morals are probably not absolute. If they were, why don't such people have them?

Then what it comes down to is that the only thing keeping you from killing me is that you don't feel like it at that particular time. You might, and if so, that's fine. But right now, you don't. Great.

On the contrary. Fortunately, though, setting aside the practical obstacles, my personal code of behavior would never permit me to take such an action.

I really have no idea what you're talking about here, and I don't think you do either.

No doubt you'll be shocked to find that I disagree with you on this subject.

What I'm sure of is that you can't or won't answer the question at hand.

What question are you referring to?
posted by bingo at 3:12 PM on March 2, 2002


tdismukes: What I'm suggesting to you, in as non-hostile a way as I can, is that if we don't periodically examine ourselves to see how that gut-level moral instinct is working and what it derives from, then it can seriously mislead us.

I thank you for your efforts to not be hostile. It's hard for me to say much about this statement either way, though. I am a very introspective person myself, and I don't think I would have been able to articulate my views on this subject at the length I have here if I hadn't already thought about it quite a bit. However, in matters of spirituality and moral choice, I don't feel I can do much more to fine-tune myself than to get plenty of practice listening to what some call the "still, quiet voice within."

Gaz: I appreciate you more or less defending me, but to be honest I don't understand what you mean by this: You can say that something is absolutely wrong without saying that it is objectively wrong.
posted by bingo at 3:29 PM on March 2, 2002


I just meant that you can say that something is absolutely wrong (i.e. in all circumstances, whatever the consequences etc) without thinking that it has some objective property of wrongness, or that it's an objective fact that it's wrong.
But I get the feeling that I'm not helping, so I'll shut up (though I do know what I mean, honest!).
posted by Gaz at 3:55 PM on March 2, 2002


Are you saying that it's possible for something to be wrong according to every person on the planet, without having the wrong-ness validated by an outside source, like a god?
posted by bingo at 4:07 PM on March 2, 2002


Something like that. (One last shot) Whether ethics comes from God or not is a metaethical question, not a question in ethics itself. Obviously you couldn't believe that it did and be a moral relativist. But not believing it wouldn't automatically make you a moral relativist. If someone wanted to show that you were a moral relativist they'd have to show that coming from God could be the only foundation of ethics (which is pretty hard to show). What I was trying to say is that you were denying objectivity in ethics (or at least one kind of objectivity) and Sinner was saying that this made you a relativist; but I thought that you could escape being a relativist by just saying that ethics are founded on principles of reasoning rather than on God or objective facts...except that I seem to have misunderstood you as much as he did. Oh well, another miserable defeat for philosophy.
posted by Gaz at 4:19 PM on March 2, 2002


Gaz: No, actually, I think you understood me fine, although my ethics are based more on intuition than principles of reasoning.
posted by bingo at 5:07 PM on March 2, 2002


Gaz: Or rather than bringing an (IMO) unnecessary god into the argument, one can say that the moral absolutes are those morals that are required in order to maintain a society.

Can you have a successful society where one can kill or be killed at random? Can you have a successful society where one's personal property is up for grabs to any yahoo who suddenly desires it?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on March 2, 2002


That seems like question-begging. What does "successful" mean? Could there be a society without a concept of personal property? Or what about Pharaonic Egypt, where the pharaoh (theoretically) owned everything in the whole country, including all the people? Were those successful societies?
posted by rodii at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2002


bingo: Indeed, I think there is room for common ground. Society should have laws, and mechanisms to maintain those laws. But that doesn't mean the laws are always right, or should always be followed.

You can't have it both ways. You can't say that society has laws but that you should be able to freely choose which ones to follow. Those laws are proxies for morals, certainly and they can occasionally - even frequently - be misapplied. But the intent of the reaplication of those laws is to better fit that baseline morality.

Obviously, in some extreme circumstances there are exceptions, as with any rule. This has been discussed. But despite your insistence on keeping this conversation on a strictly meta-level, we're referring here to shoplifting. I am unwilling to acknowledge that this is a morally or legally ambigious action. (1) Are you suggesting that it is, much as with the examples you made previously (Germany, slavery, etc)?

If you answer just one question from this post, answer that one.

bingo: So, I think this is kind of bizarre. You said directly that you didn't understand me, I thanked you for saying so, and you attacked me for "blaming the victim."

I'll confess that I was uncertain whether there was an element of condescension in your original statement, along the lines of "your juvenile mind can't possibly comprehend my highly evolved morality." My point was that my lack of understanding is just as likely (I would say more) to be the result of your either inadequately communicating your point or adequately communicating an incoherent/inadequately realized thought.

Bingo: What's more, you are comparing me to people who, according to Dvorak, are willing to extend no more of an argument for their philosophy than "You don't get it," while you also say [deleted for space] So I'm confused about exactly what you're accusing me of here, and why.

I don't believe that that was Dvorak's point (that the people in question pre-empt every conversation by "you don't get it"). Rather, I think his point was that the argument is used a failsafe, as an excuse for having a point which can not be adequately/logically/rationally supported any other way.

Bingo: The fact that the indicators are internal doesn't mean that I'm making the code up arbitrarily as I go along. I may not be making it up at all. It may be coming from outside of me, or I may have been born with it. I think I explained this at some length in the final paragraph of my last comment.

