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Crimes of Excess
April 27, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Is it stealing to take things that are available free to the public? If so, how much would you have to take for it to be stealing?

Sometimes I run out of toilet paper and take a roll from one of my college's public bathrooms. The way I justify this is: "How is it different from me having diarrhea and using the whole roll anyway?" The same goes for plastic utensils--I'll buy one yogurt at Wawa (a food mart) and then take five spoons and five forks to go with it. How do they know I don't need five spoons to eat my yogurt? I'll also sometimes take honey packets.

However, I'm stopping at taking tea packets because I can't really justify tea "going with" anything I'm buying (even though I know I'm really mostly paying for the cup). But otherwise, I feel like they budget in people like me when putting out free stuff like that. So, am I stealing?
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Religion & Philosophy (61 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Toilet paper in the public bathroom is there for people to use when they are in the bathroom. If you're taking it to your house, that's stealing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2012 [36 favorites]


Yes, this is stealing. The system isn't designed for your hypotheticals. People have legitimate expectations that others won't do the kinds of things you do. It's antisocial free-riding, which, unless you have real need, is wrong.
posted by smorange at 9:54 AM on April 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


Yes, you're stealing. You wouldn't need that many justifications if you weren't.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2012 [47 favorites]


Fremantle (tr. vb.): To steal something not worth the bother of stealing.

It's between you and your priest/rabbi/imam/therapist/guru to decide how guilty you want to feel about it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think many wouldn't consider taking excess samples/condiment packages as 'stealing' per se, but would see it as cheap and/or a breach of etiquette.

In my personal view, taking a roll of paper from a college bathroom is akin to taking a cup you had your coffee served to you in (hey, you could have dropped that cup and broken it!). It does count as 'stealing' to me purely because if you were caught leaving Starbucks with one of their mugs in your bag their security guard would probably want a word with you. Shops can't sell testers on make-up counters, so technically they have no value, but walking off with one would be likely to elicit a word from security if anyone saw you do it.
posted by mippy at 9:55 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


That many justifications? Yes. And you know it.
posted by Hobo at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Although, this question is interesting - is taking from a skip stealing? Is taking something from a bag of donations left outside a charity shop stealing, and if so is it because it's intended to be sold rather than disposed of?
posted by mippy at 9:56 AM on April 27, 2012


If you wouldn't do it at your friend's house, then you're just taking advantage of a shared resource.
posted by anildash at 9:57 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Welcome to the tragedy of the commons.

Of course they "budget in" people like you -- into the cost of the goods they sell. When you take an extra ketchup packet, everybody pays for it. Its not much, but it adds up.
posted by modernserf at 9:58 AM on April 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Is taking something from a bag of donations left outside a charity shop stealing, and if so is it because it's intended to be sold rather than disposed of?

I've heard of people being charged for this, yes, and for stealing from unattended donation boxes. The donation is being given to a specific charity not to whomever shows up.
posted by anti social order at 9:59 AM on April 27, 2012


You're stealing from a public resource instead of a person, but yes its stealing.

It is morally wrong in the same way that dumping a bag of your trash in the street is. You might say "Well, everyone drops pieces of paper here and there and thats why the city has street cleaners and so I'm just dropping enough trash as if I was walking with 100 friends through the street, right?" Sounds ridiculous doesnt it? It is the same argument you are making.
posted by vacapinta at 10:00 AM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


"How is it different from me having diarrhea and using the whole roll anyway?"

It's different because they provide the toilet paper for a specific purpose: to help people who are there in public and need to use the toilet at that time. You're using it for a purpose other than the one they were willing to spend money on: you're just trying to save your own money and/or effort by not bothering to go to the store and buying it yourself. That's your private purpose. That is inconsistent with the public purpose for which they were willing to spend money on the toilet paper.

And please don't call it "free to the public." Nothing is free; everything has a cost. The only question is who pays the cost. When you take excess stuff, the entity providing it is going to need to buy more of it to compensate. That costs the entity money, and the entity will tend to pass those costs on to other people: consumers will pay raised prices, students will pay higher tuition, employees won't get raises, etc.

