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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev

Laws and policies are tools required in creating a living organism called a “modern society.” Every living being can be trained with conditioning techniques, including groups of people.

If plants can adjust the direction of their leaves based on the direction of sun rays, then we can definitely condition dogs, cats and primates. Of course, human beings are both the easiest and the most complex to condition.

That’s why we need to use both a carrot and a stick, using the so-called “operant conditioning” approaches.

Perhaps you have been wondering about many things such as these: Why do children raised in Western countries tend to be self-sufficient earlier than in Indonesia? Why are Singapore and Tokyo two of the cleanest cities in the world? Why is corruption rampant in Indonesia but not in Scandinavian countries?

Laws and policies should be designed based on behavior-changing operant-conditioning modes: Positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement and negative punishment. Because, after all, individuals make up the society and human beings affect others and themselves through behaviors. And the fundamental function of laws and policies is creating an ambiance in which people’s behaviors are intended toward the greater good and creating minimal conflicts.

Laws and policies have a good portion of educational elements that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Singapore is a good example, whereby people are aware of the high fines they would need to pay for doing acts that are considered “harmless,” such as riding a bike in an underground tunnel (S$1,000) and taking a durian in the MRT underground train (S$500).

Unless you’re a billionaire, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to risk taking a piece of durian in an underground train because S$500 is worth one or two months of groceries. In the long term, such law would condition our mind to think of durian as “a risky fruit to bring to public places.” It eventually shapes the people’s perception and awareness of how a piece of food can impact those surrounding.

Also in this Merlion City, every purchased car comes with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) mechanism named IU (In-Vehicle Unit), which stores payments of road usage charges called CashCard and EZ-Link to manage road congestion. Certain high-traffic roads are equipped with ERP scanners that overarch the road. It is expected that the car owner has sufficient funds in the CashCard or EZ-Link, or they risk a penalty of S$70 to S$1,000 — or a month in jail. In San Francisco, running a red light would see a fine of US$450.

The above cases can be categorized into “positive punishment.” A positive punishment occurs when a discouraging stimulus was presented to reduce certain behaviors.

Also in the US, every taxpayer must disclose their entire income to the Internal Revenue Service and income taxes paid to any party with a legal purpose, such as pre-employment check, credit check, and other types of background check to get a job or credit on high-priced purchases.

Such cases can be categorized into “negative reinforcement,” in which an individual’s privacy privilege was taken away in order to get another privilege in return.

And do you know that in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, prostitutes are not the ones who are criminalized, but instead their customers? Here, the customers of prostitution are punished, which is a removal of encouraging stimulus to decrease a certain behavior. Such method is called “negative punishment” toward the demand of prostitution services.

In the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Turkey and Latvia, however, prostitution is legal and regulated, which is another method.

“Positive reinforcement” occurs when an encouraging stimulus is added when a certain behavior is performed. This explains why children raised in Western cultures tend to pick themselves up after falling because their parents don’t rush to their rescue when they cry, instead praising them when they have stopped crying and have stood up again.

I would love to see more laws and policies in Indonesia are intelligently based upon behavioral considerations. Every piece of regulation should have an educational value and be a positive addition to the public benefit.

No man is an island. Every individual affects others directly and indirectly. In between individuals, the space is filled with laws and policies.[]

The Jakarta Post, May 13, 2012

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