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The Anti-Saloon League is back

“Prohibition showed bans can be good for us”, writes David Aaronovitch in the Times. Unironically. He means it. He thinks Prohibition was good and wants it back. I suppose it was ever thus; it is like the way that when the people who remember the last banking crash die the banks start crazy lending again.

Mr Aaronovitch writes,

Your mental charge sheet against prohibition may well include the accusation that it didn’t get rid of drinking but sent it underground; that the resulting appetite for “bootlegged” liquor led to the rise of organised criminal syndicates, Al Capone, the mob and the St Valentine’s Day massacre; that it helped to make corrupt hypocrites out of public servants; that the rich were able to indulge while the poor were criminalised.

Why yes, it does.

And after just a few years the Americans saw what a disaster it was and repealed it. It may not improve your view of it to know that the Ku Klux Klan were very much in favour of prohibition.

That does not surprise me.

Strangely though, the one question that almost no one seems to ask of this epic public health measure is whether or not it actually improved public health. Yet it doesn’t take much digging into the available statistics to discover that it did — quite a lot, in fact.

Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to all kinds of adverse health conditions. The most obvious is alcoholic cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver. In 1911 the death rate for cirrhosis among American men was nearly 30 per 100,000. By 1929 that had been reduced by more than 30 per cent. Registered admissions to mental hospitals for psychosis linked to alcohol more than halved. Even by 1933, when Volstead was revoked, alcohol consumption had gone down by a third since pre-prohibition. Whatever Mark Twain may have written, prohibition saved many, many lives.

The commenters made several good points to contradict that assertion. Some pointed out that in the same period alcohol consumption also went down other countries, including the UK, where alcohol continued to be legal. Bryan Dale said, “If prohibition reduced alcohol consumption by a third that can hardly be called a success. It was supposed to eliminate it entirely after all. With 2/3 as much alcohol being illegally consumed as had been done legally before prohibition, the impact on respect for the law must have been dreadful.” Others described well-stocked drinks cabinets in modern Saudi Arabia, or the way that the type of alcohol consumed shifts from beer to spirits when it must be sold and transported illegally.

I expect readers of this site can supply many other historical and factual arguments. All I will say is that there is a void at the heart of the passage I quoted above. Mr Aaronovitch never even questions the assumption that it is for him and people like him to decide what other human beings may or may not put in their own bodies.

65 comments to The Anti-Saloon League is back

  • George Atkisson

    Progressives need no justification for doing what their world view compels them to impose on others. It flows naturally from their enlightened world view of “What Ought to Be”. Dissenters simply need to be suppressed as they are incapable of knowing what is best for them.

  • Roué le Jour

    I take it the improvement in public health doesn’t include the alleged ten thousand people poisoned by their own government?

  • bobby b

    My time as a crimdef attorney left me with some leanings that are at odds with my libertarian leanings. It has left me very conflicted in certain areas.

    I would guess that 80% of the people I defended were drunk at the time of their offenses.

    I would guess that, of that 80%, 80% of them were alcoholics.

    Think of it like walking into a room with a killer tiger, and pulling the locked door shut behind you.

    Yes, the decision to do that is stupid. Yes, the libertarian in me says we should all be free to make our own decisions, stupid or not. But that one decision ends up irrevocable and binding, and fatal to many.

    If at someone’s first stupid drunk offense we could inject something into them that would render them unable to ever drink again, I would do that in a heartbeat.

    I guess that would make me a conditional prohibitionist.

  • Echo

    The author makes the weakest possible case for alcohol prohibition. He argues strictly based on certain consequential outcomes while ignoring others. To point out that alcohol consumption decreased is of course true.

    He then points out that the negative health consequences of alcohol consumption also decreased . That may be true and concede the point for now because that is beside the point. The same argument could be made for outlawing snowboarding and the double king delux bacon burger. He dismisses the offset of health gains by negative consequences of illegal consumption but no need to go there.

    Before leaving consequences it is important to note that the vast majority use alcohol in moderation or infrequently and develop no negative health issues thus you are depriving them of an enjoyable activity to protect others from themselves.

    To make it the function of government to achieve optimum health for its citizens has chilling consequences itself. Are we to have mandatory exercise periods? Legal consequences for being overweight? We are seeing that happen with sugar drinks and other things.

    The function of government is to protect our liberty to make informed choices in matters affecting ourselves as individuals. It is not to control our lives except in matters that cause harm or excessive risk to others. That is all that need be said.

    The possible health effects of alcohol are well known and people are perfectly capable of making those decisions once they have reached a certain age. Drunk driving is illegal as it should be because it is a risk to others. It is not the business of government if I want to sit at home and drink a half bottle of vodka.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b, It is interesting to compare your argument to the gun control debate. Clearly 100% of people who commit homocide by gun have guns. Yet as with alcohol, and, for that matter alcoholics, the large majority of gun owners don’t do anybody any harm (except tasty animals.) However, anyone committing a gun crime should surely no longer have the freedom to have a gun and do so again?

    Having said that I actually think the semi prohibition on alcohol in the USA is a large part of the problem. I grew up in the UK and alcohol laws there are much laxer. I don’t know what it is like now but when I was young it was perfectly normal to go into the pub when you were 17 or 18. I think the legal age is 18, but it is not enforced Nazi style as it is here in the USA. And as a consequence people have a vastly healthier attitude to alcohol there than they do here. You hear about college kids finally getting free from parents and drinking themselves into oblivion. Don’t get me wrong, I got hammered a few times in college too, but I don’t remember anyone ever having to go the the hospital. And there was none of this “dude I am SO wasted” as if that was a brag about which one were proud.

    Because kids don’t have the opportunity to learn to handle alcohol in a safer setting (like with their parents) they tend to go nuts, and it has lead to a completely unhealthy attitude to alcohol here for kids, which is retained in later life too. And the Nazi enforcement is verging on the comical. I had one of my friends who lives in Eastern France visiting. Of course In France kids grow up drinking wine from when they are fairly young and tend to have a pretty healthy attitude. But he went to the store to buy a bottle of wine and they refused to sell to him because he didn’t have ID (he was in his late 30s). He came back and told me “Fraser zis country, et is crazy… zey ask for the ID if you are under forty, zut alors.” (Apologies to my French speaking friends.)

    Anyway, statistics un-contextualized can be extremely misleading. As I have said a few times the statistics irrefutably show that under the Nazi regime in the 1940s that the rate of cancer deaths among Jews was much lower than before the Nazis came to power. I doubt too many of us would advocate the Nazi approach to Jewish healthcare though.

  • bobby b

    Fraser Orr
    November 4, 2019 at 5:29 am

    “@bobby b, It is interesting to compare your argument to the gun control debate.”

    I guess I see a difference of a causative factor between the two situations that allows me to view the gun as simply being a tool, an instrumentality that made the task easier, but the alcohol as a true causative factor in the loss of control and inhibition and judgement that allows – sometimes compels – otherwise dull/normal drones to do regretted things.

    And I’d never argue that the right to have guns is a costless thing – just that the cost/benefit comparison pushes me one way. (ETA: And, when I do any kind of cost/benefit comparison for alcohol, I don’t see much beyond “because I want it.” Granted, for a libertarian-trending person, that’s a big one, which is where I get the conflict, but it still ends up on the wrong side of the equation for me.)

    “Of course In France kids grow up drinking wine from when they are fairly young and tend to have a pretty healthy attitude.”

    That strikes me as the naive statement of a romantic who values sophistication. Google “France deaths from alcohol”. It’s appalling, especially amongst the young. I don’t mean to be insulting, and I apologize if it comes off that way but I’d bet most of the drunks you’ve known have been fairly urbane, well-behaved people. Of the hundreds and hundreds I’ve known, I can think of six who were that way.

    Plus, I think you can teach your kids wisely about drinking without letting them drink before they’re adults. They’ll still learn about hangovers and vomiting and all the fun stuff they need to know on their own, and you’ll deal with them appropriately when it happens (with some small sense of humorous revenge, of course), but the basic attitudes that make people eventually healthy about drinking are the ones they get from you about being honorable and smart and good. The ones I dealt with never got those kinds of lessons and examples, and that’s why they were seeing me.

