On ‘Moral Panics’ and Reality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:37 pm

The issue of the day is alcohol-fueled violence. Politicians of all stripes at all levels are vowing to address it. Stories are being made up to explain the ‘increase’, from alcohol being too cheap, to pubs and clubs being open too late, to steroids and cultural issues.

Of course, any death or serious injury due to violence is a tragedy, and one is too many.

On the other hand, the ‘increase’ does not exist! The statistics clearly show that this kind of violence is decreasing, and has been for years.

One high profile case and then a media feeding frenzy unconnected to the facts is what is going on here.

Making up stories to explain a phenomenon is so compelling that it’s incredibly tempting to get into doing it even if it turns out the phenomenon is not real.

There might be an argument for better regulation and enforcement of steroid abuse, more uniform alcohol prices, earlier closing hours, better responsible serving laws and so on. But the ‘increase in alcohol-fueled violence’ is not that argument, because it doesn’t exist.

Disappointing in the extreme that we don’t have the kind of political leaders who care. They just all line up to placate the concern trolls.

11 responses to “On ‘Moral Panics’ and Reality”

  1. Bravus says:

    My cousin Cheryl James posted a link to this article: http://m.adelaidenow.com.au/news/opinion/david-penberthy-a-new-generation-of-gutless-thugs/story-fni6unxq-1226805167994

    This quote linked nicely to my point:

    “It appears to be mandatory to describe the random, mindless violence we have seen in pubs and on footpaths around the nation as “alcohol-fuelled” violence.I hate this term.

    A more appropriate term would be scumbag-fuelled violence, as the focus on alcohol lets the scumbags off the hook.”

  2. Bravus says:

    He’s wrong about the ‘bikie culture’ bit, though… and not just because I ride. It’s just not that great an influence on *these particular* scumbags.

  3. Mark says:

    Scum-bag is not a fuel. It is what certain people become under the influence of alcohol. My grandfather was a jovial, thinking type when sober (on sundays with the pubs closed) but the other days of the week he would come home after closing time and be shouting, swearing, abusive.

    Alcohol is presented by large sections of our society as interesting, cultured, sophisticated, social. It has deep roots in our society, but the flip side of the inhibition-reducing effect, justified by the positive side, is the inevitable yobbo behaviour, plus the abuse of families, the car accidents, the inappropriate sexual relationships, the broken glass on the street. And of course the health issues, risk of poor diet, liver damage, etc. I think our society would be better off without it.

  4. Bravus says:

    That’s been tried…

  5. Mark says:

    You mean prohibition has been tried. It was tried without the will of the people behind it. You are the people. Stop drinking, tell people why, make it socially unacceptable to drink, as it is with smoking.

    Or maybe you like it too much and plan to carry on, despite the consequences to society.

  6. Bravus says:

    Your position is unbalanced. There are harms from cars and there are benefits from cars. We regulate cars with licenses and registration and road rules. We do not ban them, nor do we try to persuade everyone in society to abandon them.

    There are harms from alcohol and there are benefits from alcohol. We regulate it with licensing laws and opening hours and laws about where, when and how it can be sold.

    You have acknowledged none of the benefits from, if I’m not mistaken, a position of having experienced none.

    I’m aware of both the benefits and the potential harms, and enjoy one and avoid the other.

    If you were to make a more balanced case, acknowledging both but stating that, in your opinion, the harms actual and potential outweigh the benefits, then you would be free to make that informed choice for yourself and try to persuade as many other people as possible to do likewise. Indeed, even without balance, you are completely free to try to persuade.

    Since I don’t agree, though, the task of moral suasion is yours, not mine.

  7. Bravus says:

    Alcohol, by the way, was not the point of this post. I was not defending alcohol. Not even in linking the other opinion article.

    I was deploring knee-jerk legislation in response to manufactured crises that a sober (heh) examination of the evidence show simply do not exist.

  8. Mark says:

    The increase might not exist, but the problem is real and worth examining. Much as I appreciate good journalism, you are not examining the underlying issue, sort of straining a gnat and swallowing a camel.

    If the benefits of alcohol are so esoteric that you can’t explain them to a non-drinker, how can they balance the very physical and universally appreciable harm that we tolerate by treating alcohol as a good thing? Surely if you smoked you could say the same sort of thing.

    Binge drinking has grown considerably over the past decade or 2 and is souring many events (http://www.tacklingbingedrinking.gov.au/internet/tackling/publishing.nsf/content/under-the-influence).

  9. Bravus says:

    I *can* readily explain the benefits of drinking to a non-drinker: if he is ready and willing to listen with an open mind.

    The tastes of wines and beers and spirits are richer and more complex than the tastes of non-alcoholic drinks. The fermentation process leads to a rich blend of flavours.

    These drinks are enjoyed responsibly by an enormous number of citizens. They enhance social gatherings with enjoyable flavours – and yes, a little mild disinhibition. Which can be helpful, in moderation, for some of us introverts who struggle with social situations.

    Your problem is with irresponsible drinking, and I 100% agree that that is a problem and needs serious attention. I would also argue that education is the only truly workable solution: there are always ways around legislation. Both my daughters drink almost not at all, by their own choice, and I strongly support them in that choice.

    My example of cars and speeding was carefully chosen: the solution to irresponsible use of cars is not getting rid of all cars. It’s a combination of education and legislation.

    The same is true of alcohol.

    Is there a stupid culture of drinking to excess in Australia? Yes. But it’s not new – rum was a staple food group in the first colonies. It’s also not unique to Australia – many other countries have it as bad or worse.

    So by all means, educate. And, where possible, legislate. But prohibition – no matter how sold – is *simply not necessary* as a solution to the problems of excess… and penalises the many who drink responsibly for the few who don’t.

  10. Mark says:

    I am not promoting prohibition.

    I just think your extolling the benefits of alcohol is part of the problem. If you cool, sophisticated grown ups didn’t drink, but found other ways to achieve good flavours and disinhibition, we could make alcohol uncool, the way cigarettes have become. Why not direct our education at something like cooking and social skills, which don’t carry the risk? The very nature of alcohol is to remove judgment. You can’t really train people for that, because the training is the first thing they are going to lose.

    What do you think of the gun culture in the US? Don’t you want it stopped, even if it takes legislation? Don’t you think that the NRA promotes a culture that glorifies guns? So, no matter how many individuals promote responsible gun use, those tools giving the power of life and death to any juvenile delinquent who can pick one up, legally or illegally, are going to be involved in a large number of unnecessary tragedies.

    Here is Dr Hambleton trying to appeal to the unappealable-to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R26mMHjOCCE

    But you Dave can hear and understand him clearly. What are you going to do?

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