Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. The Humanitarian with the Molotov Cocktail
My article on looting and property rights is now up at The Bulwark, where it’s getting a fair bit of attention.
I’m not the only one taking on this issue. At The Atlantic, Graeme Wood offers a scathing review of Vicky Osterweil’s book making the case for looting.
Osterweil euphemizes looting as “proletarian shopping,” and no one from a place that has recently experienced this phenomenon can take seriously her assurance that it can happen justly and bloodlessly. When I think of riots and smashed storefronts, I think of Kristallnacht. I think of American businesses built by penniless immigrants who preferred to forfeit their vacations and weekends for 30 years rather than see their children suffer as they did; I think of these businesses ransacked in 30 minutes and left in ruins. Osterweil at least has the psychology right when she says that looting can be “joyous and liberatory.” I have never seen a sullen looter, but I have seen plenty of shop owners crying next to the smoking remains of their children’s future.
This is a less substantial case than I made. Being a conventional liberal and an altruist, Wood has to appeal to the argumentum ad misericordiam, as if looting is bad only when it is done to poor immigrants. But I was nevertheless heartened to see this widely shared among many old-fashioned “liberals” and center-left types, who are being prompted to confront exactly how vicious, pathological, and inhuman the mindset of the far left can be.
And Wood does have some grasp of the psychology of hatred behind the defense of looting.
Osterweil is unable or unwilling to relate to anyone at all with anything resembling a sense of humanity. Comrades and enemies alike are described without compassion, emotional detail, or distinction as people endowed with feelings or moral complexity. Once cast as a villain, a villain one remains, with no intricacies of the human condition explored under any circumstances. In the NPR interview, Osterweil describes the Los Angeles convenience store where Latasha Harlins was shot to death in 1991 as the location of “white-supremacist violence.” That shooting, which came two weeks after the beating of Rodney King and contributed to riots that killed 63 people, was perpetrated by the store owner, a female Korean immigrant—an irony that surely deserves probing. But Osterweil’s great class war has only two sides, so a working-class Korean woman is effortlessly enlisted on the side of the white-supremacist cisheteropatriarchs. Osterweil quotes a communist magazine: “Just as Jews were in 1965, Koreans in 1992 were ‘on the front-line of the confrontation between capital and the residents of central LA—they are the face of capital for these communities.'” As explanations of communal violence go, this is contemptibly inane.
That part about the Jews is really something. Did you think the reference to Kristallnacht in the first excerpt above was over the top? No, it was right on target.
National Public Radio has since had some regrets about posting that interview with Osterweil. But Wood makes the case that they have done us a service.
Osterweil…has taken up a position that others espouse implicitly. A full exploration of that position is exactly what we need, and Code Switch found its best defender. If Osterweil’s defense is a bad one, she has now given other pro-looters a chance to reply to it and say why. If they do not, we can assume that they agree with Osterweil, and her argument is the pinnacle of looting apologia. A week ago, you could have said that looting might not be so bad, and I might have wondered what you meant by that. Now I will ask you if your reasons are the same as Osterweil’s, and I will make fun of you if you say yes.
Still, there’s something revealing, not about the fact that NPR published the interview, but that it was such a pathetic softball interview, with nary a skeptical question. One of the NPR officials grasps the problem: “Casual observers might conclude that NPR is more interested in fact-checking conservative viewpoints than liberal viewpoints. Or possibly, that bias on the part of NPR staff interferes with their judgment when spotting suspect information.” You think?
But it’s not just NPR. The entire mainstream media and the so-called “liberal” establishment is compromised by ideological sympathy for rioters, looters, and would-be revolutionaries. This is encapsulated in the amazing, convoluted progress of the term “mostly peaceful.”
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