Subsidiarity begins at home: knock and ask, don’t call CSO

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Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editor

I despise, loathe and abominate gas-powered lawnmowers. These monstrous devices pollute doubly: they launch noxious fumes into the languid summer air, and they shatter the blissful summertime choir, which is one part children playing, one part birds chirping and one part critters creeping.Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 1.06.27 AM

Truth be told, I’ve only recently come to love the summertime, so only recently have I learned how cruel summer can be for the beleaguered suburbanite who escapes our contemporary penitentiary: the air-conditioned house. He steps outside onto God’s own earth, his ears pick up the delightful, harmonizing strains of bird and child, and then, with the shattering force of a bull in a china shop and about as much grace, all peace is invaded and all charm destroyed by that monstrous automation.

It seems to me simply selfish to inflict such violence on the auditory canals of one’s neighbors. What could be more un-neighborly than to ruin for someone a perfect summer moment? For my part, I would have us all return to push mowers—the original exercise machines—which are ecologically friendly and preserve the peace. Don’t want to mow your half acre or acre-and-a-half plot by hand? Buy a smaller property. So will be my mindset when I’m first buying a house.

Now, I would express, at this moment, the sad reflection that with regards to lawnmowers—as with regards to most everything I believe in or care about (God, politics, education, architecture, the horror of free agency)—I am unlikely ever to see my way prevail, and then conclude melodramatically that such is the life of the wayfarer, the pilgrim but passing through this vale of tears; but this article is not about lawnmowers, nor children playing and birds singing, nor even about summertime at all. (I included all that merely to give fat to what would otherwise be a very thin piece.)

All I wish to say is this: When living in a community, do not rush to the police or some other authority to seek relief from bothersome neighbors. If the folks next door have misjudged the thickness of the walls, and the beat of their percussion is giving you a headache, knock on their door and ask them to practice elsewhere, before you call on Tower Village with a noise complaint. Or if the guys at the apartment across the hall are making a lot of noise as you’re going to bed—if their birthday party or Friday-night get-together has run a bit too long and loud—ask them politely to turn down the music and quiet down on the porch, before you think to call CSO.

Where people assume bad faith of their neighbors and would sooner call upon the coercive power of the landlord, the university or the state than talk to the people they live among and may one day depend upon, there can be no community, no strong social ties that give life meaning and that protect us in times of crisis.

I don’t know what all this has to tell me about dealing with gas-powered lawnmowers. They’re legal and socially accepted, and there is no authority I can call upon as a last resort to make offenders stop. (Alas!) But I do think these words should guide us the next time someone nearby is playing music louder than we’d like them to. Ask the person to respect his neighbors. If he won’t, you’ll have all the moral weight on your side when you call in the legal authorities. But perhaps he’ll oblige you, and a little victory will have been won for self-government. It’s worth a shot.

 

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