You did explain the ontological nature of your "indicators." What you haven't explained is how this possibly could apply towards a society. (2) The fact that you are not arbitrarily making up the rules as you go along does not mean that your ideology doesn't grant you (or others) the freedom to do just that. Again, this is far afield from simply discussing shoplifting.

Sinner: Are you playing epistemological games here, whereby *nothing* is absolute?
bingo: If that were what I was saying, and I meant it, why would it be a game?

Because, honestly, this is an extremely frustrating debate, and as much as I've tried to retain a sense of some decorum here, I'm reminded of arguing with a child, who simply insists on saying "why" in response to every response given. True, if you simply say "why" at ever turn, or deny that 1+1=2, well, you can't be convinced of being "wrong," even though you objectively are. I'm reminded again of Dvorak here. But you seem intelligent enough to not do that by accident, which leads me to think (to have thought, rather) you're doing it for kicks.

Bingo: I have a feeling that there are some absolutes, but I don't know what they are. We could all be brains in vats, or something.

This is exactly what i find so frustrating about this debate. It's pure hypothetical, with no applicaton and virtually nothing to do with the simple issue of shoplifting as a morally objectionable action. The argument has been stretched so far that it's scarcely recognizable. I'm probably complicit in this, because I've been forced to try and argue on your terms, and haven't been willing to just throw up my hands.

Bingo: There are people out there who reason exactly as you describe, i.e. gutting someone to watch them die, without a shred of guilt. I don't like such people. But the fact that they exist suggests to me that morals are probably not absolute. If they were, why don't such people have them?

(3) I ask again - does the fact that someone disagrees with the notion that the earth orbits the sun make it not objective fact and absolute? Please answer this.

Sinner: Then what it comes down to is that the only thing keeping you from killing me is that you don't feel like it at that particular time. You might, and if so, that's fine. But right now, you don't. Great.

Bingo: On the contrary.

I sincerely hope that you're not disagreeing with my saying you don't want to kill me.

Bingo: Fortunately, though, setting aside the practical obstacles, my personal code of behavior would never permit me to take such an action.

But someone else's could, right? And if it does, than it's OK? This is my problem with your whole philosophy - if there is no basic moral framework that we all share - or at least try to - than there is no society. (4) Please explain to me how your system does not allow for someone else to "gut me just to watch me die" and defend their action as morally justifiable?

bingo: What question are you referring to?

I've done my best to ennumerate the specific questions I have for you above.
posted by Sinner at 6:59 PM on March 2, 2002


rodii - an order of magnitude? Really? 2000 posts?
posted by Sinner at 6:59 PM on March 2, 2002


five fresh fish: Can you have a successful society where one can kill or be killed at random? Can you have a successful society where one's personal property is up for grabs to any yahoo who suddenly desires it?

rodii: That seems like question-begging. What does "successful" mean? Could there be a society without a concept of personal property? Or what about Pharaonic Egypt, where the pharaoh (theoretically) owned everything in the whole country, including all the people? Were those successful societies?

If I'm not mistaken, I think the idea is can a "successful" (hard term to define, I agree) society be founded on those principles ("personal property up for grabs")? It's entirely too easy to get bogged down by that definition of successful, since that's yet another term whose objectivity/subjectivity can be debated ad nauseam.

In Pharoanic Egypt, however, am I correct in assuming that while the Pharoah may have owned everything, it wasn't acceptable for A to simply take from B, even if each was simply a posession of Pharoah himself? Again, it's the "in theory" that obscures the true issue here. Realistically, I'm hard pressed to believe that this was dandy by A and B, but I'm no Egyptologist.

To some extent, you could argue that our government acts in much the same way that I would guess the Pharoahs did - it has eminent domain (as a representative of the people, so in that, admittedly unlike the Pharoah) in certain circumstances (limited by reality/geography in Pharoah's time and law in ours), but that property was just as defensible then in person-to-person interactions.
posted by Sinner at 7:14 PM on March 2, 2002


[Off-topic]

Oh well, another miserable defeat for philosophy.

Yes, Gaz. It's as if people want...*wrinkles nose*...answers or something. ;)

And, more infuriating, it seems like they're providing them too. I take my hat off to the way the main posters here are able to negotiate such diverse viewpoints and, even more impressive, are willing to. It's like a mini-conference on rule-establishing for a viable society.

I hope I'm not fawning or anything but I'm constantly amazed at the freedom of spirit Americans have when they hold a discussion, compared to the European tradition of bickering for the fun of it. There's a parallel with the extraordinary(and extraordinarily successful)respect you Americans show for your Constitution. This is done by arguing it constantly, looking for common principles which afford the maximum of individual freedom and room for future discussion. Astonishing, time after time.

*Doffs hat and bows, understanding why American society is so successful by virtue of its difficult, constantly negotiated and honoured(by the discussion itself; but also out of respect for the Founding Fathers and the Bill of Rights)diversity. Bravo! Wish it was like that in jaded, moth-ridden Europe...¨*
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:44 PM on March 2, 2002


What does "successful" mean?
I guess that success is best measured by asking whether you'd want to live in that society.

