Saturday, February 13, 2010


This morning, I read the story about the 73-year-old man who stole $600 each from 3 banks, because he was trying to keep his family in their home, and couldn't afford their mortgage.

No gun, no violence. He walked in, passed the teller a note demanding the money, and walked out. Later, he told detectives he intended upon paying them back.

Now he's in jail, bail set at $22,500.
That's what happens when you rob banks, said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. No matter who you are.
I thought about that old moral dilemma about the man who needs a certain medicine for his dying wife. He asks the pharmacist who tells him he could get the medicine, but for a very high price that the man cannot afford. So the man breaks into the pharmacy and steals the medicine to save his wife. The moral question then is, was the man right or wrong?

I remember reading one time, where I can't recall, someone who rightly pointed out that maybe we're asking the wrong question, that we should focus not on the man, but on the system. Indeed, in what world is it okay to put a price on someone's life, where only those who can pay are deserving? That's not just or moral. Of course, it's also not just an imaginary situation.

I suppose I'm struggling today with how to teach (if it's even possible to do so) morality to children in a society that appears to stop at the second level of Kohlberg's three levels of morality, the law-and-order phase of conventional morality. Now, I don't know how this 73-year-old man's case will resolve, but perhaps this is the beauty of a jury system. Juries are meant to decide, impartially, whether someone is guilty or not guilty, on the very basis of facts and law. In reality though, juries are really only the sum of their human parts, and I would think it impossible for a group of human beings not to take into consideration the circumstances and these higher moral questions.

Finally, I think there's a certain great irony to the fact that two of the banks he robbed were Bank of America branches. The Bank of America that took billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars (an exact sum is surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, hard to pin down) because of shady practices so they could pay execs insane amounts of money. And it would appear no one will be going to jail for this.

Hard to reconcile those two stories. That's what happens when you rob banks, as the lady says. And apparently, that's also what happens when the banks rob you.

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