The Christmas season is upon us, and as all who observe this gaudy American holiday know, that means it is time to shoplift. Students of the art tell us that more than $8 billion in merchandise will be purloined this Christmas season. That is the good news. The bad news is that 3 million of our fellow Americans will be nabbed by the authorities. Yes, during November and December 50,000 citizens per day-- many of them Christians, some of them Jews, and doubtless many more adhering to no faith whatever --will be arrested for nothing more than attempting to bring the blessings of the season to someone they love--often themselves.

How I would like to sit with the store detectives behind their concealed windows and other blinds as they watch the cunning shoplifter prowling the aisles of the department store, storing objets de d,esir under his clothing, under his children's clothing, perhaps into a trapdoor behind an ear. And then to see the sneak swooped down upon, and to watch his indignation rise as the authorities apply the pinch and notify him, in accordance with all the lofty legalisms of our republic, that his holiday season is in ruins.

Of course, the shoplifter is a rogue and probably worse. He costs the consumer a bundle, though if Ralph Nader assails him with the vehemence he applies to General Motors I have not heard of it. Furthermore, the shoplifter probably makes life costlier even for himself. After all, merchants spread the costs of their losses over everything they sell. Surely no shoplifter shoplifts all his consumer needs.

Yet who doubts that there exist throughout the great republic many learned profs and shrinks pious in the wisdom that shoplifters are not willful rogues but victims of a pathetic curse. Some believe it genetic in origin. Others attribute it to the wretch's environment. Whatever the specifics of their arcane diagnoses, all are in accord that the curse is more amenable to therapy and to human understanding than to 30 days in the hoosegow and a thumping fine. And indubitably they are in accord on something more, to wit: the need for more funds to continue their researches.

This sort of nonsense has been rampant in the land for over a decade, and if my perceptions of it are sound, it now spreads. Beginning with an analysis that attributed such social problems as crime to outside factors-- poverty, a neurotic mother, an alcoholic father--rather than to personal volition, the quacks now attribute all sorts of misfortune to outside factors. Their tendency is to hold people personally responsible for almost nothing, not even the crime of earning vast fortunes which Christopher Jencks tells us is often the result of mere good luck.

About the only things a person can claim personal responsibility for today is scoring basketball goals or cutting hit records or starring in some insipid prime-time television masterpiece. Obviously, a world in which people are not responsible for their deeds is not a very interesting place. Everyone is marked down as but a tool of factors beyond his control. No one is burdened with guilt for his infamies, but then no one is honored for his achievements. The symphonies of Mozart become the product of favorable schnitzel or the goose down he slept on or his genetic debt to some barbaric tribe that swept through the Black Forest during a dark age and made off with a Roman damsel.

The only people who profit from such analyses of human action are the quacks who dream them up and the miscreants whom they let off the hook. Still, as I say, the quackery spreads. There is an organization now called Shoplifters Anonymous International. I should like to think that it is founded by citizens with the most benign of intentions, but inasmuch as it denies the personal responsibility of the shoplifter for his low deeds, it spreads pernicious ideas.

Shoplifting is not a disease. It is a crime freely committed. Lawrence Connor, the founder of Shoplifters Anonymous, tells us that "economic stress will cause many otherwise honest people to turn to shoplifting" this Christmas. "Christmas is a very dif- ficult time of year for people with fixed or diminished incomes." Is it really economic stress that causes shoplifting? Why is there more shoplifting today than during the Depression?