Christmas Spirits, Bad and Good

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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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