Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2000

Lee Dresselhaus / L’Observateur / February 2, 2000

So. They say that a pessimist is an experienced optimist, and I wouldagree with that point. There is absolutely nothing like getting hit in theface by life a few times to make you come the nasty little realization that it ain’t all milk and honey.

And now I’d like to add a bit to that old and wise saying.

Not only is an optimist an inexperienced pessimist, a liberal is a conservative who has never been a victim.

I have a friend who is a dyed in the wool, raving, Save The Gay Baby Whales, Anti-Death Penalty, Free The Oppressed liberal. He and his wifeare confirmed, registered citizens of the Disney Planet, that place where all is nice and sweet, and people are kind to each other, and forgive everybody’s trespasses is the order of the day. They believe that criminalsare by and large a misunderstood class of the downtrodden who, with the proper guidance and the right role models, can be reformed and become your neighbors or your son-in-laws or something. Until this past weekend,that is. Something happened this past weekend that changed their pointsof view.

Somebody stole their car.

Yep, one of those misunderstood victims of society just up and took their 1999 Mustang from their driveway at night, leaving only a little window glass as a souvenir.

My friend was astonished. How could someone do this to him? They cameright to the Disney Planet and made him a crime victim. Then he wasangry. Suddenly my friend was an advocate of a harsher justice system inwhich criminals, car thieves in particular, should be immediately and severely punished. Hanging was too good for em, he raved, string ’em up inthe public square and flog em! I immediately joined in the fun (it’s tough being me). How about thestocks? You know, that thing the Pilgrims would put miscreants in that held their hands and neck so people could pelt them with fruit and eggs and other fun things. Oh, yeah, he replied, public humiliation, that’s theticket! Well then, I said, what about shoplifters? The prices we pay at stores ranging from Wal-Mart to Dillards are hugely inflated by the retailers having to compensate for theft.

Some of those companies lose in the millions of dollars each year to folks who just don’t want to pay for what they get there, like we do. I nudgedhim a bit as that sank in. How should they be punished? Jail? That one got him going, let me tell you. No, jail is not the answer, saidthis shiny new victim. It doesn’t deter anyone from anything, it justdelays them getting their sticky little fingers back into our pockets. Webatted this dilemma back and forth for a bit and, after we discarded the idea of branding them on their foreheads with a “T” for thief, he came up with a colorful solution. Shoplifters, he said, should be made to standoutside the store they were caught stealing from with a sign around their neck declaring them to be thieves. The public humiliation involved in thatwould be more of a deterrent that a jail cell ever would.

I conceded that it was a good point. We then debated the idea that theyshould have to stand out there naked. That would teach em a lesson forsure, I argued. But my friend, being the practical type, pointed out thatmost people don’t look so great without their clothes on so why punish the rest of us just because they got caught stealing.

Faced with that bit of irrefutable logic I agreed, then we settled on them having to wear a pointy dunce hat or something while they stood there with their sign.

I was about to push him into the area of capital punishment and just what we should do with all those murderers and rapists (I wanted his opinion while he was still fired up over the car thing) when he caught on to what I was doing. He wouldn’t play anymore and my fun was over, except for thepointing and laughing at him part.

It’s amazing, really, how perception becomes the mother of reality. Aslong as you can sit back snug and safe and pontificate about the unfairness of the world, you can be liberal in your views about man’s inhumanity to man and all that stuff. That’s the perception of someone who hasn’t been avictim.

Once you have become a victim your perception changes, and your reality changes with it, like it or not. Suddenly all your kind notions and empathytoward those who steal, rob, and rape goes up in a sudden puff of understanding. Not only do you want your car back, you want somebody’sliver on a stick for taking it.

My friend is almost back to normal now. The insurance company will payfor his car, and nobody will be flogged in the public square.

He is almost willing to forgive, now that he’s calmed down but then, he’s probably a better person that I am.

I still think they should stand there naked.

LEE DRESSELHAUS is a regular columnist for L’Observateur.

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