Root causes of recent outbursts of rioting, pillaging and violent protests around the world may not be as related as some analysts infer, citing mostly economic factors. Israel is not Greece and Philadelphia is not London — to name a few areas in which social unrest has been reported.
In some cases, one finds clear evidence of racial tensions, in others, class conflict. By no means, however, are all rioters among the poorer or disadvantaged members of society. In fact, particularly in England, it appears that many of the perpetrators are looting for the thrill of it all, out of boredom or opportunism. One writer, for example, observes that the shops that were raided purveyed neither books nor food, but high-end sneakers and electronic devices —the luxuries most desired by the young looters.
Aside from any number of material interests, one trait most of the anarchical “celebrants” seem to share is a disdain or disregard for the social order. It is as if the participants see no connection between their destructive behavior and their own self-destruction as members of an ordered society. Some commentators attribute such anti-social behavior to poor education or a lack of moral conscience. Maybe so. Even more fundamentally, however, there seems to be lack of appreciation for the role that cooperation and mutual respect of fundamental right have in being free.
For some people, the definition of freedom seems to be to able to do whatever one wants. Taken to its extreme, that implies that freedom can be had at the expense of the rights and sensibilities of others. We do live in a time where, increasingly, many people seem to feel that they are entitled to certain goods and services without earning them. It is an age of taking offense! What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable — or, if not, then I can simply take it.
It is perhaps not commonly known that 44% of all retail loss in United States businesses is due to employee theft. This figure does not even account for what might be called “stealing time.” How many compensable hours are lost in extended lunch and bathroom breaks, excursions and detours between deliveries, computer games and social network exchanges on company time and other forms of personal entertainment.
Cheating on exams and plagiarism are commonplace even in universities, not to mention the exploitative shifting of responsibilities which plague both the highest echelons of business and politics and reach deep into our family structures. In how many homes do we find children assigned the tasks of adults, children supervising children or acting as surrogates for failed relationships of emotionally needy parents.
All of these forms of theft or societal cannibalism are based upon the mistaken notion that we can truly get without giving or grow without sacrificing. The irony of this pattern of social suicide is that in the confusion of liberty with libertinism we end up destroying the very foundation of freedom: a respect for all persons and their property. When stealing, that is, taking what one does not own or have a moral claim to, becomes a way of life, chaos eventually develops which, inevitably, only invites authoritarian reactions which, in political terms, take the form of military repression and dictatorships.
The original American inspiration for progress was the free exchange of goods and services in a context of cooperation and mutual respect of rights. Even competition — rigorous though it might be — requires cooperative efforts in order to produce a product worth contributing to the market of goods or ideas.
People of faith should, in principle, at least, have no difficulty in accepting the premise that freedom is impossible without mutual cooperation and respect. Can we forget that Christ lived and died by the revelation that the essence of love is sacrifice and the very nature of God was to be a lover who gives unconditionally? And God is the freest of all!