|A gated community.|
Last night I attended a wine tasting party at a friend's home, nestled in the hills of the Coast Range. As Big Ag and I drove through the scenic hillsides, passing several famous wineries as we went, we commented at how spectacular the scenery was.
Eventually we found the iron gates that led to our friend's housing development and went in.
The party was great, and one of the things we discussed was livestock and pets in general. That's when my friend's mother told me they had just gotten a $150 bill from the area homeowner's association because their dog had gotten out of their property and was found wandering the neighborhood. Apparently there's a rule for that -- if your animals get loose, you get fined.
We in the western U.S. surely love our homeowner's associations -- at least we seem to, since gated communities crop up with increasing regularity all over states like California, Nevada, and Arizona.
At heart, I totally understand the philosophy behind them. It's a way to keep your neighborhood looking like you want it to. Through certain rules, regulations and vigilant oversight, it discourages things like meth houses, dog or cock-fighting operations, or personal salvage yards from cropping up next door to you. No one would argue that's a good thing.
But at what price? (well, a monthly fee plus $150 when your dog gets out, in my friend's case. But I'm talking a larger issue here.)
Is it worth keeping those bad things out, given that the same homeowner's association may also want to stop you from putting up a clothesline, keeping a couple of goats (even if you live on acreage) or painting your house a certain color?
Our nation has faced a similar predicament since 9/11. We have enthusiastically given up our rights in order to protect ourselves from a certain kind of evil. A terrible evil, no question. Some of the adjustments are more annoying than anything else. We can no longer, when flying, bring shampoo in our carry-on luggage, listen to our iPod from take-off to landing, or even expect to be able to keep our shoes on as we pass through airport security. Bummer.
|A different type of gated community.|
But on a more serious note, whether at home or abroad, we also can no longer expect that our phone calls, text messages and emails are private, and read by no one but their intended recipients. That is the price of being "protected" from the evils that lay just beyond the New Rules.
In short, we may have become a nation which has ended up belonging to one gargantuan homeowner's association. We have willingly given up our rights to certain things on the promise that, by doing so, we can keep the bad stuff out. Except in this case, the meth house next door has become Al-Qaeda.
But it seems to me that at a certain point, you have to ask if those rules are keeping the bad things out, or keeping you hemmed in -- with rules that don't make sense, or are too stringent, or too invasive. Homesteading types run afoul of HA's rules often, and often find themselves fighting battles of common sense. Because keeping a couple of hens and putting up a clothesline never ruined a neighborhood, and never will.
On a larger note we, as individuals, always need to ask whether we've given up too much freedom in order to feel "protected." It's a delicate balance.
Are you willing to sacrifice small conveniences to assure your safety? How about your privacy? The one thing that is important to remember, on both a large and small scale, is who the "homeowner's association" ultimately works for. In both the homeowner's association of my friend's neighborhood and the much larger "homeowner's association" of the U.S. Government, both are supposed to work for "the people."
In short, we always have to ask if the price of living behind those lovely wrought iron gates is worth it, and if not, asking the tough questions about what needs to be changed so that living behind the gate and its rules makes you feel empowered, rather than imprisoned.