Have Fun Explaining
Why Theft Is Wrong
Bunyamin Inan

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bunyamin Inan"
Subject: Re: Theft is wrong or not?
Date: February 09, 2002 4:21 PM

Why does that final phrase, "Have a nice time," give me the overwhelming impression that nothing I could ever possibly say would meet your approval (as if your approval is something to be desired)?

Shorter Graphic Rule

If the Eighth Commandment (or Seventh) says, "Thou Shalt Not Steal" -- if that's what it really says (and there is much doubt regarding this) -- then it's the only Commandment with which I completely agree. If (as some say) it means "Thou Shalt Not Move a Landmark By Stealth" (meaning don't increase your borders unfairly) or "Thou Shalt Not Kidnap," then I still agree with it. If, however, it means, "Thou Shalt Not Move Those Living Entities (Idols) Known as Landmarks, Upon Which a Powerful Hex Has Been Placed," then the Eighth Commandment is as foolish as the rest.

So if theft is right and if you steal an object from me, then it's okay for me to turn around and steal that same object back from you! Am I right!? Furthermore, if theft is right, then it's wrong for you to put up a resistance, or even lock your door, for that matter! So, why bother stealing in the first place, cause if I want it bad enough (since theft is right), I'll just walk into your house and take it.

I'll bet I know why the philosophers did not bother to address the subject of theft: The wrongness of theft is so completely and utterly and patently and plainly obvious that even a puppy knows how wrong it is for another puppy to steal its bone. If the wrongness of theft is so plain that even a puppy knows it by instinct, then why do we need philosophers, much less a god with a supernatural oracle from above, to tell us that it is wrong? Were I a philosopher, I might be tempted not to spend more than two or three paragraphs on something as simple as the subject of theft.

[The above was derived in part from Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values and from Maurice Cranston, Freedom.]

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bunyamin Inan"
Subject: Re: Theft is wrong or not?
Date: February 10, 2002 12:54 AM

... common sense ...

Please do not put words into my mouth! I did not say "common sense" at all, you did! In fact, throughout this dialogue (and I tag this on after having completed my current reply), you are the only one to use that phrase. Instead, I gave you a perfectly valid reason for believing that theft is wrong. And yet you call what I say "a dogma" and further define that as, "believing something without finding any reason to believe."

Shortest Graphic Rule

... dogma ...

I'm not sure I go along with your definition of dogma. I have long considered it inappropraite to call an idea a "dogma" if that idea is the result of the individual's own philosophical ponderings or has been approved, if you will, during his or her own philosophical musings. And if someone takes a statement from (for example) the Bible or from collection of quotations from Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), and if that person thinks about the proposition, giving it as much scrutiny as she would to any question that comes her way, then I would likewise stop calling that a dogma in her case. Until she considered the idea and tested it against her current education, it would be the same as any dogma if (and only if) she believed it to be true. However, after she has taken the time to examine the point in a full audit of its pros and cons, it would then be indistinguishable from anything else she had worked through philosophically, even something her mind had happened upon perchance while walking alone in a wooded park. Any idea that she has taken as truth without examining it is, in my opinion, worthy of being called a "dogma." But if she has bothered to inquire as to the validity of an idea, be it something she discovered on her own, something she learned in school to be an almost universally accepted maxim among humans of all cultures, something she read in an old Popper lecture, or something she picked up from a horoscope column or a Charlie Brown comic strip she'd read as a child, then I would not feel right in calling that idea a "dogma" in the context of her believing it. That is my understanding of dogma as it relates to how an individual thinks about things.

My understanding of the generic sense of the word dogma differs significantly from this, in that for me, the difference lies mainly in the proposition's ability to be tested. A proposition such as, "Jesus died for our sins" is not one that we can submit to any test (that I can think of); however, a statement such as "using the evidence of mitochondrial DNA from human, the two species of chimpanzee, and frozen tissue from a Neanderthal we can make a strong case for a common ancestry for the four species" readily allows itself to be submitted to a number of tests (which, by the way, show the statement itself, though not necessarily its conclusion, to be the product of a fruitful imagination).

