In February of this year I was arrested for retail theft. I pocketed seven packs of trading cards at a Shopko in Taylorsville, Utah. Upon exiting the store I was immediately confronted by a loss-prevention employee and an off-duty police officer. I did not immediately realize that an officer was confronting me, so I attempted to walk away. The officer physically restrained me, pushed me to the floor and pressed my face into the cement.
Being arrested was humiliating. Sitting on a fold-up chair with my hands uncomfortably restrained behind my back, I felt that my life had come to an end. The loss-prevention specialist hurled invectives at me. “You f*ing idiot. You are such an f*ing idiot.” This rather pathetic man seemed to feed on my own powerlessness like a drug. Despite my silence, he became increasingly belligerent until the on-duty officer (separate to the original plain-clothes) arrived to take control of the situation.
Nietzsche warned us to be careful fighting monsters, lest we become monsters ourselves. Both parties in my shoplifting drama are guilty of the central human weakness against which Nietzsche philosophized –ressentiment. For instance, was this aggressive security guard yelling at me, or was the real source of his frustrations elsewhere? Perhaps he’s dissatisfied with his ignoble position as a powerless rent-a-cop? He only mimics and never actually participates in the authority of the state. How thrilling it must have been to act with an officer possessing actual authority. To restrain! To shout and rail against the criminal element! I possibly gave this man a great gift. Yet, his excitement at capturing such a weak criminal ultimately reveals that this man was truly weak and pitiably impotent.
Similarly, the retail theft, which I perceived as a daring act of violence against a faceless corporate conglomerate, was in fact a cowardly and immature gesture. My justification for the theft reveals the impotence of the act: “It doesn’t matter if I steal, because the corporation will have already factored the effect of this shrinkage into their bottom-line,” I told myself. Therefore, my act would have no effect on the company – and certainly no effect on the overall system of economic organization. Ghandi said, “Become the change you wish to see in others.” I was becoming cheap and undisciplined; thereby, counteracting my wish of social magnanimity and solidarity. If anything I was merely facilitating the commodification of desire, which I claimed to hate, and internalizing expectations of quick and easy satisfaction.
I now realize the extent of my mistake when I shoplifted. This episode was extremely difficult and painful. However, I greatly appreciate the officers, justices and counselors who have confronted my mistakes in a frank and direct manner. I learned a great deal because they did their job. I have arisen a wiser person with newfound perspective on personal and general human frailty. I will never steal again, not because I love Shopko, but because I hate weakness within myself.