Critical Thinking as Productive Questions

                     The Most Positive Image I could find of a Potential Benefit of Alcohol

                   The Most Positive Image I could find of a Potential Benefit of Alcohol

1. What do we expect to get from alcohol consumption?

2. Is our libertarian urge so strong that we are willfully blind to the negative social effects?

3. Is our sense of regulatory possibilities beclouded by the belief that prohibition never works?

I assume you agree that alcohol consumption ends and ruins a lot of lives.

SO as I mix my key lime pie martini, what do I anticipate achieving or obtaining that offsets my concern about the negative side effects? DO I expect to enhance my worth as a contributing member of society? If that objective seems too stuffy for you, then do I expect some uncommon pleasure that cannot be obtained in a relatively safe form? 

Or is a the key to understanding our lack of concern about the negative effects of alcohol consumption that we wish to flee the inhibitions imposed by cultural, religious, and superego constraints?  Are we implicitly saying "leave me alone.? Other individuals should take care of themselves." Are we so blind to the responsibilities that attach to personal freedom that our default is always--let's not regulate or in translation, let's not pretend we know enough to want to nudge others to behave a particular way?

Perhaps our failure to delimit the negative effects of alcohol consumption is simply a version of a former President's sentiment that "Mistakes were made, but not by me." In other words, we believe that we can rationally manage our own drinking behavior, and the negative effects are the unfortunate fallout of the lack of self-control of the weaker elements of our community. But to explore that general argument, go to the mall and observe obesity in its palpable form. Alternatively, study the tragically low number of 2-income families who have more than $20,000 saved for their retirement. Is there countervailing evidence suggesting that humans are generally able to control their impulses?

None of the 19 people currently planning to run for President, as far as I know, has made even a 1-sentence statement suggesting that we should regulate alcohol marketing and distribution more carefully. And if 1 of them wished to make such a statement, I assume their pollsters would soon disabuse them of the desirability of such a radical view.

As you can tell, I am confused. Why is there no social action to change current policy toward alcohol consumption? Are we constrained by the so obviously fallacious argument that prohibition never works? Suppose we applied the same logic to restrictions against arson or embezzlement. Does anyone really believe that proclaiming that the prohibitions against arson and embezzlement are henceforth ended would have no effect on the number of those 2 behaviors? Reduction of the harm would be the objective of additional regulation of alcohol consumption. To require that an intervention end all negative behavior to avoid being declared a failure would end interventions of any kind.

Nudging behavior can take many guises. Absolute prohibition is one extreme. If the will were present, we could devise dozens of possible avenues for reducing the carnage caused by alcohol consumption. Here are 2 that just popped into my head as possibilities:

  1. Imposing liability on any host  for harm caused by an invitee when the host has permitted excessive drinking (This term has ambiguity certainly, but the CDC has laid out guidelines that make sense to me.) In other words, the community is imposing the specter of financial loss on the person or business who has distributed the dangerous substance.
  2. Matching dollar for dollar the barrage of talented marketing campaigns touting the alleged joys of alcohol with bona fide horror stories about what happened after consuming alcohol. In other words, we know that those who profit from alcohol consumption are hard at work urging higher levels of consumption. Should not the community protect itself by unleashing a countervailing flood of evidence?

1. Is there any evidence that alcohol has some special benefit for creativity?

2. Are we so psychologically dependent on the applause of others that we require alcohol to erase concern about unreasonable social norms?

3. Does the historical longevity of fascination with alcohol suggest some attribute of drinking that I am simply missing?

AuthorM Neil Browne