Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Should Bansturbation Be Allowed?

A wild monkey.  By Chris huh at Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic Licence. Bansturbation, n. (1) That form of social self-abuse whereby a society's prominent members seek to ban everybody from doing everything which they assert to be undesirable. (2) The pleasurable stimulation obtained by such members in the process. (3) fig. The self-pleasuring contemplation of all the things one would ban, if everybody had their rights and one was therefore the biggest member of all.

- Concept due to Harry Haddock; much popularized by Tim Worstall; definition by Guess Who.

I work in a school, and I read the press, and I get quite unspeakably tired of the following ubiquitous and quietly aggressive question:

"Should $THING be allowed?"

It is frequently framed as neutral, which the hell it is. It sneakily puts the possibility of banning $THING on the table as the default action, when the reverse is logically and morally the case. To allow something is, in most cases, to do nothing at all. To ban something requires active effort and coercive force. Somebody who thinks that this is the default response to anything set before them, is probably not a very nice person.

So why is such a question so commonly put, "Should anchovy-eating be allowed?" rather than the more appropriate, "Should anchovy-eating be banned?"

Why, for no reason other than to make the 'action' of allowing anchovy-eating something that requires an active defence, when it is the preposterous suggestion of banning it that has yet to justify even the effort of considering it. If the stunned target cannot immediately unpack an explanation of why this random emission is toss, the bansturbator claims a cheap victory by default.

I do understand there is a concern here. Lord help us - if we recklessly allow anchovies without stopping to think about it, next thing we'll be allowing biltong and celeriac and Danish blue, and before you know it we'll be so busy allowing stuff, we won't have any time or resources left to do anything else. Oh, the humanity!

But let it never be said that I am a mere doctrinaire libertarian, incapable of understanding that some sacrifices of personal freedom must be made for the greater good. I hereby reach out to the paternalist and the professionally outraged by offering them a brand new ban that will stimulate all our spirits nicely.

I propose to ban the question, "Should $THING be allowed?" in any case where 'allowing' $THING does not, in fact, require any action whatsoever.

This will still allow them illegitimately to imply that the allowing of $THING is a dubious case which the permissive party has the onus of proving - given only that some bansturbating bastard has successfully prohibited $THING already. That would be a rhetorical disgrace, yet an improvement on the present state of public discourse.

In a few cases, "Should $THING be allowed?" is the reasonable form. If Mad Axe Molloy were to inquire of me, Whether murder ought to be allowed, I should call that a much more sensible question than, Whether murder ought to be banned. Indeed, the most reasonable riposte to it seems to be, "Can murder be allowed?" I don't see how it even could, since victims and their associates are so reluctant to play their parts in these affairs peaceably, that not even the full majesty of the law can reliably compel them to do so.

Most things are not murder. Most things do not need to be 'allowed'. And most of those other things should not be banned.

Not even public exhibitions of bansturbation, in a perfect world. But I like to think of myself as a reasonable fellow, always ready with a neighbourly compromise.

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