Hey there, Sydney. It's me. Jess. I know it's been awhile. And sorry I haven't called lately, I've been a little busy. But I couldn't help but think of you as I enjoyed a delicious, hot, fresh kebab on the streets of Hong Kong at 5:00 this morning.
"I'm glad I'm not in Sydney." I thought to myself as I took a bite - a thought I've never had before and surely hope to never have again.
Let's get it out of the way from the start that I am writing this as an outsider. I'm from the US and though I've spent some [not nearly enough] time there and have great friends there, I of course am not nearly close enough to the issues you are facing to have any sort of expertise. But I do care enough about you to say something here. I care enough that I dredged through Freelancer founder Matt Barrie's 8000-word essay on the subject. And stayed awake through it. [no offense meant because it exceptionally thorough and I appreciated the facts]
Ok, that's a lie. I had to re-read parts after realizing my brain went to the beach. With a cocktail with one of those little umbrellas. Wait, are cocktail umbrellas even still legal there?
Here's the thing. We [the US] like to use you as an example of change for the better. You stood up to Marlboro in a big and meaningful way. And I can't even pretend to thank you enough for the example you have been in terms of the ridiculous effectiveness of gun control. In general, you're doing pretty well as a country that stands for the safety of your citizens and won't be bullied by big corporations.
When I visited last year, my friends tried to explain the lockouts to me as we plotted out the week. I didn't really get it, so we generally just avoided the affected areas.
Almost a year later, I feel just as confused. Not knowing your legislative system, I actually find it shocking the amount of regulation put in place without requiring a vote. While it's great that it's going under review now, maybe in the future if you're going to put new laws in place impacting nearly 4 and half million people and countless businesses, you may want to at least do a straw poll first.
As I write this, I also realize that this is not just about you, Sydney.
This is another example of the growing pains that the Western world is experiencing during the changing of the guard of civic engagement. For the last 5 years, organizations have been learning how to deal with four (soon to be five) generations in the workforce for the first time in history and the clash has caused so many issues there's a whole sub-genre of books about it. I even wrote my Master's thesis about it.
But while we've been trying to figure out how to get along in the workplace, we've failed to talk about how to get along in our communities and have a real, productive discussions about fostering strong, sustainable and safe communities. How to look at a negative consequence, such as violence in the streets, and identify the best action to take. And by best, I do not mean the quickest means to the end, but a solution that least restricts individual liberties, least restricts businesses and is in the true best interest of the community.
A few thoughts. And I'm going to keep this pretty high-level because, not only do I suspect that you aren't as in to philosophy of logic as I am, but sometimes it helps to get out of the details and look at the situation from an outsider's perspective.
Civic Engagement and Us Lazy, Apathetic Millennials I find it amazing, your ability to so fluently speak out of both sides of your mouth. If you want the younger generations to engage in the process, you have to actually listen when they do. You don't care about anything. You don't care enough. You care about the wrong things. You care in the wrong way.
Guess what? You don't get to continuously complain about lack of civic engagement from a generation and then, when they get involved, tell them they care about the wrong stuff. They think the wrong things. You've been begging this generation to be more engaged or else taunting them when they aren't. Now they are. Know what you have to do?
Obama didn't call the youth out to vote to get elected and tell them to piss off until he needed them again. He listened to us. He worked for us. He empowered a generation to get involved. This isn't to say that we are in a great place yet. But older generations have been complaining about us lazy, disloyal, apathetic, uninvolved, whiny, want-everything-for-free generation for so long; you've wanted us involved. In Sydney it took the lockout laws to get the Millennials in. Now you have to listen to them.
Yes, taking away their booze and putting them in a proverbial timeout got their attention. But what I see as an observer is not a swell of people asking for their Jägerbombs back; I see people who are asking for the ability to craft their lives and businesses with minimal regulatory intrusion.
It also seems many want to dismiss the argument because it doesn't affect them.
To be clear, any time additional regulations are put in place, it affects every resident of that area. Some directly, but all indirectly as that regulation becomes part of a growing complexity of a system in which private citizens and business operate. Every time a regulation is put in place uncontended it sets precedent, and not just for you. That's how democracy works. Every regulation, law, judicial writ, affects you. So it's worth paying attention.
Richard Cooke details this in his eloquent and elegant, The Boomer Supremacy, in which he illustrates that the issue is bigger than booze.
