Noise Trespass

We need a noise trespass law.  At the very least, the concept of noise trespass should be as familiar among the general population as physical trespass.

Why is going onto someone’s private property without permission (physical trespass) considered a wrong?  Because doing so is intrusive (presuming a right to privacy) and potentially damaging.  The same goes for sending noise onto someone’s private property.

Noise is intrusive because it—the sound of machinery, loud music, screaming kids, even conversations (having to listen to someone have an extended cellphone conversation, for example)—detracts and distracts from whatever one is trying to do, whether that’s watching tv, listening to (one’s own preferred) music, writing an essay, filling out income tax returns, sleeping…it doesn’t really matter.  Surely we have a right to privacy concerning our attention; noise hijacks our attention—it coerces us to pay attention to something we don’t want to pay attention to.

Noise is potentially damaging in a number of ways.  Depending on a number of factors (of which dB is only one), noise “damages hearing [at least 20% of teenagers now suffer from slight hearing loss], disturbs communication, disrupts sleep, affects heart function, intrudes on cognition…, reduces productivity, provokes unwanted behaviors, and increases accidents” (Mitra).  It can also cause or contribute to “anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, change in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis, hysteria, and psychosis” (Noise Free America).

Noise produced by industry, airports, and so on is already being monitored and regulated.  I’m talking here about the noise caused by individuals in residential neighborhoods.  Various sound charts put city traffic at around 80dB, the subway at 88dB, a garbage truck at 100dB; lawnmowers and leafblowers can also be as high as 100dB, and chainsaws, dirt bikes, ATVs, boat motors, and PWCs are louder still, at around 110dB.

But, one might object, although we own our own property, and so have a right to object when someone trespasses on it, we don’t own the air over our property, and sound travels through the air.  There are several replies to this: we shouldn’t own the land either (and yet physical trespass might still be wrong, merely because of occupancy); we should also own the air over our land (in which case, noise trespass is as wrong as physical trespass); we collectively own the air (and that’s sufficient to consider noise a trespass); ownership is irrelevant altogether (occupancy is sufficient).  People get upset when a neighbour’s dandelion seeds travel through air and land on their property; is there not similar justification for getting upset when a neighbour’s sound waves travel through air and ‘land’—ah, but they don’t land on one’s property.  No, but they ‘land’ on one’s eardrums: sound is not perceived until the sound waves ‘hit’ one’s eardrums.  Surely that’s even more intrusive: the sound waves actually touch our body, not just our property.

In any case, smoke from burning tires travels through air, and if it travels from your neighbour’s property through the air onto your property, or, more accurately, into the air over your property, perhaps even through your open windows into your house, you would, I think, cry foul.

In addition to the intrusion and the damage, most of the annoying noise caused by individuals is avoidable.  Manual lawnmowers, rakes, and clippers have enabled people to take care of their lawns for almost a century.  I suspect that dirt bikes, ATVs, and PWCs can be redesigned to be quiet; for starters, could they not use electric motors rather than two-stroke gas-powered motors?  They certainly don’t have to be modified to increase their noise (as they often are), and they can be driven in a fashion that minimizes their noise (as they often are not).  And, of course, people could use instead bicycles, kayaks, canoes, and so on.  And earbuds or headphones.  And landline phones inside buildings.

All of which begs the question: why don’t we consider noise trespass to be trespass?  Are we so unable to consider the invisible and the intangible?  It we can’t see it or touch it, it doesn’t exist?  Despite its obvious effects?

Or is it that men like noise?  (After all, for the most part, they’re the ones making it.)  And it is the male view, male interests, male values that dictate law and custom, make no mistake about that.  This is the view presented at Manly Power Tools.  It’s also the view endorsed by a certain electronic composer who, when asked why he writes such loud, dense music, replied “Besides the obvious?  The desire to fill all this space with sound?”  Perhaps men are still being led around by their primitive brain, and all their noise is just a sublimated roar, mistakenly believed to be necessary for survival.  (Which begs the question: when will they evolve into homo sapiens?)

 

Why don’t we have professional jurors?

A while ago I received a summons to appear for jury selection.  So I dutifully drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to establish my fitness to serve.  No, that’s not true.  I drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to answer their questions – and curious as to whether one or both of the lawyers would decide they’d rather not have me on the jury.

