Saturday, 11 February 2017

We've all been taken in

I was rather irritated to read in the local paper about a young lout who went on a destructive rampage in Southport: he caused damage costing £5,482.50, fought a security guard, threatened people with a knife and ended up nearly naked in public. In his defence, he claimed his drink was spiked. As an explanation of his disgraceful conduct, this is complete nonsense, but from what I discerned from the newspaper report, it went unchallenged in court.

As I wrote in 2011, alcohol does not in itself cause promiscuity, violence or anti-social behaviour. Such behaviours are learnt, as demonstrated by experiments where people have been given drinks, but not told that they are alcohol-free; when the test subjects think they are drinking alcohol, they act according to how they believe it affects them. Quite simply, they start getting drunk.

Almost all of the 100,000s of people who go drinking every evening in this country do not subsequently go on a rampage, as a tour of the pubs, bars and clubs in any town would confirm. Beer festivals are attended by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people specifically for the purpose of drinking, and are peaceable events. Where there is trouble, it is is caused by idiots who have learnt bad habits when they began to drink, habits that are so ingrained that they think the drink causes, and therefore excuses, their misbehaviour. By going along with this view, society is letting them off the hook.

Even if our thug's drink was spiked, it does not explain why he acted as he did. He is in denial, saying, "It wasn't me; it was the drink", but he is wrong: it was him. No one, drunk or sober, would behave like he did, unless he or she had a predisposition to violence anyway. Supposedly drunken violence is not caused by drink, spiked or otherwise. It comes from within the drinker: it is who he or she is. To put it another way: if you're violent after a skinful, it doesn't mean the violence is a 'moment of madness' brought on by drink; it means you are a violent person who has been drinking. People should take full responsibility for their own actions and not try to find someone, or something, else to blame.

I accept that the distinctions I've made would bring little consolation to police and beleaguered NHS staff in casualty departments - violence is frightening, no matter what the cause. However, where it becomes relevant is how we educate people about alcohol. Dire warnings that drink can get you to behave in uncharacteristic ways, including getting into unexpected sexual situations, are more likely to give drinking an allure that in reality it does not have. It's the 'forbidden fruit' factor: the more you tell people they shouldn't have something, the more many of them will want it.

This means that it's not just the louts who have been taken in by the misconceptions that we as a nation have about alcohol; the anti-alcohol campaigners have too. Kate Fox, the social anthropologist, wrote in 2011:
"There are some societies (such as the UK, the US, Australia and parts of Scandinavia) that anthropologists call 'ambivalent' drinking-cultures, where drinking is associated with disinhibition, aggression, promiscuity, violence and anti-social behaviour. There are other societies (such as Latin and Mediterranean cultures in particular, but in fact the vast majority of cultures), where drinking is not associated with these undesirable behaviours - cultures where alcohol is just a morally neutral, normal, integral part of ordinary, everyday life - about on a par with, say, coffee or tea. These are known as 'integrated' drinking cultures."
It's not the alcohol that's the problem; it's our attitude to alcohol. That could, in time, be rectified, but it won't because, in our 'ambivalent drinking culture', all sides have been taken in by the myth.

For info: our lout was given an eight week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.


  1. I have read that, while there is a big alcohol problem amongst Native Australians, their typical reaction to alcohol is to lapse into a torpor rather than becoming violent and aggressive. This rather underlines the point that the reaction to alcohol is often a matter of social conditioning rather than being inbuilt.

    Having said that, I'm sure a lot of people know that there is anger inside them which they normally manage to keep under control, but which can be released if they've had too much to drink.

  2. Magistrates' Sentencing Guidelines now state that alcohol must be treated as an agrivating factor rather than a mitigating factor. No longer a case of, "I don't remember anything because I as drunk".

    1. That's good, although I thought the young man in my post was let off lightly.

  3. Replies
    1. I thought it represented slurred speech!


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