A Niggardly Principles Christmas Ethics Quiz!

Chrtsimas lights 1

In St. Anthony Minnesota, someone sent home owner Kim Hunt an anonymous letter reprimanding her for decorating her home with the modest Christmas lights seen in the top photo above. Three other residences in the neighborhood received the same letter:

Letter lights

The writer, of course, is nuts.

I don’t know what kind of derangement this is—White Guilt Derangement? Hair-Trigger Offense Derangement? Social Justice Obsession Derangement?—-but whoever composed this is one sick mamajama, and we all should pity her or him, as the individual’s brains have obviously been frizzled by the pandemic, or the George Floyd Freakout, or my living in Minnesota, which is not exactly a model of sanity these days itself. At least the individual was not so addled that the letter was signed, although sending presumptuous, sanctimonious and stupid letters like this—has there ever been a letter this presumptuous, sanctimonious and stupid letters?—without having the guts to own up to it is another ethics breach in addition to sending the thing at all.

Kim posted the letter on social media, naturally, and the reaction was predictable: widespread outrage and mockery., which is, I think we can all agree, well deserved. Several commenters expressed a willingness to help redecorate Hunt’s home in the tasteful manner of Clark Griswald’s house (The lower photo above) in the inexplicably popular Christmas comedy, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” This, in turn sparked a GoFundMe page seeking funds so Hunt could do just that, and really offend the daylights out of the anonymous scold.

Thus we have a rare example of the Christmas decorations application of the Ethics Alarms Niggardly Principles, of which there are three:

 The First Niggardly Principle: “No one should be criticized or penalized because someone takes racial, ethnic, religious or other offense at their conduct or speech due to the ignorance, bias or misunderstanding by the offended party.”

The Second Niggardly Principle: “When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

 The Third Niggardly Principle:  “When suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s claim, sincere or otherwise, that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.”

With these in mind, here is your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Would it be ethical to “Griswald” Hunt’s home?


Pointer: Other Bill

37 thoughts on “A Niggardly Principles Christmas Ethics Quiz!

  1. “Would it be ethical to ‘Griswald’ Hunt’s home?”

    Ethical? In a perfect world, no; but perfection is not a human attribute.

    That said, I recall asking here if it was unethical to enjoy, or at least not bemoan, the self-inflicted misfortunes of bespawling addlepates; I also recall getting the answer I was after….

  2. Only if Ms. Hunt wishes to. AND if the neighbors who volunteer to help Ms. Hunt set up all those lights help remove them at the end of the Christmas season. (OR club together to pay the increase in Ms. Hunt’s monthly electric bill from having all those lights on throughout the month of December, and probably the first half of January, too.)

  3. I think this is an opportunity to bring like-minded, rational thinking people together in a very quiet, yet obvious protest against the growing ranks of addle brained people who seem to be surrounding us at a feverish pace. I agree, this should be a group effort–sharing the work and the expense. Though, my first inclination if I were Ms. Hunt would be to put a large sign on my front lawn saying “Happy Birthday, Jesus, the man who believed all lives matter”.

  4. I consider this an indictment of Minnesota, and certainly Minneapolis, culture. Think Garrison Keillor and “Lake Wobegon.” Where all the children are above average. This person is a product of all the supposedly excellent small, originally church funded, colleges required to educate all those above average children in the state. Perhaps the letter is satirical, but it certainly smacks of high octane Authentic Frontier Social Justice Gibberish. It could easily have been written by a Church of Christ or Unitarian Universalist minister, or even delivered in a homily to the faithful. In any event, the problem lies in the schools and churches. I’m just not sure more Christmas decorations will do a thing to remedy the problem.

    Praise Allah Mrs. OB and I got out of the Midwest, having completed our over three year tour of duty there in 1981.

    • “It could easily have been written by a Church of Christ or Unitarian Universalist minister, or even delivered in a homily to the faithful.”

      Disagree. In Minnesota such an enlightened attitude is “ELCA all the way!” – the Wokest of the Woke. AMHIK.
      Besides, what else do the ELCA social justice zealots have to be offended by this time of the year? Besides Christmas, I mean.