So I suppose that (with human nature the way it is) I can't imagine a society worth living in that didn't have some kind of property rights, basically because of the need for a functioning economy. On the other hand, there are all kinds of other things that I think are necessary for a society worth living in, such as an adequate welfare state. So I wouldn't say that property rights are any more fundamental in that sense than most of the other laws which keep society working, and that means that property rights don't conflict in principle with taxation.

Then again, at some point we end up disagreeing on what kind of society we want to live in. So do the bits that we do agree on have a special status? (Fundamental? Absolute?) I don't think so, because I'm no more sure of those bits than I am of things that there's less consensus on - they all seem equally fundamental (or not) to me. But that's an even bigger can of worms...

[Off-topic] Oh and Miguel, I'm sure that we Europeans aren't completely incapable of non-rancorous debate. And you can certainly teach them a thing or two about cheerleading...(join in, join in!)
posted by Gaz at 8:21 PM on March 2, 2002


rodii - an order of magnitude? Really? 2000 posts?

Actually only 1500 or so. You'd be surprised at the evil that has been done here.
posted by rodii at 8:29 PM on March 2, 2002


rodii: I'd say that the overall society was a success: they had a stable political/social structure that lasted for a good long time.

And I'm certain that neighbour didn't routinely steal from neighbour, nor that even the Pharoah would just take possessions for the helluvait. He'd take his tithe, sure, but you could certainly count on coming home and finding that your bed was still your bed!

In fact, I think I can safely go out on a limb here: you can not have a society where theft is normal, acceptable behaviour. There are fundamental human needs: shelter and food. If your shelter is stolen on a regular basis; or if your food is stolen on a regular basis; or if the tools you use to obtain food or build shelter are stolen on a regular basis... well, damn, it's gonna be tough to stay alive!

And while the most aggressive, dominant members of that society may manage to make it, they're sure as heck never going to get ahead: you can't build rocketships when everyone's scrabbling to stay alive.

In order to get out of the caves and trees and mud huts, your society has to have some fundamental rules in place.

This all goes way back to an earlier post: "Dammit, people, we're trying to have a society here."
posted by five fresh fish at 8:30 PM on March 2, 2002


five fresh fish: And while the most aggressive, dominant members of that society may manage to make it, they're sure as heck never going to get ahead: you can't build rocketships when everyone's scrabbling to stay alive. In order to get out of the caves and trees and mud huts, your society has to have some fundamental rules in place. This all goes way back to an earlier post: "Dammit, people, we're trying to have a society here."

Not to pick on bingo here, having already left four questions outstanding, but in very few words, this is a good verbalization of what I've been trying to say in many more. So, bingo, (5) can you envision a society where those basic rules of property as discussed in fff's post above are ignored? If so, can you describe how you think that could function?
posted by Sinner at 8:57 PM on March 2, 2002


You can limit property rights quite drastically but, no, you could not establish even a very small society without an absolute prohibition of theft. Which would always be accepted by all. E.g. The "It's a fair cop, guv'nor" discourse of English burglars when caught. Proudhon and others may have said "property is theft"(although it was much, much more than that)but the moral emphasis is on theft. I.e., that certain systems legitimate theft. And that's why they would be wrong.

The moral idea that theft is not wrong, pace Genet and Abi(?) Hoffman's Steal This Book(variations on Proudhon's condemnation of capitalism or, on the other side, of Nozick's attack on inheritance to defend capitalism) is, as far as I know, nowhere to be seen outside the political discussion of redress. And I won't even mention the old theory of natural law or State of Nature scenarios - I just think it's instinctive that stealing is not only harmful to society but, in and of itself, undeniably wrong.

Perhaps *he said stoking the fire* Max Stirner or some deservedly obscure social darwinist defended theft...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:41 PM on March 2, 2002


That and - hey what about those missing Peugeot pepper mills in New York restaurants? Does nobody read the fuckin' links anymore? ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:43 PM on March 2, 2002


Proudhon and others may have said "property is theft"(although it was much, much more than that)but the moral emphasis is on theft. I.e., that certain systems legitimate theft. And that's why they would be wrong.

But as I recall it was precisely Marx's objection to Proudhon et al that they had this kind of entitlement theory of justice. Marx thought that claims like, "Capitalism steals from the workers," were just rhetorical ploys. So I suppose that Marx is closer than Proudhon to justifying theft, though it is rather tenuous. Similarly the anarchists like Kropotkin who thought that there should be no individual property still had some concept of theft - taking more than what one needed. In that sense there is a generalised intuition against taking what one is not entitled to, though different ethical theories of course assign different entitlements. So to say that everyone condemns theft isn't quite the same as saying that they condemn theft in the capitalist/neo-liberal sense.

Also there seems to be a clear divide between entitlement theories like Nozick's and more consequentialist theories in the status of the wrongness of theft: as a basic ethical principle or as a derivative socially useful principle. To be a little more sophisticated, part of what makes a capitalist society work is that people develop the idea that they are entitled to their property in a more fundamental sense. So on the utilitarian view there is a (socially useful) common-sense morality that is really at odds with the genuine justification of the social practices that it upholds.