How do they know I don't need five spoons to eat my yogurt?

It doesn't matter if they know; what matters is that you are actually using the spoons for the reason they're there for.

Actually, no, it does matter that they don't know. That makes it a weighter ethical issue that reflects more seriously on you. The most profound test of your ethical character is how you act when no other person is watching you.
posted by John Cohen at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2012 [19 favorites]


Yes, stealing. They are budgeting for on-premise, per-item use, not someone stocking up beyond immediate need in that specific circumstance.
posted by batmonkey at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2012


Yes, this is stealing.
posted by TurkishGolds at 10:05 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You could be asking one of two possible questions: firstly whether or not your actions constitute theft (and would therefore be illegal) and secondly whether or not your actions are right or wrong.

This isn't really a gray area. You are clearly acting selfishly, and with a disregard for a common resource. You are not breaking the law, and if the law is the only moral rubric you possess then hey do what you want.

Your entire framing of this question is slightly... scary, in that your sense of whether or not your actions are appropriate seems wrapped up in the feelings of some posited observer, e.g. the people who "don't know" whether you need 5 spoons to eat your yoghurt.

You don't need an observer to know what's right or wrong.

That they might assume people steal from them does not justify stealing.
That they "can't know" that you don't need 5 spoons is immaterial. You don't need 5 spoons. You know.

At the end of the day, you're responsible to yourself.
posted by cmyr at 10:06 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Look, it's not that no one has ever done this, but most people are vaguely embarrassed by it in the sense that they know they're stealing, but to use Nucky Thompson's formula, "At some point in your life, you have to decide how much sin you're willing to live with."

A (literally) starving student snagging some toilet paper (and using it as tissue paper, as we did as undergrads) from the dorm bathroom or grabbing a few extra plastic utensils from the cafeteria? It's almost part of the territory. Someone not otherwise destitute grabbing a bunch of sugar packets from a diner to take home? Petty and vulgar.
posted by deanc at 10:06 AM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


IIRC, it was Kant who suggested you should considet your actions by what would happen if everyone did what you're doing. Looking at it that way, it's not a good idea.
posted by drezdn at 10:07 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't know where you are, but as an example, we can look at the theft statute for Texas:
(a) A person commits an offense if he unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.
(b) Appropriation of property is unlawful if:
(1) it is without the owner's effective consent…
So the key thing in these cases is whether the owner is consenting. If you asked your college facilities office whether they consent to you taking whole rolls of toilet paper with you out of the bathroom, they would say no. You know this.
posted by grouse at 10:08 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The difference between you having the runs and needing the entire roll (and be honest, the worst, drizzliest shits in the world would not require an entire roll) is that the system allows for that hypothetical because of how rare it would be. If you have exploding bowels and use the whole roll, the next guy to use the toilet is very unlikely to have the same problem thus also use the whole roll.

In other words, if we ask "Well, what if everyone did it?" and we compare both what you're actually doing and the hypothetical situations you're constructing, the numbers are different.

Using the whole roll is okay if you need to because almost no one needs to, so if everyone who needs to then does so, nothing's really changed.

Taking the whole roll because you want to take the whole roll is not okay because if everyone who wanted the whole roll did so, all of it would be gone in an hour or less.

Same deal with the yogurt, except the gap between numbers is even larger.

The system is budgeting for people who actually need five spoons and a half-dozen forks to eat a single yogurt. All zero of them.

It is not budgeting for everyone who just happens to want that many plastic utensils.

So are you stealing? Well, I don't know that you'd get arrested for it, but that doesn't mean it's not stealing. I'd say it is.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:08 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've heard of people being charged for this, yes, and for stealing from unattended donation boxes. The donation is being given to a specific charity not to whomever shows up.

