Thursday, August 23, 2007

Booze Britain

Britain should consider making the legal drinking age 21 as it has "lost the plot" when it comes to regulating alcohol, policy wonks claim. The news comes a week after an advertising campaign for Carling Black Label lager featuring the slogan ‘get pissed and glass someone’ was greeted with universal condemnation. Think tank Public Policy Research (PPR), the British Medical Association and the charity Alcohol Concern all expressed the need for a change in the law.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the bit about the Carling slogan was true. After all, according to the self-appointed experts, the drinks industry is brain washing young people into acts of mindless violence. It’s funny, because whenever I see an advert for alcohol it usually features young people enjoying themselves and thinking about having sex with each other. The message recommending mindless acts of violence must be coming from elsewhere.
I do think there is something wrong with British culture. You don’t have to be a Daily Mail reader to see that we are visibly more thuggish and unpleasant than most other European nations. Go into any city centre on a Saturday night and you will see a tide of human scum wash out into the streets at closing time, attempting to crush and drown everything in its path. It’s well known that the French, Spanish and Italians don’t have quite the problem with alcohol related violence and yobbery that we have.
But the reasons are, as always, very complex. Raising the drinking age to 21 won’t make a jot of difference; the suggestion is completely laughable. Like most authoritarian forms of social control, it comprehensively fails to understand the nature of incentives. Getting wasted on cider in a recreation ground at the age of twelve is a national rite of passage. If kids want to get alcohol, they can do so easily. Drugs are illegal and obtaining them is no problem. People rarely avoid an illegal activity only because it is illegal. Rather, they tend to do so because they believe it is immoral, and the threat of punishment is often extraneous. People, quite rightly, don’t see why drinking is in itself wrong. Therefore, in order to stop people drinking under the age of 21, an extraordinarily draconian punishment would be needed to function as an incentive. Such punishments should be handed out only for the worst crimes, and all but the most hysterical, foaming-at-the mouth Daily Mail columnist would agree that drinking isn’t one of them.
Among the labyrinth of factors that influence social behaviour, there is one which the media is reluctant to acknowledge. A quick glance at the newspapers, both tabloid and broadsheet, reveals a climate of constantly stoked fear and panic. The rolling stock of topics include: terrorists disguised as burka-clad Muslim women, foreign criminals sheltered from deportation by human rights legislation, paedophiles lurking on every corner, filthy hospitals, asylum seekers, immigrants taking our jobs, homeowners being arrested over injured burglars, insurmountable personal debt, spiraling house prices, health scares, political correctness gone mad, market crashes, knives, guns, priests being arrested for simply saying that they think that homosexuality is wrong, cancer, cancer, cancer and more cancer. Many of these point to genuinely problematic issues, but the reports come to us swathed In alarmist rhetoric, sweeping generalisations and unargued assumptions employed to cultivate an atmosphere of paranoia and intolerance. Meanwhile, busybody health pressure groups and the ever encroaching nanny state are given a complete monopoly on the good life. The message is that the purpose of life is to live as long as possible and in constant fear of death. Never mind living well and enjoying life. There’s just not enough time!
It is no wonder that people feel hopeless. Many fear the world, hate their jobs and hit the bottle at 6 pm on a Friday night. Some get violent. With National Pride little more than an empty slogan, there is a British tendency to celebrate the worst things about our culture. Getting arrested and being featured on the TV programme ‘Booze Britain’ becomes a badge of honour. Each day we are offered not a single thing to feel optimistic about. And for this the parasitical British media must take a large share of the blame.

Below: a foreigner, yesterday