And I guess you're right about Stirner, Miguel: "What a man as such cannot defend of bodily goods, we may take from him: this is the meaning of competition, of freedom of occupation." (The Ego and Its Own p218). But I'm not sure that Stirner was giving a moral justification of theft, because he didn't believe in morality in our sense.

That and - hey what about those missing Peugeot pepper mills in New York restaurants?
Yeah, don't they know that you're meant to just skip out without paying the bill? ;)
posted by Gaz at 10:12 PM on March 2, 2002


Gaz - when I read Anarchy, State And Utopia for the first time - I was only eighteen - would you believe I had to look up the meaning of the word desert?

No, I didn't think black forest gateau or Mojave, but I can't deny both weren't far from my mind.

On a serious, practical note: your emphasis on entitlement seems very useful, specially if one reads the thread through, from the beginning. When we steal we do build justifications along those lines. For example: I've paid for this room so I'm entitled to steal the soap. Or, more dangerously: "this hotel factors in shrinkage, so it's no skin off their nose if I lift the miniature vodka bottle."

Never mind filling it with water - the scotch and cognac bottles I won't talk about - so those pesky supervisors won't find out in time. Only the next guest. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:30 PM on March 2, 2002


How can I resist this in such an appropriate discussion:

Natural Law, Natural Law, Natural Law!!!

"The human race is haunted by the idea of doing what is right."
posted by aaronshaf at 10:31 PM on March 2, 2002


How does consent factor into all of this, guys?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:13 PM on March 2, 2002


Sinner:

First, the decorum issue.

Because, honestly, this is an extremely frustrating debate, and as much as I've tried to retain a sense of some decorum here, I'm reminded of arguing with a child, who simply insists on saying "why" in response to every response given.

I appreciate (sincerely, not sarcastically) your efforts to be polite. For what it's worth, I find this debate quite frustrating myself. However, I will refrain from analogizing your statements in kind.

True, if you simply say "why" at ever turn, or deny that 1+1=2, well, you can't be convinced of being "wrong," even though you objectively are. I'm reminded again of Dvorak here. But you seem intelligent enough to not do that by accident, which leads me to think (to have thought, rather) you're doing it for kicks.

Speaking of trying to retain a sense of decorum. How am I supposed to respond to this politely and honestly at the same time? I'll do my best.

The reason I'm not convinced that I'm wrong, is that I really don't think I'm wrong. I am not pretending that I don't think I'm wrong just for kicks. I can't believe I'm typing this...it's seems rather self-evident to me, but apparently it's not. And of course I'm not saying "why" at every turn, nor do I think I'm doing anything analogous. Believe me, I am not motivated to extend this argument forever just for the fun of it. I'm putting a lot of time and thought into my responses, just as you are, and I don't think it's unreasonable for me to ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt in that respect.


I'm probably complicit in this, because I've been forced to try and argue on your terms, and haven't been willing to just throw up my hands.

I feel I could legitimately make the same statement to you. But I think that part of our argument is about some of the terms in question to begin with, on both sides.

...But despite your insistence on keeping this conversation on a strictly meta-level...

Again, I don't really know how it's appropriate to respond to this sort of thing. It makes me angry. I am not second-guessing your motivations for saying the things that you say. I'm assuming that you're saying them because you believe them. How can I take this sort of thing, except as a snide dig? How can I respond to it in a productive way? Indeed, our argument about the morality of shoplifting has extended to the meaning of morality in general. Are you surprised at this? In your experience, is such conversational evolution uncommon? Are you actually saying that you think I have a personal agenda to keep this conversation as abstract as possible? And if you're trying so hard to keep things grounded, why do four of the five questions you have posited to me not mention shoplifting?

As far as the first actual issue raised in your post:

You can't have it both ways. You can't say that society has laws but that you should be able to freely choose which ones to follow.

I didn't say I should be able to freely choose which ones to follow. I said that the laws are not always right, and should not always be followed. Do you not see the difference?

Okay, as for your numbered questions...

we're referring here to shoplifting. I am unwilling to acknowledge that this is a morally or legally ambigious action...

(1) Are you suggesting that it is, much as with the examples you made previously (Germany, slavery, etc)?...If you answer just one question from this post, answer that one.


(A1) Yes.

You did explain the ontological nature of your "indicators." What you haven't explained is how this possibly could apply towards a society...

(2) The fact that you are not arbitrarily making up the rules as you go along does not mean that your ideology doesn't grant you (or others) the freedom to do just that.


I don't see a question in there. I think it's tied into the phrase "how this possibly could apply towards a society," e.g. "How could your indicators possibly apply towards a society?" If this is the question, then I'm still not sure I understand it. I could speculate (actually I did, for several paragraphs, then thought better of it), but instead I'll just wait for you to clarify.

(3) I ask again - does the fact that someone disagrees with the notion that the earth orbits the sun make it not objective fact and absolute? Please answer this.

(A3) No. If it's an objective fact that the earth orbits the sun, then an individual cannot alter the objectivity of that fact by disagreeing with it.

To be fair to myself, that is not a question you are asking "again." Your previous statement about the sun and the earth was connected to this question:

Are you playing epistemological games here, whereby *nothing* is absolute?

