Just Shelley Legal, Laws, and Regs

Steal this ashtray

I know it seems at times as if Jonathon and I have become weblogging’s first tag team. I can’t help it — he finds these interesting things and makes these extremely open observations, and my hands go to the keyboard and I feel compelled to add my own observations to his. I have no control over this process.

Case in point: Today Jonathon discusses a weblog posting he found where a person, Michael Barrish, describes his initial reaction to critical comments:

1. Attack the accuser
2. Minimize the wrong
3. Defend your character

It would seem that the Michael Barrish’s girlfriend wanted him to help her steal a Duck Crossing Sign. That’s not the story. He ended up not stealing the sign. That’s still not the story. He received several critical emails from readers. However, even that’s not the story.

What is the story is that the Barrish didn’t steal the sign because he didn’t want to get caught, not because stealing was wrong.

My philosophy is, I’ll steal signs with my girlfriend but I won’t get caught.

And when he received emails from people saying that stealing is wrong, he tried to justify his actions. However, he faced his own moment of truth:

It’s worth noting that I’ve never been one for the rule of law. Fact is, I respect the law only in the sense that I can be punished for breaking it. The only laws that matter to me—and these matter quite a bit—are the ones I make for myself.

One such law or rule (this may sound strange in the present context) is that stealing is wrong, particularly when one steals for what Jay Perkins calls ‘unnecessary and idiotic reasons.’ And it doesn’t matter that one’s accuser is a righteous jerk, or that little harm comes from the theft, or that one is fundamentally moral. It’s still wrong.

What saddened Jonathon was Barrish’s final statement:

Of course I’m not just speaking about duck signs here, nor only about myself. The same self-serving logic used to justify petty theft is used to justify the destruction of the planet. People do what they want, then find reasons to justify it.

Bullshit. This is absolute and total bullshit.

Yes, some people will do selfish acts and then seek to justify their actions. However, most people, and I count myself in this group, making me a “goddamn paragon of rightousness”, follow our moral codes without any equivocation.

What Barrish failed to realize is that by saying this problem is a global problem, he’s absolving himself of any responsibility for his action and his reaction to the criticism he received.

“People do what they want, then find reasons to justify it.”


Yes, I am not always law abiding. I walk against a red light when no car is around. (In Boston, the cops are suspicious of you if you don’t.) And I have been known to exceed the speed limit. And I’ll fib if someone asks me if I like their new dress and I think it’s the worst piece of crap.

But I don’t steal. I don’t cheat on my taxes. I screw up my taxes, constantly, but I don’t cheat.

I don’t break things, except by accident. I have found things and returned them, intact, to their owners. I point out billing errors even if it benefits the store. I’m kind to small children, pets, and don’t throw garbage out the window. I conserve electricity, I bought a small car with good gas mileage, I recycle.

I respect and value my friends, including my weblogging friends.

“People do what they want, then find reasons to justify it.”


Time to tie this one back to an earlier topic: This might surprise you all when I say this, but there is no “justification” for the suicide bombings or for the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. My seeking to understand the reasons behind these acts is NOT the same as seeking justification.

Somehow, the two — justification and understanding — got tied together. I’m extremely glad that this issue arose because I just now realized that I needed to say this. I needed to say the words, “There is no justification for the suicide bombings”. But I’ll still seek to understand.

Justification. There is no justification for not following your own moral code. None. To say otherwise, is nothing more than a justification for your justification, and is equivalent to not having any moral code at all. Just a few rules that you conveniently “forget” from time to time.

Self-righteous paragons of the world, stand up and be counted.

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