Friday, September 02, 2005

Ethics of looting

A relative recently told me the story of what happened when she was liberated from the work camp (note that this is different from a concentration camp) she was in at the end of WWII . She and her friend wandered into the nearby town where an Allied soldier saw that they had no shoes on. He took them to an 'abandoned' store and told each girl (they were about 15-years-old) to pick out a pair of shoes that fit. This leads me to conclude that there is a certain code of ethics when it comes to looting.

  1. Milk
  2. Bread
  3. Water
  4. Diapers
  5. TV
  6. DVD player

It is easier to rationalize the taking of those first four items, as they are all basic staples. As it has been pointed out to me, Jean Valjean stole only a loaf of bread and only because it was necessary to. It is hard to understand why anyone in New Orleans needs a DVD player right now, being that there is no electricity.

The experts have weighed in:

Ethicists and social psychologists said in interviews that rules of human behavior _ including respect for others' property and for social order itself _ dissolve quickly in desperate circumstances like the storm's aftermath.....In the cauldron of lawlessness that is New Orleans, these ivory-tower hypotheticals are being played out with life-or-death consequences.

Yet I don't remember there being much looting after the devastating tsunami in Indonesia last December. (And neither does anyone else I've posed the question to). If I remember correctly the victims did whatever they could to help each other, similar to the way people behaved after the liberation of the concentration camps.

1 comment:

-Ann said...

A big difference with the tsunami is that food was airlifted in less than 48 hours. The people in New Orleans waited up to 4 days with nothing.

I firmly believe that taking food and water from stores that are closed (and without electricty so things are rotting anyway) is NOT looting. It is simple survival.

For an interesting sociological take on looting, check out: