Friday, August 11, 2006
That Demon Alcohol
This morning I had a very pleasant meeting over tea and coffee with my parish priest. We chatted for the better part of two hours covering a wide range of subjects. One of the topics which came up was that of drinking. I don’t recall exactly how it came up but I remember talking about Woodrow Wilson’s Navy Secretary Joesphus Daniels, a fire breathing puritan who was a passionate prohibitionist. His name is still an epithet among enlisted sailors in the Fleet as the man whose first order was to end the ancient tradition of the daily ration of rum in the Navy (1 pt per man per day) in 1913. The Navy remains dry to this day.
As part of the conversation I noted that there still exists a Prohibition Party here in the United States. So imagine my surprise when I pop online tonight to check email and the world news, and discover that prohibition is once again a hot topic in some parts of the country. The New York Times ran a fascinating article on efforts by some big business interests to repeal the few remaining blue laws that ban the bottle in some localities. Yes there are still a few towns and counties that are drier than Beefeaters Gin served straight.
This has made me do a little thinking on the subject. Since a particularly bad (some would say fun) night on the town in Barcelona Spain with some shipmates in 1988 my drinking has ranged between light and non existent. So, do I favor prohibition?
No. I am at heart a libertarian and trying to tell people how to live their lives by passing laws has always struck me as rather foolish. We have been down this road before and it did not work. I oppose prohibition for the same reasons that I oppose outlawing gambling, adultery, homosexuality and a host of other social vices. In a free country you can’t legislate private morality. Beyond which these sorts of laws are notoriously ineffective. I was once told by someone I greatly respected in the Navy that I should never give an order I was unable or unwilling to enforce. It reduces respect for authority in general and for me in particular.
Having said all that, the prohibitionists may be wrong but they are wrong for all the right reasons. It is futile to even attempt to argue that alcohol abuse is not one of the root causes of a lot of problems in this country. The vast majority of highway fatalities are alcohol related as are more than half of all violent crimes. Alcoholism and drunkenness contribute to family quarrels, child abuse, divorce, depression, suicide, marital indiscretion, and all manner of accidents (many of them fatal). It can also be a lead into other vices and addictions including gambling, drug addiction, prostitution, sexual depravity and the like. Our college campuses today have become dominated by a culture of drunkenness. Binge drinking is rampant among young people. How many times have we read the tragic story of some kid who died at a fraternity party from alcohol poisoning or from some form of alcohol induced stupidity? Ask yourself dear reader, how many friends, loved ones and acquaintances have you gone to funerals for at least in part because of booze? I have lost count.
Do I favor prohibition? No. But I do think we would be vastly better off as a nation and a society if we all took the pledge and went on the wagon.