When an American says “ignorance of the law is no excuse” they usually mean that you’re not exempt from the consequences of breaking a law just because you didn’t know you were breaking it. For example, telling the judge you just didn’t know those speed limit signs on the highway were anything more than recommendations is not going to get you out of that speeding ticket.
But statutes and regulations aren’t the only laws out there. There are laws of gravity, thermodynamics, physics, motion, mathematics, and so on. And ignorance of those laws doesn’t protect you from the consequences of ignoring them. Quite the opposite: ignorance of the basic laws of science probably thins our herd by a few million souls every year.
However, not all disciplines punish ignorance with the immediacy and severity inflicted upon those who are ignorant of gravity or motion. And more’s the pity.
I say that because the #1 bestseller on Amazon’s “New Releases in Civil Rights and Liberties” category right now is Vicky Osterweil’s In Defense of Looting. The book is sucking up a lot of oxygen among the chattering class. I’m not going to provide a link to something as radioactively stupid as this book, but I will provide a link to a recent NPR interview in which she defends her own thesis.
Here’s an excerpt:
[Looting] does a number of important things. It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage—which, during COVID times, is widely unreliable or, particularly in these communities is often not available, or it comes at great risk. That’s looting’s most basic tactical power as a political mode of action.
It also attacks the very way in which food and things are distributed. It attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.
Looting gets people what they need for free! Immediately!
Need a new television? An iPhone? A nice Italian sausage, a pair of shoes, a DVD of Rosemary’s Baby?
Loot for it!
That way you can live (and “reproduce your life”) without having to worry about earning money with something as prosaic and demeaning as a job.
Because looting’s “most basic tactical power as a political mode of action” is the way it gets people free stuff without them having to pay for it. Got that? The best thing about stealing, which is a political way of doing things, is that it gets people free stuff.
That’s what she’s saying in the first paragraph.
It gets better in the second.
Looting is good because it “attacks” the way in which “food and things” are distributed. Because the way food and things are distributed are no good and very bad! Also, property is bad. Very bad! Because the idea of having stuff that needs to be bought means that people need to do stuff to pay for the things, and that is super bad and unfair! And things are set up that way just so people who do stuff (such as making things) to pay for things, can benefit from the people who want their things but have to do stuff to pay for them!
Are you dizzy yet? I am. And I haven’t even gotten “to the heart of that property relation,” where Ms. Osterweil can “demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.”
Well, yes. Yes, we can. It is very clearly the police and the oppression of the state that are preventing us from having things for free. The only reason I am not writing this from my private jet, en route to my south seas island getaway, is that the police and the oppressive state won’t simply get the fuck out of my way. It would be wise and enlightened of us to drop all this nonsense of working, building, farming, ranching, creating, inventing, developing, writing, planning, installing, designing, engineering, so we can get down to some serious taking.
Strangely enough, this book is being sold by the world’s largest retailer for $21.03. But don’t let the police and oppressive state keep you down: head on over to your favorite bookstore, smash the windows, let yourself in, and grab a whole pile.
Because if you’re not part of the looting, you’re part of the problem.
Meanwhile, we can all hope this particular form of American ignorance can’t be translated into Danish.