I reckon we’re one of the most over-regulated countries in the world, even though we think of ourselves as laid back and easy going. Time to push-back and reject a social contract that says that you’ll stop living, as long as the government keeps you safe.
Man I love Australia. Her golden beaches. Her rugged outback. Her anxious people with a massive bug up their arse.
Forgive me for not participating in the national narrative about how laid back and easy going we are.
It’s garbage. And a regulation-crazy government is doing everything it can to keep it that way.
I remember a few years ago I was travelling in Europe, and I caught up with a friend in Barcelona. We were sitting in a café, ordered a couple of coffees, and then I saw that across the street, there was a bench soaked in the early spring sun.
I said to my friend, it’s a shame we can’t go sit over there on the bench in the sun. She said, ‘why not?’ and when our coffees came, she told the waiter that’s what we were doing, he said the Spanish equivalent of ‘whatever’ or ‘I couldn’t care less’ and off we went.
Of course you would go sit in the sun. But for me it was a smack in the face – I had automatically presumed that there would be some sort of problem with it. I had just assumed that there’d be some sort of council regulation that said the café could only serve mugs within a certain area, or that the café itself would be worried we might do a runner with the mugs or something.
My friend looked at me as if I was crazy.
After dinner we went out to a vodka bar. They had the full array of specialist vodka flavours, many of them mixed in house. The most common way to buy them was in a dozen rack – a little wooden rack with 12 shotglasses of vodka, each with a different flavour. You bought a rack from the bar and took it back to your table.
I asked my friend what was to stop just one person ordering a whole rack for themselves?
She looked at me blankly. “Why’s that a problem?”
“Well, they’d get drunk…”
I didn’t know how to finish the sentence.
“Of course they would Jon. It’s vodka.”
She couldn’t even understand the concept of Responsible Service of Alcohol provisions, or any of the rules and regulations that govern public (and private!) life here.
“I thought you guys were easy-going!” she laughed. So did I, until I sobered up in a Spanish vodka bar.
From a stool in that bar in Barcelona, Australia suddenly looked over-regulated to the point of farce. The latest I hear is that they’re cutting down trees in schools, because one kid, in all the schools in all of Australia, died when a branch fell on them. And monkey bars? Forget it. They’re already a thing of the past.
How did we get like this?
You can kind of see how our litigious society (2nd only to the US apparently) has driven it here. Schools have to chop down trees not because they care about the kids, but because they’re afraid of being sued. Councils have closed down play parks, fenced off swimming holes, erected warning BILLBOARDS at beaches because they’re worried they’ll be held responsible if someone gets hurt in the act of life.
And at the heart of that is a legal system and a culture that refuses to take responsibility for anything. “I got hurt using my hair dryer in the shower. Someone must be to blame!”
But dig a little deeper and you can see that this culture itself comes from a particularly western approach to government. Back in the days the contract between kings and queens and their subjects was straight forward. “Do what we say, or we’ll kill you.”
But then their subjects got all uppity, and started demanding democratic rights, and the elites had to give ground (a little!).
And so the contract became, “do what we say, give up some of your freedoms, and we’ll keep you safe.”
But this meant we became trapped under mummy’s skirt, and we never grew up. And if we got hurt, then the government had broken its promise, and someone had to pay.
And once the contract was set up, the government pushed further and further into public and private life, to do what it could to make us safe, no matter what the cost – because that’s what gave it its legitimacy.
And so there’s regulations on food, milk, water, transport, healthcare, you name it. Is there any aspect of modern life that isn’t burdened with regulation in some way? I can’t think of any.
Social control was built on the promise to keep you safe. And so it became the government’s responsibility, not yours, to stop you from getting hurt.
And each year it gets further and further out of whack. Why? Because the government doesn’t care about providing you with joy or personal growth. Only safety.
If you never know the joy of climbing trees in the school ground, so what? If you never know the thrill of jumping off a cliff into the water, if you never get to taste milk before it goes to the refining factory, if you never get to buy cookies of girl-scouts… the government doesn’t care.
It doesn’t care if there are huge reductions in the quality and adventure of life. Just as long as you’re safe (and not questioning things too much.)
Here’s a life tip: RUN FROM SAFE!
Safe is boring. Safe is dead. No growth ever happens inside the comfort zone.
Take responsibility for your own life, even if that means the chance of getting hurt.
And reject this crazy social contract before the government has us all tied up in cotton-ball cocoons.
If you’ve got your own crazy story of a rule that pisses you off, that suddenly appeared from nowhere, make a comment here.