Looting and the Tenuousness of Civilization

News abound about looting going on at the crash site of MH17 in the Ukraine. People are going through luggage, taking electronics, any valuables they like, wallets and money. To me, this is astonishing on many levels:

1. The local government and law enforcement does not have their act together sufficiently to secure the crash site and perform a proper investigation. I must be naïve about the integrity of the area as it relates to the “almost” civil war.  Make a ring of troops around this area – we know you have enough manpower, and lock the place down!

2. Human beings living in the local area are poor and desperate enough to rifle through other people’s stuff, people who boarded an airplane in far away Amsterdam to go to far away Malaysia and just happened to pass through. Their moral code is lacking the concept that this stuff lying on the ground belongs to other people who, in this case, were extremely unfortunate and had very bad luck by being killed. They don’t understand that these objects might be very important to the relatives of the victims and that they might want them back. There are thousands of people who lost somebody in this disaster. Every one of those people is cringing in pain knowing that looters are going through the wreckage, disgracing their loved ones and their belongings.

3. Shooting down an airliner is one of the most heinous terrorist acts or mass murder imaginable. It does not happen very often, but when it does, the entire world usually grieves. I grieve for the victims. My world is not quite right, and I am thousands of miles away, safe and removed from the reality. However, people living in the villages right there obviously are not grieving, since they have the strength to scour the site and take away other people’s stuff as theirs.

I don’t think we’re any holier than the Ukrainians. If a plane went down in the rural United States, I can imagine that there could be looting, too, if the authorities didn’t lock down the site. The difference is, the authorities do lock down the sites pretty quickly here, so this does not happen. But remember Katrina, remember hurricane Sandy and the images of people carrying television sets out of stores.

The fact that our moral codes break down as soon as “the law” can no longer enforce a code shows how weak our civilization is. The smallest upset in the order of things, like a natural disaster or a terror strike, can remove the shackles of normal civilized ethics, and the concept of property disappears.

The frightening thing is: it’s not just the concept of property. The next step is that without “the law” bullies with guns will start extorting food, water and ammunition from others that don’t have guns, and they will pillage and rape. I am not saying that everyone becomes lawless, but it does not have to be everyone. If only one in a hundred thinks that they now have rights over other people’s properties or bodies, that’s sufficient to plunge us back into the Bronze Age.

Disasters like the MK17 terror strike brings out the worst in us.

One thought on “Looting and the Tenuousness of Civilization

  1. Mary Barnes

    The traditional solution to looting during disasters was to shoot the looters. You didn’t have to shoot very many. I’m not sure when that went out of fashion — definitely before the Watts riots.

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