The judge welcomed us — all hundred of us, it was standing room only — and  briefly described the upcoming trial and the jury selection process.  He then said, “If there is anyone with hearing problems who has trouble hearing what’s being said in the court room, please raise your hand.”  The process was off to an impressive start, I thought.

We were a motley crew of housewives, electricians, social workers, administrative assistants, metal fabricators, and restaurant owners.  I know, because as we were called one by one to stand before the lawyers, that information was provided to them.  We weren’t asked if we had any prejudices, if we had any issues with the law that had been broken, or if we would be able to render a fair decision.  (‘Yes, but the relevant issue is whether my prejudices would get in the way’; ‘Yes, I don’t think possessing marijuana should be illegal, nor do I think selling it should be illegal – especially as long as selling alcohol is lega’l; and ‘That depends on what evidence is presented and how it’s presented – and your definition of ‘fair’.’)  Which means that the lawyers’ decisions to accept or reject us were based solely on what we looked like and what we did for a living.  So much for prejudices and rendering a fair decision.

Oh, and we were asked to look the accused in the eye.  (“AAGH!”)

And then, if we were accepted, we were asked this question: “Do you swear that you shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our sovereign the Queen and the accused at the bar, whom I have in charge, and a true verdict give, according to the evidence, so help you God.”  Well, ya should’ve asked that before.  Because first, I don’t know what the hell “true deliverance make” means.  Second, as for being able to give a true verdict, if we knew what the truth of the matter was, we wouldn’t have to have a trial now, would we? And third, I’m atheist, so I’m not putting my hand on that.  ‘Reject’ both attorneys say at once.

Well, no they didn’t, actually, because I never got a chance to say any of that.  The required thirteen jurors were selected before my name was called.  And I have no idea why the chosen thirteen were chosen.  Why was the college instructor rejected?  Because she might ask too many questions and get too few answers and, therefore, hang the jury?  Because it would be too inconvenient for her to be away from her job for two weeks?  And why was the steelworker accepted?  Because he smiled at the judge and seemed like an awshucks kinda guy?  Or because his employer would reimburse him so the five dollars an hour we’d be getting paid wouldn’t be quite so appalling.  (Mind you, that’s just if the trial goes on for more than ten days; for the first ten days, we aren’t paid at all — which means it may well cost us to be a juror, given the ten days’ lost income.)

What’s even more appalling, of course, is that someone’s future is at stake.  Whether or not the accused spends time, possibly years, in prison is up to people who aren’t even getting paid.

‘Course why should they be?  It’s not like they’re qualified.  Their names were drawn out of a hat and they were chosen largely on the basis of their appearance.

All of which BEGS the question, Why don’t we have professional jurors?  People who are trained not only to recognize and resist personal prejudice, but to recognize and resist loaded language.  People who understand the difference between fact and opinion, and who know what an argument is, and the difference between an inductive argument and a deductive one.  People who can identify and evaluate unstated assumptions, and who understand relevance, the difference between correlation and causation, and the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  People who understand the many ways to reason incorrectly and who know how to evaluate personal testimony, sources, and studies.  People who are paid according to their qualifications and contribution.

Seriously, why don’t we have professional jurors?  Is it because we want a jury of our peers to decide our fate?  Why in the world would most people want that?  Most people’s peers couldn’t tell the difference between good evidence and bad evidence if their – your – life depended on it!  Is it because we think that in a democracy such decisions are best made by the common people?  Right, well, maybe that’s the problem with democracy.  We have professional judges; our judges are trained to be clear and critical thinkers (notwithstanding the one mentioned above).  And since jurors often bear more responsibility for the judgements to be made in our courts, they too should be trained, qualified to do the job.

A New Three-Strike Law

There are over 2 million people in prison. Each week, there’s another thousand.  We pay for their housing, food, medical care, education – about $30,000 per year per prisoner.

So I propose a new three-strike law: first crime, you get rehab (maybe it was truly an accident; maybe you’ll change your mind about stuff; maybe you’ll grow up); second crime, you get imprisoned (okay, this is punishment, pure and simple, because if that’s what it takes – ); third crime, you get exiled – you get kicked out. Read the rest of this entry »