Yesterday I jogged at the Academic Oval in UP Diliman. As an experiment, my brother left his water bottle on a seat, next to an empty McDo cup. Sure enough, after making a couple of rounds (less than half an hour), the water bottle was no longer there (while the McDo cup remained).
Is taking another’s possessions in this case ‘stealing’? I think it’s not quite easy to label, because my brother well knew the risk of leaving a decent-looking water bottle in a ‘public place’ like Peyups. It may have appeared to the ‘thief’ that the bottle had been abandoned, just as someone who throws something in the trash as good as relinquishes ownership of such and allows scroungers to feast on such garbage.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS KEY
|Yours na lang, my crap!|
Rather than seeking to label such acts as this or that, I would like to focus on the degree of accountability for one’s actions. I’m not just talking about the impracticality of leaving one things for the picking, but also the risk of getting caught taken by the person who got the water bottle.
We can determine how advanced a social system is in part by the degree of accountability and responsibility individuals take. It follows from this premise that a decrease in accountability is indicative of social regression.
What are some factors that decrease accountability? For one thing, the existence of ‘public’ places. While the general meaning of ‘public’ has been made vague so that privately owned properties such as malls are considered ‘public,’ in here we shall limit the notion of ‘public’ to be that of government-owned or -expropriated economic resources, in particular roads and universities such as UP.
While one’s loss of one’s things can just as well happen in big privately-owned places like Ateneo, there is nonetheless a decrease in accountability when it comes to ‘public’ property, because actual ownership is vague or non-existent there.
Those who manage such places aren’t even considered owners but more like custodians. ‘The people’ supposedly own ‘public’ places. The fact that a member of ‘the people’ such as myself has no part in the dictation of rules regarding these places, belies the notion of ownership. In spite of my ‘ownership’ of the ‘public’ place, I or anyone else could not so much as waive liability in the case that things are lost; the policies regarding lost items remain arbitrary when no actual property owners exist.
POORER CONDITIONS --> LESS ACCOUNTABILITY
Another aspect of accountability is the fact that coercive intervention in free actions of individuals makes for poorer conditions by which people tend to be less respectful of other people’s property such as water bottles.
How pathetic is it that someone, upon seeing a water bottle while going about their business, thinks to themselves, “Huy water bottle! Wala namang tao, kukunin ko na siya!” and takes it for granted that they have a ‘karapatan’ to the item. Such a mentality requires poverty to breed. And because security measures are bound to be less developed in poorer settings, thieves are better ‘rewarded’ in taking items that don’t belong to them.
Granted that it’s irresponsible to leave one’s things unattended, and that private property owners will seek minimum liability for their guests’ neglect, it is to the advantage of all concerned ― private land owners and visitors alike ― that their right to property is affirmed to the maximum. This entails the removal of vagueness in terms of ownership, and the increasing of accountability for one’s actions, both of which can be achieved by full privatization.