Imagine two men standing about an arms’ length from each other who have freedom of movement from the knees up, but cannot move their feet. Each man is rooted to his spot. One man’s concept of enjoying his limited space is to observe his surroundings quietly and otherwise keep to himself, in no way violating the space of his neighbor. The other man’s idea of enjoyment involves occasionally swinging his arms about, nearly hitting his neighbor, and shouting as he does so. That man violates his neighbor’s space but is unconcerned because he feels entitled to enjoy his space as he sees fit.
Fight with Cudgels, a painting from between 1819 and 1823 by Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Unlike the thought experiment in this post, both of the men in this painting are violently violating the space of the other, a situation that often results from the refusal of society to step in and restrain the initiator of violence.
That’s the situation in parts of the country where shooting or target practicing is allowed on plots of land as small as one or two acres. It’s unfathomable that local governments allow people to discharge firearms within such close proximity to their neighbors. Besides the danger, there is the frightening, intimidating noise. There is no clause within the Second Amendment absolving gun owners of treating their neighbors with common courtesy. Go to a firing range. If that is absolutely impossible, then buy at least a quarter section of land (160 acres) for your own use only, not as an unofficial firing range for friends and relatives as well as yourself. Guns and ammunition are expensive, and if you can afford them you can afford a larger plot of land or firing range fees. Stop indulging yourself on the cheap just because you can, and stop endangering your neighbors and violating their right to enjoy their property in peace and quiet. No one’s trying to take away your legal guns; stop shooting up your neighbors’ quality of life.
“troll – verb definition 2c: to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts.”
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
At a partisan political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, the Troll-in-Chief entertained his audience of trolls with mockery of Christine Blasey Ford, who had testified before a Congressional committee the previous Thursday about an alleged sexual assault Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, had perpetrated against her in 1982. The crowd of trolls at the rally revived the “Lock her up” chant from the 2016 presidential election campaign, this time referring to Ms. Ford rather than to Hillary Clinton.
What did Ms. Ford have to gain by giving her testimony and subjecting herself to sneering from the Oval Office Oaf and his cadre of morally warped minions? What does Mr. Kavanaugh have to gain by avowing his innocence other than the crown jewel of his ambition, a seat on the Supreme Court? Encouraged by their Chief Manipulator, the trolls at the Mississippi rally laughed at Ms. Ford and her testimony while taking Mr. Kavanaugh seriously. It’s difficult to fathom the hardness of heart and smallness of spirit it must take to attend one of these rallies and show support for such a Cancerous Leader.
Before this political and social nightmare progresses to its foul end, there will be divisions within families and among friends and neighbors on a scale not seen in this country since the Civil War. If Cancerous Leader manages to consolidate his power in the elections of 2018 and 2020, then the divisions will be more like those in Nazi Germany, where a minority of sociopaths cowed the majority of decent people into silence about their casual cruelties and major abuses of power.
A compilation of clips from a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, titled “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”, written by Rod Serling, and starring William Windom as the Major and Susan Harrison as the Ballerina.
There will be similarities, but not exact resemblances as the United States fashions its own brand of totalitarianism based on worship of the Almighty Dollar. People will have to ask themselves, as some no doubt already have done, how can I possibly remain on good terms with that family member, that friend, that neighbor, when they support such foul rhetoric and willingly follow such despicable and cruel policies? Why should I, and how could I, without abandoning my principles, my self-respect, and the defense of their victims, among whom I can eventually almost certainly number myself?
With gentrification occurring in many old city neighborhoods across the country, there has been a rise in calls of complaint to city officials from the new, mostly white, residents about the established, mostly black and brown, residents. New residents usually make those calls to a city’s 311 line, which doesn’t automatically entail a police response, and that’s just as well because out of control police employees are just as likely to escalate a conflict between neighbors as they are to defuse it, particularly since the complainants are pointing their fingers at black and brown people.
Good Neighbours, an 1885 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). While not a depiction of an ethnically diverse gathering, still this painting conveys the notion of neighborliness.
Some white folks, but not all, understand the possibly dangerous consequences for black and brown folks of having the police intercede in even the mildest disputes. Those who do understand how it works use the police as their personal enforcers, as a blunt instrument to get their way without having to simply talk with their neighbors. Involving city officials, especially the police, ought to be the last resort, but when you are rarely the target of a blunt instrument it is easy to take the view that it is a first resort.
The new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods have little in common with the established residents, and that has much to do with their reluctance to deal with them one on one as equals. Some are intimidated by people whom they have long been instructed by the greater white society to view as likely criminals, or at least as not worthy of the benefit of a doubt. A black or brown person conducting themselves in a manner not dissimilar to a white person, for instance conducting a house inspection as part of his or her official duties or job, is far more likely to be viewed with suspicion by a white person in the vicinity, with the white person eventually calling the authorities to report those supposedly suspicious activities. The glass half full for white people in this society is almost always half empty for others.
Sesame Street has always been at the forefront in portraying amicable relations among people of different ethnicities. This clip from a 1990s episode features a version of “The People in Your Neighborhood”, a song written by Jeffrey Moss and, since the show’s inception in 1969, usually performed by Bob McGrath and a selection of Anything Muppets representing various occupations.
It seems like this society is sliding backwards, and the rhetoric and actions originating with the current presidential administration are leading the way backward. No doubt that is the meaning behind the slogan “Make America Great Again”. For a few in this society, about one third of the population, going backward appears to mean returning to the days when black and brown people were rarely seen and never heard, and then only in a subservient capacity. One thing they overlook is that in the days before home air conditioning and home theaters, people got out and about amongst their neighbors in the evenings, getting to know each other.
