Christmas Spirits, Bad and Good


People have been arguing on television about the Richardson Light Show — a vast, daft display of Christmas kitsch that adorns, and surrounds, and spills out beyond, the home of Carol and Hayden Richardson in Madison, Mississippi. The show has been happening for years and is now gargantuan. The Richardsons’ description speaks for itself:

Our display started approximately 17 years ago as a small residential display. Each year the display has continued to grow as we add new items. As we are currently planning and preparing for the 2017 display, we expect to have over 250 inflatables, over 100,000 LED lights, hundreds of lighted wireframe characters and messages, a 23 foot animated tree, and much more! Our lights are synchronized to music with the help of a computer program called Light-O-Rama and the music is broadcasted by radio on the station 99.9 FM. Live appearances by Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman are very common during the show. We look forward to seeing you this Christmas season.

As you would expect, neighbors have been complaining (but when don’t they?) about the crowds that the thing attracts; cops have been concerned (but when aren’t they?) about traffic problems; and spokespersons for religious liberty have been arguing (but when wouldn’t they?) that Christmas is under attack. People of common sense are urging the Richardsons and their neighbors to just get along, which they have had plenty of chances to do, yet have notably failed to do.

The Richardsons have a pretty large property, but with the aid of Google Maps I calculate that the three houses nearest to the display are only 150, 150, and 250 feet away.

It’s morally irrelevant, though amusing, to note that the Richardsons regard their annual event as a witness to Christ, despite the fact that the vast majority of decorations appear to be pop-culture crap having nothing to do with religion; and that neighbors claim the Richardsons are actually trying to profit from their display.

People of common sense are urging the Richardsons and their neighbors to just get along, which they have had plenty of chances to do, yet have notably failed to do.

But now the city council has gotten involved, and has sided with the Richardsons. I don’t know whether that’s because they value the show as a tourist attraction for their little town (population 25,000) or because most of the people who live there are Christians.

I don’t know, and I don’t care. I like Christmas; I like Christianity; I like profits; I don’t especially like cops; and I positively dislike “neighbors” and city councils. I do endorse the libertarian idea that if you aren’t trying to get your way through force or fraud, nobody should interfere with you. In other words, live and let live.

Nevertheless. . . I don’t think the nonaggression principle — a good idea — will solve all problems of property relations, any more than I think the idea that lying is wrong will solve all problems of communication. If a friend asks for my assessment of her children — “Aren’t they CUTE?! Don’t you think they’re CUTE?!” — I will dutifully and cheerfully lie to her.

I wonder if there’s a strictly libertarian way to keep your neighbors from blinding you with their Christmas lights and deafening you with the crowds they invite to see them.

So I’m in a quandary. I don’t know how to figure this — maybe some of Liberty’s readers can tell me how — but I wonder if there’s a strictly libertarian way to keep your neighbors from blinding you with their Christmas lights and deafening you with the crowds they invite to see them. I mean, after you’ve tried to be nice to them, and it didn’t work.

To this question, anarchists need not reply. I know their answer: in an anarchist society you wouldn’t buy into a community until you fully understood and agreed to the contract that specified your rights, and that would take care of everything. If your neighbor puts up an enormous, obnoxious Christmas display, just click on your contract and scroll down to Item 379, the one covering all issues that may conceivably arise from holiday entertainments and decorations. That will settle the issue. Fine. Next time I want to buy property in an anarchist society, I’ll make sure to read the fine print, and I’m sure that others will do so too, and abide by it.

Besides anarchists, people who need not reply include all men and women who kindly suggest, like the pro-Christmas Show people on Fox News, “Let’s just get along and negotiate this stuff.” The problem is what you do when people who aren’t so kind refuse to negotiate. That happens, you know.

This leaves readers who are neither kind nor anarchistic, and I will be happy to entertain their suggestions. But until I hear some plausibly high-principled way out of this difficulty, I’m going to act on instinct. If something like the Richardson Light Show starts manifesting itself next door to me, I’m calling the cops and demanding that they get rid of the public nuisance.

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Well I am neither all that kind nor anarchist so here is my five cents.