...and I did answer it. I even quoted it first

(4) Please explain to me how your system does not allow for someone else to "gut me just to watch me die" and defend their action as morally justifiable?

(A4) "My system" is not concerned with justifying the actions of other people in a universal moral context, one way or the other.

fff said: In fact, I think I can safely go out on a limb here: you can not have a society where theft is normal, acceptable behaviour...In order to get out of the caves and trees and mud huts, your society has to have some fundamental rules in place.

to which Sinner added for my benefit:

(5) can you envision a society where those basic rules of property as discussed in fff's post above are ignored? If so, can you describe how you think that could function?

(5A) No. Incidentally, I am not suggesting that we should live in such a society.
posted by bingo at 3:42 AM on March 3, 2002


Bingo: I appreciate (sincerely, not sarcastically) your efforts to be polite.

Likewise. I apologize if I have (and continue) to stray from such.

Sinner: True, if you simply say "why" at ever turn, or deny that 1+1=2, well, you can't be convinced of being "wrong,"... you seem intelligent enough to not do that by accident, which leads me to think (to have thought, rather) you're doing it for kicks.

Bingo: Speaking of trying to retain a sense of decorum. How am I supposed to respond to this politely and honestly at the same time? I'll do my best.

My honest response to why this is frustrating should not be characterized as a personal attack. That's really how I feel. You asked, I answered.

Bingo: And of course I'm not saying "why" at every turn, nor do I think I'm doing anything analogous.

My point here is that if you reject as unreasonable the fundamental underpinnings of ever single argument made by the other party, even those which are pretty much universally accepted, you'll never really lose an argument. You seem to think that simply because you disagree with those precepts that they're not valid. I disagree.

Example (of my previous point, again illustrative and not to be construed as a specific attack):
Child: What is 2+2?
Adult: 4.
Child: I think it's 5.
Adult: It's not, it's 4.
Child: I want it to be 5.
Adult: It's not.
Child: I say it is.
Adult: It's still not.
Child: Why not?
Adult: Because.
Child: Because why?
... [begin infinite loop]

Sinner: ...But despite your insistence on keeping this conversation on a strictly meta-level...
Bingo: Again, I don't really know how it's appropriate to respond to this sort of thing. It makes me angry. I am not second-guessing your motivations for saying the things that you say. I'm assuming that you're saying them because you believe them. How can I take this sort of thing, except as a snide dig?

Actually, this wasn't a snide dig at all, nor was it one of the things where I thought "better soft-pedal this so I don't offend." I think that the forest is being obscured by the trees here. I think to jump straight to slavery from the permissibility of shoplifting is disingeuous. To compare one to the other is a flawed argument to me. I'm willing to have the meta argument as well, but not to the exclusion of the more specific one. Also, I've conceded that it some cases society's interpretation of property can be flawed, so there's no point in hammering that point home interminably. What you have yet to (satisfactorily for me, at least) respond to is how you can have any society at all without some minimal notion of property. And if you agree that you can not, then how can shoplifting, the most basic, black-and-white violation of such be acceptable? Please answer this.

Bingo: Indeed, our argument about the morality of shoplifting has extended to the meaning of morality in general. Are you surprised at this? In your experience, is such conversational evolution uncommon?

Certainly not. In my experience, however, when someone can not win a specific argument, I have absolutely witnessed opponents (and myself, natch) retreating to safe theoretical ground, far removed from the discussion itself, because to some extent any argument can be jammed into "agree-to-disagree." I have no problem addressing larger issues so long as doing so does not obscure the specifics of the originating discussion.

Bingo: Are you actually saying that you think I have a personal agenda to keep this conversation as abstract as possible?

Yes. Quite honestly, to save face in an argument that I feel you have lost by virtue of an unsupportable and inconsistent opinion. I'm sure you'll be offended here, and I apologize in advance. I honestly see your stance as unsupportable and can't see how it's coherent.

Bingo: And if you're trying so hard to keep things grounded, why do four of the five questions you have posited to me not mention shoplifting?

Would it have been better for me to simply ask the same question five times? Then I would have been unwilling to have a multithreaded discussion, which I've just said I'm not. However, to lose that central kernel of the debate is to end the debate altogether.

Sinner: You can't have it both ways. You can't say that society has laws but that you should be able to freely choose which ones to follow.
Bingo: I didn't say I should be able to freely choose which ones to follow. I said that the laws are not always right, and should not always be followed. Do you not see the difference?

But how does the world you're describing, where everyone's morals are solely internal, prevent people from being morally justified in doing just this? I've already conceded many times over that some laws are bad. That's not the point. We're not talking about Jim Crow, we're talking about the the most basic principle of property: don't steal from your neighbor. If that can be ignored - please explain to me how your meta-ideology (meaning your own ideology may not permit this, but your greater theory that ideology is purely internal) does not permit this - then there is no property whatsoever.

Sinner: (1) Are you suggesting that [shoplifting] is [a morally or legally ambigious action... ], much as with the examples you made previously (Germany, slavery, etc)?
Bingo: (A1) Yes.


