Simple Liberty  



Reflections From The Front Porch

Sub Woofers

Written by Darrell Anderson.

To many people, little could be more irritating than to be enjoying the quiet and peaceable use of one’s home and then somebody in a car with a sub woofer drives by, or to be idling at an intersection and to hear thump-thump-thump. The problem is not so much the sounds, but the vibration effects of low frequency sound. Often, one feels the thumping of a sub woofer long before hearing sound. Indeed, pay attention to any passing car containing a sub woofer. One barely hears the actual music and hears and feels only the thump-thump-thump of the sub woofer. Although sub woofers are popular among some people, most find them irritating. The problem is not the stereo or music but the low frequency vibrations of the sub woofer. Studies have shown that low frequency sounds are experienced more as a vibration than a sound and are psychologically upsetting and distracting to many people.

Although there is no doubt that Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a statist to the core, he also understood common law. He once wrote a book about common law. Even the blind hog occasionally finds an acorn. A well-known saying often attributed to Holmes is “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” This statement is a truism of basic common law and common sense — at least, common sense in any environment where people hope to coexist peaceably among one another.

The statement highlights a straightforward concept of social and legal principles. The statement teaches about the general concept of trespass. That is, any uninvited intrusion of boundaries is trespass. Of course, there are occasions when one voluntarily invites a swinging fist, or at least tolerates such actions. Contact sports are an example. Outside such voluntary contexts, people expect boundaries to be observed.

Although analogies and corollaries often fail, one can extrapolate from Holmes’s statement to develop similar ideas about boundaries. That is, the right to play my sub woofer ends where another person’s ear begins.

Complicating the issue, but only slightly, is that the personal boundary of self can be expanded. The standing to expect no trespass expands to one’s home, or car. Generally, that standing expands to any recognized property boundary.

The question of uninvited vibrations from sub woofers is not about who has standing to do what, or who has the right to do what, but where one property boundary impedes another and in a fashion to arguably constitute trespass.

Some people will argue that public roads are the explicit property of nobody in particular, and therefore no rules or principles apply to when one plays a sub woofer. They will argue that because the roads are “public property” or “property in common” that people have no standing to complain. They will argue that those people who object to the sub woofer vibrations use the roads voluntarily. After all, anybody who uses a car or truck accepts the general noises created by these objects. However, there should be little doubt that when any sound uninvitingly invades one’s home or the inside of one’s car, that trespass occurs. Thus, the debate about who owns the roads becomes meaningless.

Nor is the issue one of polluting the air with unwanted noise. The simple issue is one of trespass. Is one denied the quiet and peaceable use of their property? Have their boundaries been violated?

Because the owner of a sub woofer has no way to predict when the sounds emanating from those devices will be interpreted as trespass by another individual, the owner has only one option available in order to avoid potential conflict. Ensure the low frequency sound vibrations do not leave the boundaries of the owner’s car.

Under such a social principle the right to listen to a sub woofer does not end. The owner of the sub woofer is not restrained from listening to the low frequency sounds, and only voluntarily limits listening in such a manner so as to avoid trespassing against others. This kind of simple principle creates a win-win world that reduces stress and conflict.

This discussion is an example of the simple elegance of using the general concept of trespass to help guide human action. Because almost all human action introduces the potential for trespass, the most peaceable solution is simply take appropriate action to avoid that potential. Owners of sub woofers need not be strung from their thumbnails, but they can do their part not to trespass against others by ensuring the vibrations they enjoy do not interfere with the quiet and peaceable use of property enjoyed by others. If they refuse to take such preventive action, then perhaps they have no standing to argue when others decide to take action against them. The concept of enjoying property boundaries and associated rights is a two-way street. One must provide restitution for trespasses but also must act in a manner to avoid trespass in the first place. Otherwise the trespass then becomes willful and by definition, a crime.


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