Causation and Correlation There is so much data swirling around this topic. But data is powerful. And as we learned from the 18 Spiderman films that have come out in the last decade, with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility to use it well, not just to push an agenda (like, I don't know, perhaps, a casino or two that just **happen** to fall outside of the lockout area; oh wait, we weren't supposed to notice that?).
The whole premise of these lockout laws is that they are in the interest of public safety, right? And the data says so, right? But as Barrie buried in his opus, there is a huge difference between causation and correlation and it's worth noting. The folks at Spurious Correlations show us that there are a lot of events that correlate, but that doesn't mean that reducing the number of films in which Nicholas Cage appears will help prevent drowning deaths.
Let's take a real-life example.
I live in Denver, Colorado, home of Washington Park. This park played a huge role in my acclimation to the city when I moved there, which I know is the case for so many others. On any given weekend you could find it filled with people running, playing volleyball or football, BBQing and enjoying each other's company. The neighborhood was filled with local businesses servicing residents and park-goers. I know 90% of the friends I have today in Denver because of connections I made at the park.
When residents of the neighborhood raised issues that come from a large amount of people being anywhere, the city shocked park-goers with their solution. In reaction to complaints of over-filled recycling and trash cans (solution: add more recycling and trash bins, increase frequency of service), cars illegally parked (solution: ticket and tow), not enough restroom facilities (solution: increase number of and hours of operations of toilets), people drinking in the park (solution: enforce the laws already in place in regards to drinking in public), the city's solution was...drumroll please...to restrict volleyball playing.
The result? An empty park. In the year the volleyball rules were put into place, people just took their activities elsewhere. So did the residents get a positive result? Sure, it's easier to find parking and the bins aren't overflowing. But neither is the culture. A park that I went to every Saturday and Sunday of spring through autumn turned into a ghost town. The summer the rules were implemented, I personally went there once. And my heart sunk as I took a picture of its emptiness.
That's all touchy-feely BS though, right? No. A year later, the restrictions were lifted because of the significant financial burden that the new restrictions added to the Parks & Rec Department. The negative impact to local businesses. The negative impact to the lifestyle of Denver residents.
Why do I use this example?
Because it's a perfect fit. Everyone acknowledged that there were problems at the park, but the rules put in place were on the premise of a false causation. I can't imagine a study in the world that would conclude that increased volleyball playing causes over-filled recycling bins. The community's gripes were about things that were already regulated (e.g. parking, drinking and driving, etc.). Prior to the new rules going in place, I would see a park ranger three times per summer. Hardly enough to enforce the rules, yet when the additional rules were in place, there were always two or three rangers in the park at any given time. The logical step is to enforce the existing law, before coming up with new ones to put in place.
Sydney is the same. I'm pretty sure punching people in the face, without or without warning, is against the law. Particularly when it kills them. Restricting business hours and changing traffic patterns is Sydney's volleyball permits.
The time at which someone buys a drink does not cause violence. Kebabs don't cause violence. Unless the guy in front of me gets the last one. Then all bets are off and I'm not responsible for my actions.
Before you let a politician draw you to a conclusion, ask yourself if the logic follows. Logical fallacies are easily buried in flowery rhetoric. Is additional regulation needed? In the States we have detailed laws about the responsible service of alcohol (RSOA). In many states, bar and restaurant owners, managers and employees have to complete certification in order to operate or work. In other states, bars and restaurants implement their own training programs. In an article in the Guardian, the president of the Police Association of NSW suggests someone's personal responsibility goes out the window after 10 or 15 beers, I would be curious whether someone convicted of drink driving could use that as a defense? Meanwhile, any RSOA course would tell you that a patron should never be served so much.
Before adding additional regulation, it may serve you to ask why the existing laws aren't working. Is it ineffective, or not enforced? Why is it a problem in just these areas? If there was true causality, wouldn't it follow that these laws should be applied city-wide (note: I am NOT advocating that)?
You are, and I don't use this lightly, Donald Trumping the issue. You have decided that something is wrong, that you have the solution and rather than digging deeper to find the cause or actually listen to constituents and business owners, have moved forward with reckless abandon.
Role of Morality vs the Law One of my least favorite things to do when following issues like this is to scroll to the comments. But I do it anyway. It's like a train wreck that you just can't look away from. And while the comments section of the lockout articles is significantly less pain-staking than a feminist article or a #blacklivesmatter video, I still found the discussion there surprising.
I've noticed a theme. Rather than discussing the lockout laws in terms of their ability to solve an identified problem (violence), many commenters are turning it into a moral issue; instead questioning why people need to be out late, why they want to drink at multiple bars, or even at all.
