You may recall Inspector Clouseau’s (Peter Sellers) disappointing experience at the entrance of a hotel in Switzerland. He is met by a man who asks, “May I have your coat?” to which Clouseau replies by removing and handing the man his coat. This sequence continues with, “May I have your gloves, … your hat, … your scarf, … etc.?” to which Clouseau responds by removing and handing over each of these garments to the man.
The man then jumps in a taxi cab and rides away with Clouseau’s possessions. Clouseau turns to the driver of another taxi and shouts, “Follow that cab!” The cabbie does so, immediately, driving off and leaving Clouseau without his coat and without a clue.
The humor here is in Clouseau’s naive acceptance of what appears to be the courtesy of a hotel staff member and the slyness with which the thief takes advantage of it. It’s a perfect heist, a smartly executed small-time robbery.
Funny on the screen — but not so funny when it happens to you or me. Several years ago I retrieved my car from a multi-story parking facility in Manhattan. An attendant drove the car up to me, got out, and walked away. I got in the car and checked the interior and opened the glove compartment to find that it had been emptied of all its contents, cleaned out. I went to the man in the booth, the guy in charge. I said, “Hey, somebody has cleaned out my glove compartment! I had some important stuff in there!” He gave me a tired stare and said, “Man, be glad you got the car back.”
Like Clouseau, I was irritated by a minor thievery. Like Clouseau, I should have been more careful with my possessions. But he and I share the opinion that what was done to us was wrong, even if minor. But was it wrong? If you say, “Yes,” on what basis do you say so?
Do you say thievery is wrong because it violates a well-accepted societal norm that says stealing is wrong? Society is just an agglomeration of people who have no greater authority to legislate morals than you or I. What if a large number of them decided that it was right to despoil you of your property, or your liberty, or your life — as in the case of the Nazi treatment of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and others during the 1930’s and 40’s? Would such a practice be right, because the dominant society sanctioned it?
Who decides what is right or wrong? If there is no transcendent moral government cum moral Governor (i. e., God), a locus of moral authority greater than ourselves, it makes no sense to complain of loss, persecution, or threat to one’s life or limb. Might makes right, period. I submit to all atheists, secular materialists, and philosophical relativists that they had better hang on to their coats, hats, gloves, and scarves. No one is obligated to listen to their complaints in the event of loss.