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.
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.