Shoplifting is one of the most common crimes. Retailers go to great lengths to try and prevent patrons from nicking their precious stock using closed-circuit cameras, electronic article surveillance, loss prevention personnel, guards, secret shoppers, exit inspection, mirrors and locked merchandise. The public is taught to see the shoplifter as a ne’er-do-well who should be fined and ‘corrected’. But who is the real criminal? A kleptomaniac in Berlin explains how he supports and encourages shoplifting as a way to break capitalist class structure and delegitimizes luxury.
I was caught shoplifting in a supermarket in Berlin. I was a bit out of it that day and wasn’t taking the usual precautions. I felt like I was being watched but I still stuffed the smoked salmon in my jumper and loads of canned smoked sardines in my trousers. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I thought. It was only then that I noticed the gentleman watching me, dressed in one of those cheap, big plastic coats. Oh shit. Well, I thought, that’s obviously him. So I said “You’re the store detective, right?” he nodded and made me take out all the fish from under my clothes. Catching me in the act was a bit awkward for him but after we talked a bit we got along really well. He was from Tunisia and was delighted to hear I’m Israeli. We talked about politics, Palestinians and religion. We were going at it so enthusiastically that when the police came they sneered at us, “Sorry to break up the party.” They fined me 150 Euros and left.
I will never pay it. I’m only in Berlin for another month and then I’m heading back to Israel. They can send Interpol after me if they want. This isn’t my first time being caught. It’s all a question of how uncomfortable I feel when I get caught, and the more times I get caught, the more comfortable I feel when it happens. If the slave steals from his master, we wouldn’t call that wrong: The relationship between them isn’t fair and thus the slave isn’t obligated to respect his master’s property.
Consider how people get rich in our world. You can’t say that the supermarket owner works harder than the cashier who works for him. The supermarket owner got rich hurting others in ruthless economic competition: paying his workers the lowest wages possible and maximizing his profit on products. In short, by being the most successful criminal through a form of legalized thievery which is free-market capitalism.
The richer the person, the bigger criminal he is, the more right we have to steal from him.
Sometimes people ask me: What if everyone shoplifted? Clearly our corrupt system would not be able to sustain itself and would crash, and maybe from this revolution something better, more fair, could evolve. Maybe in a society where a person is rewarded according to his efforts, in which prices are determined fairly, are maintained as low as possible, and not inflated to maximize the profits of capitalists I would consider the shoplifter a criminal. Needless to say, this is not the reality.
So, why did I steal the salmon? My argument might be easier to swallow if I were only to steal life’s necessities, not the most luxurious of items. First of all, smoked salmon is easier to steal than a sack of potatoes. It’s flat, it’s small, and you can easily stuff it under your jumper. A nice trick is also to take an empty cardboard box, one of those with the open top they use for milk cartons, and hold the salmon under the box, concealing it, while stocking on top all the stuff you actually plan to pay for (vegetables, canned goods, everything which is hard to steal).
We live in a manipulative society. Advertisements and education pervert our natural needs and desires. We must consume perpetually, otherwise we will never be happy. The manipulation has won. I can’t fight this powerful brainwashing machine. Thanks to it I need salmon and wine and French cheese. It’s crucial for my happiness. The problem is I can’t afford it. The system controls not only my happiness but also the means to attain it. I’d tell you more but I have a jumper full of stolen goods and the cops are on the way.