It’s Just Property
One of the justifications I’ve seen for the recent riots and looting is that “it’s just property”. I’ve seen this sentiment expressed frequently (usually by wealthy white people, who have lost nothing and are at little risk of losing anything, and if they did lose something they could easily replace it, but I digress) over the past couple weeks. Human life is more precious than “stuff”, I am told, and the businesses being ripped apart and stolen from, well, it’s worth it to send a political message (to people who also lost nothing and are at little risk of losing anything they couldn’t easily replace) and those businesses were probably insured anyway.
So it seems like a good time to take a look at the nature of property, what it really is, what it represents to people, and why people are willing to fight – even die – to protect it.
Because that’s something that can’t be overlooked in all this. People are willing to risk their lives to protect “just stuff” and there’s gotta be some reason for that, right? David Dorn recently died trying to protect his friend’s pawn shop from looters, and I don’t believe for one minute that he thought it was “just property” he was risking his life to defend.
In this day and age, when all but the poorest among us are richer than the richest men 150 years ago or even just a hundred, when Marie Kondo has made a cottage industry helping people rid themselves of unwanted stuff that weighs us down like an albatross around our necks, why does anyone even care about “just property”? How silly to worry over baubles and gewgaws when everyone knows that we would all just feel so much freer and better unencumbered by everything (well, except for this Samsung Galaxy 20 Ultra 5G, srsly, my whole entire LIFE is on there!)
I mean imagine, getting so worked up over some shoes or a shirt, LOL, when you can seriously just go to the store and buy another one with all that insurance money you’re undoubtedly rolling in and if that doesn’t work, do a GoFundMe why don’t you?
It’s just PROPERTY. It’s just stuff.
People didn’t always have much stuff. I’ve read it before that if you have more than one pair of underwear, you’re more privileged than the majority of people who have ever lived and even many who are living NOW. Most people, even up till quite recently, had very little – just what they needed to survive, and oftentimes not even that. I recall my parents’ home, and the homes of our friends during the 70’s, were very sparse – the barest minimum of furniture, the necessary kitchen goods (believe it or not, no one had a Bloomin’ Onion maker or a panini grill), one TV, a single car, a couple toys for the kiddies, and children – not to mention most adults – had a single pair of shoes that we wore. Just one, day in and day out, and when winter came we put bread sacks on our feet to pull galoshes on over the top of our shoes to keep them dry. I recall with crystal clarity the clothes my parents wore during my childhood, not because I have such a great memory, but because they wore the same thing over and over again for years running. We didn’t have a washer and dryer, a microwave, or a dishwasher. Some people did, but we didn’t, even though my parents were wealthy and our friends were wealthy. It was all they could afford at the time, because stuff, even in recent memory, used to be a lot harder to come by than it is now.
Property is precious to people because up until the past few decades, it was hard to get. You had to put in a lot of life energy, by which I mean time spent working at your job, not to mention not spending money on other things, to save up the money to get what you needed. The further back you go in time, the harder things were to get, and the higher percentage of your life energy you had to expend to earn those things. People had to work for a huge part of their lives to get things like cars and new refrigerators and television sets that we treat as junk today (no, seriously, you should see the number of refrigerators and televisions my husband sees thrown away at the dump, most of which STILL WORK – no one wants them, even for free. Working appliances only a few years old are literal garbage.)
If you go back a little further in time (or had less privilege than I had growing up) your parent, your father usually, but not always, may have even had to risk their life or their health regularly at their job to get that “stuff”, and I’m not talking carpal tunnel syndrome. My husband’s father, for example, broke his back at work once and had to spend several months recovering from it. This is not unusual or uncommon; nearly 5 million Americans are injured on the job every year. A surprising number of those addicted to opioids got hooked on them after workplace injuries and a not-small percentage of alcohol abuse that kills 88,000 Americans a year is also self-medication due to chronic pain.
Work is hard and often dangerous, and everything people buy represents hours and hours of their life spent doing unpleasant tasks they would rather not have been doing. While you may believe “do what you love, the money will follow” a whole lot of other people live by a different precept – “you gotta do what you gotta do to keep the wolf from your door” even when it’s not fun, interesting, or lucrative.
Property is not “just stuff”, property is life itself.
Many of the people defending rioters and looters as “just damaging property” have lived their entire lives since 1990. All they’ve ever known is “just property” as something easily replaced, a nuisance to be gotten rid of, even. Many of the people defending rioters and looters are white collar people from white collar families who have never known want, let alone need; who have never known what it’s like to spend the best years of your life working for your family to finally be financially secure only to have a twist of fate wrest defeat from the jaws of victory. The notion that you can go to work and literally break your back there, just trying to get a color tv set for your kids to watch Scooby Doo in your trailer house is completely foreign to them. The notion of working your entire life and seeing it go up in smoke – literal or figurative – lost to illness, to natural disaster, at the hand of another human being, is something they’ve never experienced and cannot comprehend, since the only book they ever read was Harry Potter and someone bequeathed to him a fortune he didn’t have to work for.
