As we witness the national security state at work in crushing protest in the U.S., with the arrest of well over 100 protesters at the Republican National Convention, one has to be reminded of one of the most basic tenets of “liberty”/”freedom” under capitalism: the power of things over people. In almost all such situations, protesters are arrested in many cases for “damage against property”, which like the crime of “theft”, amounts to the denial of the liberty of the thing. When looting breaks out, whether these be riots in Haiti over the past few years, or in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you could reinterpret what the “looters” were doing as a manifestation of the assertion of human agency over capital. Looters asserted themselves over those things which had been given power of them.
The notion that a person could lose their liberty, because a microwave oven lost its liberty, is bizarre. On the one hand, it suggests retribution in equal measure, except that which is being equated here is a human being and a commodity. That says a lot about the commodification of everything, and that in capitalist society people are valued in the same terms as a bag of potatoes. On the other hand, if no equivalence is being drawn, then it suggests that imprisonment for theft is a grossly disproportionate response, which then says something else: that the state uses violence to impose and enforce injustice and inequality between persons and things.
Thanks to these heroic “first responders”, Walmart can breathe easier.