Section: Opinion

Thrill of transgression: Kenyon’s bikes and Augustine’s pears

Can we agree that it is not okay to steal a bicycle? Even if it is unlocked. Even if you are drunk. Even if you plan to return it. The longer this cycle of thefts and all-student emails continue, the less trust I find myself able to place in this student body.

Almost a month ago, the Collegian published an article describing the recent wave of bike thefts and the accompanying “I’ve lost my —” emails. My gripe is not with the senders of these emails; it is with those Kenyon students who necessitate the composition of these emails.

Back in September, I must have forgotten to lock my bike on a particular Saturday night. The next morning it was gone, probably stolen by some drunk partier taking it for a joyride. I eventually found my bike in front of Peirce Dining Hall, only to have it stolen again the next weekend, the night before I planned to purchase a new lock in Mount Vernon.

That Saturday night, as I walked furiously across campus in search of my bicycle, I was reminded of a scene from Saint Augustine’s Confessions. I read this text last year for the introductory Integrated Program in Humane Studies course Odyssey of the West,  and, I admit, I feel just a little pretentious drawing relevance from a centuries-old memoir. 

But this text is still important, and I hope to show you why.

Augustine recounts how he and a group of friends stole some pears from his neighbor’s trees. Augustine notes that he and his accomplices stole the pears not because the fruit looked appealing — if that were the case, then Augustine would have been willing to commit the theft by himself.

But Augustine admits that he would not have done so if he had been alone; he needed an audience in order to behave wickedly. He and his friends stole the pears to revel in the depravity of the act, to enjoy the thrill of transgressing in the company of others.

After the second theft, I once again found the bike in front of Peirce. But even knowing that the bike was “borrowed” (albeit without permission) does not change my perspective on the event. It is the intention of these “borrowers” which bothers me.

I believe that a sizeable number of the thefts on this campus occur because, like Augustine and his friends,  some Kenyon students would take someone’s property just for the fun of it.

This is not just pure speculation on my part. About a week after the theft of my bike, I saw a group of students looking over the bikes outside McBride Residence Hall. They found one which was unlocked, and they joked about riding it across campus.

Not in the mood to interact with drunk people, I continued walking. After I passed, I overheard the group’s decision to leave the bicycle where they found it. That the theft did not occur encouraged me slightly, but it disturbs me to think that theft was even considered an attractive option.

The realization that the Kenyon community contains individuals who would so flippantly steal a bicycle (or, worse, lodge a bicycle up a tree) has affected how I view this community. I want to find goodness in my peers, but these all-too-common thefts are challenging that assumption.

Based on these reflections, I have come to a conclusion: Many of these bikes were stolen not because the thief needed the bike or because the thief found the bike particularly attractive. They were stolen for the thrill of it.

Cameron Austin ’20 is a mathematics major from Chattanooga, Tenn. You can contact him at austin1@kenyon.edu.

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