These argument have been popular lately with the fallout from the Black Lives Matter (sort of, now antifa) riots and banditry: that you can replace your stuff and that crime arises from conditions the criminal has no choice over.
These arguments are actually totally incoherent. Let’s dive into them, both as they are articulated here as well as the wider “debate.”
First, the premise that physical goods are replaceable is false. Some things are replaceable, other things are not. I can replace my copy of Lord of the Rings. I cannot replace the photographs of my dead grandparents.
Even goods that might seem replaceable on the surface might not be because ergodicity is often not present in categories. I can buy another guitar if mine is stolen, but I cannot but even an approximate replacement for the original, made by David Schramm and completed on March 22, 2001, made of unique wood from a unique tree that cannot be regrown. The sentemantal attachment can also not be repaired through replacement. I played countless concerts on that instrument, it’s loss would be significant.
Saying that physical goods can be replaced also assumes that replacement is a free choice, when it clearly isn’t. Replacement always has a cost. You either pay ahead of time in the form of insurance, or you pay after the fact. If you don’t have any money, you can’t replace the physical goods. You can also pay to secure your property ahead of time (one component of which the argument is alluding to – defending your property with force, even lethal force), but that is again a cost and brings me to my next point.
Samson likely doesn’t believe his own reasoning. He secures his property with barriers to entry, security, who knows what else to avoid his goods being taken, which means he believes that at least some of them cannot be readily or easily replaced.
The silent part of the argument is that physical goods are of lower value than a human life. This is also false, not because the comparison is direct, but because there is not a strict division between ownership of one’s own life and ownership of goods.
This division is not strict because people spend their lives working to acquire goods. Most men would prefer to spend the day fishing or playing games as opposed to working at a job, but they work at a job so that they can then trade that production for goods and services they actually want. So when a man has physical goods stolen, he also has stolen the time he has spent acquiring them. Since our time on earth is limited, part of his life has been stolen. You can’t ever recover time.
When a man uses force to defend his property, he is also defending at least a portion of his life. The crime is not non-violent. Furthermore, somebody breaking into a home is by the nature of the act imposing himself into a situation that cannot be divided from violence. It’s an expected and reasonable condition, which is why home invaders, if they are wise, come armed.
The second half of the argument, that criminality arises from socio-economic conditions, is easily disproven. Plenty of poor people never commit crime, and plenty of well-off people do. Poverty and oppression does not necessarily lead to criminality, nor does the removal of those conditions necessarily prevent it. Poverty cannot be a sufficient cause for criminal behavior.
I think you can make a valid point that poverty possibly contributes to criminality, as areas and people in poverty tend to commit more crimes, but you cannot assume that poverty itself can be solved, nor that criminality can be solved through external conditions. Furthermore most “poverty-solving” measures imposed by the state are themselves violent, since the state has to extract money via force from one person to provide for another (this is also why state welfare and charity are different categories). Property crimes will not disappear, nor should they be tolerated if anyone is to bother producing economically.
So the end conclusion is that poverty is not an excuse, nor is the target of the crime, physical goods of a special category that ought to negate the use of force in defense. The entire argument really boils down to an appeal to emotion or empathy – feel bad for your attacker – but that is the prerogative of the victim. I might pray for the man, but only after I have secured myself, my family, and property.
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