Yeah, to me it feels like stealing. But there are obviously people who think 'well, it's given for free, so I'll take it' whereas I doubt the same folk would steal a donation box.
posted by mippy at 10:09 AM on April 27, 2012


I'm not going to jump on the moralistic pile-on, but maybe think of it this way: what if someone shows up with diarrhea and the toilet has only one square of paper, alongside the space where the roll you took would have been?
posted by rhizome at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I always figure - ask yourself how seriously you need whatever it is, and try to be honest. Are you down and out so you can't afford toilet paper? Are you out of work and out of food stamps so you snitch "free" food wherever you can find it? Food stamps don't cover toilet paper, shampoo, etc, either.

And ask yourself what damage you're doing by taking more than your "share" - will someone else need what you took? Will you destabilize the program by taking something that's expensive to buy or expensive for staff to do the labor on to keep replacing?

I think it's legitimate to ask yourself how you're harmed/benefited by the institution whose stuff you're taking, too. I have difficulty getting worked up about someone snagging a few extra forks from a chain store that is abusing its employees through forced unpaid overtime and driving down wages, for example.

It's very easy to get worked up about individual questions of character while overlooking the much greater immoralities perpetrated by, like, the store manager who is sexually harassing the cashier, or the CEO who is busting the union drive.

It's also very easy to get hung up on small ethics questions about property - I would think much less of someone who extracted unpaid overtime from his workers than someone who took even a whole roll of toilet paper. (If you're actually broke and can't buy your own toilet paper, what about taking lengths from several rolls?)
posted by Frowner at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


(That is, I think we typically treat questions about this kind of "stealing" as if there's always some kind of reciprocity between you and the institution. Sometimes there is - there's some reciprocity between me and my university, or between me and places where I volunteer, or me and the shoe repair guy who has done me little kindnesses in the past and treated me fairly. There's no reciprocity between me and Walmart; Walmart would run a tank over my bleeding body to increase their bottom line if they wouldn't get prosecuted for doing so. There's no "ethics" to our relationship; it's just a struggle on both sides.)
posted by Frowner at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sometimes I run out of toilet paper and take a roll from one of my college's public bathrooms. The way I justify this is: "How is it different from me having diarrhea and using the whole roll anyway?"

It is different because they have enough TP there to cover all the various things that happen in bathrooms, taking into account their likelihood. So they have enough for everyday use, plus the occasional emergency like you describe. Rare emergencies like that ARE taken into account. Your personal home use is not budgeted for and taken into account.

The same goes for plastic utensils--I'll buy one yogurt at Wawa (a food mart) and then take five spoons and five forks to go with it. How do they know I don't need five spoons to eat my yogurt?

Because they are intelligent people who know how many spoons it takes to eat a yogurt, and have budgeted for that number?

Basically I think what you are doing is not "stealing" but it's acting really selfishly and in very very bad faith. Would you rather live in a world where people act thoughtfully and with respect towards each other and don't take advantage? Or a world where people take as much advantage of others as they can possibly technically get away with in any situation for their personal enrichment?
posted by cairdeas at 10:17 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another example: You don't like something printed in the local free newspaper. So you take all of the copies everywhere you can find them and load them up in the back of your van. I believe that is considered stealing.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:19 AM on April 27, 2012


You are not breaking the law, and if the law is the only moral rubric you possess then hey do what you want.

This wasn't the question, but note that this is probably untrue. Most codified definitions of theft include this kind of behaviour. It's just that it's not worth prosecuting. From the Canadian Criminal Code:
Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent
(a) to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it, or a person who has a special property or interest in it, of the thing or of his property or interest in it;
This probably includes the OP's behaviour. The OP is fraudulently (arguably) and without colour of right taking something with intent to deprive the owner of it. Fraud often boils down to a "dishonest act." I think there's a very strong argument that the OP's behaviour is dishonest, and I'm confident that a judge would agree. So, actually, I think this is stealing. (This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer!)
posted by smorange at 10:20 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's very easy to get worked up about individual questions of character while overlooking the much greater immoralities perpetrated by, like, the store manager who is sexually harassing the cashier, or the CEO who is busting the union drive.

