Monday, November 10, 2014

Public decency

The KissOfLove protests in India are all over the media. Liberals want to protest against "moral policing". Conservatives talk about cultural corruption.

How would an ethicist or a philosopher respond to this phenomenon?

Let's follow the propositional method. If you disagree with a particular proposition, we can dig deeper into it.

1.  There are always limits on acceptable behavior in public. Defecation, vulgar cursing, shouting, smoking, nakedness, drinking alcohol, gambling are regulated by law.  In private spaces, all these are legal.

2.  There are also limits on what may be purchased or seen or done by non-adults. The reasoning being that they are impressionable, need guidance, and that they lack a developed sense of discrimination and impulse control. Voting, marriage, sexual activity, consumption of intoxicants, exposure to violent imagery or pornography, and so on.

3.  Degrees of public display of skin and affection is culturally dependent.  Bikinis and deep blouses and shirtless city joggers are common in the west but not, for example, in India.  Mouth-to-mouth kissing on the street is uncommon but acceptable, with amused attention, in the west but not so in the east.

4.  Public display of (lustful) affection exposes the sexual side of humans and can cause confusion in the uninitiated (kids) and prurient interest in the criminally inclined. Especially in a conservative society, it expresses the rebellious attitude that the couple does not care what others think about them. The social bullies can then feel justified to teach them a lesson and make them compliant.

5.  Law and order is problematic in conservative and poor countries. Mobs can overwhelm the police machinery and dispense street "justice".  In such environments, it is prudent to act defensively and not annoy the social bullies.

6.  Sexual acts are immersive and therefore generally require privacy. To be on guard against danger and unwanted attention while in the throes of love decreases the enjoyment.

7.  Privacy is expensive in India. And due to the thuggish culture and prevalence of crime, it is dangerous to assume anonymity, safety and privacy in a cheap hotel in India.  Parks are crowded, cinema halls have people on all sides and these days there is a dearth of art movies where the hall may be empty.  The homes have grandparents. The cities have no fields. Where should poor lovebirds go to make out?

8.  Due to class and power structures, public display of affection is a rich person's luxury in India. To not care about reputation is generally possible only when such lack of care does not lead to unaffordable economic or social consequences.  In a way therefore, PDA is a flaunting of one's wealth and power.  It can invite the vengeful ire of socially oppressed.

So what's the conclusion?

Its tough being in love in India. But its more important to be safe than to be smoochy.  I'm with the lovers that they need their space, but that space is not the street.  They need to be more creative than that. Try a cafe restroom or a museum alley.

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