Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Wooden house on a dirt road on Roatan

Os it even possible to see ugliness in Paradise? On Roatan, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. In Webster’s Dictionary, aesthetics is defined as “the branch of philosophy dealing with the beautiful, chiefly with respect to theories of its essential character, tests by which it may be judged, and its relation to the human mind.”

There is a danger in allowing ugliness into a place of beauty. If all we see around us in uninspiring or of a low quality, this is something we will likely also emulate and build. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

To our own detriment too often we mimic and emulate things that are wrong, ugly and destructive. Classic times beauty was replaced with temporary fads and gimmicks. Modern art, modern ballet, modern theater, violent and degrading music had been weaponized and then told to us that ugly is beautiful, and that beautiful is boring. Confusion and transvaluation is all around us. Some things that were previously deemed as valuable are now worthless and vice-versa.

As humans all have a natural tendency to mimic. We mimic behavior shown to us as examples to emulate in films, on billboards, in social media. We also mimic ways we build houses and structures. So, if we live amongst beautiful, inspiring buildings, this is what we build. If we live amongst uninspiring mediocrity, this is what we tend to build ourselves.

Fortunately, Roatan is not mainland Honduras, just yet. While we are all used to seeing mediocrity of undescriptive, uninspiring places on the mainland, it hurts to see it on such a mesmerizing, picturesque island. For example, there are now several places to change oil – squarish looking concrete bunkers on the main Roatan road near Politylly that have spectacular, breathtaking views worth a million dollars are now merely mundane sites that could have been better served for more interesting projects The contrast of this beauty and mundaneness is striking.

When a community decides it wants to be healthy, spacious and beautiful, it has a right to enforce that “within reason.” It is perhaps obligatory to do that. An unseemly building also lowers property values of its neighbors. It also lowers the ‘wow’ factor for tourists visiting Roatan. A beautiful island dotted with mediocre and ugly buildings is not an impression islanders would like to project. Well at least most of them.

If we live amongst uninspiring mediocrity, this is what we tend to build ourselves.

Self-enforcement of aesthetic standards is as flimsy as human frailty so they sometimes need a little nudge. Many Roatan gated communities have architectural review boards. Therefore, Homeowners Associations enforce building styles, construction materials, window types and even colors allowed to be used in development. All in an effort to keep the beauty of the development at a certain level and protect the investment of the entire community from the transgressions of a few.

While I do believe the marketplace is the ultimate arbiter for what will thrive and what will go extinct, I think government has a role to play here. Not every building is built inside a gated community with governing by laws.

While government officials are no authorities on aesthetics, one of their few justified functions is to protect our commonwealth: clean water, wild animals and keep us safe from pollution. While municipal and furthermore, the central governments fail at that miserably, they should still be able to enforce the minimum standard of aesthetics in buildings.

Of course, we are free to make mistakes as we wish. We can build flimsy, ugly structures and live in them at our own risk. Yet, “freedom is not the ability to do what you want to do, freedom is the ability to do what you should do according to God’s commandments and God’s rules,” said Dr. Stan Monteith. You could extend that into an area of aesthetics, art and architecture: “freedom is building structures that follow God’s commandments of honesty, beauty and are not offensive to thy good neighbor.”

The public environment is something that belongs to all of us, it is our common inheritance. An ugly permanent building should raise voices of criticism, we just accept what we see driving or walking by.
The values that are public are not only physical, material, but also aesthetical. We were passed an environment that was beautiful and healthy by our parents and grandparents and we owe it to our children to pass them surroundings that are at least just as full of inspiration, potential and beauty as we took over.

While recently people increasingly react to the unsightliness of buildings around them. If a taxi passenger throws a plastic bottle out the window, this immediately raises protests and action. Unfortunately, not so when someone builds unattractive, or just plain ugly building on a beautiful easily visible site, it hurts. It hurts our sense of order, harmony and calm. So, let’s improve the level of construction and improve the aesthetics of our community.

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