On “In Defense of Looting”
Matt Taibibi takes an entertaining look at this generation of woke activists and how they compare with Abbie Hoffman the iconic anti-Vietnam war counter-culture figure of the 1960s
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! In Defense of Looting is supposed to be the woke generation’s answer to Steal This Book, another anarchist instructional published in an epic period of unrest. But the differences between the books are profound.
Abbie Hoffman’s classic guide to “U.S. on no dollars a day” was furious, persuasive, funny, crazy, packed with trenchant commentary about the vicious banalities of sixties America, and entertaining on every page, even when you disagreed with him. If only his iconic definition of free speech were remembered more often today: “Free speech is the right to shout ‘theatre’ in a crowded fire”. (A Yippee Proverb)
Steal This Book could stand alone as a work of assiduous experimental journalism, filled as it was with “survival techniques” for life underground he’d gleaned in multiple innovative ways, including responses to ads placed in revolutionary newspapers. Hoffman even supposedly fact-checked the anonymous tips about places on the map to find free food, get treated for sexually-transmitted diseases, score drugs, etc.
Steal This Book was also an equal opportunity offender, as cutting toward phonies within the revolutionary ranks as it was toward the “Pig Empire”:
The duty of a revolutionary is to make love and that means staying alive and free. That doesn’t allow for cop-outs. Smoking dope and hanging up Che’s picture is no more a commitment than drinking milk or collecting postage stamps.
There are a lot of things one can say about Abbie Hoffman, but he was no LARPer. He wrote the introduction for Steal this Book in jail, doing time for contempt for his memorable lunacy at the Chicago Seven trial, when he among other things told the judge to “stick it up his bowling ball.” He once tried to halt the Vietnam war by using psychic energy to levitate the Pentagon 300 feet in the air, where it would turn “orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled.” Abbie Hoffman was interesting.
Then there’s Vicky Osterweil.
Like Hoffman, Osterweil is a self-proclaimed leftist revolutionary who justifies stealing on the grounds that property is a crime. The similarities pretty much end there.
For one, Hoffman imagined a life of infinite possibility on the other side of the revolution, while 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. Read more