Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jul 4, 2007

Public Decency and Nuisance Laws

One of the tougher, long-term debates going on at is the question of what kind of public decency/nuisance legislation is proper and effective at protecting rights. I, personally, have difficulty with the idea of ANY legislation to this effect because every attempt I have seen thus far has relied on non-objective definitions. Non-objective law is a monster that cannot be set loose in any circumstances.

Still, I agree that I don't want neighbors that play music at 110 dB or flash strobe lights in my windows or wear thong swimsuits that bare their hairy buttcracks to all and sundry. What rational person DOES want to live with those conditions? So the problem becomes: how do you protect what Ayn Rand called approximately "the right not to see" when there is no universal definition for what is "offensive"?

Well, I think I've come up with a practical method for this, although it probably needs some work. Firstly, you break the area up into two categories: nuisance and communication.

Nuisances are things that impinge on your property, like bright lights, powerful smells (note I didn't say BAD smells), and loud noises. These are nuisances and the most important point is that you must not have to take any action to be affected by them on your property.

Communication is, well, anything that can be used to communicate an idea. This can be images of people or animals or anthropomorphic vegetables (body language) or symbols, or words. These don't necessarily have to be loud or painfully bright to cause a problem, like the aforementioned thong bathing suit.

Then, you have two fundamental situations where this sort of thing becomes a problem. Either you are on your own private property and someone is impinging on you from their private property, or both concerned parties are in some "open" location owned either by one of you or by a third party. I say "open" instead of "public" because of the current state of "public" property, which is owned by everyone and no one. This type of property is improper.

I say these two fundamental situations because others are easily dealt with: if a nudist wanders onto your private beach, you just tell them to leave. End of problem. If you are running an "open" beach, though, then you have an issue that may not be as easily handled.

This is where the stipulations come in.

For private property cases, you simply have to explicitly delineate the rights of the complainee. I came up with a few stipulations, but there may be a few more required.

1. The complainee can by no means be prohibited from engaging in the specific activity, they can only be restrained from displaying it where it impinges on the property of the complainer. How the complainee restrains this display is up to him.

2. No damages. You are not going to get money out of your neighbor. This right here will help reduce harassment because no one is going to spend money to litigate--unless it's a real problem--when they can't hope to gain anything from it except peace-of-mind.

For open property cases the entire matter can be handled by requiring everyone that wishes to have open property to post their restrictions--if there are any. You already see this around with signs like "no skateboarding" and "no swimming", all you have to do is extend it to things like "no complete nudity" or "full coverage suits only" or "no shirt, no shoes, no service".

It should also be required that you identify the type of business you are operating. This is simply good advertising. If you're running a restaurant, there should be a sign saying so, if you're operating a Nazi store, there should be a sign saying THAT.

This works because it is universal and objective, and no one is required to have or post restrictions. At worst, they're required to put a sign on their door explaining what the property is. If the mall doesn't have a sign saying "no nudity" and someone streaks the place, on what grounds are you going to litigate against the mall? You can complain to the mall in the hopes that they will revise their signage, but that's about it.

I think this (or something along these lines) would be a functional approach.

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