  • bobby b

    Forgot this part:

    Fraser Orr
    November 4, 2019 at 5:29 am

    “I grew up in the UK and alcohol laws there are much laxer. I don’t know what it is like now but when I was young it was perfectly normal to go into the pub when you were 17 or 18.”

    Are you describing a place, or a time? When I grew up, it was exactly as you say – 17 or 18, lax enforcement of that, easy drunk-driving enforcement – and I was here in the US hinterlands. My kids marvel when I describe such antics to them.

  • APL

    “the people who remember the last banking crash die the banks start crazy lending again.”

    This time they didn’t wait for the punters to die off. Having been bailed out by governments ( UK RBS – £150bn over ten years ) Not only did RBS/NATWEST rape and pillage its own small business customers, apart from a brief interlude immediately after the 2008 crash, when the bankers were actually in fear of their own jobs, its been ‘crazy lending’ ever since.

    £150bn to keep Gordon Browns seat. Seems a bit on the high side to me.

    It may have been cheaper to pay off all the employees with £1,000,000 each severance payment.

    God knows what the UK government had to pay Lloyds to swallow the poison pill of BoS.

  • Y. Knott

    So, if I read his argument correctly, he feels that the improvement in public health in the 20’s was from Prohibition. Not ‘improved medicine’, not ‘better public health consciousness’, not ‘increasing urbanisation, with clean water, sewers and heated buildings, the Model T eliminating huge mounds of horse dung, more washing machines and higher standards of presentability among employers and peers resulting in mass outbreaks of cleanliness, and easier access to hospitals’, or any of the other vast improvements in public life following WW1; no, it was all, and only Prohibition. Gee, where else have I seen that sort of blinkered attitude among progressives?

    ” – NOT the Sun, NOT natural variability – it’s ALL man-made CO2, and we’re all gonna’ DIE of GLOBAL WARMING!!!”

    Wise man say; “If a conservative (or libertarian) doesn’t like something, he doesn’t buy one; if a Progressive doesn’t like it, he lobbies the government to take-away yours.”

  • Paul Marks

    The Times and the Sunday Times are getting odder and odder – for example no matter how many concessions the Johnson government makes (the deal with the European Union, lots more government spending, new regulations, abortion in Ulster, and on and on) the Times and the Sunday Times pretends that the government is “hardline” and not “liberal” or “one nation” (they mean no nation) enough.

    The question is who would BUY these newspapers? Who wants to pay money to read articles in defence of prohibition, or saying that Boris Johnson (of all people) is a hard core libertarian out to roll back the state? With the Times and Sunday Times saying that rolling back the state (which Mr Johnson does not want to do anyway) would be a terrible (indeed evil) thing to do?

    One can say many things about the deal with the European Union – but the position of the Times and Sunday Times that the deal is “hard line” or “extreme” is not just wrong, it is demented. Again who would pay money to read this?

    I do not see what market the Times and Sunday Times are aimed at – Conservatives will not buy these papers as they hate Conservatives (even ultra moderate ones such as Boris Johnson) and leftists will not buy them because they are owned by Rupert Murdoch.

    So who is going to spend money buying these newspapers? According to the circulation figures lots of people still pay money to buy them – but WHY?

  • Y. Knott

    – And to back-up Bobby B, I have a site in my Quotes Page, if memory serves it was called “bumwines.com”, covering the cheaper end of the social-drinking spectrum. It covered Buckfast, which they didn’t really approve-of as it was too expensive for bums, hobos, winos &c; they’d usually look a bit lower on the shelf. But the stats on Buckfast were that it has a healthy dose of caffeine in the mixture along with its %AbV – and that 40% of violent criminals in the polled area of Scotland had been drinking Buckfast before their offense.

    My daddy taught me how not to drink – i.e., not like he did – so I have a lot of sympathy for your position.

  • Marius

    @Paul Marks – the Times and Sunday Times are the newspapers of the British Establishment and thus share its views. So they are overwhelmingly in favour of a bigger, tax-hungry and powerful state, including the EU. Their readership consists of dripping-wet globalist Tories too snobby (in the past at least) to vote Lib Dem and a great swathe of the professional classes still in mourning for New Labour. Think of the Times as the Guardian for top rate taxpayers and you won’t go far wrong.

  • What’s also interesting is about Aaronovitch’s article is where he got this from. Because there was a graphic about this very thing floating around Twitter a week or so ago.

    I can’t see his whole article so I don’t know how he’s presenting his research, but from the first few paras it looks like he’s pretending that this is a journalistic research idea something he came up with on his own. But most likely he just saw that graphic on Twitter and looked up a few extra things to bulk it up into a column.

  • llamas

    What Frazer Orr said. So much of the issues around alcohol have to do with culture.

    When I went off to college in the UK, back in the days of horse-drawn hansom cabs and gas light, the hall of residence where I first lived had a bar, right in the dining hall. Kept regular DORA hours. So you could have a pint with your evening meal if you wanted. The only age-checking that went on was for students under 18, who were only supposed to be able to buy a drink with a meal. You had to drink in company, and in public – the one thing not allowed was to take your drink ‘off the premises’.

    Every suburb of South London I lived in had a ‘local’, the pub that you went to by habit or by choice, and where you could become ‘known’, if that’s what you wanted. Some were great, some were fleapits, just as you liked. As has been confirmed here in the past by others, many, many places of work had social clubs or simple bars, right on the premises. The factory where my dear old Dad (MHRIP) worked had one, with a turnstile – you could get into the bar from the factory, but you couldn’t get back into the factory from the bar. Drinking was everywhere. It was public. It was universal. What wasn’t universal was drunkenness.

    By contrast, I now work in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, and Eastern Michigan University, just to the East. The drinking culture here among students is toxic and destructive, primarily due to the Federally-imposed drinking age of 21. Most drinking by those ‘underage’ is necessarily done in private, and to excess. And this in a place where the beer generally has lower alcohol content than what’s usual in other places. Weekend evenings in AA are the place to go if you want to observe public drunkenness ‘in the wild.

    As bobbyb notes, alcohol has a large part in a lot of crime, especially at the lower levels and in ‘quality-of-life’ crime. Alcohol is also the drug of choice of the ‘homeless’ community, and it tends to amplify their social pathologies. As noted, it is causality, not an instrumentality, further weakening the inhibitions of those whose inhibitions are already. It’s not called ‘liquid idiot’ for nothing.

    Also as noted, lots of people have a rosy picture of the drinking culture in places like France, where kids get a glass of wine and water with their dinner and everyone behaves properly. But France actually has a terrible problem with drunkenness and alcohol abuse, especially among teens. The laws on public drunkenness are posted in every bar and tavern in France, and it’s not for decoration.

    I do note a sharp distinction that’s driven by the age at which the Federal imposition of the over-21 limit came into effect. I actually know quite-a-few alcoholics (at one level or other) here in the US who learned their drinking skills in the 60s and 70s. They can drink all day and remain perfectly normal and reasonable – in some cases, you’d never know, although I know at least one who starts the day with Colgate and a Miller Genuine Draft. The younger ones, by contrast, tend to drink more in binges, and to be nasty drunks. For them, drinking is an event, not a habit. I never consciously knew anyone like that in the UK, either way.

    So it’s all about the culture. But one thing’s for sure – prohibition doesn’t work, and never will. Might be better to figure out what cultural markers make for a ‘better’ (= less destructive) drinking culture, and try and foster those.

    llater,

    llamas

  • bobby b (November 4, 2019 at 6:09 am), I plus-one your philosophical distinction between the gun that does not alter the mental function of its owner, and the drink or drugs that do.

    There is also the positive life-saving, health-saving value of the gun in a world where crime exists. It has been argued that 7-14 units of alcohol weekly is also on average good for health. Drugs can aid health, but, unlike the gun, the occasions for using them so are usually very predictable and measurable.

