Who Makes The Rules?

imagesOur neighborhood is considering a change. There are a few devoted citizens who would like for us to become a Historic Preservation District. There are perhaps some good reasons for desiring this. It would give better recognition to the location, and it would give guidelines and rules to how properties would look. There are nice streets that people don’t want to see ruined by neglect or mismatches in house styles.

However, the neighborhood isn’t that historic (how historic do you have to be?). It’s a mishmash of different housing types already. It’s doing just fine without this HPD designation.

I think is people are scared. This has to do with fear. Sure, they’ll talk about property values and preserving the dignity of homes. But they really don’t want certain people or certain houses in their back yard. It might not be racial, but it might be. It’s difficult to come out and say that. So instead, they go through the process of making things legal and illegal. It’s all very orderly. It’s all cordial, at least to an extent.

At the end of the process it becomes illegal to do something different to your home. It becomes legal to report your neighbor because a shutter is out of place or a window isn’t up to code. It becomes illegal to be more different than what the neighborhood agrees on. That feels wrong to me, at least it feels wrong in my neighborhood.

I’m not against rules per se. I understand we need to have them. But we have so many!

Baseball is notorious for its rulebook. Why in the world is it against the rules to throw a spitball? Or to have pine tar on your bat like George Brett did?

Baseball might be bad, but I think NFL football rules are just crazy. There are so many. In a sport that’s supposed to be about lining up and tackling each other, every single thing anyone does is against the rules. They keep making new rules every year. I do hope it’s getting safer, and I don’t want anyone to get concussions, but there are rules for everything. Why does an illegal shift matter?! What is the definition of a catch these days?

There are rules in kindergarten. There are rules about what you can and can’t wear and the color of your shoes and logos on your shirts and the lengths of your skirts. Why are there rules about how long your hair can be at school? Who made those haircut rules and what purpose do they serve? There are rules on the playground.

There are rules at work. There are rules in government. I’ve read that there are over 300,000 federal laws on the books that will get you criminal penalties. Look at Emily Post’s rules for etiquette. There are rules for dating and rules for social media and rules for what you can and can’t wear to church. How can I get out of my cell phone contract? Why can’t I put a basketball goal in my driveway?

We try new laws that we find out don’t work very well, but then we’re already committed to them. Think of how many years it was illegal for black people to live an integrated normal life. It wasn’t only racist to keep them at the back of the bus. It was also illegal. A normal citizen could call the police. It wasn’t an unspoken social rule. No, it was actually on the books.

It’s good and important to undo laws and rules, just as much as it is to make new ones. Laws and rules should help us treat people fairly and justly and with mercy. If they don’t, we need to reconsider them. I understand we need laws, but we need to look and see if the laws work well. We need to look and see who benefits from the laws, or who can most easily escape the punishments or if the punishments fit the crimes. We need to be wary of criminalizing people and actions as a way for dealing with real problems.

But then we have to ask, Who makes the rules in the first place? Do we ask that question?

Doug in library