Streaking should be a minor incident, yet it has recently become a national controversy. In the same way that you can see the universe in a grain of sand, in Chang Gung University's over-reaction to the streaking incident we can see why Taiwan cannot break through its own limitations.
When I arrived in the US to study many years ago, two crazy activities were prevalent on campus. One was to see how many people could be squeezed into a car; when people saw a car driving down the street with a dozen pairs of limbs sticking out of its windows, they would cheer. The other was streaking: hundreds of naked men and women would run across campus on a midsummer night, and everyone would clap hands. It was interesting back then, and I regret not having had the courage to join in. Issues of law, discipline or morals were not on my mind.
Why was the Taiwanese streaker treated so harshly with two major and two minor demerits imposed on him? Although TV audiences gave him support over his "detention under surveillance," saying the punishment was too harsh, they also said that he had done wrong. Others even praised him for keeping his word. The real problem is, on what authority did the school give him a demerit? Was it according to the law? Or the school regulations?
"Streaking itself does not include the intention to commit public indecency, and does not constitute an offense against public morals and manners," one prosecutor said. It is like people going to a mountain hot spring to bathe naked in a secluded spot. Although people may pass by, everyone remains in a pleasant mood, and there is no hint of moral indecency or sexual harassment.
Some people have said that streaking may violate the Social Order Maintenance Law (
According to the "Chang Gung University Student Reward and Punishment Measures," "public indecency" is punished with a major demerit; "offense against public morals and manners" with a minor demerit. Based on the opinions of prosecutors and police experts, streaking does not even warrant a minor demerit. None of the eight conditions for school detention could be used in this case.
For example, can we charge him with "being in possession of a weapon?" What about "insulting or threatening teachers," "causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon," or "joining delinquent gangs or organizations?" All of the above constitute major crimes. Would mere streaking be that serious an incident? At most, the school could only punish him with a warning for "improper dress." That the streaking student was given two major and two minor demerits clearly shows that the school's punishment is based on ideology rather than on school regulations. This is a negative example of the operation of the rule of law.
The school said the punishment it meted out was intended to "correct" the streaker's behavior. But what about the many US campus streakers who, without any form of "correction," went on to become professors, engineers and corporate managers?
Streaking was once popular all over US campuses, and the country did not collapse. Rather, the US' national power greatly surpasses that of streaker-banning Taiwan. What needs to be corrected is the school's conservative beliefs, not the streaker's behavior.
Frankly speaking, the majority of people -- even Americans -- do not have the courage or the urge to streak. Societies should tolerate harmless delinquent behavior, because who knows whether geniuses like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Nicolaus Copernicus or Karl Marx might appear among the "eccentrics?"
Richard Florida pointed out in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life that the new economy is developing in cities that embrace a multi-faceted and creative social life. The development of high-tech companies correlates strongly and positively with the number of homosexual and bohemian types in a city.
This does not mean you need to be a homosexual to be creative, but if such insignificant delinquent behavior as streaking cannot be tolerated by a city, university or country, then we cannot expect that Copernicus could have escaped prosecution, or that creativity in literature, art and science would not be suppressed.
Excessive punishment of inoffensive "eccentric" behavior is in reality preventing the development of a multi-faceted, diverse and creative environment. The more schools follow the approach of Chang Gung University, the more unattainable Taiwan's transition from a society based on traditional industry to one based on creativity will be.
Liu Chin-hsin is a professor at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
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