      • My familiarity with current Protestant groups is fleeting, Dr. E. Ironically, my Dad, from West Virginia, was brought up to one extent or the other in the Evangelical United Bretheren Church, which I think was merged into the Lutherans at some point. I was raised Catholic so almost all Protestant churches were simply “other.” Except Episcopalian, which was kind of R.C. but in the King’s English and with married priests.

        Anyway, whether it’s churches or schools or both, it’s a bad situation.

  5. The Second Niggardly Principle: “When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

    The second principal would seem the only potential violation, but I would suggest that the “offended” party is a malicious bully and/or so outside of “well-established impulses” so as to invoke Poe’s Law as a secondary consideration. They need to be unambiguously and publicly opposed both to stifle their harmful impulses in the future, and to protect less confident neighbors from hesitating to reasonably enjoy their own property without fear of find themselves without support at the mercy of the neighborhood loon..

  6. “Our thanks for your thoughtful letter, and I assure you we will give the thoughts expressed therein all due consideration”.

    • I’ve spent a lifetime (with limited success) trying to determine where funny and wrong part company. This may very well be because my default approach has always been the ageless Yogiism:

      When You Come To A Fork In The Road, Take It

    • I think you are assuming this would offend or upset most of the neighbors. I think it would do the opposite. I think the vast majority would find it fantastic, just what we need in the depressing times we live. So, we should not do good if that good is partially motivated by upsetting evil?

      If there was a food pantry in the neighborhood and a neighbor didn’t like seeing the poor people standing outside the pantry, would it be unethical to accept food donations made partially to spite that person?

        • I am not so sure. The Second Niggardly Principle says that you should not intentionally antagonize people who are merely ignorant if you can avoid it. I would say that this note is malicious. This is not ignorance, this was someone who wanted to attack these people and force them to comply. This was an exercise in power. My goal would be to make sure that this doesn’t happen to other people. My goal would be to make sure my neighborhood can have Christmas decorations and bring joy to people without being harassed. A little pushback is fully in line with these goals. Without pushback, the cowardly little PC bully will feel perfectly free to try to intimidate others in the neighborhood. Not pushing back sends the message that the note has merit. Putting up a fantastic Christmas lights display to show you won’t be intimidated sends a clear message that you won’t bow to the bullying. Ignoring it just doesn’t send that message clearly.

          I guess it just depends on whether you think the writer of the note was that sincerely deluded that they believe AND UNDERSTAND what they wrote in that note or if they were motivated by either the desire to force their will on others or to signal their own virtue by finding something, anything, to be offended by.

          • A splendid Ethics Alarms debate, Michael!

            We have, of late, seen public officials, trial lawyers and race-baiting shakedown artists whose continuance in their (lucrative) offices is dependent upon a compliant media and the good will of people so conditioned and gullible that they’re no longer capable of seeing through lies, bullshit, and manipulation of public opinion.

            The former are highly unlikely to pen an anonymous letter. Far better to arrange a “spontaneous” press conference on the street in front of the heretic’s house. The chiron alone is gold.

            Hanlon’s Razor (once again) comes into play here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” It’s an assumption, I agree… but I am confident in assuming that whoever wrote the letter is, in the parlance of my old emergency medical services days, suffering from TSTL.*

            *Too Stupid to Live

  7. “Would it be ethical to ‘Griswald’ Hunt’s home?”


    If it were my home then that was already the level of decorations that I originally chose so I wouldn’t change a thing. The author of the letter can piss off.

    • I think the home owners that got those letters should draft a clever response letter and have that and the original letter publicized in the local newspaper and local news plus send the response to every house within eye sight of their homes. Maybe they could make a city wide contest to come up with the best response letter, charge all the entries $5 and then donate all the funds to Toys for Tots, and make a website with all the reply entries posted for the world to vote on and the winner can get a nice Christmas ornament.

      • I’ll save you the trouble.

        To: Whoever sent the December 5th letter to myself and my three neighbors who decided to decorate for Christmas this year.

        Dear whoever,

        I do not call you sir or madam because I do not know which you are. I do not know this because you did not bother to sign your name to your letter of December 5th chiding us for our decision to decorate for Christmas. For all I know, you could just be a foolish teenager looking to stir up trouble, however, I don’t think you are, since the language in your letter closely replicates the language used in the cookie cutter petitions posted to change.org this year demanding the removal of certain statues. I think every municipality that has a statue of Christopher Columbus must have gotten one.

