On the Fence – Part 1

Nice weekend: no football to be stressed about, no client emergencies, the boys behaved, and it didn’t rain. The highlight of the weekend was Spencer’s indoor soccer game in East Ridge.  As fate would have it, that trip delivered the second highlight of the weekend. As we made the turn on Exit 1 from I-75 and headed to Camp Jordan, we saw the tour bus of none other than Herman Cain.

The Cain Train is still a'rollin

Perhaps the best thing to come of Herman Cain’s run for the presidency is the Mike Tyson caricature that it spawned. This makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. CAIN!! On another day I would seize this opportunity to comment on the abysmal state of our political discourse, and how the 30-second video clip has replaced deep thought and contemplation in complex matters that require intellectual attention. As it is, I have precious little capacity for deep thought and contemplation and don’t want to waste it on a system that appears to be broken. In that sense I suppose one could argue that makes me part of the problem. That doesn’t mean I can’t help focus on the solution.

I think the solutions to a number of our problems are found here, not in D.C.  I believe that in the coming years we will find that the world is indeed round. Perhaps I have been reading too much Kunstler ( who wrote a great one this week), but I also believe that we will see diminishing returns from complex technological systems, and that resource scarcity will have profound effects on the sixty year long American standard of living.

Throughout the course of humanity, people have lived in close proximity because we need each other. We need each other for social reasons and to provide for our basic needs: water, food, shelter, and clothing. Of course, that’s a well-understood and accepted concept. Early in human history, our communities were essentially extended families. There was a communal dependence on one another for the ultimate health of the group (which allowed individuals to thrive). I’m not saying that everyone got along like a big, happy family, but there was a clear understanding that the health of the individual and the health of the community were intertwined.

As our civilization has advanced (and in particular the United States), the concept that the city/community exists as institution for common good has been lost. We take for granted that when we turn on the spigot, water will come out. When we’re hungry we can go to a restaurant or grocery store and provisions will be there waiting. When we need to go somewhere we can find gas at the filling station and roads in good condition. What this has created is a sense of entitlement and a false sense of independence.

This false sense of independence has given rise to a culture that accepts the notion that because we have property rights we can give the middle finger to the community (‘cause it’s a free country). This is nothing more than pure selfishness. In essence it expresses the thought that my needs and desires are more important than yours (or anyone else’s)”. This thought manifests itself in projects like BWW and Applebee’s. When these companies build in a way that does not respect the building form that the community has established over time, they are essentially giving the community the middle finger whilst exclaiming that their need and desire is more important than that of the community.

It is not only national chains that are offenders- it comes from private citizens in neighborhoods as well. An easy example is a front-yard fence. Let me first say, that not all fences are bad, some can be beautiful, add character and define space. However, in some cases, the installation of a fence means giving the middle finger to the neighborhood and proclaiming that your needs and desires are more important than those of the neighbors.

Example: Let’s say there is a compact neighborhood with narrow lots and well-scaled homes built to a common setback. Each home is different and expresses the personality of the homeowner, but the house itself is respectful of the scale and rhythm that the community has established over time. The introduction of an alien element (fence) disrupts this environment. This has recently occurred a couple of times in a neighborhood that I am familiar with. (I’m not calling out neighbors, but since these houses are for sale and have no residents, they’re fair game). I know it is the right of the homeowner to build a fence if the law allows. I also know that sometimes just because we can do a thing doesn’t mean we should do that thing.
Part II next week. Good fences.

Serendipity: An hour after I wrote the preceding paragraphs I went to Church. (Yes, I went to church, don’t be so surprised). In referring to a tangentially related topic Reverend Skidmore introduced what he referred to as the “Thirteen-year-old Syndrome”. He was pointing out that any thirteen-year-old who has taken a civics class understands that “this a free country and I can do what I want”. At that age, a person understands the concept of freedom, but probably hasn’t grasped the corresponding responsibility that it brings. He went on to say that despite the laws of the land, we have a higher moral responsibility to put the well-being of our brothers and sisters first. I fully understand that not everyone in this country holds to spiritual beliefs or is even aware of the golden rule. I do, however, firmly believe that it is our obligation as human beings to respect the needs of the community and that of our fellow man.

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