Nannies and libertarians

As soon as the sun appears people gather to have a drink in the sun, not a licence beer garden, but any public place. Photo: Mick. 2015.

As soon as the sun appears people gather to have a drink in the sun, not a licensed beer garden, but any public place. Photo: Mick. 2015.

When Danes complain they live in a nanny state, I often wonder what they mean. Compared to Australia, Danish governments are mere novices when it comes to make rules that take responsibility for our choices away from the individual.

In Australia, every time something happens and someone is hurt, we look first for someone to blame and then to government to fix it. A child dies in a horrific car accident, a young person dies following a drunken punch-up or nature’s fury wash away people’s homes down stream and we all put on that sincere, worried look and nod wisely and knowingly while we complain it is not good enough. Someone should be sued and government needs to ensure it never happens again.

So, just like helicopter parents brushing obstacles out of their offspring’s way, government sets out to do the same for its citizens. We end up with authorised traffic controllers at road works, hazard lights and sound blaring when building materials are lifted above the footpath, cordoning off areas where tiles on the footpath are uneven, warning signs that steps might be slippery when wet, mandatory bike helmets, complicated rules for swimming pool fences in private gardens, criminalisation of alcohol consumption in public places (unless licensed and cordoned off) and even outlawed service of alcohol to under-18-year olds in our own home. Why is this? Is it the litigious nature of Australian society? Or has Australia become a nation of idiots?

Bike helmets are not mandatory in Denmark, but many chose to wear them - or at least have their children wear them. Photo: Mick. 2015.

Bike helmets are not mandatory in Denmark, but many chose to wear them – or at least have their children wear them. Photo: Mick. 2015.

In response to data that the 2010 rate of reported assault in inner-city Melbourne had increased by 35% since 2005, with 10% of public place assaults happening in licensed venues, a study of violence in the Melbourne night life was conducted. The study showed a correlation between a venue’s offers of drink deals and violence. The proposed response was to reduce opening hours and increase ‘responsible service of alcohol’ measures. The proposals require government intervention and might reduce violence, but also transferring decision making from the persons responsible for the violence to others.

When I read the article I looked up the statistics for alcohol fuelled violence in Denmark, where you can buy your carton of beer at the grocer, sit in the sun all afternoon and enjoy it with your friends. No need for licensed premises or cordoned off areas to keep children out. Also, some bars and pubs stay open all through the night, with a prevalence of so-called morning bars that open from 2am to 10am for those who feel like a night – eh – morning cap. Indeed, at 3.30 on Sunday morning, we walked out of the apartment to take our son to the airport and Nørrebrogade was teeming with people, either on their way home or on their way to the next drinking hole. Not walking quite straight and not quite safe to ride the bike, these people were generally happy and peaceful, not aggressive or angry, after a long night on the town.

Det Kriminalpræventive Råd (Crime Prevention Advisory Council) advise that incidents of violence has remained steady for the past 20 years and that violence in pubs, bars and nightclubs as decreased while violence at work has increased. Two to tree per cent of the population experience violence and 12% are repeat victims in 54% of all cases of violence. More men than women experience violence, but the women who experience violence are victims in about 50% of all cases, possibly an indicator that domestic violence prevention is most important. About half of the violence takes place at night between 11.30pm and 5am, with Friday and Saturday the most violent nights. Those victims who have experienced violence in a venue say arguments and differences of opinion are the most common cause. While the data show a strong correlation between the violence and consumption of alcohol (and drugs and medicine) the Advisory Council is careful to note that correlation is not the same as a causal relationship.

Nevertheless the Advisory Council makes recommendations to create safer nighttime experiences. Recognising that crime cannot be reduced by treating its symptoms, the Advisory Council recommends a Local Advisory Body involving local council, police, schools, social services, psychiatric services, venue owners, young people and other citizens as the forum to discuss concerns about safety in the nightlife. They point out that violence at night mostly occurs on the street, not in the pub and that diversion is a better long-term strategy than simply requiring additional policing effort. For example, the Local Advisory Body could request venue owners consider implementing more responsible service of alcohol, bouncers take better care to see off safely those people they do not admit into the venue due to their intoxicated state. Owners of all-night kiosks and taxi drivers could be made familiar with local police officers and encouraged to call if they see arguments escalating.

At Roskilde an amazing amount of alcohol was consumed by the 130,000 festival goers. Rather than an atmosphere of aggression, there was one of happiness and 'hygge'. And sleeping with the bottle on the grass. Photo: Mick. 2015.

At Roskilde Festival an amazing amount of alcohol was consumed by the 130,000 festival goers. Rather than an atmosphere of aggression, there was one of happiness and ‘hygge’. And sleeping with the bottle on the grass. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The last recommendation is my absolute favorite: Local Advisory Bodies encourage a more vibrant cultural life at night by attracting concerts, skate events and other cultural events to the local area and offer a richer and more diverse night life to young people through more diverse events at night time. Of course! Rather than slapping on a curfew or insist young people go home, encourage them to do something else, something fun. Don’t tell them what to do or force them to do something else – give them the opportunity to make their own choices by offering viable alternatives to hanging out in a night club. And work with young people to find out what it is that might be an attractive alternative to excessive drinking in night clubs.

This does not mean Denmark is free of idiots. I know there is a good number of them here. It is just that Danes refuse to let the morons spoil the fun for the rest. They will not let the nannies control their liberty.

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