The idea of why David Dorn stood in his friend’s pawn shop and tried to save the man’s livelihood is as far beyond two generations of people as it was for Marie Antoinette to understand why the peasants couldn’t eat cake.
When you see the wreckage of a looted store, that isn’t JUST STUFF, folks. It is a person’s entire life, shattered and destroyed. Assholes who destroy a family-owned franchise store aren’t striking a blow against a nameless, faceless corporation, they’re destroying what a family has built over the course of their lives. It is their livelihood, the thing that puts food into their children’s mouths, a roof over their head, clothes on their backs, and health care, and it is also the livelihood of everyone who works for them.
Kiddos, you may have forgotten this or perhaps never known it, since you’ve never personally experienced hunger that didn’t originate from a bad case of the keto flu, but of all the people who ever lived, a fairly massive number have died from famine and malnutrition because one way or another, often through no fault of their own, they were unable to feed themselves. Thus, a person’s livelihood should be sacrosanct, because a livelihood is the means of keeping oneself and ones’ family and their employees, even their friends and neighbors and distant cousins and business associates alive. A person’s livelihood can even keep total strangers alive, bringing much needed goods and services to people who otherwise wouldn’t have them, some of whom may even die without them.
People saying “it’s just property, and it’s less valuable than LIFE” could not be more wrong because where the rubber hits the road, property IS life. Not only because people spend so much of their life energy getting that stuff to begin with, but because people who have nothing cannot survive. People who cannot make a living cannot survive, and a political movement centered around destroying people’s livelihoods is inherently cultural poison. A movement that tolerates, even celebrates the destruction of people’s livelihoods may as well be attempted murderers, because in anything less secure than the world we have right this very minute (and let’s be honest, we’re headed the direction of a less secure world with every passing day) stealing and destroying the things that belong to other people is tantamount to killing them.
Do you doubt it?? Envision a peasant who works a lifetime on a plot of land, scraping together just enough to keep his family going through the winter, who has his ripening crop or his cow stolen by a passing army. Envision a medieval merchant whose shop is burned by people who don’t like his religion. Envision a worker who is not allowed to do certain jobs because of their political beliefs or the color of their skin or their gender or the caste they were born into. All those things happened in history, all these things are happening now, and not rarely. Taking away a person’s livelihood, destroying their possessions, is nothing short of a physical assault and it can be a fatal one. A person’s ability to build something and grow something and KEEP what they have built and grown rather than being subject to the whims of a pitchfork-wielding mob is what has enabled us to have this freaking amazing existence in which we have the luxury of not understanding that property is life and caring passionately about the affairs of comic book heroes instead.
The people who smash and steal and burn and justify it by invoking “insurance”, the people unable to imagine a world in which people can actually starve, fail to realize that world IS the world we actually live in. We can starve, you and I, and it is only the miracle of modernity that prevents us from being that peasant, that merchant, that worker who has spent a lifetime building something only to have it swept away in the blink of an eye.
It only took one thankfully-not-too-serious pandemic to empty store shelves and to screw up food production to such an extent that milk had to be dumped, animals culled, and crops plowed under. What will happen when the insurers – who contrary to popular belief, are not endless fountains of money – go broke and cannot pay out thousands of claims simultaneously (if you do not understand what I mean by this, please Google “how insurance works” and then add “for kids” since it will be easier for you to follow). What will happen if delivery trucks stop running due to unrest and the food processing plants are not only shut down, but destroyed? What will happen to the people in those neighborhoods in Minneapolis and Chicago who already have nowhere to go for food and medicine? What will happen when everywhere is Minneapolis and Chicago? And what will happen when the police don’t come, when the strongest person is allowed to take what they want from whoever they encounter?
I don’t think you will much like this world you are creating, tearing down the imperfect but fixable for an imaginary vision of how you think the world ought to be but have no idea how to build.
And as is so often the case it will be the marginalized people who will pay the highest price, who already are paying the price, having nowhere to go to buy bread or fill their prescriptions. The wannabe Marxists rioting in the streets smashing things for funsies will probably just go home and live on their parents’ couch. Their property, their livelihood was never truly at risk.
The poor people left behind will bear the brunt, they always do. Those who had little to begin with, will end up with nothing.
But hey, it’s just property.