As the Warring Twenties continues to shove us closer to an apocalypse of our own making, NPR greases the wheels of oblivion by tenderly rubbing the feet of author Vicky Osterweil in an interview about her recently released book, In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action.
I have no objections to a major publication shining a spotlight on a woman who justifies violence over peace, even in an era when the smallest spark can lead to a social inferno; being a free speech absolutist means I have to tolerate people being idiots at the top of their lungs.
But it’s troubling when telling the truth is enough to be shamed and have one’s career ruined, while extolling the mass destruction of innocent civilians’ property is given the VIP treatment. Even worse, condemning looting and rioting is liable to attract accusations of racism, because let’s make everything about race, dammit.
In NPR’s article, “One Author’s Argument ‘In Defense Of Looting’”, Natalie Escobar ignores compassion for commoners while affectionately querying Osterweil about her atavistic views. I got the impression that Escobar was brushing Osterweil’s hair in the nude during this interview, à la Katie Hill.
That’s a low blow, I know, but I’m through with giving public insanity a pass. If ideologues refuse to keep their lunacy to themselves, expect the kind of return fire from me that not even war historians will be able to explain.
So allow me to guide you through the minds of zealots who, if they had any decency, would resign from their positions in shame and live in a monastery somewhere, silently staring at blank walls in vain attempts to achieve nirvana:
Wanting to greet the world by putting her best stupidity forward, Escobar starts the article by demonstrating her confusion at the idea that public figures would openly denounce the viscous demonstrations that plague citizens in major cosmopolitan areas:
“In the past months of demonstrations for Black lives, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about looting. Whether it was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying that stealing purses and sneakers from high-end stores in Manhattan was ‘inexcusable’, or St. Paul, Minn., Mayor Melvin Carter saying looters were ‘destroy[ing] our community’, police officers, government officials and pundits alike have bemoaned the property damage and demanded an end to the riots.”
Why bother with civilly engaging with city hall when you can just burn it down? These Molotov cocktails aren’t going to throw themselves! All for solidarity, of course.
Escobar continues her derailed train of thought by blatantly meet-cuting with the legitimization of community obliteration as a viable means to further political progress.
“Now, as protests and riots continue to grip cities, she [Osterweil] argues that looting is a powerful tool to bring about real, lasting change in society. The rioters who smash windows and take items from stores, she says, are engaging in a powerful tactic that questions the justice of ‘law and order’, and the distribution of property and wealth in an unequal society.”
Don’t show your cards too early, Escobar — desperation is off-putting this early in the relationship.
While Escobar’s rejection of reality is a thing to behold, Osterweil is more than up for the challenge, and strikes back with a classic absurd parry: take previously-coherent and apolitical words, and make them incoherent and political. Knowing that “diversity”, “inclusion”, and “problematic” won’t work in this context, Osterweil deploys her mangled definition of “looting” to Earth-shattering effect:
“When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot. That’s the thing I’m defending. I’m not defending any situation in which property is stolen by force. It’s not a home invasion either. It’s about a certain kind of action that’s taken during protests and riots.”
To her credit, Osterweil does something that most woke flag-wavers don’t bother to do, which is to put limits around her ballooning definition. You see, according to her, property that is stolen by force is bad, but destroying it by force is totally jake. Thanks for the intellectual rigor, Vic.
And because Woke Folk believe that the only way to end racism is to make everything about race, Osterweil ensures her continued membership in the Woke Cult by exaggerating the racial origins of the word “looting”, despite contributing less than nothing to her overall defense of the concept:
“Looting is a highly racialized word from its very inception in the English language. It’s taken from Hindi, lút, which means ‘goods’ or ‘spoils’, and it appears in an English colonial officer’s handbook [on ‘Indian vocabulary”’ in the 19th century.”
This is a specious yet all-too prevalent sort of argument that gets brandished by woke zealots in conversations about race — just because a contemporary term or custom has some historical ties to racism doesn’t mean it’s contributing to KKK recruitment drives. If anything, this ubiquitous effort to make things that are ultimately benign out to be some sort of proof that the U.S. is an inherently White supremacist country is actually proof that the U.S. is a very unracist country.
According to Osterweil, looting isn’t about chaos or violence — it’s an effective political tactic that benefits more than it harms. This totally makes sense — in the mind of a person whose soul is possessed by something only Dante Alighieri and Gustave Doré could concoct.
“It does a number of important things. It gets people what they need for free immediately, which means that they are capable of living and reproducing their lives without having to rely on jobs or a wage — which, during COVID times, is widely unreliable or, particularly in these communities is often not available, or it comes at great risk. That’s looting’s most basic tactical power as a political mode of action.”
You see? Looting is really just a more streamlined form of social work! And in this era of wrath and tears, every little bit of pillaging helps the needy. Clearly.
Because the old ways of enacting meaningful change — like extensive research, reasonable debate, and peaceful community outreach — have gone the way of the dodo, ransacking the masses into solidarity is the new norm for convincing naysayers to join your coalition.
“It also attacks the very way in which food and things are distributed. It attacks the idea of property, and it attacks the idea that in order for someone to have a roof over their head or have a meal ticket, they have to work for a boss, in order to buy things that people just like them somewhere else in the world had to make under the same conditions. It points to the way in which that’s unjust. And the reason that the world is organized that way, obviously, is for the profit of the people who own the stores and the factories. So you get to the heart of that property relation, and demonstrate that without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.”
Yeah, to hell with the people who work their asses off to provide goods and services so they can feed their own families — they’re contributing to the oppression of innocent thugs who’re just trying to make things more equal by destroying the property and business of regular citizens.
