Believe that shoplifting is inherently immoral
Could I have a culture where stealing isn't wrong?
Others have mentioned why stealing is wrong and I'll leave their answers for that.
Regarding your other question:
Could a culture that regards theft as something neutral, even praiseworthy, if carried out in a particularly impressive way, sustain itself?
The answer is yes, but with limitations.
- To have a society, things like food and water should be considered taboo (assuming you don't just want to get society into it after the lack of basics)
- Your people must have a radically different view of property than we do - this society probably wouldn't understand the concept of an heirloom or sentimental value to property.
Another possibility (after the food shortage) is that the Victim is as admirable as theft itself. If a thief steals all of your food in your sleep at night, others practically trip over themselves to make sure you have enough (think of a warrior) societies in which death is by fighting is as honorable as killing). That way, the theft has no real impact on you and is therefore not inherently negative. An interesting possible extension is that people would view giving items to others as a kind of "banking" business. If I give you my ax I'll know where it is. So when I have to chop firewood, I just steal it back.
Another possibility is that if the thief gets into action, they immediately return the stolen items without a doubt without a fuss and leave. In our world, if we catch someone stealing, we expect a fight to retrieve the item, resulting in a spike in adrenaline, but without the fear of fighting, we would be less likely to get anxious and angry. Instead, you can simply put the thief and victim into a "negotiation mode" in which the thief will now "buy" the stolen item if the victim is willing to part with it or act in exchange.
I could also see this work if you resolve the "Theft Doesn't Need to Be Detected" in your comments. If the theft is just not to be caught, or if the thief only needs to remain unknown for a short period of time (say a few hours or a day), another possibility is that the thief will generally leave the victim after the time has passed would give the victim the opportunity to get something back (by stealing, of course) - either the original item or an item that is more needed / wanted - this way I would steal items that are considered valuable and that I don't want from others someone else steals from me and I get what I want.
For example, I personally don't like TV, so I would steal the biggest TV I could find in the hope that a friend who has a book I want would steal my TV so I could steal their book.
This turns the theft into a kind of elaborate economic system where I don't send what I want in the hope that someone will offer to trade for something I have but what I have in the hope that someone will "offer something." ", what I want. In this regard, it may not be honorable to steal from someone you do not know - just someone you know, or it may be dishonorable to steal from someone who did not steal from your family, or you are just stealing once from someone until he steals from you.
Depending on how loosely you want to define property and theft, it's possible that this society simply has an extremely communal view of property. That said, there is a community ax that I happen to have in my garage, but when you need it just take it. Culture would only have a game of seeing who could get the item they wanted in the most elaborate or subtle way. To our culture, on the surface, it would look like they were stealing from each other (it would help if the way the other cultures are currently presenting a particular community item were expressed as possessive). Most of the items would have to be community items so I'll make a salad bowl or chair and it's not mine, it's the communities - that is how the distribution of goods would be done through the "theft". An interesting possible side effect in this community would be that it would be either vulgar, or at least an extreme sign of distress, to ask someone for something.
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