Steal from one
You are called a thief
Steal from many
You are called a financial wizard
I like this short poem because it plays with the idea of how we interpret personal or individual acts versus impersonal and large-scale actions. This poem fits the same format and tone as: kill one and they call it murder, kill many and they call it foreign policy. Each of these highlights the apparent bias that we have against individual or personal harmful acts, and our apparent bias in favor of impersonal and distance actions. On the one hand, this makes sense since you can more easily see and connect the dots to the harmfulness of someone stealing directly from you in person, or assaulting you in person. Yet, on the other hand, by stealing little bits from many, many people in an impersonal fashion and across great distances, Western civilization has frequently decided to term this financial wizardry or good foreign policy protecting our national interest. It seems to me that much of the so-called success of Western civilization has been a drive toward maximizing impersonal and large-scale relationships to avoid accountability. However, beyond avoiding accountability, such crimes actually become laudable and bring many benefits, such as wealth, control, and status. An alternative to this facet of Western civilization would be to move toward and value more highly personal, local, and more organic human relationships. Some of us might call this anarchism, the free association of individuals to come together and determine their common destiny. This concept of anarchism is less about individualism than is about maintaining the ability to forge a common destiny, mediated by a shared reality. Community is necessary since we have a shared reality. This type of anarchism is democratic, but is skeptical of so-called representation by others, and favors direct democracy where people represent themselves. This poem is a quick way to highlight the dangerously wrong direction that scale and impersonality or dehumanization can bring. My own view is that if we don’t humanize so-called civilization, then so-called civilization will dehumanize us. Most importantly, a humane world will not need a lot of financial wizards.