Saturday 23 February 2013

Living free

Alex Tabarrok wrote a letter to his son's high school principal, hoping that the school will not become even more like a prison.
Thank you for requesting feedback about the installation of interior cameras at the high school. I am against the use of cameras. I visited the school recently to pick up my son and it was like visiting a prison. A police car often sits outside the school and upon entry a security guard directs visitors to the main office where the visitor’s drivers license is scanned and information including date of birth is collected (is this information checked against other records and kept in a database for future reference? It’s unclear). The visitor is then photographed and issued a photo pass. I found the experience oppressive  Adding cameras will only add to the prison-like atmosphere. The response, of course, will be that these measures are necessary for “safety.” As with security measures at the airports I doubt that these measures increase actual safety, instead they are security theater, a play that we put on that looks like security but really is not.
When we surround our students with security we are implicitly telling them that the world is dangerous; we are whispering in their ear, ‘be afraid, do not venture out, take no risks.’ When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds? When my child leaves school how will the atmosphere of fear that he has grown up in affect his view of the world and the choices he will make as a citizen in our democracy? School teaches more than words in books.
Tuesday I attended an lunch for international families at my five year old's elementary school. The school, like most NZ schools, is a series of buildings with no internal connections. So, kids run around between buildings pretty regularly. There's a low fence around the school property, but no real checks at the gates other than teachers having some idea of who might be parents. Visitors are asked to check in at the office; parents don't particularly bother though. And, part of the schoolyard is a short-cut from the University campus to a very good dim-sum place - I walked through pretty often even before the five year old attended.

Susan and I walked over to the building where the lunch was being held, bringing our pot-luck lunch contribution, said hello, and joined in for a pleasant lunch with other families. Nobody was checking that food was made in licensed kitchens. Nobody challenged us or checked ID. There are no metal detectors or security guards. There are no security cameras. Just peaceful people enjoying the kind of company that should be the birthright of everyone, and was common in the America of thirty years ago.

You can choose to live like this too. Sure, New Zealand is getting worse, and it's definitely worse than some parts of the US if marijuana freedom is an important part of your bundle of liberties. But NZ is starting from a much better spot than the US, and it seems to be getting worse slower than other places.

Things aren't bad enough to leave yet? Fine. Freedom's a value, but so too are other things like distance from family and wealth differentials and access to Ethiopean restaurants. But write down today some bright-line rules that you think should trigger your future exit; it's easy to acclimatize to gradual changes for the worse.



  1. Some times Mr Eric, I think you were born in New Zealand and your parents faked your licence plates,.. it was kind of them to do so ,..
    you write so well for us

  2. I brought up the idea of moving back to the wife this past weekend. She was surprisingly receptive. I think the totality of the insanity of the inside of the asylum is starting to weigh on her as well. She can see the toll it takes on me, but I think it's starting to impact her too.

  3. Much like Mr Tabarrok I can't help but draw the comparison to TSA airport "security" measures. I'm rather glad I live in a country where such measures are generally deemed unnecessary. Yes, many schools have cameras here, but they are usually in hallways and high-value areas such as computer suites so that incidents of bullying, vandalism and theft might be able to be traced back a perpetrator.
    At the risk of attracting the ire of certain parties I also can't help but wonder if the gun culture in the US, and especially the relative abundance of handguns, isn't at least partially responsible for the culture of fear around school shootings. I think the horse has already long bolted for the US, but I do think it serves as a valuable lesson for us here. I'd be very sad to see our gun laws go the way of the US. I'm very happy that gun ownership here is restricted mostly to farmers using rifles for pest control, and to the relatively small number of hunters who shoot recreationally. There is no need for the average citizen to have a cupboard full of semi-autos and handguns; it simply isn't that dangerous here, in spite of the picture the media sometimes paints.

  4. Would be curious to know how many of the American school shooters would have been able to get access to the firearms necessary to their task even had they lived in New Zealand. I'd thought a reasonable number of the US cases were folks with no known prior police or mental health records.

  5. As another ex-pat, I completely agree. The reasonableness of NZ sometimes surprises me.

  6. Yes, they might have. I'd argue that guns are harder to come by here if the anecdotes I've heard about gun shows in the US are true. I understand most places in the US require some sort of stand-down and background check, but from what I've heard gun shows are exempt from these requirements. It has been reported that Adam Lanza got the weapon he used in the Newtown shooting from his mother's collection. How many people here, farmers aside, are living in homes with ready access to firearms? If Wikipedia is to be believed the US has about 4 x the gun per capita ownership of NZ, but that doesn't account for that multiple small arms may be owned by one individual, so I guess its hard to put a concrete figure on the % of homes in which one would find a firearm. But I'd still wager that there would be a considerably lesser % of households in NZ. We also appear have a different cultural outlook to gun ownership, we don't suffer from the 2nd amendment fear, the whole "from my cold dead hands" paranoia that seems to infuse a very vocal minority in the US. From outside the US it appears that gun ownership there is treated more as a right, some sort of inherent god-given endowment, rather than a privilege that comes with strict responsibilities as it seems to be viewed here. But then I may just be deluding myself, and seeing NZ through rose-tinted glasses.