Friday, 27 April 2012

Against The Fanatics

One rule for the Bullingdon Boys, another for everyone else?
(image source:
by Michael Roderick

There are very few things that all human cultures have in common. Human nature is, despite the varied attempts to prove otherwise, remarkably inconsistent and often contradictory. Societies are not always hierarchical, as was once assumed, nor does currency, even in its most varied forms, exist in all cultures. I won’t go into all the finery of the detail here, but I would happily refer the reader to the works of  anthropologists Margaret Mead and Bronislaw Malinowski for the minutiae of human distinction and difference. One does not, however, have to be the most academic observer of our species to note that there are certain characteristics that achieve the near-universal. Religion is the obvious one; a stubborn element of the superstitious and the supernatural will exist in all societies whether primitive, pre-industrial, industrial or post-historical.

Perhaps the other is our natural inclination towards hydroxyethane; that miraculous substance which takes the various pseudonyms of ethanol or alcohol. There is a marvelous yet infrequently taught theory which suggests that human civilization began as a result of this affinity; we began tending our fields, establishing our fixed abodes and growing our crops that we might ferment it, and enjoy the fruits of our labors more easily. Thus was agriculture! Thus was civilization! Bread? Why, this was a mere side-product, a useful accident which also happened to be rather fruitful for human nutrition. Whether or not this theory has any substance is inconsequential; what we know is that virtually all human cultures have developed, enjoyed and been immeasurably transformed.

Cut forward to 2012. The World Congress of Cardiologists condemns ‘Bollywood’ for  ‘directly influencing the drinking habits of India's adolescents’, indeed, their report continues by highlighting the toxic effects of watching a Bollywood film by studiously demonstrating that ‘students that had been most exposed to alcohol use in Bollywood movies were found to be 2.78 times more likely to have tried alcohol as compared with those who were least exposed.’ Good Heavens! Surely, the only logical solution would be to restrict our youths, with their soft minds, from the alcoholic effects of a Bollywood film. When Iran seized 15 British Royal Naval Personnel as hostages in 2007, and then released pictures of the group being given a consoling beer and cigarette, our then-Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt - who, along with Harriet Harman, is the doyenne of pencil-pushing authoritarianism - noted how "it was deplorable that the woman hostage should be shown smoking and drinking. This sends completely the wrong message to our young people." Yes, I think that this nonsense just about expresses the mentality perfectly. The issue is all-encapsulating and hysterically literal-minded; utterly patronising and, at worst, disturbingly, unashamedly interested in state-sponsored behavioural modification . It is the same kind of mentality that just this year denied a condemned murderer on Florida death-row a last glass of whisky on the grounds - perfectly logical, really - that all Federal facilities were absolutely, non-negotiably non-alcoholic. It is the same kind of mentality that frantically wants to include a health-warning on all alcoholic beverages; wouldn’t it be wonderful, whilst enjoying a romantic meal and a bottle of breathing red with ones beloved to have a charming picture of a ravaged liver staring out from the bottle, as smokers now have to endure?

Are you suggesting, Mr Roderick, that we don’t have an obligation to inform people of the deleterious effects of alcoholic drinks and beverages? Should we not teach them that their reckless enjoyment may possibly, although we’re not absolutely sure, lead to their own needless destruction in later life? Why, by all means teach people, show them all the rotten livers that you want, inform them of all the statistics and dire consequences - but, surely, my prudish friend, there are limits to all this subliminal compulsion?

What is most detestable about this whole frenzied campaign, is the flabby snobbishness and laughable hypocrisy of our dear, cherubic Prime-Minister. It is no secret that Mr Cameron is a worrying vacuum of a man with the singular talent of being able to sound indignant at almost anything, but he has recently demonstrated himself to be an outstanding hypocrite. The man who was once a distinguished member of the Bullingdon Club – a society of ultra-toffs notorious for its destructive binges, and which perhaps represents the most loathsome collection of human matter ever known – has decided to finally teach the inner-city, working-class yobs who drink to much and make our streets look messy a lesson by increasing the price of their alcohol to 40p a unit. David Cameron was a man who happily spent his days at Oxford as part of a society whose main aim was to get as ragingly drunk as possible, and to cause as much damage to the establishment that was so kind to serve his detestable chums liquor. The Bullingdon Club is also famous for paying homeless men and women to fight with each other for a few pennies, merely for the entertainment. Is it not therefore mildly humorous when this entity informs the Great British Public that their vicious drinking habits must end? There is a great deal of snobbishness and falsity about our drinking culture. We love to bemoan our youth, who, we are told, clutter our health service on Friday and Saturday nights by filling their stomachs with the cheapest, mass-manufactured alcohol. What the older generation fail to realize is that their consumption of alcohol – between the ages of 25-55 – is more than twice that of the average 18 year old. Alcoholism is by far more prevalent and damaging amongst that group also. All this proves very little, of course, except that much of our perception of drinking and ‘drinking culture’ is all wrong. Young people of this generation, whether you like it or not, do not statistically drink more that their counterparts of preceding generations; the United Kingdom has for the last 20 years been classed as a country with ‘sensible’ drinking policies and habits by the World Health Organization, and there are not signs of that changing.

There is no evidence that this state-sponsored behavioral modification has or ever will work. Take a country such as Sweden who, compared to most of the globe, has some of the strictest regulations on alcoholic purchase and consumption. A pint of beer will often cost you three times what you get one for here, sometimes more. The effect of this remarkably enlightened and modern social engineering? The consumption of legal alcohol has remained almost completely static since those laws were first incepted sixty years ago. Sweden consumes barely any less alcohol that one of its drink-sodden, southern European counterparts, like Italy, a country which places almost no regulation on its alcohol (one may consume alcohol at any age and purchase it at 16). What is conclusive is that introducing such measures as those Mr Cameron are suggesting would likely make little difference; the difference it did make would not be easily quantifiable or significant.   Financial restrictions, social engineering, rotten livers on bottles: none of will make much difference.
‘We know of no spectacle more ridiculous’, as said the great Thomas Macaulay, ‘than the British Public in one of their periodical fits of morality’. It seems that we are unfortunately living through such a spasm; through such a fit. Those who puritanically tell us that they ‘feel sorry’ for those who feel an evening is served better with a drink can by all means do so - I am not particularly bothered by some human beings’ ostentatious moralism - and then skulk back to their fatty lattes, risible and icy cokes and the various assortment of their chemical pops, sodas and liquids. But those who tell us that it is in our own best interests that we should cull or at least sully our jocular habits, and who would solicit the aid of the State to do so, must be told no; to take their noses out of our business and return to their own miserable existences. Christopher Hitchens, a writer who himself was no stranger to the pleasures of liquor, once remarked with a delicious rhetorical balance that ‘something in the Puritan soul is committed to making and keeping people miserable, even when it is *not* for their own good.  Some of us have at least an inkling of the pursuit of happiness, as well as of happiness as a pursuit.’ To that, I can happily say "Cheers".  

Michael Roderick is 18 years of age

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