There is no reason that we cannot object to both or objecting to one means ignoring the other. To me, under this line of thinking, one could pretty much come up with a reason for doing anything to any one, because nobody is innocent.
posted by cairdeas at 10:20 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


"How is it different from me having diarrhea and using the whole roll anyway?"
It's different because you don't have diarrhea.

This kind of rationalization is endless. How is my speeding different from my speeding to get a sick child to the hospital?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:22 AM on April 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


There is no reason that we cannot object to both or objecting to one means ignoring the other. To me, under this line of thinking, one could pretty much come up with a reason for doing anything to any one, because nobody is innocent.

But people generally don't. We talk in a quite finger-shaking manner about people taking extra spoons but don't generally talk about working conditions because they are much less visible. The smiling CEO in the good suit who can buy all the spoons he wants, we're not likely to finger-shake at him except under extremely select circumstances. I'm just saying that if we want to get all prim-and-proper about some extra spoons, which is trivial, we really need to get on the stick about the other stuff, which impacts people's lives in much larger and graver ways.

I guess I'm also saying that it's difficult to answer this type of question without examining, you know, the conditions of production and consumption. Nothing is 'ethical' in a vacuum; it's always social and always the result of pre-existing conditions.
posted by Frowner at 10:25 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll buy one yogurt at Wawa (a food mart) and then take five spoons and five forks to go with it.

Why only five? Why don't you take all the spoons and forks that are put out there?
posted by mikepop at 10:26 AM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Freedom is not when people do what they want to. Freedom is when people do what they ought to."

A grill/restaurant at my college used to have really nice glasses for our sodas. Now, unsurprisingly, those glasses all ended up in the cupboards of our dorm kitchens. What happened? They switched from those really nice glasses to paper cups.

The idiot who would grab a huge club of napkins he didn't need was responsible for the fact that we have those vertical single-napkin-dispensing things that have really low-quality paper napkins. The guy with diarrhea gets screwed over because there's hardly any toilet paper left since people keep stealing it.

Wawa and your college's public bathrooms operate on the assumption that people are taking what they need. In fact the only reason those things are so easily accessible is because people generally do follow the rules.

So I guess the question is, "what kind of society do you want to live in?" One in which there's an overall presumption of trust, or one in which we all have to deal with being constantly on guard against petty violations of public norms?

I don't think these things you've described are horribly wrong, per se, just that they're unnecessary.
posted by deanc at 10:28 AM on April 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I don't think it's technically stealing, but you should probably feel at least a little bad for doing it. I don't think anybody really cares as long you leave some for other people.
posted by empath at 10:31 AM on April 27, 2012


In a nutshell, lhude sing cuccu, your argument seems to be, "I have explicit permission to do something as long as I am doing it for certain reasons. Shouldn't I still be able to do it if the other party doesn't KNOW I'm not doing it for those certain reasons?"

Seriously think about that. What is your honest reply to that question, if you were to apply it to life in general. Think of that argument with yourself on the other side, with you having given someone permission to do something but only for particular reasons. "You can borrow my car but only if it is an emergency." "Well how does lhude sing cuccu KNOW that it wasn't just an emergency that required me to take his car to Vegas for a 72 hour drunken slot machine marathon, pick up a bunch of hitchhikers and go off-roading in the desert?"
posted by cairdeas at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


. The smiling CEO in the good suit who can buy all the spoons he wants, we're not likely to finger-shake at him except under extremely select circumstances.

It is precisely the smiling CEO in the good suit who can buy all the spoons he wants who is going to get the stink-eye when he grabs a bunch of plastic spoons and stuffs a bunch of sugar packets into his briefcase.

There's a qualitative difference between grabbing a couple extra plastic utensils for later and figuring, "OMG FREE TOILET PAPER!!!!11!!!"
posted by deanc at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2012


I was also thinking of the law school professor I know, who makes over $200,000 a year, who goes and buys up discounted arts performance tickets with her school ID, that are specifically meant for low income students, just because they don't do any checking into it and will take people at their word when they give the discounted tickets.
posted by cairdeas at 10:34 AM on April 27, 2012


The de minimis principle can guide you in some of these cases, but it relies on your ability to understand boundaries and matters of scale. The impression I get from your AskMe is that you lack proper sense of boundaries, not about the specifics of what you're doing, but your justifications.
posted by deanc at 10:37 AM on April 27, 2012


It's very easy to get worked up about individual questions of character while overlooking the much greater immoralities perpetrated by, like, the store manager who is sexually harassing the cashier, or the CEO who is busting the union drive.

