As one of alcohol’s top nights approaches, I would like to take a shot at the arguments in favour of giving booze a freer lifestyle. That is, there are calls for allowing the most popular intellectual immobilizer to be sold in grocery stores, consumed in parks, and so on. Whether or not these or other alcohol rights projects will do us harm, I have no idea, and so I am open to being persuaded by academics and social planners who have evidence on either side. And/or if someone has in their possession an ethical argument that the right to unimpeded access to their favourite mind-number is more important than the needs of the rest of us to be protected from the effects of over use, then I am once again ready to be convinced.

However, I would like to do battle with three arguments commonly presented by alcohol-admiring pundits and callers to talk shows, not because I’m necessarily opposed to the free exchange of alcohol, but because I think their dogmatic and charasmatic stylings are allowing them to supplant good argumetns on both sides.

(1) Prohibition didn’t work (so it’s time to open up our liquor store borders).

The appeal to the flaws of prohibition, I believe, is to remind us of organized criminals such as Al Capone as though prohibition and the gangsters it provoked are equally culpable on a moral level for the violence that resulted. Ending prohibition was probably the right choice because the restriction had the effect of giving gangsters a moist underground economy in which to make dirty money (just as marijuana prohibition does today in Canada), but this does not mean that prohibition is intrinsically immoral; it may just be unfeasible because of our flawed society which will produce and buy from mobsters if we don’t get what we want from lawful means.

The fact that full prohibition provokes gangsters doesn’t mean that the “Free Alcohol” crowd gets to help itself to the notion that any restriction on alcohol will yield a comparable increase in organized crime. It doesn’t seem to be the case that partial limits to alcohol consumption cause the mob to compete with legitimate alcohol-selling businesses. Mobsters were an unintended consequence of prohibition, so if we have found a way to restrict alcohol without increasing our organized crime levels, then we can now ignore the major problem that made full prohibition unfeasible and decide whether particular restrictions are harmful or helpful to society.

(2) We’re behind other countries in modernizing our alcohol policy.

Once again, if there is evidence that improving access to alcohol in countries of similar culture and infrastructure to ours does not increase violence, drinking and driving, etc, then maybe it is the correct choice. However, the appeal to “modernization,” much like the notion that what is natural is always best, is baseless. That is, what is new in public policy is not by definition always better (even if it is much of the time). The politicians of these countries may be “updating” their policies not because it is best for their citizens, but instead because it is best for their chances of getting re-elected.

Thus, the argument that other countries are doing something new, so we should too, is empty. Instead, the question should be: how are they doing as a result?

(3) We need to be treated like grownups capable of handling our alcohol.

It’s unfortunate when laws and bureaucracy and locks on our doors are put in place because of the behaviours of the least civilized in our society. Nevertheless, the fact is that alcohol has the potential to make fools of nice people and violent psychopaths of jerks, so even if the majority of us can handle our alcohol, this does not necessarily mean that a wider entrance to our metaphorical saloon is the best option for our country.

The willingness of alcohol rights advocates to sacrifice (or at least not consider) the greater safety of all of us for their own personal alcohol-consuming convenience reminds me of the right-to-guns culture in the USA. In both cases, it seems to me that the proponents are so passionate about their right to their preference that they are opposed, on principle, to asking whether those rights have serious ethical consequences worth adding to our policy considerations.


  1. Hee, hee, nicely put V. Your drinking to my aversion to arguments in favour drink shows good spirit(s).

    Tom, I hadn’t heard of my alleged foremother, Carrie Nation, before you mentioned her here; however, unfortunately, I cannot claim her for my side of the argument as I feel that using a hatchet to express one’s point of view is best suited to the pro-alcohol crowd, and so I fear she may be a double agent. 🙂

  2. I realize that this is outside the scope of your present argument, but what say you to the benefits of alcohol as a ‘happiness drug’? ( to bring introverts out of their shells, reduce nervousness in specific social situations, loosen people up, etc.)

    This is distinct from the general enjoyment argument. I mean it as the positive side to the negative one of people who become destructive jerks.

  3. Thanks Tarrin. I’m sure there are benefits of alcohol (such as allegedly a glass of red wine a day to keep the oxidants away), but if we were to do a total cost/benefit analysis, I suspect that the overall negatives of alcohol would outweigh the positive (but, again, I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that scorecard). In regard to the specific case you mention, I accept that sometimes a little booze to make your anxiety go on a cruise may be a pro; however, the shy’s general reliance on alcohol to pep themselves up seems troubling to me as it may hold them back from finding healthier means of acquiring confidence. Perhaps the shy might consider seeking medical and/or psychological help for their anxiety instead of self-prescribing.

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