01.01.1995

The big booze boob

The big booze boob
 
LYNETTE BURROWS
 
IF anyone wants to know how long even the most disastrous social experi­ments can continue in the face of common sense and experi­ence, they have only to contemplate the history of Prohi­bition. Seventy-five years ago the sale and consumption of alcohol became illegal in America. The policy of prohi­bition lasted for 14 years, achieved nothing and did untold damage to the social fabric. Hundreds of thousands of decent, law-abiding citizens were prosecuted for doing what Jesus did and, conseq­uently, the law was brought into a fatal disrespect from which it has not fully recov­ered. The Mafia gained a foot­hold in American life, and a widespread criminal network was established that is with them still. So much for the ill effects of misapplied piety.
 
The mistake was wrongly to identify alcohol as the evil agent in human affairs, rather than the intemperance that causes its abuse. It would be a mirror image of the same mis­take to assume that drugs are inherently harmless and only their criminal status creates the problem. Drugs have been known about for thousands of years, and yet they have never been associated with flourish­ing, healthy cultures — as they aren't now. Despite the fact that drugs are far easier to cul­tivate and prepare than alco­hol, communities have decided against them, and we would be foolish to ignore this collective experience and shared sense of a danger.
 
Scientific opinion is of little help here, being so change­able. Few people even seem to remember now that in the early 1970s scientists discov­ered that cannabis inhibited the division of white blood cells, making it more difficult for the body to fight infection. Yet 10 years later, when Aids arrived, we never heard any more about this theory. Simi­larly, one of the reasons why some people liked cannabis in the Sixties was that it reduced testosterone in males and, so the theory went, would make young men both less aggres­sive and less likely to produce illegitimate babies. Now that the current drop in male fertil­ity is regarded as worrying, nobody refers to these scien­tific "facts" any longer.
 
One thing is certain: a small amount of drink never made anyone suddenly commit com­pletely motiveless murder, or throw themselves out of win­dows, or caused them to have seizures and die, all of which are phenomena we have seen in the short time illegal drugs have been widely available. Drugs are a problem, like other categories of crime, but it would be madness to assume the problem would disappear if drug-taking were no longer a crime. Abolishing private property would make theft impossible, but it would not end criminal behaviour; only civilised life.
 
ONE of the most dis­creetly ignored facts to have emerged last year must have been the 50 per cent drop in the incidence of armed robbery. When the annual crime figures were exhaustively commented upon in the autumn, no paper I read drew attention to this fact, and only Alasdair Palmer, in The Spectator, mentioned it. He said the reason why was well known among the criminal frater­nity; if they carried guns, there was a good chance that the police would shoot them. Fear, in short, for their lives.
 
Few would be surprised at this revelation except those extra-terrestrials who have argued for so long that "there is no evidence that the pros­pect of losing their life fright­ens anyone". Indeed, it is pre­sumably the same argument used by those strange anti-capital punishment persons who, nevertheless, believe that householders should be allowed shotguns on the grounds that shooting a man when he is on your property — even with all the implicit possibilities for error — is
necessary and civilised; but executing a criminal because he has kidnapped and mur­dered children is outrageous and vengeful. It is a line of reasoning that seems to me to be best countered by a kindly pat on the head and the offer of a boiled sweet but, unfortu­nately, it is the one we are increasingly following, even if in a disguised form.
 
The nub of the matter is that those who support armed police and armed householders want death used as a pun­ishment. Those who want capital punishment, as an ominous and frightening sanction, want death as a deterrent. The one punishes a few; the other deters a far greater number. There is no doubt which is the more mor­al position and, typically, it is the unassuming public that see this, and the overweening experts who do not.
 
WE had 36 people come to us for Box­ing Day, and only one was not immediate family or their beaux. There were seven children under the age of five, with one aunt being younger than her niece. Such families are uncommon though not rare, I am glad to say, and it is good to be reminded, at times like these, how easy big families are. Food heaped up, prepared by a dozen hands, punch and hot wine appearing as if by magic, cheerful, never-crying chil­dren played with and nursed by youthful aunts and uncles. Afterwards, the clearing-up all done by young people flirt­ing and fooling together with a background of jolly music, while we patriarchs and ma­triarchs sat cracking nuts and drinking port and brandy.
 
If one depended on the fraught and bleak accounts of family life given by the one- child experts of magazines and newspapers, one would never understand how such an institution as the family ever grew up, let alone endured. Just as Francis Bacon's models were always better looking than his paint­ings of them, so a culture like ours makes many things seem horrible and angst-ridden which are, in fact, beauti­ful. And if anyone is inter­ested in my advice about how to have a happy, carefree fam­ily that is well worth the attention of any woman wor­thy of the name, it is to have a lot of children — and no tele­vision. Happy New Year!