I walk with my children in our neighborhood frequently. One of the reasons we picked our neighborhood is walkability and nearness to community life. It’s been a big change for a country girl who grew up three-quarters of a mile from the nearest neighbor.
One of the things I’ve learned from moving into town is how little so many people think about others. Drivers will honk at 6 a.m. to get someone to come out of a house (Don’t you have a cell phone? Or get your rear out of the car and walk 20 feet to the door and knock.). People will blare music at all hours so loudly it shakes the windows of the houses they pass. They paint their porches fire engine red and their houses execrable shades of teal, let their cats defecate in other people’s sandboxes, and dump their fast food wrappers into the wind.
In other words, lots of people are rude, tasteless, and selfish. Of course, since I believe human nature is corrupt, this isn’t really a surprise, but what is a surprise is what appears to be an increase in these crudities along with a growing tendency to excuse and rationalize them.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of this tendency is the grotesquery with which many people “decorate” their yards for Halloween. Within a few blocks of my house are yards full of severed heads, decomposing corpses, positively demonic-looking witches, goblins, and ghouls, and moldy skeletons coming out of the ground (some even shake!).
One entire nearby neighborhood decorated all of its streetlights with hanging severed heads that have blood running out of the eyes. Some people have fog machines and motion detectors that emit noises from Hell every time a mom walks by with her preschooler and baby, or kids of all ages go past on their way to school.
What is wrong with these people?
Your Warped Sense of Good and Evil Is Showing
This is neither tasteful nor fun. It’s ugly and selfish. Every person who uses public streets is not an adult who enjoys viewing things designed to provoke horror. Some people are old, some people are very young, some people have PTSD, some people have easily sickened stomachs, and people like emergency workers see horrific things on the job and need a break after-hours. Like other friends’ kids, my four-year-old has been having nightmares since Halloween season started and is unable to sleep alone or even go upstairs in the daytime due to fears of all the horrible things he’s seen on our streets. Thanks, neighbors.
They should not be forced to hide in their homes for eight weeks while all the demented people desecrate the streets. They deserve the common courtesy of their neighbors taking into consideration their needs, sensibilities, and desires.
People who enjoy objectively sick and horrible things should not be the measure by which we decide what to hang in public spaces. If you like something bad, you are the problem.
Some people might object that evil is a part of life and it’s brave to face it rather than trying to Precious Moments the world. I do certainly tell my children about evil, at what I think are age-appropriate times and contexts. But these decorations force such information well before small children could possibly be ready, and at a time and context of an outsider’s choosing instead of mine. It thus puts teaching children judiciously about evil at a disadvantage.
Further, none of these decorations is a sober assessment of evil, a depiction of combating it, or any other such proper treatment, as are many of the world’s cultural remembrances of the dead and the ultimate triumph over death at the end of the world, like Dia de los Muertos. These yard hellscapes are instead a celebration of, a reveling in, evil. (Sometimes the Day of the Dead trends that way too, but that is not its original or proper purpose.) That is, quite simply, wrong. Only fools make light of evil. Hell isn’t a joke.
It’s impossible not to see this delight in evil as encouraged by the entertainment people consume. It’s no secret that Western entertainment has become increasingly pornified, both in sex and violence. Like frogs in the boiling pot, people who regularly consume this get used to it, and it warps their sense of what is good, beautiful, and true. It corrupts their judgment. To hide their self-hardening, they pretend that the sensitive and less-corrupt people are the problem (“Prudes!” “You’re no fun!”), instead of them.
Safe Spaces and Public Spaces Are Both for Children
When I floated a trial balloon of this opinion on Twitter, plenty of people agreed, but others attacked me as a bad parent whose children are crybabies I’m putting in a “safe space.” Folks, four-year-olds do need a safe space. Would you let them watch “Game of Thrones”? If you would, you’re the bad parent. No four-year-old should watch “Game of Thrones,” and no four-year-old should see a severed head.
The problem with college safe spaces is that they infantilize adults. On the contrary, good parents and a good society rightly protect small children temporarily to help them grow long-term. If you can’t see a distinction between a preschooler and college student’s needs and expected maturity level, I can’t help you.
Some Twitter people pretended it was somehow a contradiction of the libertarian “do whatever you want” ethos to suggest that people restrain themselves in any manner. Even if one were a libertarian — I no longer am — the mantra, in full, is “Do whatever you want so long as you don’t harm other people.” Under that paradigm there is plenty of room for being considerate of other people.
What we do in public, which includes how we dress ourselves and our yards, ought to be different from what we do in private. I don’t poop on the sidewalk, and you shouldn’t either.
The public includes everyone, which means a huge diversity in sensibilities and preferences. Acting more restrained and tasteful in public exhibits respect for others. The public square is where we should put our best selves forward out of love, not unleash our ids and demand that everyone else put up with it or lose their ability to enjoy public goods.
That’s plain selfishness, and it deserves rebuke. We restrain people who ruin public spaces through littering, vandalism, and drunkenness, because their behavior undermines the common good. The rudest person shouldn’t win, the rudest person should be taught how to treat others properly or lose his social privileges. The best behavior should be celebrated, and the worst not ignored, but condemned.
Deliberate Disregard of Others Hurts Self-Government
I don’t think “big government” should decide how people decorate, although I do support the self-determination of local communities to put boundaries around such matters with buy-in from residents, as exhibited in zoning laws, neighborhood associations, and housing covenants. But it’s not as if our only choices for action are between either “government mandate” and “individual free for all.”
That’s not the way America was designed, because then it would have been like Europe, as Alexis de Tocqueville explained in great detail, with a great bureaucratic government meddling in every single aspect of life. It was designed with a small, constricted government whose limits depend on the people’s ability to govern — i.e. control — themselves.
A government that allows great freedom absolutely requires citizens who use that freedom responsibly. The more they push boundaries and disregard their fellow citizens, the more uncivilized and undisciplined people enable bigger government. So it is not at all an accident that as our nation has grown more lax in privately policing social mores that our government has also expanded immensely.
I don’t think we are on the verge of a giant social movement to have bureaucrats approving yard decoration schemes, and I don’t want one. But, with positively no apologies to the Philistines, I do think that this lack of courtesy, civility, and restraint in Halloween decorations is emblematic of a destructive and seemingly accelerating cultural Philistinism.