Turn on the captions for the printed lyrics.
Granted, ethnically mixed neighborhoods were never part of life for the upper classes, but the upper classes have always been able to afford their own way of life and rarely cared much at all how the rest of society viewed them for it. Poor and working class people have always had more day to day experience with other ethnicities, though that hasn’t implied an always peaceful coexistence. It seems now that in gentrifying neighborhoods the new residents, wealthier and usually whiter than their neighbors, don’t bother getting to know the poorer and darker people around them, and consequently they are easily disturbed by unfamiliar behavior, calling 311 out of fear or annoyance. The pattern continues until all the established residents are priced out of the neighborhood. What a shame then that the new residents come from all political stripes, some with the best intentions, and yet the ultimate effect they have on their new neighbors reflects the same backward thinking as that of those cynical, small-minded leaders now making policy in Washington, D.C., and that of their frightened, small-minded followers, calling the cops out to hassle their neighbors over every little thing.
It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.
There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.
Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.
Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.
When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.
The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.
Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
In some areas of the United States, particularly the countryside, gun owners can step out the back door of their house and practice shooting targets, and some do so without satisfying even the minimum safety requirements of local ordinances. This behavior falls under the heading of “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should”. City dwellers may imagine that all rural homesteads are capacious enough to accommodate the whims of target shooters without endangering their neighbors’ lives or property, say 10 acres at least. That is not so. Many rural residential lots are 2 acres or less. Yet the law generally does not factor in lot size as long as the area is zoned agricultural or mixed use. Common sense and common courtesy should be a factor where the law leaves a gap, but unfortunately too many citizens possess neither quality. Combine that with gun possession and there will be the devil to pay somewhere along the line.
“No Target Shooting” sign located at mile 80.5 of the Seward Highway in Alaska, along 20 Mile Creek; photo by Lar. In some circles, this kind of thing passes for wit.
Discharging firearms on private property is a sensitive subject that gets tangled up in the Second Amendment to the Constitution when it really shouldn’t because of how the activity affects the safety, property rights, and quality of life of neighbors. The issue at hand is not a gun owner’s right to own guns and shoot them, but the right of the gun owner’s neighbors not to have to barricade themselves in sound-proof, bullet-proof houses, or to enjoy their property and the flora and fauna on it without having it all riddled by bullet holes. The Second Amendment guarantees the right “to keep and bear Arms”; it says nothing about discharging them responsibly. That is where state law and local ordinances step in, although in some places, again particularly in the countryside, they are far too lax. In many instances the decision by a government authority on whether a gun owner’s home firing range is safe and legal is left up to a judgment call made by a sheriff’s deputy who visits the property after being called by a distressed neighbor.
Some scenes from The Andy Griffith Show demonstrating why Sheriff Andy Taylor eventually issued Deputy Barney Fife only one bullet and insisted he keep it in his shirt pocket.
Enactment of a noise ordinance can help restore sanity to a neighborhood. It’s interesting to note that gun owners who are conscientious about safety advocate hearing protection for the person discharging a firearm, but rarely take into account how the noise affects those within earshot. Unlike the noise made by a lawn mower or even a loud stereo system, gunshots are an intimidating sound. Perhaps for some gun owners that is part of the appeal. A noise ordinance can also help restrict target practice to daylight hours, because as hard as it is to believe, existing private property firearm discharge ordinances often do not explicitly state that target practice after dark is not allowed. Apparently that is where common sense and common courtesy are supposed to fill in the gap.
Education of gun owners may help in a few cases, such as making them aware they are subject to reckless endangerment laws. Reckless endangerment includes things such as leaving a child or pet locked in a hot car, or disregarding safety rules in a dangerous workplace, as well as discharging a firearm without regard to where the bullets land. Some reckless endangerment transgressions are misdemeanors. Reckless endangerment with a firearm is a felony. Knowledge of that may change a few minds about forgoing the convenience and cheapness of stepping out the back door to blast off some rounds in order to travel miles away to spend money as well as bullets at a safe and legally instituted firing range.
A New England style barn on North Haven, Maine; photo by Jim Derby. Never mind trying to hit the broad side of a barn, watch out for the people!
But you can’t talk sense to some people,the hard cases. For them, it appears, the only solution to keep peace and quiet in the neighborhood will be to have state and local laws that prohibit target shooting at any place but a legally instituted firing range. Can’t afford firing range fees? You can afford bullets, though, and they aren’t cheap. Still want the convenience, if not the cheapness, of stepping out your own back door to blast away? Fine, then go to the trouble and expense of acquiring the minimum amount of land that will allow you to qualify it as a legally instituted firing range. But these new laws will restrict the ability to target practice to only those of substantial means! Tough. There are lots of things in life that poor people don’t get a fair shake on, and if one of them is the ability to make their neighbors’ lives miserable, then so be it. Anyone of limited means who has moved out to the countryside with the dream of enjoying nature in peace and quiet only to have that dream shattered by the booming report of a nearby thoughtless neighbor’s gun firing, often repeatedly and at nearly all hours, and to satisfy no other purpose than that neighbor’s sense of fun or imagined readiness for the Apocalypse, will shed nary a tear when that neighbor has to jump through a few more legal hoops to ensure he or she behaves with common sense and common courtesy.