Can you name anything whatsoever which is an absolute moral imperative? Assuming not (I know this is repetitive), can you please explain how a society could function using this meta-ideology (as briefly explained above)?

Sinner: (2) The fact that you are not arbitrarily making up the rules as you go along does not mean that your ideology doesn't grant you (or others) the freedom to do just that.
Bingo: I don't see a question in there. I think it's tied into the phrase "how this possibly could apply towards a society," e.g. "How could your indicators possibly apply towards a society?" If this is the question, then I'm still not sure I understand it. I could speculate (actually I did, for several paragraphs, then thought better of it), but instead I'll just wait for you to clarify.


Perhaps this is our central point of miscommunication. I may have been using ideology to refer to both what frames your moral decisions - some specifics of which you've detailed here - as well as to the larger meta-ideology (again, above) which allows you to make those decisions internally. Does that help?

Bingo: (A3) No. If it's an objective fact that the earth orbits the sun, then an individual cannot alter the objectivity of that fact by disagreeing with it.

I still don't understand how this is different than your assertion that it's not morally wrong to kill someone for no reason, simply because they don't think it's immoral.

Bingo: (A4) "My system" is not concerned with justifying the actions of other people in a universal moral context, one way or the other.

But is this not central to our whole debate here? I take issue with the idea that if everyone's morality was produced internally and there were no absolutes, as your meta-ideology suggests, society would still somehow be possible, that even though everything could/would be permissible and chaos somehow wouldn't ensue. "Concerned with justifying the actions of other people" or not, if you consider this system viable for yourself, you have to be willing to apply it to others and deal with the repercussions.

Sinner: (5) can you envision a society where those basic rules of property as discussed in fff's post above are ignored? If so, can you describe how you think that could function?
Bingo: (5A) No. Incidentally, I am not suggesting that we should live in such a society.


Well, you've stumped me here. If you insist that a: your morals are internally generated, then does it not follow that b: other people are allowed that same latitude and c: that morality (as applied to property here) in general can be determined completely at the whim of a person's internal beliefs meaning that d: any crime of any sort (shoplifting as the specific example, murder as the other that we've discussed (really, though, there shouldn't be any difference)) is justifiable so long as an individual feels it so, meaning that e: chaos ensues (as discussed by fff)?

While I have repeatedly acknowledged some grey areas, lacking some baseline, such as "stealing is bad," this societal breakdown seems an inevitability, especially given your acknowledgment of fff's point. This is how I find your entire meta-ideology inconsistent.
posted by Sinner at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2002


La véritable éloquence consiste à dire tout ce qu'il faut, et à ne dire que ce qu'il faut.

La Rochefoucauld
posted by y2karl at 8:40 AM on March 3, 2002


On the other hand, going back to the matter at hand(stealing) the same Duc said:

Almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods we resort to to hide them.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2002


That quote is perfect for this moment on this thread.
posted by Sqwerty at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2002


Sqwerty: That quote is perfect for this moment on this thread.

Seconded.
posted by Sinner at 2:05 PM on March 3, 2002


You seem to think that simply because you disagree with those precepts that they're not valid. I disagree.

Yet again, you seem to be making assumptions about the way I think. I do not think the precepts are not valid because I happen to disagree with them. I disagree with them because I truly think they are not valid.

I feel the same way about your child/adult analogy. To me, THAT is the sort of advice used by people who have lost an argument. For the analogy to work, a) I would have to believe that everything I'm saying made no sense, and b) I would have to be insisting I was right and refusing to explain why. If I see that analogy at all, I see it the other way around. I keep answering your questions (which are mostly about my own point of view anyway), and you keep refusing to acknowledge that I'm really answering them. Also, for your analogy to work, c) the answers to your questions would have to involve a provable objective idea that was accessible to everyone, like the laws of arithmetic. And yet, the very argument is (it seems to me) mainly about whether or not morals are the type of unalterable and universal rules that are comparable to math to begin with, and if so, how we know that for sure, and if we do, what that means in terms of individual actions like shoplifting. Your use of this analogy implicitly suggests that a) it's obvious to anyone that you're right, and further evidence is not needed, and b) your ideas about what obective truth is are so dead-on, and it should be so obvious to everyone that this is the case, that you have every right to announce what you think is the truth and then label any further arguments as futile efforts to derail a lost cause. Now, to me, in these respects, you seem much more like the child in your analogy than the adult.

I think to jump straight to slavery from the permissibility of shoplifting is disingeuous. To compare one to the other is a flawed argument to me.

I first brought slavery into the argumet after you said this:

To me, this sort of I'll-go-my-way-you-go-yours loophole is reserved for far thornier issues with many, many possible costs and benefits - the death penalty, abortion, affirmative action. But we all know that stealing is wrong, that murder is wrong, etc. Your statement that "your morals come from within" only makes sense if they roughly approximate those of the society you inhabit.

By the way, please note that your mention of those other issues was the first time in your argument with me that either one of us specifically refered to bigger crimes than stealing. You seem to be rather frustrated that our argument has gone in that direction; please redirect your frustration at yourself.

