From Peggy Noonan:

As for the tragic piggism that is taking place on the streets of New Orleans, it is not unbelievable but it is unforgivable, and I hope the looters are shot. A hurricane cannot rob a great city of its spirit, but a vicious citizenry can. […] There seems to be some confusion in terms of terminology on TV. People with no food and water who are walking into supermarkets and taking food and water off the shelves are not criminal, they are sane. They are not looters, they are people who are attempting to survive; they are taking the basics of survival off shelves in stores where there isn’t even anyone at the cash register. Looters are not looking to survive; they’re looking to take advantage of the weakness of others. They are predators. They’re taking not what they need but what they want. They are breaking into stores in New Orleans and elsewhere and stealing flat screen TVs and jewelry, guns and CD players. They are breaking into homes and taking what those who have fled trustingly left behind. In Biloxi, Miss., looters went from shop to shop. “People are just casually walking in and filling up garbage bags and walking off like they’re Santa Claus,” the owner of a Super 8 Motel told the London Times. On CNN, producer Kim Siegel reported in the middle of the afternoon from Canal Street in New Orleans that looters were taking “everything they can.”

Comments CM writer Don Watkins III:

This story from the AP describes the scene.

With much of the city flooded by Hurricane Katrina, looters floated garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street in a dash to grab what they could. In some cases, looting on Tuesday took place in full view of police and National Guard troops. At a Walgreen’s drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers. When police finally showed up, a young boy stood in the door screaming, “86! 86!” – the radio code for police – and the crowd scattered. Denise Bollinger, a tourist from Philadelphia, stood outside and snapped pictures in amazement. “It’s downtown Baghdad,” the housewife said. “It’s insane. I’ve wanted to come here for 10 years. I thought this was a sophisticated city. I guess not.”

Around the corner on Canal Street, the main thoroughfare in the central business district, people sloshed headlong through hip-deep water as looters ripped open the steel gates on the front of several clothing and jewelry stores. One man, who had about 10 pairs of jeans draped over his left arm, was asked if he was salvaging things from his store. “No,” the man shouted, “that’s EVERYBODY’S store.”

Looters filled industrial-sized garbage cans with clothing and jewelry and floated them down the street on bits of plywood and insulation as National Guard lumbered by. Mike Franklin stood on the trolley tracks and watched the spectacle unfold. “To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society,” he said. A man walked down Canal Street with a pallet of food on his head. His wife, who refused to give her name, insisted they weren’t stealing from the nearby Winn-Dixie supermarket. “It’s about survival right now,” she said as she held a plastic bag full of purloined items. “We got to feed our children. I’ve got eight grandchildren to feed.”

What’s interesting about this story is what it reveals about man’s need for a moral sanction. Men will not act without some sense that what they’re doing is right. I don’t mean that men automatically act according to what they believe is moral — I mean that even when they act against their knowledge of the good, they have to evade that knowledge and find a rationalization to justify it. (Notice, here, the usefulness of altruism in providing such rationalizations.) Man’s psychological need for a moral sanction is so strong that even criminals can’t escape it. The most vicious criminals, rapists and child molesters included, will go to fantastic lengths to convince themselves that their actions are in some sense noble.

[P]eople who are raiding stores for food and other necessities in order to survive during an emergency are doing nothing wrong. That’s true, but even there, once life returns to normal, they have an obligation to repay the stores (or at least offer to). The same holds true for any emergency. It is proper to do what you have to do in order to survive, but if that involves violating someone’s rights, then once you have weathered the emergency, you owe them the appropriate restitution.

Voice of Capitalism

Capitalism news delivered every Monday to your email inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest