Thursday, March 22, 2012

Theft, Culture and Copyright

When we were in Ottawa we were told by locals that it was a 'safe' city.  We left purchases locked in our trunk and were told that was okay.  We were told by people who lived in Ottawa that it was safe to go out at night.  A poll was just released on "most liveable cities'. Apparently, Ottawa was #1, Vancouver #56.  Alot of different criteria goes into the poll not just safety from theft but that's implicit in the 'liveability' of a city.
Obviously if there are rules, the people need them. There's no commandment 'Thou Shalt Breath".  In the 10 Commandments the Jewish people are told by God according to Moses , Thou shalt not steal.' One imagines Moses had a problem with theiving Jews.  Given that laws have been enacted all over the world against theft it's not just a Jewish problem but a human problem.  Christians certainly kept that commandment in their Bibles. Yet in terms of priorities it was the Jews that first put it on their top 10 chart.  Other cultures don't have  "Thou Shalt Not Steal" in their top 10.
Stealing was the problem that Westerners encountered when they first came to North America.  The First Nations people were great theives. It was a major problem that brought on much of the war.  It might well be said that the White Man was 'stealing' when he moved onto the Red Man's land but the Red Man at that time had no concept of 'land ownership' on an individual basis. Their 'land ownership' was still tribal.  In feudal times in Europe the same thing occurred, the chief or lord of any territory owning all the land all the people being related to him.  Yet the problem of stealing that's repeatedly written about is the theft of tools and clothing and personal items.  Within the tribal society there was prohibition against taking the chief's headdress for instance but it was alright to steal a foreigner's knife. Property considerations existed around medicine man's tools but this 'tribal' condition didn't extend across the boundaries to outsiders.
It's possible to see the beginning of stealing behaviour in young children. A 5 year old and a 3 year old playing. The 5 year old takes the 3 year olds toy.  The 3 year old cries.  The 5 year old is triumphant. I can't say for sure without more extensive research than I'm able to do at this moment but I would believe this reaction a 'normal' reaction which I've seen cross cultural and believe indicates that at the time the 5 year old took the 3 year old's toy the 3 year old considered it her property. I watch my dog playing this game of 'theft'. He knows he's taking the cats toy from her.
So theiving to my mind is inherrently associated with a knowledge of a) somehow that the other person is hurt b) some element of feeling good and powerful c) a sense that a taboo has been broken in someway.  I believe that developmentally children and societies have a concept of property and possession.  Even if I'm 'renting' a motorcycle I'm not going to be happy if you take it from me. I'l be even less happy and show it if you even touch my Harley Davidson that I worked hard and long to be able to buy and own outright.
Bullies, dogs and children steal.
So why do Kings, Queens, Leaders of State, Religious Leaders,  Adults and others steal?
What stops them?
Well, the bully always says, "I steal because I can".  The powerful lead unrestricted lives.  Indeed the admonition among the powerful against stealing is principally "don't get caught".  Caught by who?  First the person who you are stealing from? Secondly any authority that might disapprove of stealing.
It's very easy for those who don't believe in God or an afterlife because they have less likelihood of getting caught eventually. Unfortunately for them they live lives of paranoia as a consequence because in their world view, quite likely, everyone is a potential thief.  Even in Christianity, the thief on the cross beside Jesus gets to go to heaven by simply believing in him. That's why the Italian Catholic Mafia families liked to have a priest handy in hope that a last moment confession would wipe out their lifelong history of theft and rape, murder and mayhem.  What silly superstitious men these were?
When as a kid I tried to steal my brothers stuff he was older and bigger and punched me.  Therefore if I wanted to take something of his I had to do it 'sneekily'.
In the pagan anaimalism religions the rules against theft aren't as clear as Judeo Christian  "Thou shalt not steal".  Instead they're fairly nebulous.  A person whose animal sign is a chipmunk or crow wouldn't be faulted for stealing bright shiny things. That's what chipmunks and crows do. It's in their nature.  Indeed the notion of change in many cultures and religions denies the capacity to learn or alter behaviour of members.  A person is born good or bad, a theif or not a theif. Fate versus free will dictates how much a person can change or learn.  Multi culturalism sounds nice on the surface but in the nitty gritty there's serious potential for problems.
In that case chipmunks and crows shouldn't be given jobs in banks.  Yet in our society in which there is a requirement for assimiliation to some degree we have rules against discrimination.  Yet we are quite happy to discriminate against a crow or chipmunk after they have stolen been caught, done time, and now have a criminal record that denies them work in any place where theiving would be a concern.
So theiving even if it is in one's nature is restrained by oneself in face of greater power. My dog is likely to steal from the cat but being a cockapoo won't steal from his great dane friend if the great dane holds a toy and growls.
But in Vancouver I can't leave anything in my car.  Thieves will and have broken in repeatedly and stolen things. The insurance folk are very loathe to replace the lost items, blame me for my stupidity, everyone knows Vancouver is a city of thieves, and hikes up my insurance premiums.
When I was in Costa Rica I was told the same about leaving things in my car.  Lonely Planet the travel guide often tells tourists in a variety of places that they should beware of leaving any wealth where it can be taken and even says that one should be ware of wearing jewelry.  In some places in the world people have had their fingers cut off by theieves in public places in snatch and grab moments all for the sake of the ring.
Many rich Americans I've heard are increasingly afraid to travel to lots of places in the world for fear of being kidnapped, kidnapping and selling the person back, being a profittable form of theft.
There are also people who think it's perfectly acceptable and culturally right to steal peoples hearts and kidneys. Naturally the person who was using their heart and kidneys at the time consider this a cultural affront.
In contrast there are poor places in the world where despite terrible poverty I've not felt I should fear for my life bcause I was carrying an expensive camera. I felt this way in parts of Bombay (now Mombai) I visitted. Yet in Mexico City I felt the theives were always watching me and my camera.
It's not surprising that 'cutting off hands' was once the treatment for theives.  Kleptomania is a disease category that's very difficult to treat. It's thought that the parents of kleptomaniacs denied their children love and now those adult children  are taking things to fill the gap.  Others argue  that their brain development isn't normal. The research around kleptomania could well be used as a template to understanding common theives, not loved as children, brain missing some part necessary for mature social behaviour as a start.
In one city in the United States everyone is required by law to own a gun. As a result of that this city has the least break and entry and theft in the country.  Theives are as opportunistic as my dog.  They're naughty animals rather than big lions.
There's a lot to do with the 'belief' systems which support 'entitlement'.  The idea that the rich are idle rich and came by their wealth as bullies and theives makes it right somehow for me to be a little theif. Philosopher Dr. Johnson, paraphased by Bob Dylan, said 'steal a little and they put you in jail, steal alot and they make you king'.  Being rich doesn't stop one from stealing either.  Rich men and women have often been caught stealing shiny items in shopping malls. Others walk away with things with an attitude of "I dare you to stop me."  A local former Member of Parliament is forever stealing locally by bullying special treatment and extra 'perks' claiming it their right.
All those who are filled with 'self pity' are potentially at risk for stealing from others because they believe others 'owe' them.
As Canadians who respect "multi-culturalism' I think we should make a concerted effort to investigate immigrant attitudes around thieving.  I know the rules are very clear with Christians who made the laws and constitutions of this society but I'm not sure if a person associated with some odd sect from another part of the world agrees with me that "Thou Shalt Not Steal" means "Thou Shalt Not Steal" from anyone not just members of your sect. This is the law that the Hell's Angels goes by.   As a tribe they feel it's okay to steal from me but not to steal from one another.  Robin Hood of old was all in favour of stealing from the sheriff but he wouldn't steal from Friar Tuck.  Communists like the present Chinese feel perfectly good about stealing from Capitalists like the present Americans.
Now the matter gets even more complicated because we're looking at the notion of 'intellectual property'.  If I write a book and spend 20 years doing it, or make a movie or compose a symphony, do you have the right to take that and distribute it on mass.  If your ideas about stealing weren't too clear about whether to steal your neighbours power tools to build your own house then it's not likely you are going to respect 'copywrite'.
So questions which need to be asked are 'under what conditions do you think its right to steal?
From whom is it okay to steal?
Should there be a death penalty for thieves?
Should all theives be offered the same treatments which have been beneficial for kleptomaniacs.  New medications following on the original success with SSRI's have been shown to reduce kleptomania.
Should the families and tribes of those who steal be punished , because some cultures haven't developed a sense of 'individualism' and the individual as such caught stealing is really nothing but an agent for the family or tribes
Should bankers like those at Goldman Sacks be allowed to keep their bonuses?  Or should all executives of the recent white collar crimes have their pictures posted everywhere so that we recognise them and avoid them. This was found to be an effective strategy dealing with pedophiles and might well work with theiving bankers.
In the end, Thou Shalt Not Steal was seen in studies of 'cultural evolution' as evidence of a higher cultural development because theft caused war and unhappiness. Cultures which were considered 'toilet trained' as such agreed with the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".  "Treat others as you want to be treated".   That's why there are laws against theft.   My dog knows he shouldn't do it. It's in his nature and I've been able to stop him from taking the cat's things with training. It's not easy.  But it's certainly going to be necessary if we're going to have a society which encourages genius. Right now we have a society which encourages bullies.
We can't all live in Ottawa either.

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