So, in one paragraph, you posited shoplifting at a certain definite place on the moral spectrum, and you also suggested (or so it seems to me) that one's morals can only be validated, not by some guiding force that we feel from inside, but by the society one is surrounded with. Talk about moral relativism! In the model you describe, someone who a) believes slavery is valid, and b) lives in a slave state, is right on the money! You made a broad statement, and I plugged a specific variable into it, in order to show you how ridiculous I thought it was. And now I'm hearing this:

I think to jump straight to slavery from the permissibility of shoplifting is disingeuous. To compare one to the other is a flawed argument to me.

And yet it wasn't a jump; I was following a line of conversation that you opened. Talk about inconsistency, man. Talk about a refusal to acknowledge what kind of argument we're having here. Talk about refusal to acknowledge what the other person is saying! Who's the child?

Would it have been better for me to simply ask the same question five times? Then I would have been unwilling to have a multithreaded discussion, which I've just said I'm not. However, to lose that central kernel of the debate is to end the debate altogether.

Either all five questions are essentially the same, and answering any one of them would do, or the one question contains the central kernel on which the whole debate depends, and the others do not. I took the time to answer all five questions for you, so this inconsistency is rather irritating to me.

But how does the world you're describing, where everyone's morals are solely internal, prevent people from being morally justified in doing just this? [freely choosing which laws to follow]

I didn't say that everyone's morals are solely internal. In fact, I have said above, more than once, that I think it's quite possible that the morals people feel intuitively are connected to something greater, like a god or some other guiding force.

However, in terms of what prevents people from being morally justified in choosing which laws to follow...it's hard for me to answer this, because you're asking for a justification that I think is unnecessary and irrelevant. The reality is that many people DO feel morally justified in breaking various laws. It seems like you're asking me to reformulate their morality. I can't, and neither can you. We can, however, pass laws and maintain a police force to enforce those laws. But that is not the same thing as creating morality. People still feel the way they feel.

Can you name anything whatsoever which is an absolute moral imperative? Assuming not (I know this is repetitive), can you please explain how a society could function using this meta-ideology (as briefly explained above)?

Yes, it is repetitive. Again, your idea of my "meta-ideology" is inaccurate. Just for the record, I don't think I ever put forth a meta-ideology. As you are fond of saying, this argument started about shoplifting, and our personal experiences with it, and the feelings we've all personally had about doing it (or not doing it). I explained why I don't feel bad about the fact that I used to do it. Now you're asking me to lay out the rules for a functional society. Give me a break! I am not a philosopher-king, and I don't have the answers to all the big questions. To say I know exactly how our society should function would be (for me) to say that I know why we are on this planet to begin with. And I don't. For me to try and explain how my personal morals fit into the greater scheme of things would be for me to say that I know that I am alive for a specific reason (designated by somene/something else), and I don't know that.

Perhaps this is our central point of miscommunication. I may have been using ideology to refer to both what frames your moral decisions - some specifics of which you've detailed here - as well as to the larger meta-ideology (again, above) which allows you to make those decisions internally. Does that help?

Okay. What you are calling my meta-ideology, I am calling my view of reality. It still might help if you put (2) in the form of a question.

I still don't understand how this is different than your assertion that it's not morally wrong to kill someone for no reason, simply because they don't think it's immoral.

I'm sorry, but there are too many negatives in that sentence for me to be sure of what you mean. Seriously.

Bingo: (A4) "My system" is not concerned with justifying the actions of other people in a universal moral context, one way or the other.

But is this not central to our whole debate here?

You're half the debate, so if you say so, then I guess it is. But all I really had to say originally was that I don't feel bad about shoplifting in many circumstances. There are reasons why, that have to do with my morality, and not with some rationalization so that I can do something I think is actually wrong because it's convenient. That does not mean that I have an overall plan for how people should live, or how to make the world a better place.

I take issue with the idea that if everyone's morality was produced internally and there were no absolutes, as your meta-ideology suggests...

I have directly said that I don't necessarily believe that morality is produced internally, or that there are no absolutes. If you refuse to believe my statements about my own point of view (which are not only consistent, despite your assertions to the contrary, but are getting to be mind-numbingly boring to write over and over as you continue to re-interpret them), then what can I do?

...society would still somehow be possible, that even though everything could/would be permissible and chaos somehow wouldn't ensue.

And yet, I think that this is the society we are currently living in. Most people would prefer not to live in chaos, so there is a general agreement to have some sort of order. However, as there is disagreement about exactly what kind of order to have, it follows that some people are not going to follow the laws that they don't agree with, or that they are going to break those laws in situations where they don't feel those laws are applicable. It's too inconvenient for every individual to go out and enforce all the laws that he feels ought to be enforced. So we create the police (and other law-enforcement agencies, etc.), and they are more or less empowered to enforce all the laws. We reinforce the system by indocrinating our children with the idea that breaking the law and committing a moral wrong are the same thing. Since a lot of the laws are in tune with the morals of a lot of people, and since many of us are born into a society where the law-enforcement mechanism is visible, practiced, and more or less efficient, and since life is full of problems that most people, imho, are too ignorant or stupid or preoccupied or insecure to attempt solve on their own, and they therefore accept as valid all the rules handed to them, order is more or less maintained.

