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Author Tim Barnett
Published on 09/21/2020
Other Worldviews

Author Defends Stealing Everyone’s Stuff...Except the Author’s Stuff

In this video, we show that Vicky Osterweil’s book self-destructs in three ways. One, it argues against other people’s property rights while using copyright law to protect the author’s property rights. Two, it rejects property rights because they support racism while appealing to intellectual property rights, thus promoting racism. Three, it condemns capitalism—“We would be able to live without a wage if we freely shared the products of society” (p. 16)—but then affirms capitalism in practice since the book is not freely shared with society, but rather sells for a tidy little profit at the easy-to-find capitalist mega-monster...Amazon! 

Over and over, Osterweil undermines the Marxist case by doing the very things the book says shouldn’t be done. In other words, Osterweil’s actions contradict her convictions.


Transcript

If you buy this book, you’ll find out that taking others’ property is no problem. You just can’t take the author’s property without permission because that would be theft. Confused?

This is Red Pen Logic with Mr. B, where we assess bad thinking by using good thinking, and we have a lot of fun while we’re doing it. In today’s example, we look at some self-defeating inconsistencies in a new book titled In Defense of Looting by Vicky Osterweil. The book argues that stealing goods and destroying property are appropriate strategies to redistribute wealth and improve life for the working class.

Osterweil defends looting by undermining property rights. In fact, looting “rejects the legitimacy of ownership rights and property” (p. 3), and, “The right to property is innately structurally white supremacist: support for white supremacy involves a commitment to property and the commodity form” (p. 16). The author couldn’t be more clear. Not only is the right to property illegitimate, it’s racist. Supporting private property rights is supporting white supremacy. Stick around. You’re not going to want to miss this one.

Let’s start with a quick reminder. Red Pen Logic is concerned with ideas, not individuals. Some people mistakenly think that exposing bad thinking is an attack on the individual. It’s not. All people have the same value, no question, but all ideas don’t. Some ideas are just plain bad. Like this one.

So what about the ideas in this new book? In the opening pages, Osterweil states, “Racial settler colonialism is thus at the core of all modern notions of property. All our beliefs about the righteousness of property, ownership, and commodity production are built on the history of anti-black violence and settler-colonial extraction. The right to property is innately, structurally white supremacist: support for white supremacy involves a commitment to property and the commodity form.”

Sometimes the easiest way to deal with an idea is to show how it self-destructs. For example, what’s wrong with the claim “I can’t speak a word in English”? Well, my claim, “I can’t speak a word in English,” is immediately undermined by my actions when I say it in English. So the claim “I can’t speak a word in English” self-destructs. Speaking the claim in English undermines the claim in practice.

Osterweil’s argument fails in the same way. That is, there is a self-defeating inconsistency in what the author says on the one hand and what the author does on the other. Let me show you. In the beginning of the book, we find the words that I just read. Pardon the reminder. “The right to property is innately, structurally white supremacist: support for white supremacy involves a commitment to property and the commodity form,” which includes “intellectual property and copyright” (p. 35). But wait a minute. On another page in the same book, we find the author’s copyright of the book’s intellectual property with a stern warning not to steal it: “The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.” The author must also be a racist—indeed, a white supremacist. Hear me out.

Remember, the book already explicitly states that the right to property is innately racist. In fact, commitment to property and commodities is support for white supremacy. Those are the author’s words, not mine. The book itself—Vicky’s commodity—relies on copyright laws to protect the author’s intellectual property. So while enforcing the rights of the commodity, the book itself, Osterweil is playing the white supremacist. Well, this is awkward.

One more thing. Osterweil’s Marxist worldview shows up on every page. The author defines looting as a method of redistribution of wealth from store owners and capitalists to the poor (p. 4) and then refers to capitalism as “a cruel system, built for the creation and reification of things, not for the flourishing of people” (p. 15). I can’t help but wonder if authors who sell their books on Amazon are part of that cruel system.

Osterweil seems fine redistributing other people’s wealth and even refers to looting as “shopping for free,” but we have to go to capitalist giant Amazon and pay 28 bucks if we want a copy of In Defense of Looting. That ain’t free, and that ain’t cheap.

So, what have we learned? First, when someone writes a book defending a particular view, it’s completely appropriate to evaluate the view. This is not a personal attack on the author. We’re only interested in figuring out if the idea is a good one or a bad one. That’s all.

Second, one way to show if an idea is a bad one is to see if it self-destructs. Some ideas sound good in theory but don’t work in practice.

Third, we showed that Vicky Osterweil’s book self-destructs in three ways. One, it argues against other people’s property rights while using copyright law to protect the author’s property rights. Two, it rejects property rights because they support racism while appealing to intellectual property rights, thus promoting racism. Three, it condemns capitalism—“We would be able to live without a wage if we freely shared the products of society” (p. 16)—but then affirms capitalism in practice since the book is not freely shared with society, but rather sells for a tidy profit at the easy-to-find capitalist mega monster, Amazon.

Over and over, Osterweil undermines the Marxist case by doing the very things the book says shouldn’t be done. In other words, Osterweil’s actions contradict her convictions. Vicky Osterweil’s In Defense of Looting communicates two conflicting messages. It shouts from the rooftops that it’s okay to take other people’s property without their permission, but then it whispers that it’s theft to take the author’s property without permission. Sorry, Vicky. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Class dismissed.