  • Rob

    I like the idea that the State prohibiting something will solve the problems associated with it. Let’s do it with Drugs, think of what we could achieve!

  • (This is a bit OT for the thread – apologies – but a løgical response to Paul’s comment.)

    Paul Marks (November 4, 2019 at 10:02 am), consider the early-to-mid 30s, when the UK’s pacifist prime minister was lambasted by the UK’s pacifist leader of the opposition for not being pacifist enough while Hitler re-armed. Labour voted against the arms estimates every year including 1939 – not on the grounds they were too low but claiming they were too high – then reinvented themselves during the war as the out-of-power-in-30s party so of course UK unpreparedness was all the Tories’ fault.

    It was inevitable the Times would swear that the October ‘deal’ Boris negotiated (which I hope we can now avoid) was ‘hardline’. The point of the deal was to circumvent (or, it may have been, merely to expose) their determination we should not leave at all. By voting it down for the 31st, they made it very public that their “not leave without a deal” ploy was a transparent lie. Boris (and Nigel) will use the outcome to show that, so the Times (of course) gets the Remoaners’ denial in first.

    As to who buys the Times, some buy it out of habit (but some of them do not ‘buy’ its Brexit line as information – I know some such), and many others buy it in both senses because of course Boris is hardline – “I mean, look, even the Tories had to be dragged to the brink of electoral death before they’d put him in charge so, like, he must be hardline, man, I mean, like, its obvious.” As Never Trumpers and the Overton window make Trump look extremer than he is, so the logic of SW1 infects many who have other things to do with their time than study the minutiae of a deal.

  • Marius

    he’s pretending that this is a journalistic research idea something he came up with on his own. But most likely he just saw that graphic on Twitter and looked up a few extra things to bulk it up into a column.

    Hector, your second sentence is a pretty accurate description of 90% of journalistic research.

    There is also the positive life-saving, health-saving value of the gun in a world where crime exists.

    There is also the positive life-saving, health-saving value of alcohol in a world where authoritarian nannies such as David Aaronovitch exist.

  • Paul Marks

    Marius and Niall – thank you for explaining something that had baffled me.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b,

    Isn’t it the case that every drunk is sober at some point, and has agency as to whether or not he drinks, or drinks again? Is there not the risk of denying agency, and fallible humanity, to every drunk? Perhaps in your neck of the woods, there is a lot of alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency due to Finnish immigration making the effects of alcohol all the more evident, but every drunk was sober once, and are they not simply exhibiting short time preferences by drinking again?

    Whilst it saddens me to see alcoholics, I would not deny them their humanity and their own responsibility for their wretchedness. Fools do as fools do, and the laws of natural selection remain in force and the struggle for existence is always being fought. We cannot save everyone, and why should we save anyone from themselves?

    Consider Dr David Wood’s tales of his Appalachian hillbilly life and the fatalistic approach to what turns out to be cancer, no self-pity there, just remorseless reason as to cause and effect.

    So I say let them be, and just see it as part of the absurdity of humanity.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I think that bobby_b makes a sensible case. Not necessarily compelling, but not to be dismissed.

    First, he argues on the basis of externalities, an argument that any libertarian should take seriously.
    (Except when he talks about the French, more on that in a follow-up comment.)

    Second, he takes into account the Pareto principle: almost all the externalities from alcohol abuse come from a small minority of drinkers, so let’s find a way to prevent THEM (not me!) from drinking.

    To use the comparison to gun control introduced by Fraser: bobby is not arguing for repealing the 2nd amendment, he is arguing for background checks.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Following up on the issue of whether French people drink responsibly: it must be admitted, i submit, that bobby shifts his ground: he no longer argues about externalities, but about self-damage.
    It is here that Natalie’s immortal words in the OP become relevant:

    Mr Aaronovitch never even questions the assumption that it is for him and people like him to decide what other human beings may or may not put in their own bodies.

    (Except that i don’t know whether Mr Aaronovitch even makes that assumption, since i did not read his article; but never mind: Natalie’s words remain relevant.)

    —-
    And that leads to what to me seems the most important factual issue.

    In 2011, there was an article on the BBC site that argued, quite cogently, that alcohol leads to violence only in cultures which assume that alcohol leads to violence: the Anglosphere and the Nordic countries (bar Denmark).

    The reason why the BBC article is cogent, is that it is hard to blame genetic factors: after all, what genes can you find in the Anglosphere that you cannot find anywhere else except in the Nordic countries?

    So, the French and other people (the Russians come to mind) might well drink to excess, but any resulting externality is hardly ever due to violence. (It might well be due to drunk driving.)

    Maybe tomorrow i’ll find the time to find the BBC article.

  • bobby b

    Mr Ed
    November 4, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    “Isn’t it the case that every drunk is sober at some point, and has agency as to whether or not he drinks, or drinks again?”

    Yes, very true. Every person is free to choose to take or not take a drink. Up to a point.

    That point kicks in at addiction (which, yes, they foolishly allowed to happen.) Once they hit addiction – not habituation, but true addiction – that choice is gone. And it’s usually not until that point where they start to see their lives degenerating, and to see what they’re doing to those around them.

    As I’ve said, this is a rather large contradiction in my thinking. It’s experiential. My Inner Libertarian says we ought to allow people to make dumb choices to the point where we write them out of humanity. But I’ve dealt with their humanity, and I’m open to finding some way to keep them in. Justice doesn’t have to be devoid of pity, contra Ayn Rand.

  • Mr Ed

    bobby b,

    That’s very interesting and very frank. I would hope that I would take pity on an alcoholic before I became a Randroid. It’s not really a contradiction in your thinking, it’s a sign that you think things through and seek to resolve conflicting thoughts, rather than take a line for the sake of it.

  • bobby b

    Snorri Godhi
    November 4, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    “To use the comparison to gun control introduced by Fraser: bobby is not arguing for repealing the 2nd amendment, he is arguing for background checks.”

    Exactly. And, consider what I said about the extent to which I would limit drinking:

    “If at someone’s first stupid drunk offense we could inject something into them that would render them unable to ever drink again, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

    I appear to be arguing for background checks for both.

    (ETA: And I think I just now realized that that was your point. Oops.)

  • The cirrhosis argument in favor of prohibition never made sense. Cirrhosis is a very slow-acting disease—10 years to develop (or more). And it started rising just about 10 years after the start of prohibition.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I guess I see a difference of a causative factor between the two situations that allows me to view the gun as simply being a tool, an instrumentality that made the task easier, but the alcohol as a true causative factor in the loss of control and inhibition and judgement that allows – sometimes compels – otherwise dull/normal drones to do regretted things.”

    I tend to agree that the problems with guns are primarily caused by people wanting/needing to commit crimes, and guns making it easier/messier.

    But given that, I see an immediate parallel asking what it is that makes people want/need to get drunk? Is it the argument here that there is no prior reason? That drinking is the uncaused cause, the prime mover?

    I’ve known a few people who go out to get drunk and have fights, and I’ve always had the strong impression that the violence was regarded as part of the fun, it was a large part of the point. Life’s crap, they have to spend most of it holding themselves under rigid control, they get angry and frustrated, and they want to hit something. So they go out drinking to places well known for it, and let off some steam by smashing things and each other. The drink was never the cause, it was always a tool, both enjoyable in itself and enhancing the social experience of a good fight.

    And there were others who drank themselves to oblivion in order to escape however briefly from their lives, their problems, their memories, their misery. Their addiction was not primarily because of the drink itself, but because it was their only escape from something even worse. Mental illness, depression, debt, sickness and disability, memories of childhood abuse, prison, boredom, bereavement, heartbreak, hopelessness and despair.

    I can’t think of any habitual violent drunks who didn’t fit into one of those two categories. (Maybe with your wider experience you know some?) At the least, there are a significant number of such people.

    So if you cut them off from their one escape, their safety valve, trapping them inside their own head with their raging demons, what will they do instead? Settle down to a nice normal middle-class life?


    To stop people doing something problematic, I heartily recommend not banning it, but offering them a better and less harmful alternative, so they don’t want/need it any more, and so life gets generally better for everyone, not worse. Competition, not regulation.

