Monday, October 15, 2007
A teen-ager was airlifted to hospital and his father had his nose broken when gatecrashers went on the rampage at a 16th birthday party after details were posted on YouTube, police and media reports said Friday.As with the episode of massive theft and vandalism I blogged back in April (which was conveniently attributed to Craig's List) , there is no rational connection between a simple listing of a home address and an event that is to occur there with what ended up happening.
More than 100 uninvited teenagers descended on the family house, stole whisky and champagne, smashed windows and started fighting, according to reports.
Here's the essence of each event. Someone's home address was listed on the Internet with an announcement to the effect that he expected a crowd of people to show up there and when. Many youths, being nihilists, are little better than criminals anyway and would, if they thought they could get away with it, behave like barbarians. In each case, these ads offered such a shelter from accountability: a crowd of strangers and a lack of specific orders as to how to behave while in that crowd.
So when things get out of control, the barbarians who made it that way can blame it on the crowd (if it doesn't make it impossible to point fingers anyway) and the circumstance (e.g., a "party" context or the implication that property was free for the taking: "[I]t said come and take what you want.") Add to this the fact that law enforcement everywhere is lax after decades of blaming crime on "society" rather than the individual criminal.
The condition of anonymity ("moral invisibility", if you will) offered in each case reminds me of the legend of the Ring of Gyges, in which a man finds a ring that bestows invisibility and uses it to commit murder. Interestingly, this legend is brought up in a Platonic discussion of justice as an illustrative argument to the effect that morality is a social construct. Plato argues against this position, but given how common it is for people to regard morality as a mere social or religious convention, it would appear that he did not make his case strongly enough.
If any of the savages who participated in either of these events learned anything about morality, I would wager that it was to the effect that morality is arbitrary (i.e., subjective or based on divine whim), enforced by group consensus, and irrelevant to living one's life.
This is in sharp contrast to the view of morality offered by Ayn Rand, who held that objective moral principles could be discovered through the use of reason, that these principles are selfishly important to each individual, and that as such, one risks immorality at his own peril. Or, as I like to think of it, reality enforces morality.
The best one can hope for by behaving short-range, even if he gets away scott-free with some criminal act is continued life with the anxiety associated with perhaps being found out later and with having to figure out how to continue existing. It is a subhuman existence on the spiritual level at the very least. Quite often, criminals, being short-range thinkers, will blow whatever windfall they might have and needlessly face material hardship as well.
Only a rational egoist could be trusted with the Ring of Gyges, because he knows that morality, being of practical relevance to one's life, is not fundamentally about what others think of you (or what you can steal from others), but about how you deal with the problem of your own survival on many levels.
10-16-07: Added a clarification. At the time of writing, I'd forgotten that the Craig's List looters used a fake announcement to excuse themselves from responsibility for their actions.