Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Metal theft as an index of alienation (fatalism?)

What interests me about www.metaltheft.net (@metaltheftnet) is that, as the Luke Bennett essay there says, when people steal metal it means they're willing to destroy the higher value that could flow from leaving a thing in its place, like a copper pipe installed in a house, to get a much lower short-term gain, like payment by the pound for the copper in the pipe.

A metal thief has kind of ipso facto ruled out the possibility of greater personal gain from whatever could be done with the metal either by keeping it in its current place, or by reusing/recycling it through aboveboard channels. Bad stuff follows from that, as we know.

Once I worked in an office where we were discarding an old photocopier. It was cruddy but functional. A scrapper asked if it was being thrown out. We said yes, he could have it. Seemed like he was going to take the thing away and sell it to someone who was willing to live with it despite its faults. That would have been fine. He would have been welcome to the proceeds for his trouble. But to our disgust, he simply cut off the main power cord and left the rest. With its cord the machine had been functional if balky. Without it, the machine was inert. For a few cents' worth of copper wire, he had wrecked the machine's remaining usefulness. Jerk.

That's what I mean in saying metal theft is an expression of fatalism. Maybe it means the thief is cynical about the possibility of making more money less destructively. Maybe it means the owner of a vacant house has given up on finding a profitable tenant or buyer for it, so leaves it empty. Either way, it's a statement that communication and community have broken down.

So, yes, the price of copper affects the rate of theft too, but there's more than plain profit motive involved in destroying larger values to recoup smaller ones. Metal theft is an index to the state a society is in.

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