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Morals and Passing Judgment

January 21, 2010
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Arikia over at The Millikan Daily has been doing some really great posts on the situation in Haiti. Because I agree we (as Americans? as middle-class internet users?) can not forget this I too will add my uneducated perspective.
 
NPR has a really poignant gallery of one of the inevitable events now: looting. I can't help but be struck by the photo whose caption is:
 
A little girl runs down the street crying after a group of men took the bag of good she had gathered from a collapsed market.
 
Not her understandable expression of terror but her crisp white Yankees shirt. A symbol of the influence that America has always had on this part of the world. And I wonder what the shirt means to this little girl. Does she like American baseball? Does it mean something to her in the way baseball has often been used as a symbol of success or overcoming barriers? Does she like the Yankees in particular or just like watching baseball? Or does the American team and American brand have some other kind of status for her? And I think of the irony that this group of people has finally turned to looting with American troops somewhere no doubt nearby; but still not fast enough and not enough food and aid for everyone at once.
 
[When Does Disaster Photography Cross the Line?]
 
Professor of Law Anita L. Allen writes a thought provoking essay, "The Ethics of Looting." I think it's easy to say looting is morally wrong. And easy to admit if put in the same situation of no food, no medical supplies, and no sanitary supplies we might all turn to exactly the same solution. Her essay is a bit superficial but it does at least touch on some of the things to consider in this instance. And it's easy to say a looter who walks away with a TV or some other non-essential is morally wrong, but I'm not sure one can make a judgment there either. I think of the people stealing barbie dolls and think of the children for whom this might be the only small comfort they are going to get since the earthquake. What horrible things they have seen and we will begrudge them a doll? I thought one of the commenters on the essay had some interesting things to say:
 
first off, everyone can argue about what is moral and what isn't but in reality when face with a situation such as the Hatians many of us would probably do the same thing. It's very tempting to take an ipod when you don't have one (or whatever the item may be). I would say this especially holds true for someone who may be of lower income and has not had the chance to own something that has now come readily available, but let's think about all the celebrities who are caught stealing. Also, for the man who is seen with the knife as he is trying to find supplies- I feel saying he is "ready to do violence" and therefore it is "condoning violent theft" is simply a philosophical argument. Let's take a realistic approach. This man may need legit supplies. He does not know who else is in that store and in this situation it is truly "survival of the fittest." In a sense, he may be prepared for a violent confrontation but is that his intention?
 
So in closing, how can we help? Obama asked Americans to text Haiti to 90999. This will charge $10 to your mobile bill and have it sent to the Red Cross. Other organizations that accept donations online at their websites: Catholic Relief Services, Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Direct Relief International, Doctors Without Borders, The Salvation Army, and UNICEF. Stay vigilant. Do not forget.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 8:28 pm

    I would definitely take essentials from a store in an emergency situation, and I would encourage anyone else to do the same. I would definitely be prepared to defend myself. I maybe would try to leave an IOU for what I took. Would I take an IPOD or a TV? Maybe if I thought I could trade it for essentials. I agree that we should be careful in judging people's behavior in this situation.And I'm so glad we're helping.

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