We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Gum scum

Yesterday, chewing gum was in the Eye of the Beholder who quoted from this story, about some US-Singapore trade negotiations:

Negotiators from both countries said they hoped to resolve the issue of capital controls quickly, clearing the way for a final deal.

But Mr. Zoellick apparently did not break down Singapore’s resistance on another issue: its longtime ban on chewing gum, a prohibition ordered to keep the nation’s streets and sidewalks cleaner.

I know how the Singaporeans feel. The relentless disfiguring of London’s public spaces with chewing gum deposits is one of the things that most often makes me wish that “public” spaces were more frequently privately owned than they are. Occasionally a fresh deposit actually sticks to your shoe, which is horrible. You later have to scrape it off with a knife. Usually the deposit has dried and just remains there, a black blob on the floor.

It’s the sneakiness of it that gets me. The chewing gum droppers know that in the grand scheme of things their petty little misdemeanour doesn’t rate very high on the wickedness scale. And it is exactly this that they exploit. In a world of terrorist outrages, ever rising crime of the more usual sort, ghastly new laws that won’t do anything about crime but will be ghastly, ghastly new … well, just read every second posting on Samizdata (which seems to be going through a rather grim phase just now, for some reason), … in such a world, who has time to moan about chewing gum? Only me and the government of Singapore it would seem.

If the chewing gum miscreants don’t drop their chewing gum on the floor, they stick it on a strategically chosen spot in an advert. The first few times you see this it can be funny, but for me this joke stopped being funny years ago.

What’s going on here? No doubt a lot of chewing gum misbehaviour is sheer thoughtlessness, perpetrated by otherwise blameless and worthy people, but not nearly all, I surmise. I think what we may also have here is a particular example of the pathetic-person-making-an-impact syndrome. Another example of this is people who make a point of crossing roads just in front of motorists who they know will slow up and be inconvenienced, because that way the regular (car-owning) world is forced to pay attention to their otherwise meaningless existence, if only for a moment. Take that! I’m not so insignificant now, am I? Chewing gum misbehaviour is even sneakier, because it is anonymous. Ha! That was me, but you’ll never know, will you, hee hee hee! Chewing gum as clandestine self-expression, a subculture of secret Jackson Pollocking.

And why are there so many pathetic people who can only make an impact on the world by annoying it anonymously with chewing gum? The answer to that would be a bigger and grimmer Samizdata posting. I merely flag up the problem.

Other gum scum (I like that – that’s my heading for this) scatter their chewing gum as part of a more general pattern of nastiness and parasitism and not-so-petty aggressions. Presumably what the Singaporeans also feel, in addition to simply not liking gum dropped everywhere, is that if it’s chewing gum droppings today, it may be bricks through windows tomorrow and robbing old ladies for small or not so small change the next day. This is the “zero tolerance” theory, which I think is also right.

I know what you’ll say, all you people who can only make an impact on the world by leaving clever little comments on blogs (which I do agree is better than gum dropping). There’s a difference between possessing chewing gum and chewing chewing gum, and dropping chewing gum. (Cue the great Gum Control debate of Christmas 2002: “The majority of gum users are in fact responsible people, and we should not allow a small anti-social minority to be the excuse for suppressing the harmless pleasures of the law-abiding majority …” blah blah blah.) True. But not my point here. Have a nice day.

11 comments to Gum scum

  • Philip Chaston

    I thought I would be the first.

    Respect for property rights entails a certain respect for public property.

    Or a strong ‘high trust’ culture mitigates the ‘free rider’ gum scum.

    There must be a Gum Index: the amount of gum per square foot of pavement is in inverse proportion to the rights of propertyholders.

  • Maybe I can apply for a scholarship to do a thesis on “Chewing Gum and Modern Democracy- A Libertarian perspective”?

    I mean, if the US government thinks it’s important, then there’s clearly a market for this sort of thinking.

    Maybe I can get Wrigley’s to fund it?

  • When gum is outlawed, only outlaws will have gum?

  • I am not sure that private ownership in and of itself would provide the answer. We already have the example of private trains which seem to be havens for vandals, graffiti artists and litterbugs.

    And we have the example of Japan where public spaces are almost spotless.

    I think there are two aspects to reducing this sort of thing in privatised public space. One, is to allow the private owners to exclude people. I don’t know if they can on the railways but they certainly don’t seem to. The second is to allow private owners to establish their own laws and the means to enforce them.

    That will very much be the modus operandi of CrozierBus

  • Micklethwait is turning into not just a cultural conservative, in fact a cultural authoritarian.

    I’ll throw my privately bought chewing gum on public roads. A small act of defiance mate, but we can’t all be the Che Fuckin’ Guervaras of capitalism.

    I know where you are headed, first its the gum chewers, than the jews… NO!

    (Anyway if chewing gum is so destructively indestructible, for lower taxes we should all throw our gum in the road, than they won’t need tarmacin’ so often. Oh my God – I’m a bonkers libertarian going on about privatising the road surface.)

  • Dave Farrell

    Just a sec, Brian, while I affix my saliva-coated wodge of Wrigley’s to your forehead. There, now I’ve made my little impact on your world.

    This is apropos your reference to dropping “clever” comments on blogs. Would you like us all to stop interrupting your train of noble thought by doing so? It certainly sounds like it.

  • Incidentally I recently read that someone has developed a biodegradable gum

  • anne wheeler

    Hi There,
    Is there anyone who can tell me whether places other than Singapore have banned the sale of chewing gum?

    Also I’m wondering where the most and least polluted places are.
    Any information would be much appreciated,

  • Alyssa

    i think gum is distracting, it takes away concintration and it is extremely messy! it gets every were its a bad idea but even if we tried to band it like drugs people would still take it, like drugs. it doesn’t really harm people though it is just a pain in the neck!

  • Lana

    i like chewing on gum^^
    It should have neva been banned!!! I feel sooooo sorry for the singaporeans….owell beta get on wiv my english assignment nowz…byebye 🙂

  • Lana

    Hi its me again (Lana) if anyone noes any interesting facts about Singapore then can u plz email me qt_mashi@hotmail.com, bcuz this is for my english assignment and its very important