Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 120 – Whose Ox is Being Gored?

"It all depends on whose ox is being gored" is an old saying of uncertain origin – it may relate to an obscure verse in Exodus relating to compensation for the eponymous damaged cattle – but in wide use. It means that a given event will be seen differently depending on the degree to which the viewer's self-interest is involved. I think this adage should be given serious consideration as the motto for Incline Village.


We all want to take our friends to the beaches. If we rent our houses out or sell them, beach access is a prime selling point. But those Crystal Bay folks better not try to come on our beaches! We all want the community to be safe, and we are all against drinking and driving, as long as the Sheriff stops other people. But let them enforce the law on us or our family, and, in the words of a letter-writer in last week's paper, it "borders on harassment." (Never mind that the "harassee" was actually in violation of the law, drinking while underage and driving).


We all want a quiet, clean, attractive community. We don't want cars and boats blocking our streets, junk cars on people's lawns, and closed-up gas stations. But suggest that a glut of signs for real estate open houses and houses for sale may be undesirable and realtors and their relatives will rise up in anger, condemning the whole beautification process, nuisance study, and County involvement as "about as necessary as putting out the…fire with 90,000 gallons of supreme gasoline." (I guess 80,000 gallons of regular would have been OK).


The point is we live in a community. As far as I know, the only way to guarantee that everything in your life is determined solely according to your interests and preferences is to live in isolation. Living in a community requires some degree of compromise for the good of all. Compromise has been defined as a solution with which nobody is totally happy or unhappy – everyone gets some of what they want. That means that sometimes things are going to be determined either by the majority's wishes, by reaching a middle ground, and sometimes by what serves public health and safety, even if this last means infringing on the freedom of individuals and groups to do what is in their narrow interests.


Most communities regulate safety and what are called nuisances. A nuisance in the legal sense of the word is "something not allowed by law because it causes harm or offense, either to people in general (public nuisance) or to an individual person" In a just society, laws cannot be enforced on the basis of "whose ox is being gored." If a teenager is (a) drinking illegally and (b) driving, I really think it's disingenuous to call that "harassment" and "a nuisance." If we believe in the right to own property, then it stretches the imagination to think that the right to own property jointly with others should be abridged.


Washoe County rarely recognizes that Incline Village/Crystal Bay is in many ways distinct from the rest of the County. Notwithstanding that, the County, in its nuisance ordinance intentionally left "blank space" for communities to fill in their own, local definition of what constitutes a nuisance. A committee here has spent quite some time studying this issue, hearing from interested parties, and preparing to tell the County Planning Department our local standards. Saturday's open meeting is a critical step in that process – a chance for residents to tell the County that we care about nuisances that are peculiar to this community and what we consider those nuisances to be. A letter-writer asks "Do we need a Nuisance Workshop or a County Comprehensive Planning Department?" Again, I would characterize the question as disingenuous. A civilized society needs laws and regulations that reflect its values, and that is what Saturday's workshop is about. We should all be there and bring our oxen, but be willing to sacrifice them for the common good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This idiom may have origins in the world of Judaism. Exodus 21.35 refers to the remedies when one's ox gores his neighbor's ox. Subsequent Talmudic and later rabbinical commentaries on this verse discussed what remedies were owed when the goring ox's owner is Jewish, and the gored ox's owner is Gentile, and vice versa. Some argued that the Jew owed the Gentile nothing, others that the Exodus 21:35 remedies applied evenly no matter whose ox is gored. The confusion over this idiom's meaning may be because we are not as biblically literate as previous generations.

Reference: Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma 38a.

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Discuss:What_is_the_meaning_of_no_matter_whose_ox_is_gored#ixzz2RQ8obHb7