Back in 2014, a “writer, editor, and agitator” named Vicky Osterweil wrote an essay titled “In Defense of Looting,” and published it during the unrest following the death-by-cop of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (for the record, the local grand jury chose not to indict, and the Feds cleared the cop involved in the shooting). Probably unperturbed by the erroneous root of the Ferguson riots, Osterweil just released a book-length version of that essay, available on Amazon, and with a handful of one-star reviews already attached. Now, it is true that virtually anyone can write any bit of drivel he or she wishes, and put it out to a disinterested public with no impact whatsoever, but NPR deemed this idea and person of sufficient interest to conduct an interview. This, of course, legitimizes the idea in the eyes of many, or at a minimum expands the Overton window so that it’s not dismissed out of hand.

Curious (and a bit bored on a hot, steamy Sunday morning in the midst of a pandemic), I rooted around the Internet a bit to see if there was an “angle” or nuance I missed.

Apparently not.

Turns out, the angle is a whole lot of sophistry and word salad to justify the unjustifiable (presuming you’re a believer in individual liberty and rights. If you’re a communist or socialist, or an anarchist of the non ‘-cap’ variety, you might choose to embrace some voluminous assemblages of blather to defend such behavior).

That word salad includes a particularly galling assertion of “common man” wisdom and restraint, that speaks of the lengths some will go to either pretzel-logic themselves into supporting their “tribe’s” misdeeds or to cynically sell such support to the gullible. Since I’m not a mind-reader, I can’t say whether Osterweil actually believes this dreck or is playing for outrage, notoriety, and the deliberate fomenting of unrest. Both interpretations work, but neither is flattering. Furthermore, Osterweil offered this snipped in an interview:

In the case of riots, as looting is usually done by people who live in the neighborhoods where it occurs, distinctions are often made between businesses that gentrify or oppress, and those that don’t. Liquor stores, pawn shops, pharmacies, and gentro-cafes tend to be hit much more readily than the quaint “small business” the phrase is designed to evoke. I believe we should trust those who loot and riot to understand their targets and their actions: to have analyzed the social world they live in, and therefore to trust them when they select the targets of their rage and resistance—especially when that rage is applied to property. No amount of lost business is worth more than a single lost life.

So, looters run out to loot as an exercise in targeted social justice, selective reparations-claiming, and expulsion of “foreigners,” not as a simple “cops aren’t stopping us, let’s break and steal stuff” opportunism fueled by mob mentality and external agitators.

Sure, and I’ve got a bridge to sell you, in a quaint little hamlet called Brooklyn. Look at any looted neighborhood, and you’ll see the local “for us by us” businesses just as ransacked as the “gentro-cafes.”

And, because their lives are more valuable than the stuff they steal, no one should stop them.

A sane person would ask “what of the lives of those who own and work in those businesses? What of the lives of bystanders who get caught up in the violence?”

As George Orwell told us,

Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.

This is stupid. Looters break into liquor stores to steal booze and money, not to scourge their neighborhoods of a blight (and what if the store is owned by a black person?). But, stupidity aside, it speaks of a terrible breakdown in social order and civility. The notion that theft and vandalism can be justified on the basis that stealing from “oppressors” who are nothing more than private citizens whose businesses are serving a community they don’t match demographically is not only overt bigotry, it stands in direct opposition to the fundamentals of a free and liberal society. You cannot have individual rights without also having property rights, so when Osterweil tells us that “looting… attacks the idea of property,” she is telling us that she doesn’t believe in individual rights, either. At such a point, I realize there’s no reason to dig further into someone’s motivations. Those who don’t believe in fundamental rights are evil people, willing to commit violence against others with no remorse, reserve, or compunction. And, those who advocate for selective rights, as in some people’s rights matter and others’ don’t, are simply racists.

That people involved in public dialogue are actually excusing and advocating looting points to a sad reality: We will not see any lasting social improvement from all this protesting. The opportunity for acceptance and implementation of changes that would make things better has been eclipsed by the professional agitators whose gravy train will end should things actually get fixed. In their stead, we have this absurd notion of eliminating policing, as if no new structure that would perform the same role wouldn’t emerge in its place, coupled with a string of justifications for violence, destruction, and theft. Certainly, there are things that can be done to improve policing (I’ve blogged repeatedly about them), but we’re at a point where vitriolic slogans and rhetoric have washed away the chance of making those things happen. Coax people into agreement, and positive change can happen. Smash their heads with bricks, they’re less likely to see your point of view. People have chosen sides, with Black Lives Matter spawning Blue Lives Matter, which in turn spawned Blue Lives Murder.

That last one is a declaration of utter disinterest in fixing things, and that’s where we stand today. The activists at the heart of this all aren’t really interested in adjusting the social order, they want to burn it down (see: Cloward-Piven Strategy). They’re encouraged and abetted by pseudo-intellectual drivel such as that produced by Ms. Osterweil.

As for Osterweil’s final sentence in the first quote? She’s arguing that looters should not be resisted, by either police or private citizens I presume. She puts an infinite value on looters’ lives (that is, an infinite amount of Other People’s Money, including the business owners’ and the taxpayers’). Does she ignore the simple reality that unchecked criminality begets more lawlessness? I wonder how she feels about all the shootings and murders that have resulted from the civil breakdowns? Already, Chicago is 136 homicides ahead of last year’s total. New York City is witnessing a similar increase. Shootings in Portland have more than doubled this year.

Do any of those lives matter?

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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