The role of morality and the role of the law are not one and the same. Think of them like circles and rather than concentric, they look a bit more like a Venn Diagram. John Rawls's Theory of Justice is a long and taxing read, but his perspective on how we best structure justice in a modern society is unrivaled.
Without getting too deep into political theory, the question is really about what the government's role in society is, and subsequently the level of regulation and power that it should yield and wield. What are the individual and business rights and liberties and in what ways do they come in conflict with the government's responsibility to provide for public safety.
In the last Trump reference of this piece, do I believe that he should run for President, or logically have any supporters? No. He's all the -ists that you don't want in a leader, a dodgy businessman and has no political experience. However. Would I defend his right to run? Absolutely. He meets all the established criteria laid out by the constitution. And just because one total nimrod who meets all qualifications has made it into the process, do we need to go back and amend the rules? No. We need to deal with it otherwise.
Regulatory Efficacy on Social Matters When evaluating the distinct roles of morality and the law, we also have to understand if regulatory action is effective in addressing these kinds of social issues. Historically speaking, no.
This is why we've been waging a [really expensive and ineffective] war on drugs for over 40 years. It isn't a legal matter. It is a social matter. But when politicians got involved, they scared people through hyperbolic media portrayals and misinformation. This led to an explosion in incarceration rates, zero tolerance policies and a general misunderstanding of drugs in the United States.
Again, I'll use Colorado as an example. We, alongside Washington, became the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana. I voted for it. Not for my personal use. Not because I'm whatever picture you may paint of a hippie who wants to get high and not work and suckle the government's teat. But because I believe that if a good is so widely purchased and consumed, it should be taxed and regulated.
Has all the damage of the Nixon and Reagan drug wars been undone in just a few years? Not yet and the data is still hard to digest and being used by both sides to paint their own picture. For example, one report cites that DUID arrests have gone up BOLD CAPS BE SCARED 100%. But when you look past the percentage to the number, it went from 33 to 66 in a year. In the same time period that the city's population has grown by approximately 100,000.
But another report not only outlines the $40.9 million in tax revenue in 2014, but the drop in arrests (=judicial savings), decreased violent, property and overall crime, decreased traffic fatalities, economic benefits (beyond taxes - jobs and rising salaries) and an increase in youth prevention education.
What does marijuana have to do with the lockouts? We are talking about social matters for which a purely regulatory focus will be ineffective. Rather than locking everyone up who has a bad thought, allowing people to make their own decisions, combined with strong education and rules (yes, we still need some) has had positive results in not only Denver, but in many European countries as well most notably Portugal who decriminalized all drugs in 2001 deciding to treat it as a health issue rather than a legal one. The result? Both drug-related deaths and overall prevalence have sharply decreased.
The point wasn't to decriminalize drugs, but to understand that there are more ways than the legal system to deal with an issue facing the public.
So What to Do About It? Sydney, be careful how far you take this.
We went all the way to prohibition. And not only did it fail miserably, but we're now stuck living with the most unfortunate of unintended consequences - NASCAR.
You have an immense opportunity right now: an entire community engaged and ready for change. On one side, you have residents who want to effect positive change in terms of violence and have a safe place to raise their families. On another side, you have residents who want to build and protect a thriving, local-business-driven, modern, culture-filled city.
Nobody wants to live in or frequent an unsafe community, much like no one wants to raise a family where the surrounding economic livelihood isn't sustainable because businesses can only thrive part of the day. If you take away the name-calling, agendas and hyperbolic attacks on each other, you all want the same thing. If you take just a few moments to harness the passion from both sides and work together, rather than against each other, I can only imagine the kind of vibrant neighborhoods those speaking out so passionately for their city can create.
Are the lockout laws stupid? Yeah. It really seems like it. Did you have problems in the lockout areas that need to be addressed by other means? Yeah. It really seems like it. If you are worried about violence, address violence and its direct causes. [This is coming from an American. I come from arguably the most violent country in the world. Our solution to guns is more guns - don't be like us.]
Getting people to care was the tough part. You're there. Now make the most of it and do something about it!
All fired up now? You can go do some things right now: check out Keep Sydney Open's Facebook page to see what they're up to or sign their petition to Mike Baird. This post was originally published on LinkedIn here. Pin it for later:
--- About the Author: Jessica is a full-time traveler on a mission to visit every country in world, sharing her trip, pictures, video, stories and observations at How Dare She. Follow her on Instagram or Snapchat (jess_ismore) to see the whole world through her eyes [slash camera].