I hate it when political movements fail to condemn the lunatics that populate their ranks. I hate it even more when political movements embrace the lunatics that populate their ranks. It’s the lunatics that attract the most attention from outsiders and provide them with the most material to use against the movement. I understand the reluctance to call out one’s own side; doing so requires an introspection that asks a lot from its user. But letting the loons represent your movement is a surefire way to instantly delegitimize it.
Osterweil doesn’t even bother to give reflection a try — she takes full ownership of the rabid behavior that’s being carried out in service of what she considers to be a necessary revolution.
“What are some of the most common myths and tropes that you hear about looting?
One of the ones that’s been very powerful, that’s both been used by Donald Trump and Democrats, has been the outside agitator myth, that the people doing the riots are coming from the outside. This is a classic. This one goes back to slavery, when plantation owners would claim that it was Freedmen and Yankees coming South and giving the enslaved these crazy ideas — that they were real human beings — and that’s why they revolted.
Another trope that’s very common is that looters and rioters are not part of the protest, and they’re not part of the movement. That has to do with the history of protesters trying to appear respectable and politically legible as a movement, and not wanting to be too frightening or threatening.”
Because politicians make the best policy changes when they feel frightened and threatened, right?
In Osterweil’s mind, unsolicited amateur demolition done in the name of equality is irrevocably justified as long as it’s only happening to specific targets.
“But looters and rioters don’t attack private homes. They don’t attack community centers. In Minneapolis, there was a small independent bookstore that was untouched. All the blocks around it were basically looted or even leveled, burned down. And that store just remained untouched through weeks of rioting.”
See? The looters know how to anarchy properly, so take your criticisms elsewhere, right wingers.
While political gains are certainly motivating factors in looting, according to Osterweil, revenge is a perfectly valid reason to wreck the community, too.
“To say you’re attacking your own community is to say to rioters, you don’t know what you’re doing. But I disagree. I think people know. They might have worked in those shops. They might have shopped and been followed around by security guards or by the owner. You know, one of the causes of the L.A. riots was a Korean small-business owner [killing] 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, who had come in to buy orange juice. And that was a family-owned, immigrant-owned business where anti-Blackness and white supremacist violence was being perpetrated.”
In her vague hypothesizing, Osterweil likens the average riot to some kind of Batman, working just outside the law to dish out vengeance against criminals and restore order in a city that’s given up on justice. Except that the rioter is also stealing TVs in their quest for fairness, and the criminals are business owners whose only crime was bad service. Yes, anti-Blackness and White supremacist violence are terrible, but either Osterweil didn’t bother to elaborate on what these acts were or Escobar didn’t bother to include the explanation. Also, these are behaviors that should be handled by the police and not by jobless agitators.
Because the Woke Cult believes that it can win over converts through condescension that would make Mean Girls proud, Osterweil wastes no time belittling the importance of the working in the local economy and making it clear that their hard work is completely expendable.
“When it comes to small business, family-owned business or locally owned business, they are no more likely to provide worker protections. They are no more likely to have to provide good stuff for the community than big businesses. It’s actually a Republican myth that has, over the last 20 years, really crawled into even leftist discourse: that the small-business owner must be respected, that the small-business owner creates jobs and is part of the community. But that’s actually a right-wing myth.”
Yeah, fuck those people who work their asses off to employ locals! Everyone knows that jobs are unnecessary, and even if they were necessary, they should just come from…um…a place that…sells them? Whatever, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Oh wait, that bridge was contributing to White supremacy, so we burned it down last night. Dammit.
“Ultimately, what nonviolence ends up meaning is that the activist doesn’t do anything that makes them feel violent. And I think getting free is messier than that. We have to be willing to do things that scare us and that we wouldn’t do in normal, “peaceful” times, because we need to get free.”
Vicky Osterweil is correct that achieving freedom is a messy process.
But it’s a process that’s made messier by violence, especially violence that impacts innocents, bystanders, and people whose empathy you want to attract.
If Osterweil was merely some radical Twitter activist with 18 followers spewing that brand of lofty extremism, it’d be easier to dismiss her as a nobody with a near-zero effect on society.
But she’s not.
She’s a prominent author who was profiled by a notable media channel. Saying that she was given a softball interview is an understatement that should be punishable by public flogging.
Again, I’m not saying that her Osterweil’s views shouldn’t have the spotlight shone on them — in fact, I’m glad that NPR interviewed her and that she didn’t bother to speak her poisonous slop in a low sweet tone, as it makes it easier for sane people to eviscerate.
But Natlie Escobar, along with the folks at NPR who ok’d the piece in its current form, has demonstrated her monumental detachment from reality by tacitly endorsing a woman who believes that looting is the final balm for a nation that’s been torn asunder by protests, pandemics, and politics.
(Also, take note of how “Black” is capitalized but “white” isn’t. Hmmm.)
Escobar and Osterweil’s approval of further pandemonium in these tumultuous times is one shared by a few too many major figures. Feminista Jones, an author and activist with a massive social media presence, had this to say:
And don’t forget Cardi B’s explicit support for civil disobedience (that must’ve been written in proper English before getting beaten into a coma with lead pipes):
I’d like to think that cooler heads will prevail in a time when madness is the only currency required to become an influencer, but I worry when the moderate and the sober are accused of bigotry when calling out the glaring yet fashionable dementia that’s trying to pass itself off as lucidity — and succeeding.
In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action has received a brutal beating by other and better writers, and readers don’t seem to be as interested in its ideas as much as Escobar is, which gives me a small glimmer of hope that civility hasn’t been completely crowded out of civilization yet.
But forgive me if I continue my watch for darker days and the receding tides of unity.