Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How much toilet paper can you take before it’s stealing?

Dear Brother Sam,
That question from If the Ocean was Whiskey and God was a Duck, “How much toilet paper can you take before it’s stealing?” What’s the answer?
Brother Abe Woodaxe

Dear Brother Abe,
Who knows? The question illustrates moral relativity in action. In the absence of clear lines, all that remains is relative. One can assert that stealing is always wrong, and define stealing any number of ways, but it’s hard to fix a precise number of sheets of toilet paper below which it is not stealing and above which it is stealing. The answer lies somewhere between one sheet and all the toilet paper in the place. 
Most people would agree that it’s probably OK to take a little with you to protect your hand from the bathroom door, or to wipe your nose with, in addition to the minimum amount necessary to satisfy your personal standards of hygiene. But what about taking the rest of the roll? How about the roll from the next stall? All the stalls? The cabinet? Does it make a difference whether its a public restroom or one in somebody’s home? How about at work? 
If the answer is along the lines, “No more than you need,” who doesn’t need toilet paper? Over time, you will absolutely need an amount of toilet paper greater than you’ll find in any one restroom. And there it is. A gift, not a sale or a loan. And moreover, nobody is watching, which has nothing to the morality of the act, but still. 
One can stipulate that profligacy is bad and that one ought to be considerate of others who who come along and need that toilet paper, and that waste is bad. And, of course, environmental concerns that can be figured into the proper use of toilet paper. 
Little Brother Sam asked God about it back in the summer of 1965. That’s how it wound up in If the Ocean was Whiskey and God was a Duck. I asked my father, too. He said God knew when it was stealing. I had to take his word on that. God never said shit.
Brother Sam