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Uploaded:2018-12-21
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It's no surprise that de-humanizing thieves is easy, they de-humanized us first. But when Mark Rober let us get inside of some package thieves houses and cars...I felt a little like they weren't what I expected...even if I didn't know exactly what I expected.

That left me at a loss...so I decided to talk to a few people...some who had engaged in package theft and one psychologist, Dr. Robert Tyminski, who wrote "The Psychology of Theft and Loss." I've come away from that feeling like I understand this phenomenon a lot better, though I still feel like it's way more complicated than I really get. And as I say in the video, understanding this behavior does not excuse it, and this behavior still makes me really frustrated and mad.

Mark Rober's Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoxhDk-hwuo

Dr. Tyminsky's book: https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Theft-Loss-Stolen-Fleeced/dp/0415830893

Andrew Huang's new album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN0nvEn4Mpg

The full conversation between me and Dr. Tyminski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOIQefDSvtk

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Good morning, John.  So I assume that you, like everyone else on the internet, has seen Mark Rober's amazing new video in which he builds a bait package that explodes glitter on people when they steal it.  I don't wanna take away from the amazing engineering here--it's very good--but the reason I've watched this video five times isn't that like, amazing glitter swirl and it isn't the well-engineered fart sprayer.  It's the part where the thieves don't look or act like the way I thought that they would, and look, I'm just being honest, I don't actually know what I thought they were gonna look like, maybe because I dehumanized what a thief was in my head.

But that challenge to my expectation, whatever it was, immediately changed the way I was thinking about thieves and I went from like, maybe a little bit of anger and also pity to more curiosity and also still anger, because getting offended that like, your theft ended in a prank--

(bleep) look at that, dude, look at my car, dude!

Yeah, come on.  So I did a bunch of research, because that's what I do, and some of that research involved talking to package thieves, which I managed to do, and here in the voice of actors, not the people themselves, are some of the things that I heard from those people.

P1: All of my friends were doing it and I didn't have that many friends and I didn't know how to make new ones.

P2: There's some satisfaction in just getting away with something.

P3: I had a debatable need to steal when I was in my active addiction.  I could sell or trade the stuff I had stolen.

P1: You don't ever know what people might have ordered.  Could be a USB cable or it could be an iPhone.  

P3: It's like anything addictive and this is better than my other addictions.  I never really thought about the consequences but I knew that even if someone called the cops, I'm young, charming, white, and I have a clean record, so the consequences wouldn't be too bad.  

P2: We were just having fun until we put together the fact that this was almost certainly a toy meant for a child to open on Christmas morning.  It stopped being fun then and we took it back.  

H: All these perspectives were super helpful for me in understanding how theft happens without the need for theft, and that doesn't mean excusing it, but better understanding it.  At the same time, like, I felt very out of my depth, like, I'm not a psychologist.  But Dr. Robert Tyminski is and he wrote a book called The Psychology of Theft and Loss and I just called him.  I love my job.

R: Most theft is not because people need it.  There's a small category that's opportunistic based on like, social and economic deprivation.  That's actually pretty small.  

H: They felt like there was strength in getting away with it.

R: That they can fool people and dupe them and the rush, and that's also true for shoplifters.  

H: It was also really interesting to me that this was often not a solitary activity.

R: And that's like a defense against experiencing the guilt then.  Like if you are prone to some guilt, then somehow you get to divide it and not feel it quite as badly.

H: But more than that, what I came away from this thinking is that theft, like all sociological enterprise, is super complicated.  I did a lot of research on theft this week and one of the most fascinating studies I came across was from Dr. Dan Ariely.  He did an experiment where a whole bunch of people came into a classroom and they had to answer math problems that for every one they got right, they got paid, but there was one actor in the group and the actor stood up thirty seconds into the test, walked to the front, said that they got all of the questions right, took the money, and left.

So did the existence of an obvious cheater make it more or less likely that the other students would cheat?  Well, it depended on what sweater the cheater was wearing.  If they were wearing a sweater from the same university that all the rest of the students were from, cheating increased, but if they were wearing a sweater from a rival university, cheating decreased.  I came away from that research thinking the same thing I thought about Mark Rober's video: genius design and theft is a lot more complicated than I wanted it to be.  

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Thanks to my voice actors, to Dr. Tyminski, to Andrew Huang for the music, and to all the people who shared their experiences of package theft with me, and a reminder, John isn't gonna have a video next Tuesday because that day is Christmas.  Oh.