I hear crickets. Hundreds of them out there in the darkness, singing. It’s a warm March evening. The earth is damp and fragrant; the plans are growing like, well, weeds. I smell jasmine on the breeze. It’s cricket heaven.
I’m sitting on a bench outside St. Bob the Informal’s Presbymethertarian Church on a quiet Thursday night. The sun set hours ago. I’m informal security for my wife Rhumba’s knitting group, which is meeting inside. They keep the door open for latecomers, but the parking lot is poorly lit: a good place to lurk.
The ladies feel more secure if I hang out and see them through the parking lot; tonight’s mild air makes it a pleasure. Besides, someone’s riffling through the dumpster at the far edge of the lot. I can’t see him, but I hear him So I sit here by the church door and fly the flag. Like the intruder, I lurk in shadow; but the light from my laptop screen makes my face glow like a zombie’s.
He’s no personal danger, I think, but the church door is unlocked, and he might like to slide in and make himself at home. It’s been done.
Do I seem unChristian? When I’ve tried to do the Christian thing with the drifters who wander or bicycle back here, out of sight of the street, I’ve always regretted it. As has Pastor Biff. So I don’t do that anymore.
Yesterday, in a cafe, I idly watched a scrolling LED sign display a string of witty aphorisms. One of them stuck with me: “Without private property, there would be no crime.”
It’s somewhat true. In tribal societies private property can be only conditionally private. Neighbors may come by when you’re not around and carry off whatever you have that they need. And when you need it back, you just go get it again. Or get someone else’s.
Nobody goes to jail. What’s jail? If anyone gets angry, the neighbors hash it out with the two of you until you settle it. Problems were solved like that in rural America, too, not so many decades ago.
It does occur to me that in a society based on private property and ownership of things, most crime involves taking things from someone and selling them to someone else. Because you don’t have a job. Because you’re hungry. Because you child is hungry. Because you need a fix. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Because you’re living on someone else’s couch, and life is hard.
What if life wasn’t hard? What if everyone was guaranteed the basics of a secure life: food, housing, security, education, maybe even a little tough love if needed. But always forgiveness, too, and compassion.
How much crime would we have? Crime of passion, always, and crime of really bad judgment. But crime of moving stuff from my pocket to yours without my permission? Not as much. Certainly no crimes of debt, no bad credit ratings that keep you from renting a house or getting a job.
I’m not even sure we’d even have hate crimes, or at least not as many. Economics so often lurks behind racism — the need for cheap labor desperate enough to do anything for a pittance; or for a scapegoat to take the blame for the mischief of the ruling class. When everyone’s secure, that sort of hatred tends to back off.
I see the intruder now: a moving spot of slightly lighter darkness. He’s done with the dumpster, and is heading back to the street. He hugs the fence for concealment.
He may have gotten a few cans or bottles. Why shouldn’t he? But because he lacks things, and because I sit by of an open door beyond which lies many things, we are naturally in opposition. Because of the world we live in, which is not natural. There’s plenty for everybody.
I think we can’t solve the world’s problems until we get this fair-allocation-of-resources thing out of the way. Until we do, we’re all enemies to each other. And the people who profit from that state of affairs, like it just fine.