        It comes as no surprise that you would be opposed to the celebration of Christmas, since the mentality displayed in that letter is the same mentality that goes with the letters that demand removal of crosses on war memorials, statues that have stood there for almost a century with nary a peep, and the cessation of community celebrations that have gone on for decades without bothering anyone. It is the mentality that says because I don’t like something it should not be there, because I have a problem with something my thoughts on it outweigh everyone else’s, and that if I choose not to celebrate something, no one else should be allowed to celebrate it either. It’s not enough for you to ignore the item you don’t like, it has to go, and if a parade passes that you don’t agree with, it’s not enough for you to simply pull down your shades until the parade passes, you’re the one who wants to rain on it instead.

        You are an ideological heir to Madeline Murray O’Hair, whose sole claim to fame is that she stopped something from happening that she did not agree with, and, after she met the fate that she tempted by associating with dangerous people, didn’t leave this world even a little bit objectively better than it was when she got here. Your letter didn’t leave the world one bit better than it was before you wrote it, and arguably it’s a little bit worse because now a bunch of us know there’s someone out there who wants to take away our celebration.

        You are also arguably a rather poor heir to those who tried to snuff out what this time of year is all about for tyrannical reasons. The reason our Jewish friends and colleagues light the menorah at this time of year is because someone like you, but a hundred times nastier, told them that they could not celebrate their beliefs the way they chose. This is also the time of year when Washington and his men crossed the Delaware, reigniting the dying light of freedom in the revolution. Then there is also the later victory around this time over the last gasp of the kind of people who wanted to snuff out everything they didn’t agree with in the Ardennes forest. Those folks all stood up for the principle that no one has the right to impose his will on others and forbid their beliefs or their culture. A lot of them died standing up for that.

        Now you come here not in bronze armor, not in a red coat, not in a brown shirt, not bearing a thunderbolt, or a union jack, or a swastika, and not relying on the legacy of a conqueror long gone, acts passed by a punitive legislature, or some ideal of the perfect nation made up by the perfect people, but in the garb of a neighbor who doesn’t dare step out from the crowd, bearing a letter that you don’t even have the courage to sign your name to, relying on guilt generated by an act this year that did not concern anyone involved here and does not concern this celebration. However, you come seeking the same thing, which is imposing your will on others. CS Lewis once wrote that villains come always seeking the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.

        Actually, you also stand as a rather poor successor to Oliver cromwell, one of the 30 greatest villains in all of history. He decided that Christmas celebrations were bad for his blue-nosed and tyrannical idea of public morality, so he decided to ban them. Town criers walked up and down the streets calling out “no Christmas!” and anyone caught lighting a Christmas candle or eating a Christmas cake could be executed. Now you come here trying to tell us that the celebration is wrong because it might offend someone who does not share our beliefs or someone who is less well off than us. Cromwell didn’t succeed in killing the holiday, and ended his existence disinterred and crucified before the houses of Parliament, that everyone might see the dead body of the now departed tyrant. What makes you think that you can do any better?

        Our celebrations will continue. If that offends you, that is your problem, not ours. Rest assured, we will not set a place at Christmas dinner, nor bake any extra treats to welcome you, you are not welcome. However, as the old rhyme points out, Christmas comes but once a year, and it is a temporary time of celebration. After January 6th, all of these decorations that so offend you will be taken down and put away for another year, so your offendedness should abate then, just like a bad case of the flu.

        We will not use any of the customary holiday greetings in closing, since you have established that you do not wish to hear them, so we will simply sign this letter…

        Wishing you find joy in being such a miserable person,

        Your neighbors who celebrate Christmas.

  8. Aren’t the very nice homes to which those decorations adorn an outwardly expression of social injustice and oppression when so many have to live in public housing? I jest of course.

    How come only one group must strive to learn from differences, ideas, and opinions of others. Perhaps those with differences, ideas, and opinions should learn how to get along without being demanding of others. I used to be a tolerant person but those preaching tolerance while never practicing it made me feel like a dupe so my willingness to tolerate such persons is now approaching zero.

    To answer the question on ethics, no it would not be ethical to “Griswald” someone else’s home. They decorated as they wanted.