  • bobby b

    “To stop people doing something problematic, I heartily recommend not banning it, but offering them a better and less harmful alternative, so they don’t want/need it any more, and so life gets generally better for everyone, not worse.”

    Agree entirely, except that “stop alcoholics from drinking” sounds at least possible, while “make everyone’s lives good” would be a bit more . . . challenging.

    Not making the Perfect be the enemy of the Good, and all of that . . .

  • Having written a somewhat off-topic comment above, now lets get exactly on-topic.

    Mr Aaronovitch never even questions the assumption that it is for him and people like him to decide what other human beings may or may not put in their own bodies.

    Mr Aaronovitch does not justify himself on the grounds that drink causes some minority of people to act criminally or dangerously. (He could hardly support prohibition as a way of reducing net crime, which notoriously rose under it.) No, Natalie is right. This is very much about Mr Aaronovitch believing that he and his elite can tell the rest of us what we can do – and it only demonstrates his vast superiority over us that he’ll turn his concern for public health statistics on or off at his pleasure. Suggest banning muslims to reduce terror-related deaths – I’m not sure Mr Aaronovitch will go for that. Are homosexual lifestyles a vector in the spread of aids – gosh, Mr Aaronovitch does not favour banning (except of anyone’s speech who remarks the fact). He is nowhere more elite that in his ability to identify what should be banned to make the statistics look good and what should be left alone and the public health stats be damned. 🙂

  • bobby b

    “Are homosexual lifestyles a vector in the spread of aids . . . “

    Not to quibble, but the World Health Organization statistics show that AIDs is now vastly a heterosexual disease, raging though Africa because anal sex is the birth control method of choice amongst poor people.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Isn’t it somebody called “Dr. Bill” who wrote the book about AA? It was in that book, IIRC, that there was at least one story of a grandmother — late 50s? Older? — who had never in her life been exposed to Demon Rum. She and Grandpa went to a party where cocktails were served, and she decided to try one.

    Instant addiction, per the story anyway. I’ve heard echoes of that elsewhere…won’t swear to anything so forthright.

    Personally, I don’t see any reason why that would be impossible, though it might be rare.

    I believe that Aristotle said that you are liable for wrongdoing even when under the influence, because you weren’t under the influence when you decided to take/smoke/inject/sniff/roll–around-in whatever. As somebody above already said.

    “Pity.” A word with a terrible reputation: to lots of people it has a connotation of … almost moral condescension, I guess. Anyway, did Miss R. use that word? Good-faith question; I don’t recall it myself, at least not as bobby’s remark at least implies,

    “Justice doesn’t have to be devoid of pity, contra Ayn Rand.”

    First, because of what “pity” and condescension seem to many people to mean about the pitier.

    But even in that idea of the word, you might put a man in jail for some small-to-truly-monstrous (life-sentence) wrongdoing; while still feeling pity for him, perhaps a feeling of “this guy, I pity him, it must be awful to be such a person.” Myself, I had a feeling not of pity, but of a rather badly damaged person when I saw that photo of the Sith as a young boy, somewhere between 6 & 8? riding so happily on his bike. I thought it was such a shame (a “pity”) that that happy little boy turned out to be, well, the Sith.

    (Yes, I know they say psychopaths and sociopaths and all sorts of morally-challenged grownups were once upon a time cute, sweet-looking little kids.)

    So, must Justice be devoid of Pity? Maybe so, if Pity would prevent you committing Justice. And that may have well been the underlying attitude of her comment, if she did say that. “Oh, you must spare him, the poor thing, go easy on him, he couldn’t help it/didn’t know, have you no pity?” We all hear plenty of this, all our lives.

    If so, her belief would have been that Pity is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

    (And the Great Frog fouls up once again. It/she/he should have designed us so that if simply advised, just once, that our act & similar were seriously wrong, we would instantly and forever forgo repeating the offence or any other of the same type — for a very broad value of “type.” Of our own free will, of course.)

    .

    The idea has been rattling around in my noggin for many years now that you can’t have Justice without Compassion (which is not quite the same thing as pity). Two equally important reasons:

    1) Compassion for the victim (or his family and friends), whose suffering merits (if you think so) Justice for the perp. To forgo Justice is to add insult to injury. In more than one way. Sons of Katie Elder, for one.

    2) Compassion for the perp, unless you enjoy seeing people punished; one hopes this compassion would constitute a restraint against overdoing the punishment (or retribution).

    Of course, where you go with those is highly subjective. Different people, well-meaning and clear-thinking, can still differ as to what the justifying reason(s) should be: retribution, punishment in itself, deterrence? and what standards for the degree of each?

    .

    Communism. A living Hell.

    .

    Just musing….

  • bobby b

    Julie, first, I will easily admit that I should have used the word “compassion” in place of “pity.” It’s more accurate, but it takes a lot more typing . . .

    But, as to Rand – one of my problems with her writing (and I don’t have many) is that her world (ETA: in her later works) of humanity is very clearly delineated between good and bad. She doesn’t have many characters who shuffle in between – which is what much of humanity actually does.

    I think of her descriptions of all of the train passengers in the tunnel – all of them currently in thrall to some evil tendency, such that her message was that they deserved their fate. Or her categorization of the various industrialists – all of them either moral, or immoral. Her stories are full of either gods or demons. Her most wishy-washy character is Eddie Willers – who is good enough to be a god, but lacks the ability, and so she doesn’t even save him in the end.

    She held – through Reardon’s expressed thoughts, and Francisco’s speeches – that all of those for whom she had no compassion were in that group not because of what they had done, but because they wanted that compassion while still continuing to do those same bad things. (“Pity me – don’t I deserve a factory?”)

    So, for the continuing choice to act immorally, no compassion. I’ll buy that. But if you know many hard-core alky’s, you know that any choice disappeared long ago, and that they can be brought back to humanity only coercively. But they can be brought back to humanity, and so here I am saying serve liberty through coercion.

    You think it’s easy being so intellectually incoherent? 😕

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby.

    Not so much that it’s so easy to be incoherent, it’s that it’s damn impossible not to be!

    Yet we poor fools are condemned to keep trying. 😥

    Them old Greeks had all kinds of stories about it.

    .

    2) cont.: Compassion for the perp also, if you think just treatment might help move to change in a way that would help him to act better and feel better about himself.

    On the other hand, “Gotta be cruel to be kind” covers an awful lot of sins, don’t it.

    So I repeat yet again: Life is a balancing act.™ The thing takes judgment.

    Don’t agree w/ Miss R. on “compromise.”

    .

    We could have a very good time jawboning about Miss R.

    Anyway, thinking about what you said & what I said, I’m not sure your “pity” was so far off the mark. I can hear her saying that more than “compassion.” (My hypothetical “poor schlub, couldn’t help it, go easy on ‘im” comment has changed my mind. That does sound to me like something she’d have some dam SJW-type say in Atlas.) “Compassion” is a softer word. Less harsh. To me anyway.

    .

    Alkies. Well … definitions vary. My father drank much too much from at least the time I was 7 or 8 until he came to live with us in the mid-80’s. More than 50 years, I guess. But the first time I caught him with a bottle in my house I took it away from him, and I said, “I’m sorry, Daddy [yes, Daddy. ‘S’not to be ashamed of.], but I have to keep a dry house.” He just looked at me, gave me the bottle, no more was said.

    A true, hard-core-addicted man who’d hit bottom? (My bro & I had already kidnapped him and put him into a 1-month rehab program. And he’d had some DUI’s, the last of which put him in another hospital briefly and also lost him his license. But after the thing at my house, I don’t think he ever drank again.)

    Then there are druggies. George H. Smith and Jeff Riggenbach got into it, either at von Mises or on one of the Objectivist sites, don’t remember which. Apparently both of them were into heroin when young & shtoopid. The fight was over whether the stuff is addictive or not. Apparently George had a helluva time getting over it (and whatever else, if anything, forget the details) — withdrawals, falling off the wagon, more withdrawals, so forth — he’s sure it’s addictive. Riggenbach said “He!!, no prob. I quit whenever I wanted to.” I have the impression he did H the way a casual smoker might smoke on occasion but no biggie.

