Thursday, 16 April 2009

NOT PJ: A Fence is the Best Defence

This week Bernard Darnton visits the local community centre and thinks about naked women and whales. . .

Our new neighbourhood is a bit Bohemian. Not in the sense that it’s run by an unspellable Good King from a Christmas Carol or that it’s been annexed by Hitler – just that it’s a bit run down. And we have a community group.

I was terrified to hear that they had “facilitated” a “visioning day.” The “intense familiarisation and contemplation process” was preceded by a “backcasting” (haven’t the foggiest) and resulted in a, err, a few paragraphs of hippie day dreaming.

“Happy residents walk and cycle through streets of abundant colour, lined by productive fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Musicians enliven front yards and community parks, as people talk to their neighbours and trade local produce.”

Some bastard musician was enlivening a front yard a few doors down from us at 3 o’clock last Sunday morning. I would have facilitated an intense backcasting then and there if I knew how.

“Fences have been removed … and the local fish and chip shop sells fish caught in nearby streams.”

Or at least you can bring things home from the local shops in a trolley fished out of a nearly stream. It’s kind of ecological, I suppose. But what’s this about the fences?

Hippies hate fences because they’re one of the hallmarks of civilisation. A fence separates mine from yours. A fence is a symbol of property rights and all that flows from property rights, such as a society more complex than a bunch of guys called Ug all bopping each other with wooden clubs.

The “productive fruit trees and vegetable gardens” wouldn’t last five seconds if there were no fences to stop young and old from sharing in the community wealth a bit more than they deserved.

Fences – or more generally property rights – serve as the public line between peaceful action and aggression. They’re the difference between minding your own business and trespass. The risk of a fight is much reduced if we all know where the boundaries are.

Eric Raymond wrote about this in a chapter spicily titled “Noöspheric Property and the Ethology of Territory”. (I can quote this quite happily, knowing that no one else in the noösphere will have gone anywhere near it.) He noted that, “our domesticated cousins of the wolf know, instinctively, that property is no mere social convention or game, but a critically important evolved mechanism for the avoidance of violence. This makes them smarter than a good many human political theorists.”

Part of the reason the whaling debate is so retarded is that there are no fences in the ocean and so no sensible way of saying what belongs to whom. If Ngāi Tahu could just string some barbed wire round our exclusive economic zone (and patrol it from their new air base at Wigram) the whales could safely be watched in Kaikoura and the Japanese fleet would have to go back to bombing Darwin.

Fences make farming possible, promote secure development of land, and encourage Wanaka tourists to remove their bras. They feed us, they enrich us, and they irritate the stuffed shirts at the Queenstown Lakes District Council. What better vision could you facilitate?

* * Bernard Darnton's NOT PJ column appears here at NOT PC every Thursday * *


  1. Run. Run like hell. And ideally set a fire as you're leaving so the disease can't spread any further. Are you sure you didn't accidently move to Sunnyside's sunny back yard?

  2. “Fences have been removed … and the local fish and chip shop sells fish caught in nearby streams.”

    Bizarre. What don't they like about the chip shops selling fish caught in the nearby sea?

    As for the fences, I'm wiling to trade my fence for the right to carry a concealed weapon and to use it in defence of my family and property!


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