Imagine a masked figure creeping around in your garden without being noticed. It is night and there isn’t even a bit of moonlight showing to reveal his presence. You are feeling safe and secure in your bed with the lights doused and you just nodded off into slumberland. You don’t hear him approach an open door and slide it open to enter your home. My God, who left it open? We have all been trained to lock up after dark. It was a hot night and the cool breeze was welcome. Was this open door too much of an enticement to steal? Why should the victim take the blame for criminal actions if he needed air? Is one’s home a sanctuary or a temptation to protect?
These thoughts go through my mind as I contemplate presenting the situation to my ethics class. How can I make a mundane robbery into a social, public issue? Everything has an ethical dimension. Is it wrong to steal is the basic question, particularly if one is in need? Is it wrong to tempt others or do we have to rely on their innate reason? Criminals, by nature, don’t have any. Or so I am told. They are antisocial and have no qualms about disregarding basic principles of right and wrong. Are they always at fault and society is never to blame? This opens a big can of slimy worms. Have we failed our poor and needy? Do we have an obligation here?
As with the garden creeper example, what if you leave your bicycle on the front lawn for days on end? Shouldn’t it be locked up tight at the back gate? Why don’t you install outdoor motion detectors from Outdoor Light and Sound to deter home invasion and theft? Thus, we tackled the subject of deterrents versus temptations and the students expressed varying opinions. Do citizens have rights such as the privilege of owning things that are not to be stolen? Is there any case at all in which a thief is in the clear? I think not, but…
The sides debated on and on and the arguments became heated. I had assumed that everyone would side with the victim of theft in every case. Why feel sorry for a thief? Students asked, what if he were on drugs or was psychotic and not responsible for his actions? Is this really an excuse? Does this mean that the mentally ill can do whatever they like at anyone’s expense? You can see that one question raised a host of others. We never really arrived at full agreement although we did achieve a resolution of sorts. By this I mean that over fifty percent of the class settled on a conclusion. Interestingly enough, the next day, many had changed their minds. We reopened the discussion and carried into some new territory.
Meanwhile, I am researching some alarm systems and motion detectors on line for my own use. I am obsessed with a home robbery at this moment.