Stop. Let us analyze the situation. Is it a black and white situation? Is there any gray? Is there any doubt as to who the villains are and who the victim is? No – this is about as black and white as it gets, right?
You were minding your own business, not harming anyone else, and two thugs cornered you and are attempting to rob you, to force you to hand them what is yours. The notion that their claim to the money in your wallet is in any way legitimate, much less equal to or greater than yours, would be absurd - even insulting.
There is no question as to who has the "high moral ground."
The villains outnumber the victim – there are more of them than there are of you. That makes it less likely that you can stop them. It also means that, if you put it to a vote, two would vote that “the money” should be given to them. Does that infuse some gray into the situation? Does the fact that they outnumber you make the situation at all gray in a moral sense?
Does it matter how the robbers plan to use your money? What if one of them has not eaten in two days? What if he has medical bills that he plans to pay with the money? What if his daughter needs an operation? Does that inject some gray into the question? Is he less of a villain? Are you less of a victim?
If you manage to escape without giving him your wallet, has he, or his daughter, become the victim? Are you now the villain because you have “deprived” the daughter of the operation?
What if the robbers come from impoverished backgrounds? What if their great-grandparents were the victims of some injustice – for example, slavery? What if they had poor parents, or only one parent, and thus had to grow up in poor, possibly dangerous neighborhoods (i.e., neighborhoods with robbers)?
Are they the victims now? Is the situation still black and white?
The robbers’ boldness, their brazenness, the fact that they seem to think that what is yours belongs to them, that your purpose is for them to rob you – is it any less disgusting than it initially seemed?
What if, in addition to the above, you are “rich?” What if the money the robber wants to take is not consequential to you? What if you have only fifty dollars in your wallet but five million in the bank? What if the reason you have five million dollars is that you are some sort of Jed Clampett-like figure who just happened to find oil or natural gas in his backyard?
Does any of that infuse any gray into the situation? Or is it still 100% black and white – two robbers and one victim?
Perhaps you are walking from a bar in the Lower East Side after having drinks with a friend, and the robbers live in housing projects in Alphabet City - - you have what they do not have (at least until they take it) – does that alter who is right and who is wrong? They “need” it and you “have” it. Does that give the robbers the right to simply force you to give them your money?
Are they the victims now? Are you the villain now? Possibly? In part? Is this a gray situation now? Are you as guilty as the robbers? Are you even more guilty?
Do they have a claim to it because they “need” it? Do you have less of a claim to it because you don’t “need” it?
I could change course now. I could remind you that, in all likelihood, you do not have five million dollars in the bank and that what you have you likely worked for, and that your family history, while it may not include slavery six generations ago, likely includes some periods of extreme hardship (Great Depression, Irish potato famine, etc…), and that they are no more or less relevant to you than slavery six generations ago is to the robbers.
I could also remind you that most people who do have five million dollars in the bank didn’t just happen upon it.
I could remind you that, since as you’ve guessed from the title of this post, we will soon transition from this analogy to a discussion about the government, that the government does not run a clearinghouse that transfers only excess wealth from the truly wealthy, with minimal overhead, to the truly poor – that a better analogy than the robber’s daughter’s operation would be that the robber is kind of the professional robber of that neighborhood – almost like a mafia boss – who will force many people to part with their money on a recurring basis, and who will hire an ever-increasing number of people who will parcel out a quarter out of each stolen dollar to people, some poor, some less poor, who fit some predefined characteristic, and that he will make sure that he has all of their political support when it comes time to reestablish his position as the professional robber of the neighborhood.
I could add that you are robbed every two weeks along with millions of other people, and that in total, an ever-increasing amount, even after adjusting for inflation and population growth – goes to these robbers and their prospective use of tonight’s fifty dollars, and that your own cash flow situation is now very tight, in no small part as a result of all of this theft over the years.
But today I do not seek to assuage your guilt. I seek to purge it. I will, for other purposes, get into all of those other issues in the follow-up to this post. Not to make a separate point, a back-up point, but to further underscore today’s point.
Today I seek only to remind you who the victim is.
Some of the above factors concerning the robbers’ plight might be, subjectively, good reasons for you to dig into your wallet voluntarily, and pull out a $20 bill and hand it to one of the men, if he had come up to ask you for it. Some of you who consider yourselves to be “Christian” might point out that Jesus may have done just that, if the men had been just sitting there rather than waiting hidden behind the corner.
But as Shakespeare wrote in Richard III, to take is not to give. They do not have a right to it, they do not have a right to just take it, to force you to part with it. “It” is not just “out there” to be “distributed” – by taking it from you by force, the robber is not “correcting” some “wrong” – some “social injustice” – it isn’t as if you had stolen from them and they were simply “stealing it back," and if you managed somehow to thwart the robbery or just reduce the amount stolen - or the growth of the amount stolen on a regular basis - the notion that that would constitute "stealing" from the robbers is absurd - insulting even.
That they “need” it is not a claim to it, whether or not you “need” it. It does not belong to them.
If you manage to escape with your wallet, you have not “deprived” the robbers, or anyone who, in our fact pattern, depends upon the robbery’s success, of the money or of whatever the money would have been spent to acquire.
To be continued….