Should governments get into the pimping business?

dating

I don’t mean to refer to provision of prostitution to the disabled as some states are already doing, but in reference to prostitution’s more publicly acceptable (and encouraged) unpaid counterpart: dating.

Norman Kirk once famously said New Zealanders “don’t ask much: someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work, and something to hope for”. Given that 3 out of the 4 above are the subject of intense public debate at every election – it is in some ways a bit odd that there is almost no debate about the government’s role in the first, especially considering how seemingly interrelated all of the above are.

Take my friend for instance, let’s call him Shamubeel (because I’m bored of calling people Bob). Shamubeel works in IT and used to be on track to marry a stripper (long story, and one that probably doesn’t apply to the real Shamubeel), but now after various stripper and law-enforcement related dramas has found himself alone and trawling internet dating sites. His current predicament can be traced back to his decision to heed the government’s advice and upskill. Thanks to a sideways move into computer and network-engineering he is now responsible for the smooth-running of a substantial portion of New Zealand’s internet infrastructure.

Only problem is there are very few opportunities to find women in server rooms – hence the need for dating sites. “It’s not like school, where you’d sort of be able to meet people, and there were events, there are no ways to meet people anymore unless they’re high school students, and that might be illegal”. 

Not Shamubeel
ABOVE: Not Shamubeel

Quite how my friend manages to encounter so many high school students (or strippers) on such a regular basis I’m just not sure, but in other respects I suspect he is not alone and that many other ‘workers of the future’ also find themselves in this position. New technology means that even within large companies, business units are smaller and unlikely to facilitate interaction with each other beyond email.

As is increasingly the case with most technology/new economy-related issues in recent times, Asia got there first. Singapore has been trying to get its hapless dateless citizens to mate for over 20 years. They even setup two government agencies: the Social Development Unit (for graduates), and Social Development Services (for non-graduates) to “promote marriages among [graduate and non-graduate] singles”. It’s been doing so since 1984.

Over the years these agencies have hired dating coaches, run University courses on ‘Love Relations for Life: A Journey of Romance, Love and Sexuality’, constructed gift voucher systems to encourage penurious Singaporean singletons to buy ‘love gifts’, printed practical how-to tips for couples looking to have sex in cars (cover your windows with newspapers), as well as organising somewhat more common-sense ‘tea dances’, speed dating sessions, and cruises for singles.

The problem has become an even bigger one in recent years, with Singapore’s birth-rate of 0.78 per woman (the lowest fertility rate in the world) forcing the state to take on increasingly more desperate (pun not intended) measures to now not only encourage marriages but encourage sex too. They’ve gotten so desperate that they even made August 9th 2012 ‘National Day’, a state-sanctioned national day of…’freaking’ (believe it or not, their words not mine):

The day appears to not have been much of a success, but a similar ploy by Russia to encourage couples to have sex on September the 12th in return for a fridge, appears to have worked, so perhaps Singaporeans were just hanging out for an appliance to be proffered?

Then again, listen to some of these Singaporean singletons and their complaints seem eerily similar to the kind of comments I heard from Shamubeel:

“It was just hard to meet people…When I went out with my friends, we didn’t meet that many men.” – Karen Ralls-Tan

The dating game, as practiced in the West, has always been a bit of a randomised affair. It’s just commonly assumed that through pure random chance you’ll eventually end up with somebody. That’s all well and good, provided you have enough chances. And this, in fact, may be the crux of the matter. As one of Singapore’s dating coaches says:  “the number one problem [with dating in Singapore] is there still isn’t an acceptable way of socialising with strangers”. And if you’re not socialising with strangers you’re not rolling the dice many times.

In the West, befriending strangers is more acceptable, but there are indications that – with changes to the education system and technology – we may be encountering less and less of them. Even online, where people used to fret about meeting people they didn’t know, most of a person’s time is now spent in closed-off social networks like Facebook which require you to be ‘friends’ before you can even say hello. And with smaller, more isolated, workplaces increasingly becoming the norm, you’re less likely to run into the guy/girl of your dreams at work too (actually, come to think of it, you’re less likely to run into any guys or girls there, period).

hellomynameissingle

And the problem might be getting worse within the currently rising generation of millenials, a generation that has perhaps spent longer in institutions – with their ritualised and organised social activities – than any previous one. It is not difficult to see the echo of Singapore’s hapless dateless citizens – who seem lost in the dating scene without an instruction manual or University course to guide them – in the cries of some millenials moaning about how they have no idea of the steps required to ask a guy/girl out. It seems these millenials may need to be spoonfed lessons on spooning too.

Then there’s the relentless ambition that goes with being a millenial, which could – in the long-term – lead to a similar situation as Singapore’s. After all, Singapore didn’t become a nation with sizeably geeky, boring population – with bad breath apparently – overnight. It was a gradual accumulation of behaviours brought about through a combination of incentives, and in the words of one Singaporean: “I am not interested now in love relations because I want to continue my studies..if I concentrate on love relations, I won’t be able to concentrate on my studies.”. But when you concentrate on your studies you don’t need mouthwash, or grooming, or even…friends (while you’re studying anyway). This is especially the case if you’re taking on one of those so-called jobs of the future in graphic design or computer engineering. Sooner or later you’ve risen to the lofty heights of whatever career it was that you were pursuing, but it’s a little too late to change yourself into a charming individual with friends – let alone girl/boyfriends – by that stage then isn’t it?

But why should New Zealand bother with any of this given the large number of babies being produced in the country already? A fact I will grudgingly concede, since every second or third New Zealander seems to be instagramming a picture of their (or their partner’s) pregnant belly. But then again, there also seems to be a strangely persistent population of singletons too. And I wonder, is it only in the state’s interest to encourage sex/partnerships/friendships when the level of babymaking is a little low?

Presumably we also want our population to be happy. And they’re surely likely to be happier when they’re in a positive relationship of some kind, whether that be friendship or a more intimate relationship of some kind. Let’s also not forget that happiness is stability, it stops people reaching sad conclusions like the hundreds who commit suicide in the Aokigahara Forest because they’re lonely. After all, what use is it encouraging all these various housing incentive schemes if people are supremely unhappy living in one?

I’m not suggesting the State needs to humiliate itself the same way Singapore’s has/is. I’m not even suggesting it needs to go out there and encourage people to be open to the prospect of making out with the desperate boy or girl next door. Just putting in place structures for non-family activities that encourage adults to meet other adults, would be enough. It need not even cost the Government money. The State could provide leadership and private individuals and enterprises could do the rest. It would make a refreshing change to the kinds of debates we’ve been having in New Zealand recently in any case. Forget the property ladder and XKEYSCORE, happiness and companionship are more important than both.

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