First I have to second R.W.Ferris’s comment and I wish I could capture the essence of the argument in such a succinct, yet eloquent way but I can’t and so below is my longwinded way to say some of the same .

Luther Jett is of course also right that light is a pollution. In the Hawaiian Islands, for example, it is tightly regulated on all commercial projects so as not to interfere with the stargazing at the world renowned observatories, which were built there in (perhaps largest) part because of their remoteness from heavy light pollution. (Other good place would seem to be North Korea as I don’t see any lights there but for some reason the country is of the table. Go figure.) But I think that light is less of an issue (there are shutters) than the traffic.

One thing still missing from this argument is the benefit of the onlookers who actually come from far and away to see this and similar light shows. Now whether the Richardsons actually make any money off of it I don’t know but most of the enthusiasts in these yearly competitions are actually wasting substantial amounts of money on it and as far as I can tell mostly for the enrichment of the lives of others, creating sort of temporary theme parks, thus breaking the monotony of our lives, giving us something to look forward to and helping to keep the Christmas traditions alive, exciting and desirable to more people than it bothers. Rio gets wild at the time of the festival too.

This actually seems to be a beautiful externalities case to test The Coase Theorem on. Toll booths to the subdivision would probably be impractical but the neighbors could set up or ask some street vendors to set up shops there-selling for example hot tee, mitts, X-mas decorations even photographs of the place (believe me they will sell)- for a flat fee or a profit dip to make something out of it too. After that I would not be surprised if they were encouraging the Richardsons and even pitching in on the electric bill.

In either case though, noise, smell, and light could all count as inescapable forms of at least annoyances. But they can also all be part of cultural traditions and community life which forms the glue that holds society together without which even an Anarchitopia would not be possible.
Anarchists take too many things for granted, based largely only on the American experience. Like for example that there will always be an endless supply of English speaking neighborhoods where they can read the fine print (see 1 below) or that you don’t mind moving from bear hunting in Alaska to picking scorpions on your living room floor in Arizona desert (assuming that you even can i.e. there is still a USA enabling one to move around) or that your profession or hobbies aren’t either in part or entirely dependent on where you live.

It also assumes that the contract won’t change over time. Even without a population change that could and does happen based on my experience with homeowner associations (HOA) and their community covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs), the place you move in can be a direct opposite to the place it will became before your children are out of the house. Pretty much by definition the people seeking the functions of the “People’s Commissars” in weakly contested elections with low quorum (and plenum) requirements aren’t the freedom obsessed, leave me alone types. These would-be do-gooders are more likely to force you to go through a months long process costing you thousands of dollars for minor alteration to your property that are affecting or endangering nobody, costing a fraction of that, just so they can demonstrate their executive resolve in their half-witted ways in various fields they know nothing about, often after an exceedingly rare minor incident.

If HOAs and CC&Rs are an example of how a libertarian society would look like I would not only not want any part of it but would actively fight against it. The CC&Rs are like a regulatory cancer with very low burden of proof of the regulations necessity or effectiveness often passed without anybody knowing, thus stripping the last remnants of meaning from the words private property. What exactly are we free to do in such communities? Free to hire an architect or landscape architect or home decorator or lawyer or permit handler for what we could easily do ourselves in an afternoon without single sketch or piece of paper touched? Free to choose a towing company and a mechanic to tow our car to even when we want to try the repair ourselves or just enjoy doing so? Or working on our motorcycles? If the society can’t function without every little aspect of life being regulated by some authority and everything has to be written down and signed for including the height and type of our outside plants than I don’t care for such a society. Or as Walter Williams put it: "The importance of customs, traditions and moral values as a means of regulating behavior is that people behave themselves even if nobody's watching. . . Laws can never replace these restraints on personal conduct in producing a civilized society." (Moral Values and Customs vs. Laws)

(It might even be that libertarian thinking is what leads to all this and statism in general.. Please read the following and see how well you can shake it off if you dare [especially the second half of the article]:

