Compassion for Victims

We’re all scared, no doubt. How could you not be? It looks like the world is ending. We’ve been unable to work for months and now, the U.S. looks like Rome in 410 AD, police are forcibly attacking peaceful protesters, and there appears to be no semblance of law and order. I feel, to a great extent, glad to be physically distant from the U.S. right now.

There seems to be a dialogue between libertarians right now about how we should speak in online spaces about the current goings on of the U.S. On one hand, it seems to some that speaking about the evils of looting are horrific at this time. And I sympathize with this point of view: “We are here! This is what we feared! The Leviathan state has come crashing down upon us and you are concerned with a few looters who have taken advantage of the situation?! Now, we can point to the horrors of police brutality and the militarization of police which has only expanded in the last century! Disregard this small injustice to focus on the bigger picture!” Certainly, I agree with this sentiment. I think that it is important to speak out against police brutality and say openly and explicitly that calling the National Guard into the streets of the U.S. is nothing short of tyranny.

But, I don’t know that it’s fair to immediately dismiss anyone who has concerns about looting. It is easy to say that this is small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But should we collapse on our own principles of private property and put these views to the side simply because there are worse things happening right now? What about our commitment to individual rights? Should “more important things” make us silent on those issues? Monetary manipulation and foreign intervention are two of the greatest invasions of individual rights that the state is guilty of. But does this mean that we should be silent on the municipalization of garbage disposal? No! We must be steadfast in our beliefs and speak out even when particular injustices may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things. And further, simply because the view is unpopular, does it mean we should not speak out? Again, no! Have we not always held on to the view that one has the right to racially discriminate concerning who can use their property? We have. Even as the view is becoming intolerable to most people. A couple weeks ago I wrote about the “gradal radical” who is someone who is uncompromising in their beliefs. And we should be gradal radicals! We shouldn’t compromise on our view of private property rights simply because there are bigger issues or that our views are not popular.

It is also easy to say that looters are full of righteous anger. It is righteous, is it not!? Have not the American people experienced police brutality for genuine centuries? And their outrage with police brutality is met with more police who are even more brutal. We should have compassion for these people who have long suffered these great injustices especially for black people. But why must compassion end there? What about property owners who have their livelihoods destroyed by looters? Shouldn’t we have compassion for them as well? It is easy to disregard those people, but you wouldn’t feel the same way if it was your house being looted, if it was your life work being destroyed. Consider the case of Stephanie Wilford who said that she wished she was dead instead of having to have faced rioters. These victims of looting are real people with real lives, and to those concerned with justice, with real rights! Should we not have compassion for them as well and openly say that their rights are important and being infringed upon in this situation? We are not brutes because we also care about these people.

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Stephanie Wilford

I want to leave the words of the great Walter Block here about how we view interpersonal conflict. The libertarian is faced with the following situation:

A man is standing at the edge of his balcony on the 45th floor of a high rise apartment building. He teeters over the side and drops to the 25th floor. There, fortunately, he is able to grab hold of a flagpole, jutting out from the building. He would like nothing so much as to be able to inch his way down onto the 25th story balcony, go inside that apartment, leave it for the hall, and take the elevator back up to his own apartment.

Unhappily, the owner of the 25 floor apartment, and of the flagpole to which he is precariously holding, comes out on the deck with a shotgun and demands that he respect private property rights and let go, thus dropping to his death

How can the libertarian respond to this problem? Well, for Block, it is to take the perspective of the property owner into account:

Suppose the owner is a frail old man, and the flagpole sitter a young strong one. Suppose the latter will victimize the former if allowed access to the apartment. … The problem with the scenario as stated is that it takes place all from the point of view of the flagpole sitter. When once we look at matters from the [perspective] of the property owner the anti libertarian conclusion drawn by the critic no longer seems so obvious.

When we are speaking in defense of private property rights and against looting, we are not merely saying that looters are evil, immoral, or criminal. We are saying that looting victims are just that: victims. They have been deprived of their just property and their livelihoods. There is no reason that in this terrifying time, we cannot also have compassion for these victims as we have compassion for all of those who suffer injustice.

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