Monday, September 7, 2020

Who Is Defending Rioting and Looting?

You may not have noticed, but we as a nation are having a great debate about looting. Of course, what is happening in America’s great Democratic cities is not limited to looting. Rioting, arson and general harassment seem also to have descended on us. 

Obviously, this is not just about George Floyd. Once we arrive at the point where we can justify looting, we are agreeing that property is theft and that it is not necessary to earn anything. As the old saying went: To each according to his need; from each according to his ability. Karl Marx said it. Today’s socialists are right on with it. So, looting is redistribution of wealth.

Anyway, the debate over looting was precipitated by a book called In Defense of Looting. The author is a transgendered woman named Vicky Osterweil. When she appeared on PBS, she caused something of a flurry of interest, thereby providing her with her fifteen minutes of fame.

Matt Taibbi-- not a member of the vast right wing conspiracy-- offers a cogent critique. Evidently, Osterweil is not an intellectual luminary. Apparently, she cannot think or write-- which makes her a card carrying member of the American left.

Taibbi writes:

Style-wise, In Defense of Looting continues the impressive streak of the woke movement having yet to produce a single readable piece of literature.

Page after page commits the reader to exhausting tautological constructions, the gist of which usually turns out to be something like, “Through looting, a thing that was once somebody else’s comes to belong to a different person.” Here Osterweil explains that looting is a way of acquiring things without working:

Looting represents… a way to solve some of the immediate problems of poverty [by] creating a space for people to freely reproduce their lives rather than doing so by wage labor.

Here, she explains that through looting, a thing that once cost something, comes to cost nothing:

When something is looted, that thing’s nature as a commodity is destroyed by its being taken for free… Everything in the store goes from being a commodity to becoming a gift.

As for small business owners, since Republicans suggest that we should respect them, great morons like Osterweil insist that we should not:

All this was justified, politically, on the grounds that protest excesses — looting, rioting, arson, etc. — were in service of an organized demand for systemic police reform. Great if they were, but if they weren’t, a political problem loomed. With the store-smashing and “controlled arson” incidents not fully abating months after Floyd’s murder, and countless small businesses (and in particular, minority businesses) ruined, the one thing that could get even sympathetic liberals clamoring for a Trump air strike would be a suggestion that this had actually just been in fun all along, that such “joyous and liberatory” acts of “proletarian shopping” were justified because it’s a “right wing myth” that the “small business owner must be respected.”

As for the common rationale that the stores are all insured, we have already taken exception to that view on this blog. Taibbi does the same:

In her NPR interview Osterweil repeats the common left-Twitter trope that looting “is not actually hurting any people” because “most stores are insured; it's just hurting insurance companies on some level,” which simply isn’t true. Not every business is insured for this kind of damage, and even if they are, line employees and business owners alike will lose weeks or months of income while claims are paid and repairs are made, if claims are paid and repairs are made.

Dare we say that only an idiot would say that insurance companies are hurt by rioting. Insurance companies either raise premiums or cease writing policies in certain neighborhoods. One universal truth is: insurance companies profit from calamity. Why else are disaster zones invaded by insurance reps waving checks around? It’s great PR. And it’s their business.

Taibbi offers a sober assessment:

She clearly has no idea what it is to work, to spend years squeaking out the shitty little margins of a corner store or a restaurant, to hose a kitchen floor down at two in the morning, or wash the puke out of the back of a taxi at the end of a shift. Abbie Hoffman at least told readers to leave big tips for waitresses, if you’re going to rip off restaurants. 

To Osterweil, everyone’s a kulak. She says Korean store owners were “the face of capital” in early nineties Los Angeles, just as, she says, Jewish businesses were in sixties New York. When she talks about who suffers in riots, she writes:

Though the buildings destroyed may be located in a predominantly Black or proletarian neighborhood, the losses go to the white, bourgeois building and business owners, rarely the people who live near them.

It’s all that was missing, a little anti-Semitism with your morning coffee.

Anyway, as for the issue of destroying people versus destroying property, we can note, with considerable chagrin, that today’s radical left is perfectly happy destroying people, destroying their lives, destroying their reputations, canceling them for ever and a day.

Anyway, over at the Washington Post, Megan McArdle tries to explain that destroying buildings and looting stores is a disaster. Not least for the reputations of those who are committing these crimes:

Rioting is a political, moral and economic disaster for everyone, and especially for communities of color. While some politicians, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Joe Biden, have made this point, much of the commentariat maintained a decorous silence about what was going on, or retreated to euphemisms about mostly peaceful protests. And the longer both the disorder and the denial have gone on in places such as Portland, Ore., the greater the danger that the riots would, in fact, become the point — for some participants and for an electoral majority.

She continues:

Riots damage lives as well as buildings.

For when businesses burn, what is destroyed is not merely a collection of cinder blocks and linoleum. Someone’s patient daily labor ensured that shelves were stocked and toilets cleaned, floors scrubbed and invoices paid, that fretful bank managers were reassured and peevish customers sent away happy. All those years of peoples’ lives, embodied in a physical location, should never be dismissed as mere inanimate “property.” Especially if those doing the dismissing have never staked their own life on some similarly unglamorous enterprise tied to a humdrum physical location — and, most particularly, if what was lost can’t really be replaced.

