The Cake

A man walks by a bakery and, glancing into the window, sees a beautiful cake. He would like to eat the cake, but the bakery is closed. He continues on his way, intending to visit the bakery later, to see if he can purchase the cake.

Another man walks by the same bakery and sees the same gorgeous cake. He would also like to eat the cake. The bakery is closed, so he smashes through the custom-etched and painted plate glass window and steals the cake.

When the owner of the bakery discovers the theft, he is distraught. He will have to replace the window, but it will never be as nice as the original. He will have to install a more expensive alarm system, the upkeep of which is higher. It’s more expensive and it requires more time to maintain.

The intangible costs are even more severe. The baker owner has been deliberately creating lovely cakes to attract customers, but he doesn’t want to attract thieves. He wonders if he should make his window displays less beautiful, so as not to encourage stealing. But his bakery is his livelihood. If he doesn’t advertise his delicious cakes, he won’t attract legitimate paying customers. There is no solution to the problem. Either he puts beautiful cakes in the window and invites violent destruction of his property, or he hides the cakes and gets less business. In fact, he realizes, someone might smash the window for fun. The thief might not even find the cake itself as irresistible as the taking of it. 

Let us turn to the two men. Is it that the first man simply didn’t want the cake that much, and that’s why he didn’t smash the window? And that the second man was so overcome by desire for the cake that he could not control himself? In a sense, is it the bakery owner’s fault that he broke in?

Not unless you are a witless, morally bankrupt asshole. The first man is a normal person who is willing to abide by society’s rules. Moreover he understands the pain he would inflict upon the bakery owner were he to break in. And, finally, he has some self-knowledge and honesty. Yes, he does want the cake. But it’s just a cake. He doesn’t elevate his desire for a cake into something more than it is. He doesn’t pretend it’s impossible to control his desire. He knows full well that it is possible.

The other man lives in lies. He lies to himself that he couldn’t help it. He lies that he deserves to have the cake, because he’s had less cake than other people in his life. No one ever gives him cakes like this; why should he be deprived? He cannot afford the cake, and it’s not fair that those with money should have it and not him. He keeps from his mind thoughts of the bakery owner’s feelings and the hours spent making the cake. He doesn’t think about what he should and should not do. In this sense, he has abdicated his humanity.

I think he’s a liar. He’s self-deluded. I understand that it’s hard to look at something nice, that you cannot get. A house, a car, a person. However, that’s life. No one can have everything they want. There may be a few people who seem as if they do have everything they want. I bet that it only seems that way.

The next day, the rest of us will see the boarded-up glass and the distraught baker. We have an obligation to say “This is wrong.” The crime must not go unpunished. If you say, “Oh, he could not help it. I would have broken the window myself, heheh!” Then I put you in the came category as the thief: not fit to live in this society. I wish I could put you on an island with the other savages. Let them steal what they want from you with no repercussions. You would see what you so callously destroy.

*Of course, this is in some ways a terrible analogy since “cake” is often not “for sale.” So please bear in mind, it is just an analogy, is not perfect, and does not match the subject in every aspect.

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