|Cover via Amazon|
Nobody “owns” anything. When you die, it all stays here. -- George Carlin
In 1971 radical activist and revolution advocate Abbie Hoffman released his guide to free and cheap living Steal This Book. Turmoil and controversy ensued as the book became a touchy topic for mainstream media and publishers and become an iconic read for the counterculture movement. Accusations were even made that Hoffman had not really written the book himself, but plagiarized (stole) the material from another author.
There are many great stories that raise ethical questions regarding stealing: Stealing to feed the hungry in Les Misérables, redistribution of wealth in Robin Hood, and stealing to get by in Huckleberry Finn. Stealing for a good cause is often accepted in our society, yet it is stealing nevertheless.
If we want to decide that there are degrees of stealing then who decides which type of stealing in what kind of a scenario is right and which is wrong? The arguments could in theory become quite complex.
Or if we use an absolute standard such as "Thou shalt not steal" as stated in the Ten Commandments of the Bible, then there are no degrees. If we accept this standard we might ask why God set a rigid rule about stealing yet decries love of earthly possessions. Was the Commandment decreed because of natural human nature to be possessive, selfish, and greedy? Perhaps this law was merely a stopgap to prevent violence, killing, and bad feelings among people.
In a higher more God-like mindset might we have the view as nothing belonging to anybody with all things belonging to God. If we aren't using something then someone else is free to take it for their own use for a while. We would own nothing and desire nothing. We would not amass collections of unused possessions.
The argument might then be that humans would no longer have any incentive to create or be productive. But if we were in a true God mindset this should not happen.
I'm just tossing out a few thoughts for your consideration. This topic could go on to book length proportions, but as it is my thoughts are not particularly focused on presenting any conclusion here. Instead I'll toss out a few more questions for you.
- Is it more wrong to take office supplies home from work or shoplift them at Staples?
- Would you steal food to feed your family?
- If you owned two houses would it be okay for a homeless family to move into the one you weren't using without your permission?
- If you had spare bedrooms would you mind if a homeless person moved in without asking while you were on vacation?
- If you were flat broke with a burden of bills hanging over you and you found a briefcase filled with thousands of dollars, would you report it or use the money?
- If you charged a considerable amount of merchandise on your credit card and it never appeared on your statement, would you tell the big money grubbing credit card company or would you keep quiet and hope the charge would never show up?
These are just a few thoughts that came to my mind. Are there any scenarios you can think of where it might seem ethical to take advantage of a situation that would materially profit you? Do you think "stealing" from big corporations that may be ripping off all of us is a righteous cause, abhorrent, or somewhere in between? When is it okay to steal?
Be sure to visit the blog of Alex J Cavanaugh today for a special tribute post for A to Z co-host Jeremy Hawkins.