Derail! The question is whether the behavior the OP is describing constitutes stealing. The question isn't: which is worse, stealing or sexual harassment?
posted by John Cohen at 10:37 AM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you wouldn't feel comfortable going up to the store or school staff and saying "hey, I'm taking this roll of toilet paper/this handful of spoons, is that cool?" yep, that's stealing. You're assuming (probably correctly) that the property owner won't consent to your taking it, and taking something without the owner's consent is the definition of stealing.

Do store owners assume some people will grab more than their fair share of jelly packets? Yes. Is taking that roll of toilet paper a terrible crime in the grand scheme of things? Not really. Have I done it? Well, yeah, and so have lots of people who consider themselves ethical and rule-abiding. But it's still stealing.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:45 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Of course they "budget in" people like you -- into the cost of the goods they sell. When you take an extra ketchup packet, everybody pays for it. Its not much, but it adds up.

I don't think the economic part of it is really the main factor though, I think it's more about the implied but unstated understanding between whoever is putting out the "free" stuff and whoever is taking it. From an economic standpoint, taking way more plastic forks than normal would be equivalent to someone eating way more food than normal at an all-you-can-eat buffet or asking for every single topping at a sandwich place that offers a bunch of free but fairly expensive ones that most customers don't ask for. The difference is that if you're at a buffet and ask the manager how much food you are allowed to eat they would tell you as much as you want, whereas if you asked whoever manages the public bathroom how much toilet paper you can take home with you they would say none. I wouldn't necessarily call it stealing in the legal sense of the word, but given no explicit agreement it makes sense to assume that you're only supposed to take a reasonable amount of stuff like this for the normal purpose it was meant for. If you're not sure, ask whoever's in charge for clarification.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:57 AM on April 27, 2012


[I know this is a question that invites a couple different angles but please let's try not to spin too far into side-arguments or hypotheticals.]
posted by cortex at 10:58 AM on April 27, 2012


But otherwise, I feel like they budget in people like me when putting out free stuff like that. So, am I stealing?

They also budget in a certain amount of shoplifting, so I don't think this argument does anything to prove that you aren't stealing.

My take is that you are stealing. These aren't particularly large or heinous thefts, but the spoons, honey packets, and toilet paper are put out there for people to use in certain ways. There's an implied condition that is generally understood by the public. Your college isn't offering to give you toilet paper for your home and the store isn't offering to provide you with honey packets to serve all your honey needs.
posted by Area Man at 11:20 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


One time we were staying at a franchise hotel run by a family. They offered a continental breakfast, and the bar was completely empty. One of the daughters came out when we we arrived, and was helping us by asking what we'd like, and then bringing us each individual portions of various things. We got to talking to her about it and she explained that they had to stop putting stuff on the bars because people would take entire bags of bagels, whole loaves of bread, bottles of syrup, etc., and leave with them.

We were absolutely stunned and couldn't imagine the type of person who would think this was acceptable.

If you think this is normal, please readjust. It's severely wrong.
posted by odinsdream at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


If you're taking it rather than using it, you're probably stealing.

However, this is also a matter of degree and reasonableness. If you take three napkins, use two and walk out with one, I wouldn't say you stole the last napkin.
posted by cnc at 11:29 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course they "budget in" people like you -- into the cost of the goods they sell. When you take an extra ketchup packet, everybody pays for it. Its not much, but it adds up.

