A local store owner recently told me a story. She gets a lot of customers in her shop, which is a sit-down coffee shop, kind of like a Starbucks. One day, some people came into the shop. They didn’t want to buy anything to eat or drink. They simply wanted to sit.
When the store owner noticed the ‘customers’ weren’t there to buy anything, she asked them to leave. Their reply was: ‘And what, exactly, are we doing wrong? We’re not hurting anybody.’
The store owner was stunned into silence by this response.
But the silence can be filled with commentary about everything that has gone wrong in today’s society.
Anyone who would say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ evidently has no concept of private property. To violate somebody’s private property is wrong. That should be obvious, and maybe it used to be. It certainly isn’t obvious any longer, not to many. I would bet a million dollars that the person who said this to the store owner would call the police in a New York minute if someone so much as breathed on their car, or violated their own property in any way.
But stores, and things or places out in the world, are not thought of as private property. ‘It’s a public coffee house where groups of people go and drink.’ But who provides the food and drink? The store owner does. Out of charity? Of course not. It’s for a profit. If you utilize their business for a purpose other than their business, then they’re going to lose money. And it’s their right to enforce this principle.
‘If it’s mine, it’s mine. If it’s yours—well, it’s everybody’s.’ This is the attitude that dominates Washington DC. It’s the ‘principle’ of the people we elect into office every year. Should we be surprised that it’s the principle of our leaders, when it’s the principle of so many of us out in the real world?
It shouldn’t even be a question. Nobody with a grain of respect for the private property of others would even consider entering a coffee shop or restaurant and not buying anything. This is the problem. This store owner has a ‘lot of stories,’ like this one, or even worse, she said.
I know the store owner. She came from an impoverished country some years ago. She knocked on the door of a local fine dining restaurant and asked for a job as a dishwasher, barely knowing any English. With nary a handout from anybody, she succeeded in learning the language of the society, working her way up over many years, and eventually owning her own business. I have high regard for her.
But what kind of world is this? What kind of place is America? What is it becoming? People write to me all the time, and ask why our country is going to the dogs, politically. (No offense to dogs.)
To many people who ask this question, there seems to be a disconnect between the idiocy of our government, including our established culture, and the actual people who inhabit it. But many of the people who inhabit it are — well, pretty rotten. It’s not that the idiots at the top are making the rest of us bad. It’s that too many of us who aren’t at the top are tolerating, or maybe see no problem, with the idiots at the top.
Case in point? The people in my example. Ask any store owner you know. There are a lot of wonderful people out there. But there are probably just as many people like this. Half the population? I’m not certain. But however many, it’s way too many for a culture of any worth to last.
You could say the faux customers are being selfish, but self-interest is not the problem here. The store owner is being selfish, and self-interested, by asserting her rights to send those trespassers away. And well she should! The problem here isn’t in being selfish, but in refusing to respect the equal rights of others to be selfish.
Think of breathing. You don’t say I’m ‘selfish’ and therefore bad for wanting to breathe. You don’t say, ‘Dr. Hurd, you’re being selfish by breathing. You shouldn’t think so much of yourself.’ You should say, ‘That’s wrong of you to put your hand over someone else so he can’t breathe.’ In fact, it’s even considered assault or attempted murder.
That’s the proper analogy. Everyone has a right to breathe. But everyone has an equal obligation to leave others alone to breathe. This requires no self-sacrifice on anyone’s part—unless you’re a criminal, a sociopath or an idiot.
Sociopaths and criminals are still in the minority. But idiots are not. People like these individuals who walk in and treat someone’s private place of business like it’s public property? They’re idiots. And my fear is that they’re becoming the majority.
That, sadly, is how a society declines. What we see at the top is merely a symptom of what happens every day in this coffee shop, and other places like it.