As for the argument that insurance will pay for it all:

“Oh, but insurance will pay for the damage!” Well, owners of low-margin businesses don’t always carry generous commercial policies. Some let their coverage lapse when the pandemic closed their shops, and some discovered that insurance wouldn’t pay even the cost of demolishing the burned-out hulk of their store. And if insurance does pay enough to rebuild, there is still no guarantee their business will recover, because commercial zones are a whole much greater than the sum of their parts.

As we ought to know from American history, destroying the neighborhood does not advance any cause at all. And besides, destroyed neighborhoods do not magically rebuild themselves. In most cases they stay destroyed”

Five years after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, there were still boarded-up stores in Ferguson, Mo. Yet Ferguson had comparatively good conditions for recovery: The damage was isolated to one city, the broader national economy was strong and getting stronger, and there was plenty of state, federal and private money to assist with rebuilding.

When external conditions aren’t good, recovery can take much longer. The riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. occurred in cities that were already hollowed out by suburban exodus. Many well-insured businesses used their insurance payments to move to suburban shopping malls; underinsured businesses closed. As late as 2007, when I first moved to D.C., there were still major retail districts that were just recovering from the 1968 riots.

Rioting, looting, arson and harassment hurt those they are supposed to be helping:

The people who suffer when retail strips shut down aren’t the affluent, the class of people who can assume that insurance solves all problems. Those people move. It’s the ones who depend on the social capital of a neighborhood, rather than the financial capital of a market, who ultimately are hurt the worst. A disproportionate number of those people are Black and brown. Research suggests the 1960s riots decreased Black employment rates well into the 1970s, with the effect growing larger over time. And so, instead of expressing righteous rage at collective injustice, rioting ultimately becomes an instrument of suffering and systemic inequality.

Have a nice day.


Sam L. said...

Hey! Let's all find out where Ms. Osterweil lives and loot HER house! We all know she's "down with that"!

trigger warning said...

"Style-wise, In Defense of Looting continues the impressive streak of the woke movement having yet to produce a single readable piece of literature."

Reminds me of the late Christopher Hitchens' comments about Michelle Obama's senior thesis (Princeton):
"To describe [Michelle Obama's thesis] as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be 'read' at all, in the strict sense of the verb; this is because it wasn't written in any known language."

Another literary, but more amusing, invention of the Proglosphere is what I call autobiographical fiction (AF), a subgenre of alternative history. An AF novel usually fictionalizes the nominal author's life as an heroic, noble struggle against near-insuperable racial oppression. Perhaps the canonical example is Rigoberta Menchú's (Nobel Peace Prize, '92) autobiographical novel, "I, Rigoberta Menchú", exposed as a tissue of lies. The most famous, though, is the AF from another Nobelist, Barack Obama, Vols. I and II. Vol. III (in prep) is expected to be the ne plus ultra within the genre.

urbane legend said...

Excellent idea, Sam L. The mayors who have seen their residences threatened have discovered a slightly different view of the rioting and looting.

Is there a single writer of left-wing philosophy who says anything even semi-intelligent, much less thoughtful? I have yet to see it.

BTW, those commenting here tend toward a realistic view of the world. Let's call Vickie who she is; Willie Osterweill. Trans does not change what you are. You still have mental problems.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Thought experiment:

As an act of concomitant economic justice, I photocopied and handed out FREE copies of Vicky’s book? It would be fun to see what happened, save for (1) it wouldn’t be worth the paper, toner and machine depreciation I’d gave to pay for; and, more importantly, (2) I wouldn’t want vulnerable minds to read it.

I wonder if Vicky would sue me to protect his property from intellectual looting.

As to Sam L.’s point, I’m not sure which would be more personal... looting Vicky’s house or looting the value of his intellectual product.

I’ll have to think about that one.

urbane legend said...

Not that I would recommend either action, but it would be interesting to see Vicky's response to both events.

Try them one at a time. I suggest the book first, for no particular reason.

Sam L. said...

"Who Is Defending Rioting and Looting?" BLM, Antifa,lefty hangers-on, and miscellaneous
hangers-on and looters.

IAC, looting the value of his/her/its "intellectual value" would be a waste of effort, time, and energy. Could be fun, though!

Giordano Bruno said...

I feel like we are living out Rosemary’s Baby and civilization is Rosemary.

Anonymous said...

The Illiterati have *has?)gone full Dada.

Anonymous said...

"As the old saying went: To each according to his need; from each according to his ability."

So, assuming you need the Gucci that badly, its gonna come down to your looting ability.

Sounds like somebody's version if a "meritoctacy".

- shoe

Giordano Bruno said...

Here is a list of groups that enthusiastically support rioting and looting. They pretend that they cannot make a link between the two, but who actually believes that pretense? Not even the leftist psychopaths believe that. BLM and violence are inextricably linked. If you support BLM, you are down with what BLM was created to accomplish.