Don’t Steal This Book: On “In Defense of Looting” by Vicky Osterweil

Don’t Steal This Book: On “In Defense of Looting” by Vicky Osterweil. By Matt Taibbi.

On Thursday, August 27th, the same day Donald Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination, National Public Radio aired an interview with Vicky Osterweil, author of a book called In Defense of Looting.

The white trans daughter of a science professor, Osterweil told a credulous NPR interviewer that looting was justified because it “strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police,” and also “provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure.” She added riots reveal how “without police and without state oppression, we can have things for free.”

I was so sure the Osterweil book was satire — a clever comic doing a Marxist Andy Kaufman routine — that I bought it. It’s not a joke! …

Osterweil is a self-proclaimed leftist revolutionary who justifies stealing on the grounds that property is a crime. …

In Defense of Looting sees life as a string of ceaseless miseries that might at best be abated temporarily by stealing your flat-screen TV.

I found two examples in the book of the author writing approvingly of what might commonly be termed “enjoyment.” One involves rioting itself, which she variously describes as “violent, extreme, and femme as fuck,” a “queer birth,” and a “party.” The Watts rebellion, which left 34 dead and over 1,000 injured, was “not some dour thing,” but a “carnivalesque, celebratory atmosphere.”

The other example was soldiers having gay sex in the trenches during World War I (“No doubt,” Osterweil commented, “many fiancees found the same queer comforts at home”). …

This is a 288-page book written by a Very Online Person in support of the idea that other people should loot, riot, and burn things in the real world.

Style-wise, In Defense of Looting continues the impressive streak of the woke movement having yet to produce a single readable piece of literature. Page after page commits the reader to exhausting tautological constructions, the gist of which usually turns out to be something like, “Through looting, a thing that was once somebody else’s comes to belong to a different person.” …

There’s a great short story by Mikhail Saltykov called “How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials.” It’s about two nitwit clerks from St. Petersburg who wake up on a deserted island and realize they don’t know how to feed themselves. They think and think and discuss eating their gloves, boots, and even each other, until finally it hits them: if they were back home, they’d just have a servant do it! They immediately find a sleeping muzhik and after berating him for laziness, get him to collect fruit and fish and partridges and cook them dinner — problem solved! This is nearly the same mentality as these Gen-Z geniuses who think the world will run on magic intersectionality dust once they get rid of the cops and the kulaks, i.e. all those meddlesome “work for a living” people. …

She clearly has no idea what it is to work, to spend years squeaking out the shitty little margins of a corner store or a restaurant, to hose a kitchen floor down at two in the morning, or wash the puke out of the back of a taxi at the end of a shift. … To Osterweil, everyone’s a kulak. She says Korean store owners were “the face of capital” in early nineties Los Angeles, just as, she says, Jewish businesses were in sixties New York.

It’s a moral thing. Natural justice and most of capitalism (notably, not how money is created) is based on voluntary transactions. Taxes, socialism, and especially communism (its extreme form), are based on involuntary transactions, through coercion by the state.

Osterweil is obviously on the side of involuntary transactions. She hasn’t figured out where her privileged lifestyle comes from, and who worked to put her there. But I’ll bet she is happy to earn big bucks from her book. And that’s what it’s all about; never mind the harm done to society in the process.