Yes, there was a great line about this on Arrested Development. Lindsay Bluth is explaining why she was shoplifting, and she says something along the lines of: "They already factor the risk of shoplifting into the price -- they would have wasted money if I didn't shoplift!"
posted by John Cohen at 11:41 AM on April 27, 2012


odinsdream reminded me of this AskMe thread: How do we control the excessive taking of food in our complimentary breakfast? some great insights. I agree it's stealing, mainly because of the "what if everyone did it?" reasoning -- why are you special?
posted by changeling at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hi, I'm the person who orders the toilet paper for your college bathroom. Well, not exactly, but my job involves a lot of ordering things in bulk and guesstimating how much X number of people will consume. For example sugar packets, rolls of paper towels, coffee, tea, plastic cutlery, reams of copy paper, and the like. I also sometimes have to do catering or bulk food orders.

I HATE HATE HATE it when I guesstimate along the lines of normal usage, assuming that people will be somewhat considerate, and then some total jerk comes along and takes far more than their share. This behavior usually causes one of two reactions on my part:

1. This is why we can't have nice things. I stop buying whatever it is, reduce the number of different kinds, eliminate nicer/fancier/more in-demand versions of things from our repertoire. Example: I'll only order simple pizza/chinese level takeout for the crew rather than going to bat with the Production Manager to cater something really great, because I know that if we spend the money to get something good, a few bad eggs are just going to hog it.

2. I start hiding the item in question and control how much quantity gets doled out in order to make it a pain in the ass for people to get it. Some asshole started taking whole packs of gum from the kitchen, so now there's only one pack in there at a time. The backup gum is hidden in my desk drawer, and we only put out more as needed.

TL;DR: Every time you wipe your ass with school toilet paper and think, "ugh, this shit is sandpaper! why do they buy this stuff?" or find yourself in a stall with no TP to be found, know that it's because of jerks like you.
posted by Sara C. at 12:20 PM on April 27, 2012 [33 favorites]


People who do this kind of thing are the reason you have to pay for each little packet of soy sauce to go with your food-court sushi. And you know, people who work in food complain about those people who take too much stuff. The people who do this are creating work and inconvenience for the ones who do not. This isn't abstract.
posted by BibiRose at 12:45 PM on April 27, 2012


This kind of rationalization reminds me of a scene in movie The Squid and the Whale. The character Walt had performed a song for a talent contest that he said he had written. He wins the contest, but it turns out he hadn't performed it. When confronted he said that because he felt he *could have* written it that he felt justified in saying he *had* written it.

That logic doesn't really fly and neither does yours.
posted by Green With You at 1:23 PM on April 27, 2012


Do you need these things that you take? Really?

OK, maybe you don't have any cutlery at home and you're extremely poor. Take one extra fork and one extra spoon, and then (and you can do this, trust me) wash them for your personal reuse.

And maybe you can't afford to buy your own bottle of honey. Go ahead and take an extra packet of honey. But how often do you use honey? (Kinda being serious here--I cook and bake a lot, and it's taken me four years to not-quite-finish one bottle of honey. I don't typically put it in my tea, so I guess that's a thing, but still.)

I ask because I used to live with a hoarder. He would grab extra packets of things--just in case!--that he would never, ever use. He had piles of extra sauce packets and plastic utensils and takeaway chopsticks and napkins and the little crap tupperware bowls they have for you to load up (one serving of) take-and-go soup at the store, and sugar packets and straws, and, and, and--he never used any of it! He just liked to have it around.

It's weird, it's probably completely unnecessary, and it's inconsiderate of others. Stop it.
posted by phunniemee at 1:24 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I meant 'it turns out he hadn't written it". He of course performed the song.
posted by Green With You at 1:24 PM on April 27, 2012


Aside from the financial cost, just consider the burden of inconvenience you're unloading on others just to save yourself a little time and money. Take the toilet paper? The next person doesn't have any to use, and might not notice that before they get down to business. Take more snacks than you need to munch on later? That's an empty plate for the next guy until an employee refills it (an inconvenience in itself). Etc.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:32 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, you definitely have to assume 'what if everyone does it'? Do you honestly want the bathrooms to stop stocking toilet paper? Because they wouldn't be able to if EVERYONE was taking an extra roll out with them. It's really wrong. Wouldn't you be embarassed to be caught doing this? And the person above is right- what if you did have diareaha and you walked in to find no toilet paper because the person before you had stolen it? And the soap too?
posted by bquarters at 1:45 PM on April 27, 2012


It's morally and ethically wrong, it's inconsiderate of others plus it's just plain tacky behavior.