    From this I think we learn that different people react differently to the same substance (I include foods, by the way).

    But to address your point, I don’t know that I’ve met any hard-core truly chronic drinkers except my Dad. Although, I take it back — even he wasn’t the Town Lush. That would be our doctor (but I never saw him drunk that I know of), who was also the town Doc. Mother always said “except in the delivery room. They say he was always straight-up sober as soon as he walked in.” (He also did Community Service, so to speak, in the form of holding the Mayoralty for a number of years. Small farming town, remember, Pop. 1800 when I was in high school.) Heh. Mom’s OB-Gyn was in Chicago. 100 miles away, so I saw a little of the Big Exciting City as a kid. Loved it! Baby bro, baby sis both born there.

    .

    Now. Speaking of mead, why not bring it along in the Lamborghini for Thanksgiving? By all means bring the family. And the pergola.

    ;>)

  • bobby b

    “But to address your point, I don’t know that I’ve met any hard-core truly chronic drinkers except my Dad.”

    Like Fraser Orr, you should count your blessings. I got the guys who were hauled in too close to the arraignment deadline and were still too drunk at First Appearance to stand. I got the guys who would stand in front of the judge urinating in their pants and mumbling. I got the guys who had to be restrained because they were screaming and crying and smashing their bloody face into the steel table in the interview room out of remorse for having shot their wife in a drunken rage. I had quite a few clients who suicide’ed out of remorse for what they had done while drunk. Lots of my clients could never really deny what they were accused of because they had been blackout drunk at the time. (“I did . . . what? Oh my god . . .”)

    (I went into divorce law because it was less stressful and agonizing than crimdef.)

    We associate morality and choice with humanity, but most of these guys had degenerated – had BEEN degenerated – by alcohol damage to the point where they were more animal than human. There was no agency left – even though they had been the agents of their own original choice to drink heavily. They never knew what hit them, and by the time it did hit them, they had no remaining agency.

    (And, yep, now I’m going to grill a steak and pop open another bottle of mead! Life is good.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby,

    You have no idea how powerful your first para is. It makes the reality real to me, in a way it’s never been before. I’m a highly experienced reader of thrillers, and a lot of them have at least former heavy drinkers, but nothing like what you describe.

    The next para does the same, from another angle.

    I thank you for both.

    A lot of them also have nasty divorces. So for you, a step up from your former occupation.

    Why not become a florist, or maybe devote yourself to helping elderly innocent young things by bringing them mead and steaks in the Lamborghini? I suppose you won’t have room in there for the pergola.

  • bobby b

    Ha! I am eventually going to drive the RV to (near) Chicago just so I can take you to lunch. You do do lunch, right? Any RV parks nearby?

    But I will admit that what I’ve done has left me a damaged human. I admire and covet the sophisticate’s view of life that says that you should serve your kid wine with lunch, but then I’ve represented the kids who then have killed dad in a drunken rage.

  • bobby b

    P.S. I used the agency language intentionally, because I’m sort of asking Paul M to comment here. Paul is big on agency – as he should be – but can a Christian view accept that wrongdoing can be involuntary?

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, I’d like to hear Paul comment on that too.

    However, my guess would be that some Christians do and some don’t, just like us atheists/agnostics (depends on definition).

    I grew up in the Congregational Church, var. Midwesterniensis, and I don’t remember hearing anybody say anything much about it. But truth to tell, we had Sunday School while the grownups were up listening to the sermon, until I was, oh, 13? Then I was in the choir, so my ears were present for the sermon. I can’t say the same for my brain.

    The only thing I remember from Sunday School is the story of Moses in the Bulrushes.

    But I did believe in God. What I took away from growing up as I did was the principle that “God gave us a brain. He expects to use it.”

    I think if I were still a Christian I’d be of the same opinion still.

    .

    Check your “preferred” mailbox. :>))

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    Sounds like you have had some traumatic situations. However, it seems to me the solution is not to rob someone’s freedom to drink (after all the vast majority of drinkers do not have this degenerate behavior.) This is my comparison with guns, that we should not rob the majority of law abiding citizens of their guns simply because some bad apples do bad things with them. Every time there is one of these horrible mass shootings it makes me stop and rethink my opposition to gun control, much as you must have been horrified by some of the drunken damage done by your clients. But I always have to come back to that principle.

    However, I’d suggest that what is wrong here is really the punitive process in the criminal justice system. The sentences given by judges are meant to serve a number of different purposes, whether retribution, re-education, societal protection and a few others. This seems to me to be a case when the criminal justice system has a right to intervene punitively when alcoholism is an indicator of escalating recidivism.

    Criminal activity tends to accelerate. However, we have this crazy philosophy that you shouldn’t punish petty criminals. I think in a sense that is almost backward. A focus on petty criminals means you get to them BEFORE they become major criminals. For the crazy gangbanger there is nothing much left to do but to toss him in jail to rot. But if you get him when he is a kid you might be able to fix him.

    The guy with the drunk and disorderly may very well strangle his wife in a drunken rage when he takes it to the next level. So if you deal with it early on, make alcohol counseling etc. part of his punishment for the petty crimes, then perhaps you can prevent the more major crimes.

    Of course the criminal justice system is so broken I don’t know if something like that could be made to work. Tossing petty criminals into prison is a guarantee of accelerating criminality. But it seems to me that this is a better approach than asking Al Capone to be our bartender.

  • Mr Ed

    the judge urinating in their pants and mumbling.

    Yes, leave the bench at 75, and that includes the USSC too.

  • Chester Draws

    I like the idea that the State prohibiting something will solve the problems associated with it. Let’s do it with Drugs, think of what we could achieve!

    And yet so many of the alcohol prohibitionists are in favour of drug legalisation. I really don’t understand how someone can hold those two positions simultaneously, but it’s pretty standard.

    For example, I presume this is the same Mr Aaronovitch who wants prohibition but also thinks we should legalise drugs to decrease the number of deaths. https://www.clear-uk.org/legalise-drugs-and-youll-save-peoples-lives-the-times-3rd-october-2013/

    You really can’t make this shit up.

    (I was so sure that the prick would hold those two positions, based on them both being rather woke at the moment, that I started typing this comment before I looked.)

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    IIRC, that there was at least one story of a grandmother — late 50s? Older? — who had never in her life been exposed to Demon Rum. She and Grandpa went to a party where cocktails were served, and she decided to try one.

    Instant addiction, per the story anyway.

    I think it’s called The Days of Wine and Roses.

  • Julie near Chicago, November 4, 2019 at 10:28 pm et seq,

    those for whom she [Rand] had no compassion were in that group not because of what they had done, but because they wanted that compassion while still continuing to do those same bad things

    I sense an echo of “Forgive all those who truly repent (my emphasis, just in case any reader could be in any doubt 🙂 ) – though of course derivable from her own philosophical reasoning. There is also ‘forgive us as we forgive others’ (C.S.Lewis emphasis, not just mine) – just how would you want to be treated if you were guilty as some of bobby b’s clients were guilty (of the crime and of the many prior choices that made it likely you would commit it)?

    So, must Justice be devoid of Pity? [Compassion] (Julie-near-Chicago)

    First there is Adam Smith.

    When the guilty is about to suffer that just retaliation, which the natural indignation of mankind tells them is due to his crimes; when the insolence of his injustice is broken and humbled by the terror of his approaching punishment; when he ceases to be an object of fear, with the generous and humane he begins to be an object of pity. The thought of what he is about to suffer extinguishes their resentment for the sufferings of others to which he has given occasion. They are disposed to pardon and forgive him, and to save him from that punishment, which in all their cool hours they had considered as the retribution due to such crimes. Here, therefore, they have occasion to call to their assistance the consideration of the general interest of society. They counterbalance the impulse of this weak and partial humanity by the dictates of a humanity that is more generous and comprehensive. They reflect that mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent, and oppose to the emotions of compassion which they feel for a particular person, a more enlarged compassion which they feel for mankind.

