I'm a fan of bans

I'm a fan of bans

As many of you will no doubt be pleased to know, it's been another banner week for banning things.

I love bans. I'm a huge advocate of wanton banning as a means of creating an ideal society. (One exception: I would oppose a ban on wantons.)

I mean, sure, your hardcore left-wing liberals will argue that banning is too draconian an instrument and we should use education to help people make the right choices for themselves, but that's just idealistic. (And we should consider banning idealism.)

We've seen time and again that educational campaigns are costly, time- consuming and never produce the sort of results everybody hopes for.

For instance, let's say you want to get people not to fart in public. You could spend millions and millions of taxpayer dollars over years running educational campaigns and never see any meaningful reduction in the amount of public gas.

Or you can just slap on a ban on public flatulence and just like that, boom, you still don't have a reduction in public farting, but at least now, the fines can be a source of revenue.

I know this because my household had previously tried to impose a "swear jar" for farting.

It did not reduce the amount of household gas, but provided a useful source of extra funding for items such as air fresheners and scented candles.

But enough about that - you get the point. Banning things is great.

Anyway, as I was saying, I am terribly pleased by the shisha ban in Singapore this week and the ban on Bluetooth selfie sticks in South Korea.

To be honest, I got really excited by the South Korean selfie-stick ban when I first heard about it.

I thought that, finally, here was a government with the good sense and courage to go against the will of Instagram users in the name of the greater good. I mean, the whole selfie wave is clearly ruining our society.

I recently saw a celebrity approach a group of teen girls and just as he arrived, the excited girls - almost in unison - turned their backs on him. Of course, this was not some sort of protest, but a means of securing the coveted selfie.

Unfortunately, the Korean ban was only on uncertified Bluetooth-enabled selfie sticks, rather than on the selfie stick industry as a whole. There will still be loads of selfie sticks around, just that the really cheap ones will be illegal. I guess it's a start.

What did cheer me though is the admission from the authorities that the selfie stick ban serves no purpose.

"It's not going to affect anything in any meaningful way, but it is nonetheless a telecommunication device subject to regulation, and that means we are obligated to crack down on uncertified ones," an official said.

That is precisely the sort of attitude I like to encourage - meaningless banning.

While the South Korean ban is great, the Singapore one is not shabby either.

Now, I know what you are thinking, what kind of society do we live in that bans shisha but continues to let the atrocities of the selfie stick exist?

This is a good point and we should eventually ban that too, but let us not lose sight of how significant the shisha ban is.

To me, it marks a brave new frontier of banning things and may now finally open the door to some more aggressive banning.

All too often, when Singapore bans something, it tends to be something new, say a new film or a book or a website or some guy who claims he can teach Singaporean men how to seduce women.

None of these are terribly disruptive measures since the bans deprive us only of things we have not yet experienced.

(Admit it, most of us guys have no idea what it is like to seduce women. Some of us are not even quite sure how to talk to one.)

Shisha is different though. I know a lot of people who have tried it at least once.

Sure, it's terrible for you, but it's been around for years and there is already a well-established market. Banning it would force a lot of restaurants in the Arab Street area to change their business models and will likely change the vibe of the place.

It's almost like suddenly forbidding the sale and distribution of char kway teow. I feel like we have not had a ban this fun since we made world news by outlawing the sale of chewing gum.

And now that we are open once again to banning existing things, we should start looking at the various things we can ban.

With a little imagination, I feel like there is no problem today that cannot be solved by some judicious banning.

Take, for example, the problem of hoarding. A recent survey showed that nearly eight in 10 Singaporeans above 40 are still hanging onto their old school assignments. This is an obvious problem given how cramped most of our homes are.

I can understand it though. I've been out of junior college for more than 15 years and I still have my biology notes. Why?

The simple reason is I know the day I throw any of it out, someone is going to ask me what happens in the fourth stage of the Kreb's cycle and I'm not going to know.

Also, my father is still holding out hope I will go to medical school and I may need those notes then.

I would think about throwing them out, however, if there was a ban on old lecture notes.

I also want to ban SMS messages that consist solely of the letter "k" and those little blue ticks on WhatsApp that let you know if someone has read your messages.

Anyway, these are just some examples off the top of my head. I'm sure you have many better ones. Let me know what things you would like to see banned.

Or maybe you disagree with me and think that nothing should be banned. You can write to me too...although there should be a ban against that.


This article was first published on December 1, 2014.
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