Looting versus Scavenging

Posted on: May 10, 2010

Looting versus Scavenging
By Jim Cobb

It is a recurring theme in post-apocalyptic stories. The hero, in a moment of need, happens to stumble across a ravaged but still intact department store. Through diligent searching, he’s able to find food, clothing, and supplies. Thus re-equipped, he ventures forth to do battle with the ne’er do wells.

But, does this mean our hero has fallen from the path of the straight and true? Isn’t this looting?

How about a real world scenario? Remember all the photos and video shot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? Story after story about people stealing plasma TVs and other electronics from abandoned storefronts. Looters who should have been shot on sight?

First of all, the whole idea behind being prepared is to have what you need, when you need it. In an ideal situation, regardless of disaster you’d have all the food, water, and supplies to endure until such time order was restored, if such a time is ever going to come. However, there are any number of “what if” scenarios that could play out, preventing you access to your emergency supplies. An accidental fire burns your retreat to the ground. A group of the ever popular “mutant zombie bikers” manages to force you from your retreat. A traffic accident wipes out your vehicle en route to your retreat, leaving you no real option but to hoof it on foot.

Regardless of how it happens, you suddenly find yourself standing in front of a wreck of a building. Once upon a time, it was a convenience store. Near as you can tell, it isn’t occupied by anyone. Odds are pretty good you could find at least a few canned goods, possibly a bottle or two of water. What do you do?

There are some who will say they would NEVER take anything that doesn’t belong to them. Those few canned goods are owned by someone else and thus are off limits. The Eighth Commandment – Thou Shalt Not Steal. I counter that argument by saying, how do you know God didn’t lead you to those supplies so you might live another day? Remember the old joke about the preacher stranded on top of his church during a flood? As he’s clinging to the roof, several times people come by and ask him to get into their boats to save him. On the last attempt, it is a helicopter. Each time, he tells them, “If I need any help, the Lord will take care of me.” Well, he drowns. As he’s standing at the Pearly Gates, he inquires of God why didn’t He save him? God replies, “I sent you three rowboats and a helicopter, what more did you want?”

To my way of thinking, there is a vast, yet simple, difference between looting and scavenging. Let me illustrate by example.

Taking plasma TVs = looting
Taking diapers for your kids = scavenging

If items of value have no clear ownership (our burned out and/or wrecked store example) and those items will serve to keep you and yours alive, it is scavenging. If the items are clearly owned by someone else and/or they serve little purpose aside from being inherently valuable, it is looting.

Now, please bear in mind for the purposes of this article, we are supposing a complete breakdown in society and order. This isn’t just a blizzard lasting a couple days. Rather, this is a pandemic/nuclear war/zombie uprising type of situation. Admittedly, the looting versus scavenging debate is rife with gray areas. But, in a true end of the world scenario, this is something that is likely to come up for many if not most people. As such, it is something that should be discussed beforehand.

A final note–please do not take the above as in any way encouraging theft or pillaging the countryside. That is not what you should take away from this article (no pun intended). Instead, this is an effort to illustrate my own personal point of view on the looting versus scavenging debate. I cannot and will not suggest breaking the law. But, in the absence of law, each person must make their own decisions on how to best comport themselves.

2 thoughts on “Looting versus Scavenging

  1. Well written. I heard the arguments for and against, and basically I believe those against haven’t really accepted the fact that there may come a time that their survival depends on finding that can of chili and that warm coat in the house clearly abandoned (you find dead bodies in the yard…good indication the owners have moved on).

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