Figure 1 - A notice about public drinking at a suburban park in Douglas, Isle of Man.

The sign is effectively saying that anyone should feel free to consume alcohol and enjoy the park as they please. However, if your behaviour is sufficiently irresponsible or affects the enjoyment of others to the extent that a policeman has to intervene and warn you, but you persist, then you are breaking the law and deserve any punishment you get.

I am from Australia which, despite its apparently laid-back reputation, has surprisingly tight social and public order laws. A problem such as unruly drunken behaviour in a local park would typically be dealt with by completely banning the consumption of alcohol there and criminalising anyone who did so any-time in the future, regardless of their behaviour. In fact, the consumption of alcohol in any public place outside a licensed establishment is already banned in Australia, the result of street drinking problems in the distant past.

Collective Punishment

Thus, compared to the Isle of Man, it is hard to see many of the laws in other countries as anything other than the collective punishment of all for the past sins of a few. Some people were once drunk and disorderly in a park, so simply ban the consumption of alcohol by everyone regardless of their orderliness or otherwise. A few dogs and their stupid owners foul a beach, so simply ban all dogs regardless of how well their owner’s clean up after them. A few bored kids start hanging out behind a shopping centre, so simply ban loitering in that area by anyone.

Figure 2 - A similar notice on Loch Promenade in central Douglas, Isle of Man.

It’s really rather refreshing to find somewhere that starts by assuming that you will be responsible so doesn’t place unnecessary restrictions on you, unless a policeman specifically warns you about pushing things too far. I don’t know how you feel, but that kind of implicit trust makes me want to respect it even more.

Interactive speed sign

Dynamic road signs that don't penalise you, but show your speed as well as a smiley or sad face.

Like those dynamic speed signs by the side of the road that show how fast you are going and alternate between a smiley or sad face depending on whether you are below or above the limit. In most other countries you are more likely to see the flash of a speed camera and receive a hefty penalty notice a few days later, both of which usually leave you feeling more resentful than remorseful. I’ve never seen a speed camera on the island, but quite a few of those signs. Seeing the odd sad face does actually make me feel guilty and a bit remorseful. Probably because there is no recording or ramification, I have no else to get mad at or pass blame onto but myself.

The Rant Bit

Okay so the Isle of Man is a small place full of relatively small communities. However, if you really look at how most people live, aren’t cities just a collection of relatively small communities all packed pretty tightly together. In my view it’s not simply the size of population in a place that results in these kinds of heavy-handed and bureaucratic collective punishments. It’s more the increasing centralisation of power and responsibility away from those local communities.

The less local knowledge a bureaucratic organisation has, the more ham-fisted and injudicious its solutions are likely to be. Also, because the responsibility for decision-making is one or more steps removed from the actual problem, there is no feedback loop. The people making centralised decisions rarely get to experience or understand the ramifications of all aspects of those decisions on the people most affected by them, so there is rarely any fine-tuning, subtlety or flexibility in approach. Then, because centralised decisions need to communicated down a chain of command, their wording and intent usually leave no room for those who have to implement them locally to apply their own fine-tuning, subtlety or flexibility. In both business and politics, centralisation and amalgamation may save money, but decentralised decision-making more often delivers better outcomes.


17 May, 2013 - 14:15Claude

I think i will come and live in iom. One thing i hate about oz is feeling non human and not being able to accept responsibility for my actions, with all their rules and regulations its gotten out of hand…

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