    (bobby b’s comments suggest he could perhaps add to “The thought of what he is about to suffer” other thoughts sympathetic to the criminal, though without – IIUC – changing his recommendation of punishment.)

    Then there is Blackstone.

    Law, without equity, though hard and disagreeable, is much more desirable for the public good than equity without law, which would make every judge a legislator, and introduce most infinite confusion, as there would be almost as many different rules of action laid down in our courts as there are differences of capacity and sentiment in the human mind.

    On the Pity versus Compassion front, I note that Hannah Arendt (in ‘On Revolution’) treats the two words as so different as to be virtually opposites in practice. She argued that compassion was to suffer in the flesh, as a truly empathic person does, whereas pity meant precisely not to suffer in the flesh, to treat the objects of your pity as very unlike your self (as, e.g. a PC person does).

    (I note in passing that Arendt is prone to specialise words to illustrate her points and expects the reader to keep up. Ayn Rand’s follower Dr. Peikof, after much praise of Arendt’s ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ gets into a huge quarrel with her use of ‘logicality’ in her final chapter, failing to notice that she repeatedly uses the word ‘argumentation’ as a synonym and has specialised it to mean the confining ‘logic’ of an ideology. To be fair, Arendt habitually makes no helpful concessions to readers who cannot keep up – perhaps had a hard time foreseeing where such concessions would be useful. 🙂 )

    bobby b, my remarks above relate also to your interesting (and moving) comments interspersed with Julie’s. As regards your November 4, 2019 at 10:25 pm not-a-quibble ( 🙂 ), being almost the only member of my family that did not become a medical professional, I tend to be somewhat informed about things like aids research. (Vastly (over?)simplifying a complex subject), aids seems to need help to transmit itself – either rear-end entry [the bot disliked a wholly scientific but more specific way of putting it 🙂 ], or direct injection (e.g. drug users with dirty needles), or a degree of low-level untreated venereal or in the same bodily-area infection or injury on which to piggy-back, such as exists in Africa but much less in the western world. (Being circumcised gives much protection against the heterosexual route – score another plus for the Jewish lifestyle.) Since soon after it first was recognised, the usual suspects, for the obvious reason, have been trying to obfuscate the difference in the public domain but happily (AFAIK) this has not affected medical professionals who study and write rationally in research journals. Thus my point would apply to Aaronovitch in the western world, and if he were instead improving public health statistics in Africa, then if he had success in other areas that would eventually lead to the relative vector importance we see in the west.

    Having written the above paragraph, which I fully concede is the merest quibbling 🙂 , let me get back on-topic about Aaronovitch. My point, using this and other examples, was that Aaronovitch, because he is in the elite bubble, is more prone to prejudice than we are and/or less able to recognise and control-for his prejudices. I write ‘and/or’ deliberately. Does the elite bubble actually make Aaronovitch more prejudiced, or does it simply deny him feedback which could prompt us to question our prejudices, compare analogous cases, and so in these and other ways limit the extend to which we indulge them?

  • Julie near Chicago
    November 5, 2019 at 12:13 am

    From this I think we learn that different people react differently to the same substance (I include foods, by the way).

    I have found this true in my own life. I have been able, for over fifty years, to enjoy alcohol without getting addicted to it. On the other hand, tobacco took a rapid and strong grip upon me, and it was very hard getting away. Marijuana was a great help in quitting tobacco — it gave me something to smoke when I needed smoke, without the nicotine. Then, one day, I noticed I hadn’t smoked any weed in at least two weeks. Hadn’t noticed before.

    Gambling? I went, one evening, to play Bingo. My friends enjoyed it, and took me along. I had the great misfortune of winning the evening’s Big Prize. Took me several years to kick Bingo, and cost me a lot more than that Big Prize had ever given me. I had the lesson underlined later, when I went through Las Vegas with a friend. I swore she’d lose all her money, and I wouldn’t lose mine. I lost mine. Fortunately, I hadn’t brought much with me to the casino, and we were just passing through.

    So I stay very carefully away from tobacco and gambling. I enjoy alcohol safely, and might enjoy weed — but the legal consequences are too fierce for me to chance. (That would be gambling.)

    Everybody has something they can get addicted to, and something they won’t get addicted to. With luck, they’ll not encounter the addictions — but many are hard to avoid. And new ones come along all the time. No way could I have become addicted to the internet back in the fifties!

  • Surellin

    Prohibition gave us the Mafia. ‘Nuff said.

  • neonsnake

    But I will admit that what I’ve done has left me a damaged human.

    I feel that you’re being a bit harsh on yourself there, brother. Reading through your comments, it seems to me that “they” (the people you were representing) were the damaged humans, not you. I wouldn’t say you’re Damaged, I’d say you’re a Realist.

    I have veeeerrrry mixed feelings about prohibitions on addictive substances/activities.

    Like everyone else, I’ve a certain few things that I detest. In my case it’s cocaine, I’ve seen it destroy lives, and I have an irrational (maybe it’s rational) hatred of it. I’m sure some people can use and not abuse, but that’s not my experience, so I run a mile if I see it, and it’s one of very few things I’ve not tried.

    Same with gambling; my brother (older than me by seven years) got into a lot of trouble with gambling – the sort of trouble that ends up with the local “geezer” having a quiet word in yer shell-like about how you need to pay back the loan sharpish, like, sonny-jim, savvy? (Think Snatch or Lock Stock if my meaning isn’t clear)

    So I steer well clear of coke, and the only time I’ve gambled in my life was when I spent $20 at a roulette table in Vegas, knowing I’d lose it, and seeing it as a valid holiday expense in the same way as I saw spending a similar amount to ride a gondola through Venice.

    On the other hand, I’ve worked with a couple of kids who escaped from East End gangs, good kids, a long time ago, and part of me wonders if that way of life could be eradicated if drugs were legalised. I really don’t know.

    I’m kind of in favour of slow legalisation, starting with marijuana, maybe speed next, and very slowly, very carefully, seeing what happens. With options to reverse the fuck out if it goes wrong (My “gates” analogy).

    I don’t think I’m in favour, gang anecdotes taken into account, of legalising coke and heroin (of which I have limited but not zero experience) immediately and damn the consequences.

  • staghounds

    bobby b- 30 year prosecutor here, I entirely agree with you. An awful lot of drunks sober up horrified at what they have done and the lives they have wrecked. Including their own.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I have located the BBC viewpoint article that i mentioned yesterday, and it is even more damning than i remembered.

    The message seems clear to me: for people who indulge in violence after boozing, booze is a placebo. To put it bluntly: they drink because they think+hope that alcohol will make them violent, and they become violent only because they think that alcohol makes them violent.

    Most important, this happens only in what the article calls “ambivalent drinking cultures” (I myself would use the expression “sick drinking cultures”) such as the UK, US, Australia, and “parts of Scandinavia” (which i suspect means: pretty much all the Nordic countries except Denmark).

    Bobby might be interested to know that there is an important fact about agency in the BBC article, though it is not spelt out explicitly. I might comment on it tomorrow, but i don’t promise anything. For now, i’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader.

  • bobby b

    I did read that, and would be very interested in your thoughts about it. The 1000+ article comments are . . . interesting 😕 as are several of the internets articles talking about this one.

    But I think that any productive discussion is going to require a precise definition of “agency.”

  • Bruce

    Many, most / all? governments are terminally addicted to the vast amounts of money to be had from the endless array of excises and then taxes on top of the excises associated with booze.

    The stuff in the bottle or can is worth almost NOTHING if you peel away all the licensing fees, excises, sales taxes, etc. A can of beer? In raw terms, the aluminium beer can is worth more than the contents.

    See also: tobacco.

    As in all things “government”, it is all about money and power.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, November 5, 2019 at 1:13 pm —

    Niggle, just to clarify. Your very first quote there is not from my comment, but from bobby’s, directly below it: November 4, 2019 at 11:08 pm.