(I used to know a girl who stole TP and cleaning products and pretty much everything she could get her hands on from her employers: your justifications sound just as weak as hers.)
posted by easily confused at 2:03 PM on April 27, 2012


Pretend like they're watching you do it.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:14 PM on April 27, 2012


I think it's legitimate to ask yourself how you're harmed/benefited by the institution whose stuff you're taking, too. I have difficulty getting worked up about someone snagging a few extra forks from a chain store that is abusing its employees through forced unpaid overtime and driving down wages, for example.

That's just self-justification. Two wrongs don't make a right. Also, decreasing the profit margin of such a chain store will not serve to make things any better. In fact, it can't do anything but make things worse. So you'd actually be contributing to the problem.
posted by gjc at 2:36 PM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


What is your honor worth? Taking things is dishonorable. Taking extra spoons because you forgot to bring spoons on a picnic? Ok, but what if you asked nicely? Hi, storekeeper, we forgot our spoons. May I buy a couple extra? Maybe it costs you 25 cents, or maybe the storekeeper cheerfully gives them to you. You get to keep your honor, at a very reasonable price. So, next time you need toilet paper, ask yourself Is this roll of tp really worth it?
posted by theora55 at 7:02 PM on April 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think there's a moral difference between taking something that you need to live and just taking things because they're there and it will save you some money. I knew a desperately broke graduate student who stole toilet roll from college, right up to the day one of his professors stared ranting in a seminar about the bastard who kept stealing it. (I have no idea how much he was stealing - it has to have been a lot.) I would say that if you're so broke you can't afford TP then you might be able to morally justify taking a limited amount of toilet roll just to meet your needs, provided it doesn't mean taking all the loo roll in a stall. But, that said, there are less pleasant alternatives to TP, such as newspaper, so even there it's a bit of a sticky issue about whether you really need it.

But five plastic spoons at a go? Taking big handfuls of honey packets on a regular basis? As you could wash one spoon and reuse it, then you're taking stuff you don't need, just for the convenience of having four other plastic spoons you don't have to wash. That's not need, that's greed and laziness. Taking an extra few packets of honey once in awhile, same thing, provided there is a real need for it. If you're taking the equivalent of a jar of honey every week or so, just to have it handy, then there cannot be a justification.

Look at your budget. Can you really not afford a jar of honey? Or buy some second hand spoons from Goodwill? This is a genuine question, because there are people who will have to say no to that question and there are other people who would rather spend their money on something else. The two are not the same.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:34 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The way I justify this is: "How is it different from me having diarrhea and using the whole roll anyway?"

In one situation, you have diarrhea, and in the other you are imagining fictitious situations to justify theft.

The same goes for plastic utensils--I'll buy one yogurt at Wawa (a food mart) and then take five spoons and five forks to go with it. How do they know I don't need five spoons to eat my yogurt?

They don't. They also don't know you are stealing from them.
posted by General Tonic at 6:55 AM on April 28, 2012


I had a friend who used to do things like this. Take three or four pens from the pen jar, grab a fistful of sugar packets at Starbucks etc. Eventually, I decided that it was just too embarrassing and I didn't really want to associate with someone who behaved that way.
posted by peppermind at 6:57 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had a friend who used to do things like this. Take three or four pens from the pen jar, grab a fistful of sugar packets at Starbucks etc.

Yes, I think you have to be a bubbe who survived the great depression and/or holocaust, and then you can just about get away with hoarding condiment packets.
posted by Salamandrous at 10:06 AM on May 2, 2012


Isn't it strange how that works? The behavior seems a lot less off-putting when it's motivated by a vulnerable person's fear or anxiety. Much less so when it just seems to be motivated by laziness or greed.
posted by cairdeas at 8:09 PM on May 2, 2012


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