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On the Logic of Looting: Hurricane Sandy and Capitalism

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(Article changed on November 4, 2012 at 16:05)

A man emerged from the large pile of rubble. An entire 3-story building had collapsed on top of him. Surely, he was lucky to be alive, and walked away with hardly a scratch on him. His interaction with firefighters at the scene was telling. Aside from the single firefighter who gave a hand to help him out from beneath the rubble, they seemed entirely disinterested in the man's health and well-being.

Or perhaps, it was that they were simply incredibly perplexed, stunned as to what they had just witnessed. The man was inside an evacuated home when it collapsed on him, the entire neighborhood had been ordered to evacuate. There are no reports of this man receiving any medical attention, only of him being taken straight to a police vehicle, and immediately arrested under suspicion of looting. He was not carrying anything, though it is speculated that he was looking for materials to sell, such as copper. One reporter described the incident as the "strange Sandy story of the day."

Obviously, this is not great investigative reporting. Is it really so strange that during this incredible economic crisis, individuals would do whatever they could to survive? Is it so out of the ordinary for people to take advantage of disaster situations in an attempt to improve their daily lives?

On the contrary, in a society that is simultaneously extremely wasteful and overly expensive, it should be thought of as strange to not find ways to survive that are outside the norm.

However, unlike the claims made by dear Alex Jones and DisInfoWars, there is no mass-string of lootings occurring across the east coast. Alex Jones can not tell the difference between an internet trolling campaign and physical reality, and uses whatever he can to aid to his spread of unnecessary fear-mongering.

Regardless of this, without a doubt, looting did occur. And rightfully so. Even though not as much looting occurred as during the aftermath of Katrina, when empty supermarkets and grocery stores were victims of proletarian appropriation, over 1,000 National Guard troops were sent out to "keep the peace" and "maintain order." State troopers have also been called out to gas stations in order to prevent "near-riots as citizens lose tempers and tensions flare," according to one article.

An anonymous individual online had this to say about looting, "I fully support the expropriation of goods, commonly referred to as 'looting' by the press, that is happening in storm affected areas. The things stolen have already been produced, and the workers who produced them have already been paid. Now the workers who stole them will reap the benefits that were due to go to the owner of the store and/or company that 'owned' the now produced goods. 'Looting' is a revolutionary act, regardless of the intentions of the "looter.'"

Of course, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. Comments on looting-related articles frequently suggested that looters be shot indiscriminately, the "you loot, we shoot" mentality. Because, as we all know, objects are more valuable than human life. In fact, at one point, after the hurricane and some looting, about 100 cops and dozens of squad cars were guarding a supermarket.

Guy Debord, author of Society of the Spectacle, had this to say on the subject, "Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what the commodity ultimately implies: the army, the police and the other specialized detachments of the state's monopoly of armed violence. What is a policeman? He is the active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity, whose job it is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity, with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigerator or rifle -- a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it. In rejecting the humiliation of being subject to police, the blacks are at the same time rejecting the humiliation of being subject to commodities."

Context matters, and his input on the matter was written in relation to Watt's rebellion, a 6-day series of riots that occurred in Los Angeles in 1965. But we have to ask ourselves, what causes riots? Crazy people? Are all participants merely members of a "criminal under-class?' And why is looting a social phenomena? Doesn't everyone in America have the same chance to "get ahead' as everyone else? Shouldn't people just work harder and obey the law?

Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, put it pretty bluntly when he saw the effects of Hurricane Sandy. "To describe it as looking like pictures we've seen at the end of World War II is not overstating it." Certainly, his observational abilities are unchallengeable, but his comment speaks volumes in regards to American social devastation and, consequently, the atrocities the United States government is responsible for in other countries as well as it's own.

Estimates of the damage caused by Sandy are close to $100 billion dollars. Sure, the American ruling elite could afford this, but it makes more sense to have it stay in their own pockets. After a hurricane, the insurance companies will cover half the amount of the damage, or less. They tell us to work harder, to be responsible, and pull ourselves up from our bootstraps.

In case you didn't notice, we're involved in an international civil war. Lest we forget that the NDAA officially declares the entire world a "battlefield on the war on terror.' Not to mention the Patriot Act and the Trespass Bill, among a whole host of other repressive legislation combined with mass surveillance.

Those in power really don't care what happens to us. They just don't want us to get riled up, figure out what the deal is, and take necessary action. They want us to keep voting for people like Barack Obama or Jill Stein, continuing our acquiescence to the failed electoral system. They make us believe we have no other option - but the other option is ourselves. We know better. We should understand we are capable of much more than this, but we've been conditioned to ignore the possibilities of cooperation, and substitute mutual aid with self-destructive competition, social Darwinism, and artificial alienation of ourselves and our neighbors.

Hell, squatters, anarchists, and individuals associated with Occupy were doing a far better job at taking care of their neighbors than any government institution ever could. As was reported widely, Red Cross, of all organizations, neglected many areas. According to an article from Forbes, "C-Squat has set up a street-side barbecue. They have been accepting donations and providing the community with free food. The residents of C-Squat have set up 2 grills, are receiving food donations and are essentially feeding the neighborhood. After pumping out their own basement and rescuing the Occupy Wall Street bikes, the residents pumped out the water from the bar next door and the deli on the corner." Not to mention that the decentralized Occupy Sandy group has raised about $80,000 and is spread-out all over the 5 boroughs.

To put it plainly, we don't need government. Government needs us. And it's time to do away with what we don't need.

 

Terrence H. Creel is an independent journalist. He has been involved in the Occupy movement since its inception, and writes to educate others of international developments and the historical necessity of direct action.

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At the base of it, we live in an artificially crea... by Terrence-Hoffman Creel on Sunday, Nov 4, 2012 at 7:28:37 AM
Please, do not confuse the innate savagery of Amer... by Sister Begonia on Sunday, Nov 4, 2012 at 12:37:37 PM
Well, lemme see, I'm not expert in the subject of ... by Sister Begonia on Sunday, Nov 4, 2012 at 12:24:07 PM