    But a very interesting comment. I see that I’m not the first inventor of various wheels. I like your explanation of Miss Arendt’s take on pity vs. compassion. It gets at what I guess most people mean by “pity,” or at least at what some people think other people mean by it. (Personally, I always took it as meaning a real sorrow at what someone is going through, glad I’m not in that situation, hope I never will be. Never thought of it as looking down on anyone.)

    Thanks also for the Adam Smith quote. Just so.

    Compassion. Compassion is about both sympathy and empathy — they are not at all the same. It’s harder to be compassionate if one is really empathetic (NOT “empathic”; sympathy –> sympathetic, empathy –> empathetic.)

    To empathize is to feel, literally, the other person’s pain (as you imagine it to be) in your own body. To sympathize is to recognize that the other person is in pain, and to wish for his sake that it weren’t so because you yourself have an idea of what that pain must feel like. But that is not to feel it literally yourself.

    Although sympathy can be so strong that it almost blends into empathy.

    Never in a million years could I handle dealing medically with burn patients. Nor even as a psychotherapist.

    .

    Aside: “I’m sorry.” Doesn’t mean I think “it” is my fault. Also, sometimes a thing is done by my action and does cause pain, but though it is my doing, it is not my fault. As when you put alcohol on you kid’s skinned knee.

    .

    CLARIFICATION. Sympathy, empathy, etc. — for “pain,” you can substitute positive emotions — happiness, joy, satisfaction, contentment; or other negative feelings like fear, or anger, or physical discomfort that misses being exactly “pain.”

    .

    Have to stop writing now. Much good above, more to say.

    Also addresses part of the point of the posting and various threads:

    https://www.thenewneo.com/2019/11/04/chronicle-of-a-porch-thief/

    Including many of the comments.

  • Julie near Chicago (November 6, 2019 at 3:01 am), apologies for mis-attributing a comment of bobby b’s to you – I guess you quoted it and/or I just got confused. My excuse is that both of you were posting interesting interleaved stuff.

    Arendt was analysing left-wing “solidarity” with the oppressed by professional revolutionaries. Thus she consciously focusses the two terms on the distinction she wishes to draw – obviously, in ordinary speech their connotations at least overlap more. IIRC she includes a long discussion of Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor”, contrasting the inquisitor’s ‘pity’ with Christ’s ‘compassion’.

  • I’m kind of in favour of slow legalisation (neonsnake (November 5, 2019 at 7:00 pm)

    I’d lose one concern over legalisation if we could escape from the “everything not forbidden is compulsory” culture that oppresses us today. A decade hence, will the laws prescribe arrest for those guilty of ‘pharmophobic’ statements? Will you, neonsnake, be sued for the gross discrimination of hiring a team none of whose members ever stumble into work high of a morning? Will the druggies add themselves to the many unappeasable groups who demand the public domain contain explicit validation of their lifestyle choices and explicit punishment of any who criticise?

    While this horrible culture has power, we are compelled to review with care when the best is the enemy of the good, when the lesser evil – which many of us have voted for and will vote for in many another case – is, sadly, the safer one to endure.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, no apologies to me necessary; I just noticed it and wouldn’t want to accept credit for bobby’s observation. Also, interesting about Miss Arendt.

    You’d sort of think Lenny might be a bit more alert than average to usages that aren’t entirely common. And to nice distinctions.

    .

    Ellen, thanks for your remarks. :>)

  • neonsnake

    Will you, neonsnake, be sued for the gross discrimination of hiring a team none of whose members ever stumble into work high of a morning?

    Christ. What a thought.

    While we’re at it, can we please get rid of casual Fridays?

    I once got bollocked by HR because I bollocked one of my team for rocking in in a Buzz Light-year hoodie when he had a meeting with a supplier on the same day.

    (I’m old fashioned enough to believe in suits and shirts for work. I’ve only grudgingly accepted the lack of ties for men)

  • Snorri Godhi

    I am a bit late in my reply to bobby, and am myself slightly inebriated at the moment, but i feel that i ought not to delay my reply any longer.

    Bobby wrote:

    I did read that, and would be very interested in your thoughts about it. […]
    But I think that any productive discussion is going to require a precise definition of “agency.”

    Anyone is entitled to their own definition of “agency”, of course; as long as it is understandable to other people, and useful to a productive discussion.

    My own definition is: an entity has agency if said entity (an agent) is able to formulate a list of more than 1 courses of action, assign a Figure of Merit to each course of action, and choose the action with the highest Figure of Merit.

    This definition implies that an agent acts deterministically, and the definition is therefore incompatible with the Paul Marks/Thomas Reid/Scholastic Voluntarist view that agency implies indeterminism: that an agent is by definition an entity that sometimes does not do what it thinks best. That, to me, is the definition of insanity, rather than agency.
    (There are qualifications that i won’t go into in this comment.)

    —-
    What does that have to do with the BBC article, you might ask.
    The relevant quote in the article:

    These experiments show that even when people are very drunk, if they are given an incentive (either financial reward or even just social approval) they are perfectly capable of remaining in complete control of their behaviour – of behaving as though they were totally sober.

    That means, according to the Figure-of-Merit view of human agency, that even very drunk people are able to assign a Figure of Merit to their actions, and choose actions according to this Figure of Merit. (The Figure of Merit when drunk being not necessarily the same as when sober.)

    Since they are able to assign a Figure of Merit to their actions, drunk people have agency.
    Since drunk people have agency, they should be subject to the full force of the Law.
    And i do favor bringing back cruel and unusual punishment — selectively.

  • bobby b

    These experiments show that even when people are very drunk, if they are given an incentive (either financial reward or even just social approval) they are perfectly capable of remaining in complete control of their behaviour – of behaving as though they were totally sober.

    We’re talking about different cohorts.

    “Very drunk” is a suburban yuppie concept. Comfortable people going out of a Saturday night to overindulge and get silly, awakening to a hangover the next day. Maybe at worst some thrice-a-week sports AH’s, looking to bond in a group and do some sporting beatdowns.

    Sure, Ms. Fox’s ideas probably have some merit amongst that set.

    But to respond to incentives, you have to have responses. The people who “get very drunk” likely have remaining brain cells – sufficient, at least, to recognize an incentive and respond to it.

    Sufficient, IOW, to have agency.

    The other cohort to whom I refer – the small group responsible for most crime, who fill most jail cells, who ruin the most lives – start their day with a few knocks from whatever bottle might be left over from before they last passed out, and their day involves whatever more alcohol they can find to eventually pass out on again.

    They have very limited stunted brain activity remaining, at least in those higher functions that involve judgment and reasoning, because they’ve killed off so many cells. Every moment of their day goes by either in a fog, or in a rage. Their only Figure of Merit is an icon – a bottle with something remaining inside.

    Fox says, we respond to incentives and thus demonstrate agency. The people to whom I refer can’t, and don’t.

    Frankly, I doubt her thesis to begin with. I see almost no support for her idea anywhere else in the literature, or in my experience.

    But if I set that aside, she’s still describing a higher-functioning group than the one I describe. I see no point in incentivizing people unable to perceive and respond to incentives.

    All of which leads me to this conclusion arising from her article: people who have agency, have agency. People who have fried brains don’t.

    (Which, as you said, is why I like Background Checks for booze. Everybody gets to drink, until you prove that you can’t handle it.)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby: i admit that i have no experience with the sort of people whom you described in your quite impressive comment on November 5, 2019 at 12:43 am.

    Still, let me add a few comments. Yesterday you wrote:

    Every moment of their day goes by either in a fog, or in a rage.

    You could have said the same about me for much of my life — but not because of booze: because of the unholy trinity of wheat-based foods, refined sugar, and seed oils. Once i eliminated those, and increased my intake of fish and omega-3 supplements, the fog was lifted from my brain, and i do not get as angry as easily anymore. But i certainly would not have claimed diminished responsibility, had i committed a crime while under the influence of wheat, sugar, and seed oils.

    (NB: in spite of the fog, somehow i managed to get a PhD. But then, nearly everyone who gets a PhD eats wheat, sugar, and seed oils!)

    Fox says, we respond to incentives and thus demonstrate agency. The people to whom I refer can’t, and don’t.

