Public Citizen - Larry Barnett


Thievery plain and simple…or not

Desire being the root of most human experience, finding ourselves attracted to things we see around us is entirely normal. Given widespread religious doctrines and legal prohibitions against theft, it would appear powerful temptations to satisfy desire are rather normal as well; those of us who’ve raised children have surely found ourselves explaining to toddlers about not taking things that belong to others.

Prohibitions against theft range from moral to legal, but impulses of desire can be powerful enough to withstand threats of incarceration and punishment. To overcome such impulses requires the development of conscience, a splitting of self (just one splitting of many) into that which desires and that which sublimates desire. When such sublimation is a positive act of abstraction it involves the activation of virtue instead of impulse, and this can be taught and learned. Necessity, on the other hand, engages an act of survival, meeting basic drives like hunger, pain, warmth and protection. Necessity runs deeper than desire, and moral issues, if not legal ones, are more complicated. Is the penniless man who steals medicine from a drug store to save the life of his sick child committing an immoral act?

Four potted plants were recently stolen from my front porch, cute plants in nice pots that I enjoyed seeing each day. The plants were all succulents, one green with fuzzy rosettes tipped in red, one with thick and fleshy “tongues” tinted yellow, one with bulbous bodies a powdery light blue, and one with many clumps of white, chalky thin leaf stems. Grouped together they did indeed look lovely; it’s no surprise they caught my thief’s attention.

I do wonder on what basis these potted plants were stolen. If desire to posses their loveliness, then I would be satisfied in knowing they at least are bringing joy to someone. If as a gift for another, ah well, so be it. If for money, their near equal can be had for less than $50. Of all the ordinary reasons I can think of, money surely is the worst.

If stolen to enjoy them, will these plants constantly remind the thief of theft? If so, there will be only guilty pleasure. Perhaps the thief feels pride of accomplishment in theft, and if the case then attraction to these plants has been perverted. Perversion is also an act of sublimation, but one in which extreme fixation builds on impulse. Thus it’s even possible these plants were stolen to be killed (their lovely appearance irrelevant) thrown from the window of a moving car in a fixation of pure aggression.

I too have fixations; I’ve had many long and meaningful relationships with plants. And the irony of this theft is that I enjoy growing plants to give away. Often, while spending the afternoon in my front garden a passing stranger will stop, pull over to the curb and ask me about a plant. Frequently, they are plant lovers and gardeners themselves, and will depart with a cutting or potted plant to enjoy.

Perhaps I am simply sublimating my own feelings of  loss, but I’m curious about my thief. I’d like to know the whys and wherefores, the reasons and the impulses, the inner dialog, how the whole theft felt and still feels today. Something happened. Knowing what that was would actually mean more to me than getting back those potted plants.

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