Some of these laws have to do with property. In caveman terms, when you pick up an object that you want to have use of, and then put it down later so you can use your hands for something else, you would like to know that the first object will still be sitting there when you get back. When you kill an animal that's too big for you to eat right away, you don't want to have to sit there and guard it until you've eaten it all. Most people, I think, feel this way. Because it's the easiest and most realistic way to make life easier in this sense, the majority of people agree on a set of laws that give certain people certain exclusive rights over certain objects in certain circumstances. The police enforce these laws. An ecoomic system develops that allows people to, most of the time, survive while still respecting these laws. And so, most of the time, most people follow these property laws, including the laws against theft.

Honestly, I'm not suggesting that I have a better idea for how to develop a society. And if I did, what difference would it make? The system I described is the closest, I think, that we've gotten so far to laying down rules that work for everyone all the time. We will probably never be able to create such a system.

However...and maybe this is our real disagreement...the fact that the system is in place, and is maintaining order better than anything else we can think of, does not make it the last word. It makes it utilitarian, and it exists because utilitarian ideas are the sorts of ideas that large groups of people can agree on together. The individual accepts the existence of the utilitarian system because a) he doesn't have much of a choice, there it is, b) like everyone else, he benefits from it to a certain extent, c) he doesn't have a better idea for how to organize society, and d) it may be helping to prevent the society from falling into relative chaos, which to many individuals is not desirable.

But. Are we alive on this planet so that we can create a utilitarian society, and each do our part to maintain it, and die? Is there another, perhaps greater, purpose? Perhaps we each have different reasons for being here...and I'm not just talking about leading a hedonistic existence, I'm talking about actual reasons, perhaps designated by a god or some other power, perhaps designated by ourselves in some previous life. I'm not saying I believe in reincarnation necessarily, I'm just throwing out some of the most commonly discussed possibilities. But, I tend to agree with a statement made by Arthur C.Clarke (Clarke enthusiasts, forgive me if I paraphrase slightly, I don't have it here): The universe is not only more complicated than we imagine. It's more complicated than we CAN imagine.

There are some people, including myself, who believe (perhaps wrongly) that we are guided by an inner voice...what the heck, I'll call it a conscience. And this concience, I feel intuitively, knows more about what is right for me to do while I'm here on earth, than the legislators who put the utilitarian system together. I don't pretend that I have the same internal directives as other people, and I don't pretend that they all necessarily come from the same place, or that they are not going to butt up against each other. I only know that I'm going to follow mine, because that's the only way I can feel good about being alive.

One of the things it's telling me right now is that this argument is sucking my life away when I should be working on my script. Unless this post contains some sort of revelation to you about the nature of our disagreement, I propose that for utilitarian purposes we work to find a way out of this that will come sometime in the next month.
posted by bingo at 2:25 PM on March 3, 2002


Bingo, I am in awe. Your script must be absolutely brilliant, if it contains half the excitement and tension of your posts here. I'll even pay for the ticket. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:00 PM on March 3, 2002


Sinner, your efforts to reconcile bingo's statements with those of a moral person are in vain.
posted by NortonDC at 6:56 PM on March 3, 2002


You ain't gonna need a ticket, homey.
posted by bingo at 7:42 PM on March 3, 2002


His inner voice, which came about by
.
.
.
...social programming.

One can readily look at the behaviours of "wild child" cases to see that "intuitive morals" amounts to bugger-all.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2002


I've written pages and pages to this point, Bingo, and am not yet done, but must sleep. In the meantime, however, I hope that you meet more people like myself, who feel a more compelling moral compulsion to neither kill or steal from you than people like yourself for whom it's just dandy, so long as *they* think it so and don't get caught.
posted by Sinner at 8:46 PM on March 3, 2002


As for meeting more people like yourself between now and tomorrow morning...I would prefer not to visualize the circumstances under which such an event might take place. However, apparently these people "feel a more compelling moral compulsion," an action no doubt fascinating in any context, so I should perhaps open my mind.
posted by bingo at 11:10 PM on March 3, 2002


"fff said: In fact, I think I can safely go out on a limb here: you can not have a society where theft is normal, acceptable behaviour...In order to get out of the caves and trees and mud huts, your society has to have some fundamental rules in place." ahehm....


"Do you think that a city, an army, or bandits, or thieves, or any other group that attempted any action in common, could accomplish anything if they wronged one another?- Plato. from 'Republic'

"The whole "do unto others" thing is derived from the concept that other people aren't objects." so you cant understand my little spews tsmdukes? what about your little gem here....that is biblical yes...do unto others....striving for what, subjectivism? (not to be an object, i.e. property)

"During the French Revolution, the peasantry took over the country and decided that the property of the aristocrats was now their property. Before the revolution, the aristocrats running the country had quite a different idea"
one event that added tension to the situation before 1789 was the theft of Maries' necklace, the largest ever. Hollywood just made a movie about the 'woman' who stole it.(played by the karate kid III girl) Around 1792, some thieves stole what was left of the crown jewels. Amongst the missing was the Traviener Blue (sic sp) ...known today as the Hope diamond......what ideas did they have?
posted by clavdivs at 8:50 AM on March 4, 2002


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