Culture Isn’t Property. Copying Isn’t Stealing.

English: Stanford Mausoleum during the annual ...
English: Stanford Mausoleum during the annual Halloween Party at Stanford University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to love Halloween. Not just as a kid, but also as an adult taking my own children out for church “trunk or treat” events and to selected neighborhood homes (we lived a few blocks from the house where the events The Exorcist was based on occurred; in fact, friends still live in that very house; spooky!). No store-bought costumes for my progeny — we spent weeks thinking about and designing and sewing and modifying theirs.

So much for that bygone era. These days I heave a sigh of relief when October 31 clicks over to November 1 and take a moment to mourn yet another holiday ruined by a bunch of sourpuss puritans with a grievance complex.

Piled on top of demands that all of us who haven’t received our perpetual victimhood certificates check our privilege and respect others’ pronouns and perhaps cough up reparations for things we didn’t do to people we didn’t do them to, comes now the burden of ensuring that our Halloween costumes include no elements drawn from societies (living or dead) for which we cannot produce personal affiliation credentials of some sort.

It’s not just a Halloween thing, of course. But Halloween seems to be ground zero for “cultural appropriation” butthurt.  Which I have to say pings the old irony meter in a big way: As philosophy professor Jason Brennan playfully points out at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, unless you’re of Irish extraction, celebrating Halloween (formerly Samhain) at all IS “cultural appropriation.”

News flash: Anything and everything you do, anything and everything you use, anything you have or own, originated in some culture, and for any given thing there’s a very good chance that said culture isn’t the one you call your own.

Every human being living in any modern society begins “culturally appropriating” when the alarm clock goes off in the morning and doesn’t stop doing so until the lights go out at bedtime. Actually, not even then (we don’t know who invented the bed, which has been around for at least 77,000 years, but chances are it came from a culture you have no affiliation with).

And that’s how it SHOULD be. Culture is not property. Copying is not stealing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Instead of chewing each other out for it, we should learn from each other at every opportunity and celebrate when we create something others find worthy of adoption.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.