22. May 2024 · Comments Off on Norms · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry, European Disunion, Media Matters Not

Walking through my own neighborhood this week, I was reflecting on norms – not this Norm, but the established, accepted and socially-enforced norms make a neighborhood like mine a rather pleasant, secure and safe place to live, as well as being mildly attractive. We really don’t have to worry, even now, about plants and ornaments routinely being stolen, vandalism or random violence. Such incidents do happen, as noted on Next Door – but are not routine and are cause for much comment when they occur.
The accepted norms and standards for housekeeping and public behavior make for a pleasant and livable community, especially in a high-trust society. When violation of the established norms becomes routine – that becomes grounds for unhappiness and worse, especially in the minds of those who remember and valued the old, high-trust norms. There aren’t many ways to fight back effectively against a collapse of high-trust norms and the rule of law, other than moving away, or socially shunning the offenders. The English Daily Mail offered up an example of a community fighting back, this week.

The Daily Mail is one of my long-time guilty pleasures, although I skip over any stories about various Euro royal families, the Kardashians and Taylor Swift. I’ve long been aware of a subculture on the English scene – Irish Travelers. The Travelers used to make the local scene in horse-drawn wagons; quaint and picturesque little conveyances. The traditionally minded still do. Probably the best known to Americans is the one which Mr. Toad took such a fancy for in The Wind in the Willows. In the past, the peripatetic owners of these mobile little homes earned a living doing small repairs, dealing in horses, fortunetelling, and specialty retail. They were usually considered not entirely trustworthy. They were rovers and wanderers, hadn’t been settled in a village or as shire for so many generations that everyone knew who their great-great-grandparents were. Outsiders naturally were suspected of dodgy dealings – but as long as they moved on without making much of a fuss or boosting too many unconsidered trifles, this was fine. The social norms and the law were upheld, and seen to be upheld; just as important as actually being upheld.

The Travelers used to be called gypsies, or tinkers, before such nomenclature was branded as rude and racist or something. I have no idea why. To judge from pictures of members of the Traveling community posted in the Daily Mail and others, they don’t look all that much different from your average working-class Anglo-Saxon. The most visible Travelers now prefer trailers and RVs, camping here and there, moving on as the mood and calendar takes them, and staging weddings for their young which (to judge from TV and the Mail) explore the farthest boundaries in flashy bad taste. It also seems that a good portion of the present-day Traveling community view that Britian through which they move only as a source of plunder and easily cheated non-Travelers. It’s been reported again and again: groups of Travelers take up camping on empty public and sometimes private land, often over the objections of local residents and landowners, dining and dashing on an industrial-level scale, trashing pubs and party venues … and then to move on, leaving mountains of trash behind, to the outrage of local citizens and authorities. (Representatives of the Traveler community sometimes vary this program by complaining vociferously about prejudice against Travelers … gee, it’s hard to imagine why!)

An important event in the Traveler calendar is the yearly Appleby Horse Fair, in northern England. Apparently, the fair is enormously popular; billed as the biggest Gypsy/Traveler event in Europe, drawing participants and spectators by the thousands every late spring. But this one story caught my eye – a town close enough to Appleby that serves as staging and prep area is planning to basically close up for the duration. All but a single pub and just about every business is planning on locking their doors. Talk about pulling out the ‘welcome’ mat, rolling up the sidewalks and turning out the lights. It seems that the influx of Travelers violated so many community norms in previous years, that their equivalent of the chamber of commerce decided there would be no future in staying open for business. The losses in vandalism, property damage, crime, shoplifting, abuse by juveniles throwing bottles of urine … yuck … the various business owners didn’t make enough from the temporary influx to make it worth the candle. Enduring yet another round of violations of their norms, violations against property and persons … just wasn’t worth the hassle. And so the exasperated citizens of a town, who rather obviously reverence the norms of civil conduct in their community did what they could with regard to a temporary challenge to them. They cannot be forced to do business with those who abuse and presume on their hospitality.

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