    And yet your wrote, on Nov.5:

    I got the guys who had to be restrained because they were screaming and crying and smashing their bloody face into the steel table in the interview room out of remorse for having shot their wife in a drunken rage.

    Their screaming, crying, and face-smashing does not demonstrate agency; but the sad reality is, their shooting their wives does demonstrate agency, because to shoot someone, you have to take aim. Unless they were just shooting at random, and happened to hit their wives?

    I hope that you understand that i am not claiming that drunkards have the same sort of agency that normal people have.

    Frankly, I doubt her thesis to begin with. I see almost no support for her idea anywhere else in the literature, or in my experience.

    I am not familiar with the literature, and Kate Fox’s Wikipedia page does not help.
    But i do see substantial support for her ideas in my comparative experience of English-speaking, Northern European, and Italian people.

    Not to mention my own experience of social drinking: far from becoming more prone to sex+violence, i become more reluctant to approach young ladies, wary of making a fool of myself; and while i am not afraid of aggressive drunks when i am sober, i become wary when inebriated, since i lose the advantage of faster reflexes and better sense of balance.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Train of thought:

    “Agency,” as used by bobby, November 5, 2019 at 12:43 am
    -> moral consciousness
    -> real-world, long-term consequences

    all disappear when one gets into the state that bobby describes

    The person is literally not firing on all cylinders. Moral consciousness gone, understanding of effects of action, or caring about them, gone, therefore sense of agency gone (no thinking of plusses and minuses of action; just raw “animal” action)

    If “agency” is still there, it is so only in some highly abstract sense.

    Responsibility, though, remains. The most depraved drunk is still responsible for what he did, because he and no one else and no other entity at all did it; Not firing on all cylinders doesn’t change that.

    And his will is still free (per my view, that is), in that it still is operated by the person himself. Nobody else is running his will; nobody else is directly causing his muscles to drive his car or wield his brickbat.

    . . .Food for thought, or inchoate thoughts of a disordered mind. . . .

  • Fraser Orr

    bobby b
    (Which, as you said, is why I like Background Checks for booze. Everybody gets to drink, until you prove that you can’t handle it.)

    FWIW, I’d just point out again that this is very much like guns, as it should be. I live in the socialist state of Illinois and everything they do here is wrong, everything but one thing: they have what I think are pretty well balanced gun laws here. I’m not really a gun person, so this is just my outsiders observation, so I could be wrong, and we have just elected a truly ridiculous new governor, so who knows. But for now, you need to get a card to identify yourself to buy a weapon which is will issue, unless there is a good reason not to issue, and you can buy as many unregistered guns as you like with that card. (Their CCW training program is ridiculously long, but that is the biggest flaw.)

    But as I said earlier, to me the problem here is the court’s enforcement and process. People don’t generally speaking get that bad quickly. If they dealth with people when they were committing petty crimes more effectively, then things would be less likely to escalate. There is a doctrine of going easy on petty criminals which I think is a terrible idea. We should take petty criminals very seriously and deal hard with the root causes of their criminality, because once they are hardened criminals they will do pretty terrible things, and all you can really do is toss them in jail to rot at the taxpayers expense.

    So if alcohol is such a significant issue (and you know a lot more about it than me so I’m happy to take your word for it), then any crime committed under the influence could require some serious alcohol counseling and help, meaning in the long term, maybe with random spot checks. As I say I’m certainly not an expert, but the criminal justice system seems to me to be a real uneven mess, with really messed up priorities and very few good quality solutions. But preventing the escalation down to the bottom of a bottle when crimes are minor seems a lot better than what we are doing now.

    But maybe we are doing that now. You are the expert.

  • bobby b

    Snorri Godhi
    November 8, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    “I hope that you understand that i am not claiming that drunkards have the same sort of agency that normal people have.”

    Not to fault your explanation (as I am about 90% in agreement with what you typed) but this is why I included the line about needing a well-defined meaning of “agency” for this discussion. Maybe, as in everything else, there’s a continuum for agency. Loosely, I think we’re speaking of the difference between a reason and an excuse for behavior. Very loosely.

    Julie near Chicago
    November 9, 2019 at 12:24 am

    “Responsibility, though, remains.”

    To the extent that we’re talking about every change in vector requiring the application of some altering force, sure. But I cannot go so far as to consider their actions to be acts of free independent will, which I think is required for the placement of moral blame.

    And, even though in the court world we don’t just punish miscreants for the harm they intended, but also for the extra harm they caused beyond that, we do so because (a) blame has to go somewhere, and (b) they should have thought of the extra bad consequences. In the case of the brain-damaged drunk, I think that the “they should have thought of it” part is too attenuated. They can’t.

    Fraser Orr
    November 9, 2019 at 12:59 am

    “But maybe we are doing that now.”

    Most courts are doing the alcohol counseling/urinanalysis route, but that mostly just scares off the unserious drinkers who got the Saturday night DWI. (Which is good – it just fails to address all problems.)

    Personally, I’d give two chances of violence-with-alcohol offenses, and then mandate a disulfiram/naltrexone implant (or supervised daily shots.) Takes away much of the urge to drink, takes away most of the pleasure from being drunk, and quickly makes you vomit if you do drink. It would be like the FOID card in reverse.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    Personally, I’d give two chances of violence-with-alcohol offenses, and then mandate a disulfiram/naltrexone implant (or supervised daily shots.)

    Sounds like a good plan to me though I do worry about implants. I can easily see some of those poor bastards trying to dig out that thing with a dirty knife.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby,

    We have different conceptions of “agency” and “responsibility,” that’s all. To me, “responsibility” doesn’t necessarily imply “agency,” because some of the factors necessary for agency (in my definition that is) are sometimes missing. (To wit, moral consciousness; a modicum of rationality, to think ahead and make a judgment of the likely outcome if he does X, Y, Z; the ability to work his muscles in accordance with the judgments that he makes in the light of these factors.) And “blame” is a sort of summary judgment, but the extent to which it’s justified in a given situation is open for discussion.

    By the way, the “but-for” doctrine — but for the presence of a lighted match, the fire wouldn’t have happened. But for the particular mixture of gasoline-vapor-cum-air, the fire wouldn’t have happened. But for the guy who lit the match, the fire wouldn’t have happened. But for the fact that the electricity was out, he wouldn’t have been hunting around for the ladder using a match for light. But for the fact that his 2-year-old was stuck on the roof and he couldn’t get the kid down without a ladder, he wouldn’t have been out there in the first place.

    Now. WHICH one of those factors is determining? “But-for” any one of them there would probably have been no fire, no blame, no issue of either agency or reponsibility … except that a dame brought it up in a cyberpub with a bunch of her pals.

    So, by me our drunk had both agency and responsibility when, cold sober, he went on his latest binge. By the time he whacked his wife in a super-drunken rage, he had lost his moral capacities (moral consciousness) and almost all, if not quite all, of his rational ones. He had lost his agency.

    He had not lost his “free will,” which is a different concept: It’s still he and no one else who is responsible for having pulled the trigger. Nobody moved his muscles for him. The optimum function of his free will was altogether gone, but the faculty of will was still there within him, and nobody else was driving it except him.

    He had responsibility for his self-generated actions, as we all do.

    Including the passengers who brought down Flight 93. Bless them.

    [And the responsibility for your bringing valuable insights gained from experience, moral consciousness, and judgment into this here palaver is also yours and nobody else’s. You coulda sat down & shut up. Glad you haven’t. :))) ]

    ETA. As for “continua,” I am a big fan. The world is woven of bunches and truckloads of continua. Your point noted.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby:

    Not to fault your explanation (as I am about 90% in agreement with what you typed) but this is why I included the line about needing a well-defined meaning of “agency” for this discussion.

    Normally, 90% agreement is more than satisfactory for me, and i do not see any reason to debate the remaining 10% in this case, so i’ll leave it at that.

  • Geoffrey Dean

    You do know that people who don’t drink alcohol have a shorter life expectancy than people who drink! Alcohol protect against heart deceases.

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