|  February 25, 2009

Common sense is a marvellous thing, even though it is terribly tricky to define. What is common sense to one person is often bewilderingly nonsensical to the next. This underrated practicality could even be termed an oxymoron as so few of us share anything in common when it comes to our senses. Should we all stand on the same level playing field of sense, there would be far fewer misunderstandings and disagreements in the world. I suppose that is why society imposes rules and laws in order to regulate all six billion of us. Yet, these sensible laws are written and defined by man, with all of our foibles, bringing us back to the same slippery conundrum.

Recently there has been a spate of incidents involving various tourist attractions in Chiang Mai, highlighted by the attack on a New Zealand tourist at the Tiger Kingdom. Of course tourists should not be petting tigers. It goes against common sense. But as we have already established that there is nothing common about sense, should the onus therefore lie at the door of the owners of the businesses who operate such chancy enterprises? Or should we blame our officials for not setting clear and concise guidelines to protect tourists? Or should we simply shrug our shoulders and mutter ‘stupid tourists’. I for one believe that I share a commonality of sense with the general public, but yet only a few months ago I was seduced into petting a tiger because some visiting friends urged me to. I am quite ashamed of myself; but there you go, we all do stupid things. So when emotion, belief, curiosity, passion, doctrine or silliness tempts us off the path of our collective senses, we must rely on regulations imposed by those who have, we hope, put more thought and deliberation into such matters.

And as suggested, this is when things get dicey. Helmets on motorbikes? Hell yeah. Seat belts? Absolutely. Well marked fire exits? Essential. But what about attempts to standardise and regulate street food? And the sweeping ban on alcohol retail sales every afternoon? Or noise level control? And the sticky rights of smokers against rights of those who don’t wish to die from second hand smoke? Not so sure now are we? You may have your opinions, but trust me, not everyone shares them.

Then comes the problem of enforcement, especially in Thailand where common sense comes up against sense of entitlement. If you drive a Mercedes with no seatbelt on you will never be stopped, while motorcyclists (poor and unconnected according to traffic police-sense) are stopped so often, many have their bribe money on hand at all times.

I for one would hate to live in such litigious societies as we often see in the west, where blame is firmly placed at any door but one’s own: where business owners ban birthday parties in fear of candle-hazard, where doctors refuse to treat roadside accident victims in fear of being sued. We have to take responsibility for one’s actions and that is why so many expats choose to live in Thailand. Land of the free.

Yet. Yet. Yet. We may be free, but common sense certainly does not prevail. With residents complaining about noisy karaoke bars while the law turns a blind – and profitable – eye, and burning rife, while pollution chokes our every breath, we do indeed need some regulating, and enforcing.
So the common sense answer is to rely on our own measure of sense while deferring to general rules imposed by those who we trust to know better than us. We hope.

Citylife this month:
James Austin Farrell gets all riled up about the hottest topic of debate among expatriates these days – dual pricing. Jessica Mauer takes a look under the fa├žade of neat student uniforms to reveal the lurking social problems faced by today’s university students. And Citylife shamelessly shows off our spanking new office.