R. Buckminster Fuller did just this with the "Golden Rule" ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you") and then concluded that the "Golden Rule" passes even the tough scrutiny which he places on a claim before he becomes willing to call it "valid." While enduring an acute depressive episode wherein he had decided to commit suicide, he decided, instead, to embark on a new way of living. One of the more remarkable aspects of this new lifestyle was his decision to test all propositions put before him and to scrutinize even the most basic and familiar statements (according to the biographical sketch by Robert Anton Wilson, titled, "Bucky Fuller: Aborting the Self-Destruct"). As examples, he gave the "Golden Rule" taught to him by his mother and "It's a dog-eat-dog world." After testing, the first passed with flying colors as a beneficial way to behave, and the second failed as a description of how humans organize their societies.

Someone asked me why I place such a high regard on truthfulness: "Is it based on utilitarianism, a personal taste, or a metaphysical reason?" I took this one to the mat and gave it a thorough working over. In the end, I still couldn't say why I value truthfulness, I just do. However, this question would matter only if I were to hold others to this standard -- my standard. I hold only myself to this standard, and since the furthest I will go toward holding others to any standard is to exercise my prerogative not to affiliate with someone in a free exchange. Thus, I use their record regarding truthfulness in my criteria for deciding whether or not I will "hang" with someone. Since my companionship or my support or my business is all that's at stake, here, I don't feel the need to justify my position on truthfulness -- even though the truth is that I simply have yet to find a way to justify, philosophically, my position regarding truthfulness as a personal ethic! This explanation is entirely my own business; as such, the question is merely academic as far as anybody else is concerned, even when I divulge my position to others.

Shorter Graphic Rule

Going back to the subject of theft, I must reiterate: Theft is wrong for me to practice because I choose not to pay the price of that activity. The most important philosophical consequence is, of course, premised upon my respect for self-consistency: If I were to pronounce that theft is right, if I were to start taking food and clothing and animals and implements from other people with impunity, then I would have no business trying to stop others from taking things from me. Eventually, those with the most resources and the fewest scruples would have everything, and people who believed in "turning the other cheek" would end up with nothing. Then, even those who had everything would not have it for long, as the Middle Ages Europeans found out when the Muslims invaded: their societies were not strong enough to fully withstand the invasions, and much of the Mediterranean world became dominated by Islam. This is unlikely in America as long as Liberty allows for a more equitable distribution of the wealth. As such, a human cultural aversion to theft will probably always prevail.

Why is it "wrong"? I cannot answer that question until I understand what you mean when you use that word. This is not a word that I use very often, and when I do, it's either got a strong qualification or rider attached to it or I have used it sloppily, without having taken the time to think through what I was saying. In other words, I most likely expected a more honest conversation than I sometimes find myself engaged in, and trusted my correspondent not to carry what I said any further than I had tried to indicate, though the bulk of the remainder of my statement, that I'd intended my words to be taken.

Any more, when I discover that I am conversing with someone who is less than candid in this respect, someone who wants to charge me for a spit shine when it was clear that what I asked for, what I wanted, and the most anybody in their right mind would ever care to do to this old pair of shoes was to scrape the excess mud off the soles, I'll end the conversation right then and there. I do this nowadays because I have a pretty good idea of what I think, and what I mean when I say something, and I am very skilled at communicating to most people what I intend to say. Most importantly, it is not my burden to provide anybody else with an education. Finally, I have no need to prove to anybody (in any sense of the word) that I am telling the truth (if indeed that's the case).

Thus, when someone misunderstands a clear statement of mine, particularly one that I've repeated several different ways, I rightly conclude that this misunderstanding was deliberate -- possibly for the purpose of deliberately tripping me up (to "win" the argument, perhaps?). Since I have nothing to sell, very seldom is it a case where I'm simply being stuborn and holding out in an attempt to get them to agree with me. I do get this a lot from Biblicists, however: "He's not accepting the message of the Bible!" Worse: "He's not behaving in a way that the Bible predicts!" Or check this favorite: "He's acting the same way that the Bible says a ______ would act!" Finally, the one almost guaranteed to end a dialogue with me, right on the spot: "The Bible says that all ______s believe such-and-such, and so therefore he believes such-and-such because he's a ______." Whatever their goal, whatever their motive, I end the conversation when I detect that someone has tried to trip me up like this, and I don't even need to explain why. I simply go into "Message Rules" and that's the end of that. Have a nice life!

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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