The Tyranny of the Homeowners’ Association

DENVER – A homeowners association in southwestern Colorado has threatened to fine a resident $25 a day until she removes a Christmas wreath with a peace sign that some say is an anti-Iraq war protest or a symbol of Satan.

Some residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq, said Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs. He said some residents have also believed it was a symbol of Satan. Three or four residents complained, he said.

“Somebody could put up signs that say drop bombs on Iraq. If you let one go up you have to let them all go up,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Lisa Jensen said she wasn’t thinking of the war when she hung the wreath. She said, “Peace is way bigger than not being at war. This is a spiritual thing.”

Jensen, a past association president, calculates the fines will cost her about $1,000, and doubts they will be able to make her pay. But she said she’s not going to take it down until after Christmas.

“Now that it has come to this I feel I can’t get bullied,” she said. “What if they don’t like my Santa Claus.”

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board “will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive.”

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything. Kearns fired all five committee members.

Is it even necessary to point out that the peace symbol is a traditional Christmas icon? But what’s really going on here is revealed by a blog post out of North Dakota:

Good on her for not backing down. The people who are getting worked up over this sound like twits. Personally, I think the peace-sign-waving hippy generation is one of the worst things to ever happen to this country, but getting all up in arms over a peace sign on someone’s house is just plain un-American.

There you have it. At the same time as the commentor derides the rank idiocy of the anti-peace-symbol actions, he shows just how and why the actions took place in the first place. Peace symbols are associated with dirty hippies – dirty hippies are bad (“one of the worst things to ever happen to this country”) – ergo, peace symbols are bad. It’s actually pretty easy to understand why someone who follows this typology might conclude it’s a Satanic symbol – much like Satan, hippies are also bad (or just as likely, the impression was formed by the some members of the Loma Linda Homeowners’ Association seeing “punk kids” listening to that disrespectful rock music and wearing their disrespectful clothing with all those obviously Satanic symbols on it).

These kinds of associations are, at this point, very much like bad grammar and common misspellings: independently bad of their own accord, as well as pernicious and corrosive of the culture, but mostly, they reveal a larger cultural dysfunction. I’ve been resisting the urge to use the phrase “pigfuck ignorant” for this entire post, but there’s really no better way to describe what I’m talking about.

It’s become possible for many people who are pigfuck ignorant – who have no real experience of the broader world – and who are lacking in very basic reasoning skills – to attain a previously unimaginable level of wealth and prosperity in our country today. To the point, even, that many are members of homeowners’ associations, because many own homes. Part of this is a “rising tide lifts all boats” – part of it is our decrepit education system (especially as pertains to basic tools of civic values and citizenship) – but most of it is the rise and continuing prominence of a cultural and political discourse which mostly dispenses with notions of expertise and accuracy.

Examples are, sadly, far too numerous to detail with any exhaustivity, but when millions of Americans form their worldviews based on the bloviations of Rush Limbaugh, and a global-climate-change-denying-crank like Sen. James Inhoffe (R-OK) is allowed to have a major hand in American environmental policy, there is a deep and abiding problem. At the same time as one oughtn’t ask, “How could people possibly think a peace symbol is a Satanic symbol?” – the answer is pretty simple – one also oughtn’t write off such examples of pigfuck ignorance because some people just don’t know no better. Knowing that some things are, and some things are not, is not arrogant elitism – it is on this foundation of reason that civilization is built and perpetuated. More specifically, it is on this foundation of reason that our civilization was built, and for it to continue, we must reclaim and reaffirm those very basic notions: some things are and others are not. This is particularly important when dealing with people like the aforementioned Mr. Inhoffe: in order to achieve the changes necessary to combat the problem, we must time and again – citing the innumerable studies and examples of its very basic facts – re-state that climate change is happening, and no amount of their saying otherwise will change this.

No trembling before the pigfuck ignorant – follow Lisa Jensen’s example and refuse to obey the forces of small-minded wrongness.

UPDATE: And, indeed, it would appear that the good people of Pagosa Springs, Colo. are doing just that:

The fines have been dropped, and the three-member board of the association has resigned, according to an e-mail message sent to residents on Monday.

Two board members have disconnected their telephones, apparently to escape the waves of callers asking what the board could have been thinking, residents said. The third board member, with a working phone, did not return a call for comment.

…there are now more peace symbols in Pagosa Springs, a town of 1,700 people 200 miles southwest of Denver, than probably ever in its history.On Tuesday morning, 20 people marched through the center carrying peace signs and then stomped a giant peace sign in the snow perhaps 300 feet across on a soccer field, where it could be easily seen.

“There’s quite a few now in our subdivision in a show of support,” Mr. Trimarco said.

A former president of the Loma Linda community, where Mr. Trimarco lives, said Tuesday that he had stepped in to help form an interim homeowners’ association.

The former president, Farrell C. Trask, described himself in a telephone interview as a military veteran who would fight for anyone’s right to free speech, peace symbols included.

Town Manager Mark Garcia said Pagosa Springs was building its own peace wreath, too. Mr. Garcia said it would be finished by late Tuesday and installed on a bell tower in the center of town.

That sounds about right.

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3 Responses to The Tyranny of the Homeowners’ Association

  1. Mark says:

    One of the exhilarating and terrifying things about Democracy is that the pigfuck ignorant people have the same amount of political power as everyone else. Occasionally they use it to elect other pigfuck ignorant people like Bob Kearns to representative offices (I say “they” and feel like an elitist, but I am pretty sure I am not pigfuck ignorant). I suspect that vast majority of the time the elected ignorant just kind of muddle through and more or less don’t screw things up, although occasionally you get something like what you see here – just total, mind-numbing, internet-meme-creating incompetence.

    I can still mostly sleep at night though, because as much as I wish these folks were not elected in the first place, the system is usually good at returning to some kind of sensible equilibrium, as it seems to be doing here. It doesn’t always happen as fast as it could, but it usually happens. I think the same thing is happening now at the federal level; even the ignorant realized something was very wrong over the past couple of years, and voted the bums out.

  2. Leslie Peng says:

    Even though there are interesting constitutional issues here, the overwhelming fact is that war loving, right wing, religious conservatives hate the thought of peace because they see it as weak and liberal. The people protesting the peace sign are demonstrating their ignorance in more than one area. What a bunch of idiots.

  3. J Jones says:

    To whom do we homeowners complain when a homeowners association oversteps its bounds, time after time after time with covenent compliance issues that really don’t exist? I’ve been harrassed by “my” homeowner’s association for 6 years now with each “issue” being dismissed after some state level inspector negates the alledged infraction. The HOA board of directors are bent on destroying homeowners’ pursuit of happiness. To whom, on a state or federal level, can we homeowners register a complaint?

    Thanks,
    J Jones

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