Can’t legislate for a culture change

Simon Power’s announcement of  proposed changes to liquor laws has attracted a mixed and predictable response.

Some say they haven’t gone far enough while others resent the curbs on freedom.

Kiwiblog has a good summary of the proposals and reaction to them.

It will be an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under-18-year-old without a parent’s or guardian’s consent.

 This should help address some of the problems of youth drinking but John Key got to the nub of the problem when he said:

“The law will certainly help give parents some form of protection in terms of what they do [but] it also demands of them that they apply responsibility as a responsible host.”

. . .  Key said it was ultimately up to parents to demonstrate that they did not want a binge-drinking culture.

“In the end we cannot legislate away New Zealand’s drinking culture,” he said.

Legislation won’t change the culture, only people can do that and it’s not only young people who have an immature attitude to alcohol.

Youth drinking is a problem but alcohol abuse doesn’t always stop when people grow up.

I quoted Theodore Dalrymple on this a few days ago. It bears repeating:

. . .  even if the right legislation were enough by itself to reduce public drunkenness to a level at which it was no longer a social problem it would be a very sad day when we looked only to the Government to make us behave decently, either by means of taxing or prohibiting our loss of self-control.

In the second half of the 19th century drunkenness declined dramatically, not because the government repressed it but because there was a public revulsion against it.

Habitual drunkenness came popularly to be seen as despicable: a man who drank to excess all the time was a bad worker, bad father, bad husband and bad citizen. In our own times we have experienced precisely the  opposite: namely a revulsion against sobriety. In my work as a doctor I used to speak to young people who as often as possible drank to the point of not remembering what they had done or what had  happened to them the night before.

I asked them why they did it, to which they replied that they had to express  themselves, that it would be bad for their health not to. It never occurred to them that the need not to make a public nuisance of themselves trumped any need they might personally have to express themselves, even if we allowed that dead-drunkenness is a form of self-expression.

A nation without sufficient self-respect to control itself  will in the end lose its freedom. Self-control will be replaced by government control. We are already far enough down that road.

Legislation won’t change the culture that finds drunkenness normal, acceptable and even amusing.

Until and unless drunkenness and the problems which result from it are regarded as abnormal,  unacceptable and abhorrent we’ll have more government control.

 That  is a poor substitute for self-control and will largely be addressing symptoms rather than causes.

3 Responses to Can’t legislate for a culture change

  1. Andrei says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if we elected a Government who after leaving office left with a legacy of less laws and regulations than when they took office.

    Never happen though – we have a choice between the Socialist Labour party or the Socialist National Party, only distinguishable by the color they choose to represent themselves on their hoardings.


  2. scrubone says:

    I asked them why they did it, to which they replied that they had to express themselves, that it would be bad for their health not to.

    A ridiculous excuse of course. Like the young girl on tv a few years ago who claimed that it would be “bad for her future” to *not* purchase an expensive luxury car completely on credit (and a minimum wage).

    We’ve breed a generation who’s never seen want, and doesn’t see the work done in previous generations to bring the tremendous wealth we have today.


  3. gravedodger says:

    I am becoming a little optimistic when views such as Dalrymple’s and the tenor of posts such as Ele’s above, finally move the sentiment back to the disgusting sight that public drunks portray and the ever so small shift among comentaters to place the responsibility for such disgusting behavior that is so euphemistically described as “Binge Drinking” on the one person whose lack of self control, personal pride and over indulgence leads to the problem we face today.
    As a young man the daily paper at that time published the names, occupations and address of the “drunks” who had been picked up the previous day/s. It probably had minimal effect on the unfortunates so named and shamed as they had in many cases precious little self respect and probably to a man sic. were alcoholics. A conviction for public drunkeness was rare among women but not unheard of.
    I am a bit of a broken record with my very strong position of promoting a reintroduction of an offense of “drunk in a public place” that is predicated on a strongly held view of self responsibility and the need for unacceptable behavior to have consequences. I am no wowser and at times still, in the eyes of some would be subject to sanction of the law I promote but with absolutely no sanction for the drunk and another raft of legislation to be negotiated by those providing premises and stock for those many who wish to enjoy alcohol without getting drunk. I am doubtful if any significant progress in the battle being waged by those who ignore the elephant in the room that is personal responsibility and continue with futile and economically damaging legislation aimed squarely at the middle person in the problem.
    A very large proportion of us now acknowledge that drunk driving is not just illegal but socially,totally unacceptable and the same with smoking in enclosed commercial premises, so why for all that is dear do we not make public drunken behavior equally unacceptable.


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