But back to the issue at hand. Dumb things will always be done and inconsiderate things will always be done but at this point I am afraid to complain about anything anywhere for fear that out of proportion, heavy handed, costly regulation will follow. Neighbor has a loud party every now and then? So be it. I’ll even leave the house on occasion because I want people to have parties. That’s what many people live for. If it gets worse I’ll soundproof the house. Occasionally the cumulative smoke of several of my neighbor’s barbecues forces tears out of my eyes. But I don’t want barbecues to be banned or require permits and so I am fighting for freedom by letting myself be smoked. It is the same with light. And traffic. It is just like with annoying crying little babies. But they are absolutely essential, we have to have them and they won’t come without crying. Of course just like with everything there is a quantity that might eventually become a new unbearable quality and something will have to be done but I’ll suffer greatly before another freedom is stripped away and another regulation put in its place.

Some decades ago a young couple immigrated to a small town in Switzerland (a country with a, for libertarians, very admirable system of governance) where it was customary during the summer months that the cows were paraded right through the middle of town every morning and afternoon on their way to and from pastures with their famous neck bells chiming. The couple (city folks, who else?) found it irritating and either complained or inquired at the local Town Hall as to whether the Bells could be either quieter or removed altogether. Well not only did they not succeed but 10 years later when applying for the Swiss citizenship, after fulfilling the minimum legal residency requirement (3) they were stunned that their demonstrated lack of liking for the cow bell cacophony was brought up as a possible disqualifier for the citizenship honor. Points down for not reveling in local traditions. Harsh, but the locals did not seem to mind the little bells tolling-probably loved it- which suggests, as we all know, that attitude goes a long way in how things are perceived.

Also of note here is that the strictly residential subdivisions are a rather Anglophone world obsession. In most of Europe and Japan and likely elsewhere any subdivision above certain number of people has to have a corresponding number of restaurants, coffee shops or confectionaries, sometimes even small grocery shops within walking or short driving distance. They are mostly very quiet and make the neighborhoods friendlier and more livable. And again people pay extra when they live close to one of these establishments. Something for zoning fanatics to scratch their heads about-though it is already being imported here as well. I have been to all but a handful of US states and all big cities (though a while ago) and what struck me was how similar they all were to each other. Including the prosperous Houston, TX. Why did I single out Houston? Because it is the only big city in the US (as far as I know) that doesn’t have zoning laws. And yet it looks remarkably like all the others. Do I have to explain why nobody will build a factory in a residential neighborhood? What I want to say is that people can have full property rights free of most restrictions without a fear that the world as they know it is going to end. Most cities have noise ordinances (variously depending on time of day) as well as for other nuisances. CC&R on top of that just serve as a way to encourage intolerance and lead to unrealistic expectations of what we are entitled to.
Darn it this last paragraph sounds like I might actually be bringing anarchy into the world of anarchists.

(1) – Imagine you are monolingual in a language spoken by only perhaps five thousand people in your particular town-how free to move will you feel? Or that the community where you really liked “The Contract” gets overwhelmed by people whose language you don’t understand. This was happening a lot in 19th century Europe with peasants moving into the cities where people could be born in say a German town in Switzerland that turned nearly completely Francophone in sometimes as little as 40 years. That is by the way how Flemish Brussels became a mostly French speaking Bruxelles and is the source of Belgian troubles ever since. There were countless cities in central and Eastern Europe that underwent this transformation as well. Switzerland eventually solved this problem-even though officially four lingual –in such a way that you can contact the state anywhere in one of the four official languages but they are only required to answer you in the language of the town or canton where you contacted them i.e. you write them in French but you receive the answer in German in our example. I think that the schools also remain German speaking for the sake of social harmony.
(2) It is 5 years in the US and still perhaps just three years for refugees.


Each of the aggrieved neighbors should compete to see who can mount the largest, loudest, most obnoxious light & sound show celebrating Kwanzaa or some similar notion.

RW ferris

If the price of liberty is only tolerating an obnoxious neighbor at Christmas you are living on the cheap. Sometimes the price of liberty requires a bit of being annoyed and even slightly uncomfortable for a limited time. If these things were not true, more people would probably support more liberty.

