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[Opinion] Kleptomania

Posted March. 28, 2005 23:09,   


A very popular British rock band in the 1980s, "The Smiths," used to sing, calling on "filchers to unite." On the contrary, thieves never unite to form groups or unions. Usually they perform their job either alone or in a band of a few at the very most. Thieves steal what they want, need, or can sell for money. In contrast, people with "thievish habits," or addictions, steal stuff more for pleasure than for money.

A thievish habit, or kleptomania, is a personality disorder in which patients habitually fail to refrain from the impulse to steal. Patients with this disorder feel unbearable tension before filching. Once they are successful in stealing things, they become satisfied. Some of the patients just throw away what they have stolen, while others anonymously return the purloined items. Some habitual filchers must steal to feel satisfaction even when they have enough money to buy what they have pilfered. In his day, Cho Se-hyeong, a notorious thief, used to have the jewels which he had stolen re-worked on, sell them for large sums, and go on spending sprees. He must be more like a theft addict than an emotionally disturbed person.

Even a person who has overcome his addiction can succumb again to the temptation of stealing at some point. Cho Se-hyeong, once an "admirable virtuoso of thievery" who targeted houses of high government officials and wealthy tycoons, is now 67 years old. He was caught stealing wristwatches from an empty house. In fact, he grew up wandering from one orphanage or juvenile detention center to another. Before being known as a master of thievery, he had been convicted 13 times. The excitement of stealing was short-lived for him, and the consequent imprisonments were long. He was jailed for 31 years in Korea and for three and half years in Japan. Even when he was not behind bars briefly, he spent his life stealing.

Cho Se-hyeong is said to have run fast and was handy. Still, he used his talent to make off with others` belongings. His eloquent petition once made a good conversation topic. He must have written a petition because spending time behind bars might not give him as much gratification as did stealing. The recent arrest of Cho Se-hyeong has proven wrong any notion that stealing is an art with its own meaning. He learned thievery when he was young, and did not stop all his life. He is nothing but a habitual thief.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com