  9. The author of the letter wants to deny people the simple joy of driving around at night to look at decorations from the the safety of their own car during the pandemic.

    It would be a ethical, though no more required than to decorate any other year, to double the decorations in response to the letter.

  10. Presidential Trivia:

    The letter was sent to an address on Coolidge Street, which was named for President Calvin Coolidge.

    To assist the large immigrant communities in Northeast Minneapolis become familiar with American History, the street were named after the Presidents.

    Subordinate trivia:

    There is only one Cleveland Street (though St. Paul has a Cleveland Avenue).

    The street for John Quincy Adams was simply “Quincy,” as his father got “Adams.”

    Benjamin Harrison’s street is “Benjamin,” as William Henry got “Harrison Street.”

    For similar reasons, FDR got “Delano Street.”


      • Well, I figured there are not many places to throw out this trivia (though I did talk about the street names in Northeast on this blog on one previous occasion), but it would be appreciated here.


    • Neat!

      Not many places you can get this sort of fun stuff.

      I have to wonder, though, if they continue their educational ways, might there eventually be a ‘W’ street? Perhaps a street named ‘The Donald’. 🙂 It’d be fascinating to observe the traffic on that street.

      • Diego Garcia,
        They ran out of space. There is a Kennedy Street over there, but perpendicular to the others (appropriate, perhaps). Not sure if there was one for Ike or Truman, but they too would have been sho-horned into dwindling space. LBJ would likely have been named Lyndon and Nixon Street would have been replaced by Ford Street.

        But, I think that experiment has reached its conclusion.


  11. I think going full Griswald would be tacky, and possibly annoying to some neighbors for esthetic reasons but hardly unethical. Maybe some Merry Prankster wrote the letter to mock AOC, The Squad, and the vast number of social justice warriors that share the sentiments of the letter.

  12. A Griswalding of the home would be over the top and look more deranged in the end. I propose an appropriate Easter display next end of March to April 5. Bring. It. On.

    And the letter should be posted on the homeowner’s property for passersby to see.

  13. My response would be to apologize and let them know that next year we’ll decorate with all red lights and a blow up Lenin wearing a Santa hat.

  14. The response I am thinking of is somewhere between zoebrain’s and an excerpt of Steve-O’s. Or not…

    Zoe offers: “Our thanks for your thoughtful letter, and I assure you we will give the thoughts expressed therein all due consideration.” Written like a true Ministry of Defence (and U.S. DOD) professional.

    Steve-O writes, in part: “Our celebrations will continue. If that offends you, that is your problem, not ours.”

    NOW I’ve got it! I would say
    “Go suck on a live, bulb-less electrical Christmas light socket!”

  15. I don’t think the homeowner should go all out just to irk the offended. But what if they’d WANTED to do more but didn’t have the resources? The fundraising could get a nice creche and blow up snowman and help the electric bill. Make lemonade from the sour letter.

    They should not be forced by some gutless offended person to reduce an outdoor lightshow if they want to express a measure of happiness after a dreary year. Does the letter writer get off on others being depressed? Or are they secretly Sith and hate Light shows?

  16. I take offense in that the author of the letter did not sign it, and thereby checkmated my boilerplate response letter, “Some insane person has been writing us letters and signing your name …..”
    With that option off the table I would go with, as mentioned above, using the fund account for some tasteful enhancements to the existing display, but adding a little plaque explaining that the enhancements were from the funding stimulated by the jackass neighbor who wrote a nasty letter.

  17. Dear Busybody Neighbor,

    Thank you for your nice letter, but I am actually a citizen of the United States and happen to have a set of beliefs I strongly believe, harm nobody and am permitted to celebrate, whereas you have clearly mistaken me for some sort of atheist spineless amoral coward such as yourself. Although caving into the doldrum-life woke-scoldery of Christmas haters like you and whatever parents neglected to teach you values you can celebrate, I happen to have a backbone and pride in my inherited culture, which frankly, has been a unifying force that has worked exceedingly well for our people. I plan on celebrating that culture, especially now, during a season which emphasizes generosity and cheer, and especially during this year. The safe and scaredy-cat hole that consists of never believing in anything good is a sucky place to be, neighbor…Christmas lights are the answer.

    Have a good day!

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