Public Attractions are always public nuisances to some, especially those nearby. Freedom is messy, police are rarely the answer if violence is not an issue.


If we are to have any SWAT teams ,this is what we are going to have more of, as this is what they live for.
I have no doubt that the mindset of the shooter was not fear, but replaying for the 2 537th time the scenario in his head based on the innumerable training videos, endless seminars and workshops trying to envision every possible scenario one might find himself engaged in, trying to dis any emotions as something only lesser man would contemplate and possibly endanger himself and everybody else doing so, only this time it was not a hypothetical scenario fit for a Hollywood blockbuster, it was a much more common real world dumb happenstance and a more discerning approach was called for.
Was the shooter living the moment he waited for his whole life and therefore saw what he wanted to see? Was replaying all those training scenarios taking all his processing power, leaving him with none left to see that this man was clearly not a threat and there did not appear to be any other? The other officers at the scene certainly did not perceive the victim as such. Did arrogance for being disobeyed play a role in setting off the auto pilot? (Think of the Stanford Prison experiment- even decent people in position of authority can develop the “Guard’s” mean streak and of course many are attracted to the police profession exactly for it)
Aside from psychopaths who may slip into professions like these to have legal means of living out their fantasies another strange mental processes might be taking place. At least twice in my life was I lectured by people about their hard learned wisdom in almost exactly these words :” I don’t brake for no dog. I once braked for a dog, got rear- ended , hitter got or faked a whiplash and it had cost me a fortune in time and money!” My pointing out: “How about running over a dog only if you don’t have time to check your mirrors and there is no place to swerve around it? You know people brake for a dog an estimated 2 million times a day with no calamities ensuing.” - had absolutely zero effect on their firmly set determination, and I was sternly encouraged to the same and not take any chances should I face such a – fairly common- crisis. With just slight adaptation for the police work it might sound like this: “ I don’t second guess any movements not following my orders ever.” It is a variation on “better safe than sorry”-sort of and “better you than me”. Almost certainly beneficial in a war zone but ill suited in everyday civilian life.
If we all had to attend regular mandatory safety seminars on dogs crossing the street there is no doubt that we would see way more dogs ran over
There are endless calls for more professionalism in all professions but I think it is completely unrealistic to ever expect that all policemen, accountants plumbers, teachers even doctors, lawyers and engineers are ever going to be the fantasy supermen we imagine they could or should be. In real world the slots have to be filled up with what flawed, moody, half bright and quirky applicants are available , willing to do the work. Not all human shortcomings can be fixed. Statism starts with unrealistic expectations of human nature. Efficient and functional powerstructures have to be designed for people that actually exist in required quantities while paying special attention to what particular characterss might be interested in jobs like these.
So if it is too much to expect a highly discerning SWAT team to show up at our doors in the vee hours of the morning how do we not get ourselves shot? Well essentially we have to be what we- either arrogantly, foolishly or foolhardily - wanted them to be. Remain cool ,assume a moron or a cowboy wannabe, take the humiliation and maybe we will live…. perhaps even to fight him another day - in the courtroom
And as far as this guy’s verdict goes?
Well he still has to be found innocent (over and over again in endless jeopardy) by his wife. if he has any, his children and coworkers, his neighbors, all his friends and basically everybody he ever knew. It is said that people who shot an intruder even in a completely justified self defense generally end up having to move as their neighbors are no longer able to behave normally around them.
How would we behave around this guy should he be our neighbor? Father?

Luther Jett

I have seen it argued (please don't ask me for a citation, though), that if one has property which fronts a river and dumps one's raw sewage into said river, one is violating the property rights of the person further downstream who also has riverfront property. In essence, this is as intrusive as having your neighbor drive a tractor tailer across your lawn; it is the polluter (or the tractor-trailer driver) who is violating the non-aggression principle and who would therefore be liable in a libertarian society.

It seems to me that this scenario would also be applicable to the light and noise pollution generated by a display like that of the Richardsons.

I don't know that this answers your question, but it might provide a libertarian rationale for pursuing the matter in court.

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