We hear lots of talk about protecting neighborhoods. This is fine in and of itself. Protecting neighborhoods, like having clean air and clean water, is something that most people can support.
But there is more to the picture than simply maintaining certain standards or reducing crime when zoning advocates speak of protecting neighborhoods. Underlying their arguments is a very ugly premise—collectivism.
Collectivism holds that the individual is subservient to the group—the collective. It holds that individuals must sacrifice for the group, that the welfare of the group is more important than the welfare of the individual.
In the case of zoning, the particular group in question is alternately the neighborhood or the community. When convenient and expedient, zoning advocates focus on a small group—the neighborhood. When convenient and expedient, zoning advocates focus on a larger group—the entire community. In either case, the group is what matters.
Collectivism rests on the premise that morality consists of service to others, of sacrificing one's values to others. Under this premise one’s moral stature is determined by one’s willingness to place the interests of others before one’s own interests. Under this premise, self-sacrifice is regarded as a moral imperative.
Collectivism is the political expression of self-sacrifice. If one accepts self-sacrifice as a moral ideal, then anyone who refuses to do so is regarded as immoral. If one accepts self-sacrifice as a moral ideal, it is acceptable and proper to force others to act morally—i.e., to force others to sacrifice their values to others.
This is precisely what zoning does. Zoning uses government force to dictate land use within a community. Zoning forces individuals to sacrifice their values to those of the group. Zoning treats individuals as sacrificial animals, whose lives may be destroyed for the “public welfare”, the “common good”, or some other meaningless bromide.
The truth is, each individual has a moral right to pursue his values without interference from others, so long as he respects their mutual rights. Each individual has a moral right to pursue his own happiness. Each individual has a right to live for himself, without apology to others, and without their permission.
Only when the morality of self-sacrifice is rejected can Houston finally reject zoning. Only when Houstonians embrace the idea that they have a right to live for their own happiness--that is, rational self-interest-- can we put an end to the endless claims that we do otherwise.
© J. Brian Phillips 2008