Oh, how inconvenient!

In Singapore, of course, one shouldn’t be surprised to find people arguing that street protests should be banned because they inconvenience other people. I tried to point out in the comments that if anything cars inconvenience other people orders of magnitude more than street protests do. Yet strangely no one would even think of banning cars. I don’t think anyone took my argument seriously. Whenever one starts on a tack of pointing out how bad cars are, nothing registers, because they assume you’re some sort of ecological fanatic. Yet it seems clear to me that pointing out how bad protests are is even more ridiculous. It is on par with those letters one often sees in the Straits Times forum where people complain about some incourteous behaviour by various strangers. I can imagine very few periods in history where street protests were a disruption to people’s lives anywhere near the order of magnitude of the disruption cars bring to our lives. This recalls various ridiculous disputes that Singaporeans somehow manage to make quasi-national issues. For example I remember a flurry of articles in the Chinese newspapers once about neighbours hanging their dripping laundry above one another’s. This somehow managed to become a big issue reflecting on some fundamental problem in our society (it being the Chinese newspapers you can safely assume they’re lamenting the gradual increase in selfishness and decrease in Asian community values). It’s an “air-conditioned nation” indeed. We can’t even bear the thought of having a 1/100 chance that our commutes home today will be held up by a street protest! Our lives revolve around beating our neighbours in the laundry war!

It also recalls my mother’s obsession with grabbing the best parking spaces on our road. MInd you, there was never a shortage of parking spaces. She just thought that some were more shaded and/or less likely to be scraped by passing traffic than others, and if she had to settle for an inferior space when she first arrived home, she’d keep a hawk’s eye out for when the neighbours vacated a superior space, and would make my father go out and move the car when that happened.

Here’s a reasonable conjecture: the number hold-ups caused by traffic accidents far outnumbers the probable number of street protests that are large enough to hold up traffic. I don’t think we would even have to count the “normal” peak hour traffic jams. In any case those are predictable and presumably street protests are not (though certain big ones like on Earth Day or other similar anniversaries could be).

Of course, when there are no other struggles in our air-conditioned lives, the little battles mean a lot. Psst. What about those big global struggles? Or, you know, things like truth, justice, meaning? Well, those are for silly idealists.


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