Thursday, October 15, 2009


Alcohol forms a substantial part of the lives of many of the people that traipse in and out of the local court. The scene is the same up and down the country, I'm sure. I'm also sure you can all picture a stereotypical Friday night -- a few in the pub, on to a noisy bar, maybe a club, a good groping of some semi-conscious partner on the dancefloor, stumble out for some unspeakable meat product snack masquerading as a kebab, then queue for a taxi. That's where someone "looks at yer bird" and you feel obliged to start swinging.

The government comes up with strategies to reduce alcohol-linked offending on a regular basis. These are typically poorly thought out, and merely displace the problem drinking or problem drinkers. However, this isn't a blog about Labour's pathetic attempts to generate quick fixes and the resultant confetti of legislation they have poured forth.

So why do people behave like that when they're drunk? Because alcohol is a disinhibitor? Because alcohol makes people horny and violent?

No, and a thousand times no. People behave as if they are affected in that way, as they expect to be effected in that way. The effects of alcohol are due, in large part, to the cultural expectations of the effects of ethanol.

When I first heard this, I thought it was cobblers, to be fair. But the evidence is there. Double-blind, placebo controlled trials. I make no apologies for quoting at length from the excellent "Watching the English", by Kate Fox:

"Football hooligans, road rage, lager louts, neighbours-from-hell, drunken brawling, delinquency, disorder and downright impudence. These infelicities are invariably attributed either to a vague, idiopathic 'decline in moral standards' or to the effects of alcohol, or both. Neither of these explanations will do. Even the most cursory scan of English social history confirms that our current bouts of obnoxious drunken disorder are nothing new and, even leaving aside the placebo experiments, it is clear that many other nations manage to consume much larger quantities of alcohol than us without becoming rude, violent and generally disgusting.

[...]Everyone is always highly surprised [...] and politely determined to let nothing shake their faith in the evil powers of the demon drink. [...] according to the concerned believers at conferences on 'Alcohol and Public Disorder', alcohol makes
other people do this. They themselves are somehow immune: they can get quite squiffy at the office Christmas party [...] or whatever, without ever throwing a single punch, or even using bad language. Alcohol, it seems, has the specific power to make working-class people violent and abusive. Which if you think about it, is truly miraculous [...]"

That last part, at least, I can vouch for. Beyond drink-drive, the rich don't really go in for alcohol-fuelled crime. The benefits class are firm believers, however.

I find this overwhelming. The entirety of the government's policies are based on the idea that alcohol makes people commit crime. That isn't the case.

Instead of the quick fixes, the government should be working on changing attitudes to alcohol, which is changing society itself. And that is expensive and slow. And won't grab headlines.

So guess what's going to happen?


  1. This government is very intent on the immediate causes of a problem without looking into whether there are any deeper problems at the root of them. I hope (but don't expect) that whoever gets in next spends a goodly while throwing out all the unnecessary and unconsidered legislation that have been introduced in the last twelve years.

  2. Yes, it would be nice to think that the slew of legislation will be dealt with firmly and quickly, but the bunch that seem most likely to con the masses into voting for them next time round are only keen on getting rid of one piece of legislation, the Human Rights Act.

    If there are any Conservative Party members out there, perhaps someone could explain which of the rights enshrined therein they do not consider to be worthy of protection?