Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sex In Taichung

So... a week ago apparently, there was an "incident" in a park in Taichung city. Two foreign students - a guy from the States, and a girl from Brazil - were caught fornicating in a public park at some ridiculously early hour. Perhaps they hadn't been previously informed about the early morning exercise habits of Taiwan's old people; it is an easy mistake to make. I once swam out to sea at night with a foreign girl - both of us stark naked - only to be surprised on our return by the appearance along the beach of old people, clearly visible in the grey dawn light. Fortunately, we got back to our somewhat obscured pile of clothes unnoticed. Fun times...

Anyway, the upshot is that the two students in Taichung might be charged in court with "offenses against morality" and they may have to leave the country. Yesterday's China Post house editorial was written to highlight the problem of this law's lack of definition...
"According to the Article 234 under the Offense Against Morality statute, a person who for purposes of exhibition publicly commits an obscene act shall be sentenced to imprisonment for less then one year. In this article, the phrase “obscene act” is mentioned, but no further explanation is given, which means it all depends on the police's judgment or definition to determine what an “obscene act” is."
Yet if that translation is accurate, then prior to the question of definition, there is another question of whether the act was performed "for purposes of exhibition". I doubt the two foreign students in Taichung decided to fornicate in a park at 5am in order to make an exhibition of themselves (for if so, why not 5pm rather than 5am?), but were just two people who couldn't get a room*. So on that count, there would seem to be an obvious legal avenue to exempt them from conviction.

To return to the importance of defining an "obscene act", then yes: if the premises are granted then the conclusion follows: "obscenity" must be defined. I will just note parenthetically that a regular feature of life in southern Taiwan is the tendency of old men to urinate in public at the local park. There is in fact a little toilet house in the park which is cleaned every day and they could go there if they wanted, but they don't - they're just too lazy. These old men are ubiquitous in southern Taiwan, and yet I have never heard of any of them being prosecuted for committing "obscene acts", even though I guess most people disapprove of urinating in public as obscene. 

However, whilst the author of that China Post editorial is quite capable of ambling through the legal landscape, pointing out the signs of this or that technical fault, she evidently has a poor understanding of the underlying moral geology.... 
"Some may argue that a law may not be possible to regulate what people can or cannot do in public spaces based on the concept of human rights, which everyone is entitled to. However, people also have the right to not be exposed to behaviors that will cause them distress. Laws should be the fair line, equally protecting and enforcing everyone's rights..."
The first thing here is that "human rights" is not a concept. The list of such "rights" enumerated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is contradictory (for instance Article 12 contradicts Article 19), and therefore cannot form a unified concept. To say that everyone is "entitled" to human rights is just as gibberish as saying that people are entitled to things that they are also not entitled to.

The second thing is the unannounced and unexplained intrusion of the enormous claim that there is some kind of right to not be distressed. Yet since distress is an emotional response to events and situations with variation unto infinity, there cannot be any contextually specific definition of distress - which is essentially the same complaint the author made earlier about laws lacking definition! The contradiction seems to have gone unnoticed (I wonder why...)

But to put the point in broader aspect, the China Post author ought to be made aware that in predicating substantive moral concepts like "rights" on something as insecure as subjective emotions, she would render political power into an arbitrary form. That would not be "the rule of law" - that would be the opposite of "the rule of law"; it would actually be nothing more than intolerance fraudulently ascended to the status of a moral right.

Should I write to correct her?

* I could believe this: they tried to get a room in one or two of the city's "motels" but found they were full and so decided on the park on the naive belief there'd be nobody around. Maybe they could have found a free room at some other motel had they kept looking, but that would have taken too much time to find. Excitement is an acute emotion, especially in women.

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