Normative Signs: The Poetry of "Ought"

In which the author finds beauty in how people tell other people what to do.

No Trucks (NIMBY)

no_trucksHere’s a sight familiar in many residential neighbourhoods. Nestled within the cluster of parking restrictions: a “No trucks” icon. You can imagine all kinds of reasons for forbidding trucks on particular streets, including especially the width of the street.

But limiting trucks (and commercial vehicles more generally) is also famously an instance of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) thinking. This is a reminder that normative signs can have moral consequences — in particular, in terms of distributive justice.

Exercise is Incredibly Dangerous

Toronto-20130519-00628Here’s a sign giving some rather stringent advice to potential users of a particular piece of exercise equipment, located at a park in Toronto.

The list of warnings really is quite exhaustive. “Not recommended for children under the age of 14.” And “consult your physician before starting any physical fitness routine.” There are also warnings that would be obvious to anyone who just looked around: “There is no supervision of this equipment.”

Some of the warnings are impossibly vague: “This equipment is not suitable for people with general health conditions.” What on earth is a “general health condition?” And how do I know if I have one?

(Aside: this warning sign seems to belong in the category of signs that are posted purely to forestall some minor possibility of litigation. Surely almost no one is going to read, let alone heed, such a sign.)

By now you may be wondering what sort of diabolical exercise machine was seen to be so treacherous as to warrant all these warnings. Here it is….Toronto-20130519-00627

(Thanks to Nancy Walton for these pics.)