The Metaphysics of Contemporary Theft

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Same Old, Same Old…

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

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

2) On the next night, three 15-hp agriculture pumps on our farm were vandalized — all the copper wire was torn out of the electrical conduits. The repairs to each one might run $500; yet, the value of the wire could not be over $50. I was told by neighbors that reports and descriptions of the law-breakers focused on youthful thieves casing the countryside — in official parlance a “gang,” and in the neighborhood politically-incorrect patois “cholos” [1] — like the fellow who recently drove in, in his new lowered shiny red pickup (hydraulic lifters are not cheap), inquiring about buying “scrap” and “just looking” before I ran him out.

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

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

Reflections on the Redistributive State

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

A majority would believe the thieves took things for drugs, excitement, or to buy things like an iPhone or DVD, rather than out of elemental need (e.g., the thief hawked the chainsaw to purchase the family’s rice allotment for the week). In this view, contemporary American crime arises not so much then from Dickensian poverty, as we see in South America or Africa, but out of a sense of resentment, of boredom, from a certain contempt for the more law-abiding and successful, or on the assurance that apprehension is unlikely, and punishment rarer still. After all, Hollywood, pop music, the court system, and the government itself sympathize with, even romanticize [2] those forced to take a chainsaw, not the old middle-class bore who bought it.

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

I conclude that most Americans would agree that chain-sawing a peach tree or pumping irrigation water enriches the nation, while cruising around looking to destroy such activity does not. The latter represents the sort of social parasitism that I read about each Saturday night in our environs (and, in terms of illegal immigration, once wrote about in Mexifornia [3] — a book I seem doomed to relive in Ground Hog fashion each day — nearly a decade ago): gangbanger A shoots up gangbanger B; B goes to emergency room for publicly funded $250,000 worth of surgery and post-op treatment by C, an MD, who otherwise would have been insulted and intimidated by A or B should he have met either earlier in the day. Indeed, C is more likely to be ridiculed or sued by B than thanked. And yet C does not need either A or B; both need the former in extremis.

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

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

I will make a wild leap and suggest that a vast majority of Americans are reaching the point where they accept that the blue statist paradigm is reaching its logical end [4] and simply cannot go on any more, given that it is antithetical to human nature itself. There is not always a Germany for every Greece [5]. Let me offer a few examples:

In the American Southwest, open borders, unassimilated illegal immigrants, ethnic and tribal chauvinism predicated on racial solidarity (after all, La Raza, Inc. is not complaining about the deportation of the Korean or Ugandan who overstays his visa or agitating for an open immigration policy with Kenya), a culture of grievance and complaint, all embedded in a contempt for federal law — all that leads to enclaves that resemble more the country abandoned than sought out. In other words the entire therapeutic vision of illegal immigration would lead to a society to which illegal immigrants would not wish to flock. Only assimilation, intermarriage, integration, legality, mastery of English, and acceptance of American culture would ensure the continuance of the sort of society which future illegal aliens would wish to cross into.

The same is true of unions, pensions, and compensation. Highly paid and pensioned California teachers and professors are resembling bishops, knights, or rooks surrounded by a host of part-time, temporary, one-year-contract pawns, lacking the salary, security, and benefits of the kingpins. Yet the liberal establishment in education cannot continue in such an apartheid world of unionized winners and exploited subordinate losers, or public fiefdoms propped up by private toilers. It is a contradiction in terms, and there is no money to pay for it, despite the fiscal logic of its exploitation. The logical conclusion to the blue state would be a handful of six-figured union grandees surrounded by a sea of part-time lackeys (sort of like the CSU system with its blue-chip administrators and tenured faculty propped up by legions of part-time lecturers). Note the surrealism of the European unrest: who are the “they” who “stole” the money that is now no longer there to fund socialism? Did not the socialists at last get what they wanted? The “they” who used to fund it by expanding the economy disappeared a long time ago and now are in the graveyards of Europe.

I went to the warehouse local food store the other day, soaked it all in, and wondered: if everyone is on food stamps (actually computerized government plastic credit cards designed to avoid the old stigma of pulling out a coupon), are there still food stamps? We are nearing 50 million recipients. So what will come next? Food stamp A; food stamp category B? Super food stamps? Can 100 million receive them? 150?

Our California prison system is said to be letting out 30,000-40,000 criminals. If all the court rulings mandating libraries, counseling, second medical opinions, legal help, etc., coupled with the cost of a unionized, highly compensated guild of guards, make prison too expensive, then will we be left with virtual prisons in which trials and sentencing are followed by freedom? If it is cheaper each year to send the felon to UCLA or even Stanford, why then have a prison — a new metaphor for almost everything gone wrong with contemporary American society?

This liberal notion of being careful of what you wish for extends to energy. If Obama promised “skyrocketing” energy prices [6], and to “bankrupt” coal [7], and has discouraged almost all new fossil fuel production (a great wonder of the age is how private enterprise keeps finding new gas and oil reserves despite the discouragement of the government), why then is he worried about $4-a-gallon gas? Is not $4 or $5 gas the point [8]?

It is near $10 in Europe. So why not soon here the same? If the university president cannot afford to drive his Lexus to campus, if the trial lawyer cannot take his Mercedes to Yosemite, if the professor’s Volvo is too expensive to drive to the postmodern lit conference, have we reached nirvana or chaos [9]?

Watching the tastes, the behavior, the rhetoric, the appointments, and the policy of this administration suggests to me that it is not really serious in radically altering the existing order, which it counts on despite itself. Its real goal is a sort of parasitism that assumes the survivability of the enfeebled host. That does not mean it has not done a lot of damage and will not do even more in the next two years; only that it never quite wanted to see cap-and-trade legislation enacted, blanket amnesty, Guantamo shut down, or Predators ended; these were simply crude slurs by which to demonize Bush, ways of acquiring power and influence, but not a workable plan of living. Note that Obama is now zealous on just those issues which he could have easily rammed through his Democratically controlled Congress in 2009-10 when he had large majorities, such as amnesty and cap and trade.

You cannot fly to Costa del Sol on solar panels. The light switches might not go on at Vail without coal burning somewhere. The Holder or Obama children might not be safe in the Stockton or Parlier city schools. Some right-wing nut in the Dakotas is still necessary to pump the oil to refine the gas for Air Force One [10]; there is no golf without an irrigation system and a supply of either ground or surface water.

In short, the currently insulted class is necessary and Obama knows it.

If I were not flying economy today for eight hours to speak on the other side of the country, and did not write this reflection, cramped up on the plane, there would soon be no more chainsaws or copper wire [11] for the oppressed in my region to steal.

URLs in this post:
[1] “cholos”:
[2] even romanticize:
[3] Mexifornia:
[4] is reaching its logical end:
[5] a Germany for every Greece:
[6] “skyrocketing” energy prices:
[7] “bankrupt” coal:
[8] Is not $4 or $5 gas the point:
[9] nirvana or chaos:
[10] for Air Force One:
[11] or copper wire:

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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