Nuts Over Smartphone Vigilante

Onboard Singapore Airlines SQ 356, Singapore to Milan, First Class Seat 1C. Seen here is xiong xiong teddy bear posing with a dish of warmed mixed nuts (cashew, macademia and peanuts) and a glass of champagne.

3 big news happened in the small sunny island over the past week, just as we started the countdown of Singapore’s National Day.

In the early morning of 14 July, we received news that a section of expressway viaduct under construction at PIE/TPE junction collapsed. Lucky for workers, the viaduct fell onto a patch of land beside the slip road, so there was no major jam caused by the accident. Unlucky for the workers, there were casualties and injuries. Internet vigilantes started to “expose” that the owners of the construction company were related to big names in the government, other than the fact that the said company had just been fined earlier that week due to lapses in workplace safety that resulted in deaths of workers.

And then, someone posted a video of a guy who allegedly took upskirt video of on a train. The first wave of netizens were swift to condemn the act of the guy, and unearthed his identity as a primary school teacher. As the saga unfolded, with the school announcing that the teacher had been placed on leave and the police stating that investigation is taking place, more sane voices came forth to point out that, hey, why take videos when you could have stopped the act? (Link)

Lastly, a Singapore Airlines passenger complained that her child suffered from allergy reaction after a fellow passenger opened a packet of peanuts on board. One side of the camp argued that the airline should ban peanuts from being served onboard to protect the lives of the people who suffers from severe allergy, and on the other, the need of the few should not affect the need of the many negatively.

Well, I basically have no views on the first news, except that I felt sorry for the worker who died, worried that the rest of the construction is unsafe (and yes, LTA later confirmed there were cracks on the remaining structures) and that the construction progress would be delayed (and therefore prolong the torment of bad morning jams at the junction).

For the 2nd news, my first thought when I saw the video was this:

hmmm… This guy is well-toned… He goes to the gym. He wore pink. He should be gay.

And then, I was like:

Half a minute gone, and where is the action?

By the time the video ended, I was confounded. 说好的猥亵行为呢?(Where’s the alleged act?) As it turned out, that said moment was fleeting, and I must say I couldn’t really discern if the camera was facing up, given the low resolution of the video.

Reading the few articles that asked people to pause for a while before they start bullying the Pink Shirt Guy, I read that the writers didn’t even realise what was going on, if not for the caption that suggested that the PSG was taking upskirt videos/photos. Like me, they were also skeptical of how the alleged crime took place.

And we should also be mindful of the fact that there was no evidence, in the video, that incriminating photos/videos were found on PSG’s phone. All we had was a low-res video that sort of suggested something took place, and that the person who took the video said that a crime was committed.

This sort of creating something out of some vague evidence reminded me of the time I was wrongfully accused of a crime I did not do. Similarly, the victim did a hasty search online to look for the identity of the person who verbally bullied him, found my name and company instead, and took matters in his own hands by lodging a complaint to my company.

Like the author of the article I shared, I think the incident was a showcase of a complex moral dilemma. Nowadays, people like to take the law into their hands, thinking they can do better than the authorities who are better trained and well-resourced. And they chose to stand by and took videos rather than extending a helping hand to stop a crime taking place. In fact, had the video-taker did the right thing by intervening on the spot, we would have been more certain if PSG did in fact took upskirt photos/videos on the train.

But he didn’t, and so we don’t.

Interestingly, in the last few days, a video emerged of a video taken by a group of teenagers of a drowning man, which further begs the question whether our society is gradually slipping down into the abyss void of moral standards.

The other case that invoked a serious round of moral debate was over the peanut allergy onboard. On the 2 ends of extreme were those who insist airlines should cater to the needs of their passengers, especially in the case of life-and-death, while the other camp insist that it is the onus of the passengers to safeguard themselves. At the crux of the issue was the debate: Should the majority’s need be sacrificed to accommodate the needs of the minority?

The pro-allergy camp was chiding the peanut-lovers for placing the love of a small, material item above the life of another. To be fair, in Singapore, ministers are paid peanuts, so peanuts is actually a very big thing here.

Jokes aside, the pro-allergy camp thinks this is a no-brainer, that when a life is at stake, we should choose life over everything else, without weighing the value of “everything else”. This is akin to the debate on abortion, where the preservation of life of the fetus over-rides “everything else”, including the right of the woman to choose whether to abort the fetus. To insist that just because A exist, we should not consider “B” or other new evidence is very much like “jumping the gun” or “hasty generalisation”. To quote a famous line, “You think violence can solve everything, until a mosquito lands on your testicles.” The thing is, just because a life might be lost, it doesn’t mean the quality of life of the immense majority is not worth our consideration.

This is actually an issue very close to my heart; I am nonchalant to most news, but somehow, this issue of whether peanuts should be served onboard always get to me. I remember getting into a serious debate with my classmates the last time this issue was stirred to such immense level. In fact, I once wrote an allegory inspired by such controversies around peanuts. I am personally a peanuts-lover (even though I can only eat peanuts now at moderate amounts for the sake of my health), so I am naturally angry when someone tries to tell me to stop what I love doing because he would die.

If you ask me, I think the onus is on the person with the need, and not the other way around. It is like, I know I will die if I get knocked down by cars, so it is my responsibility to ensure I turn my eyes off my phone to look out for cars while crossing the road, watch out for the green man or pedestrian bridge etc. It is definitely unreasonable for me to demand the government to ban people from driving cars.

If you still see this as a no-brainer case study, think of the classic moral scenario: the tram is hurtling down the railway, and there is a person tied to the tracks. If the tram continues down that way, the said person will definitely die. You are now in charge of the lever that can switch the tracks, so that the tram is diverted from the person tied to the track. The consequence of which means the tram will derail and everyone on the tram will die. What will you do?

Singapore Airlines, which carried the said passenger, has announced that the airline will review the serving of nuts onboard of flights. Despite my personal inclination, if my own employer decides to go ahead and ban the serving of peanuts onboard (might I add, to the chagrin of millions of nut-lovers), I have no choice but to stand by its decision. That does not mean I cannot support my own cause in my personal domain, though.

That being said, I still enjoyed looking through the FB comments relating to the issue. I shall share some of the comments as an ending to this no-conclusion blog entry (perhaps my most irresponsible blog post till date).

Disclaimer: I am a casual social commentator, who speaks because it is logical and rational, so my points are not necessarily based on established research and studies. As much as possible, I will refer to theories and knowledge I picked up through formal education. If you do agree to my ideas, please feel free to contaminate others in your social circle. If you disagree, though, it would be good to provide sources and credits, so that I can learn from my mistakes. p/s: That was the politically correct way of saying that I will only engage you when I deem fit. i.e. Don’t think that I am obliged to respond to you especially if you sound irrational and emotional.

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