Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why Have Virtually All Prohibitions Failed?

This is a question that many people have asked, and essentially all serious scholars know the truth. Even those who admit alcohol prohibition failed, but claim the 21 drinking age (as well as the War on (some) Drugs) was a success, likely know precisely why, but are afraid to admit it. And it's more than just an inability to legislate morality or the fact that a given substance is too much a part of the social fabric. So, as Professor Charles Whitebread of USC Law School said:

Every single person who has ever written seriously about the national alcohol prohibition agrees on why it collapsed. Why? Because it violated that iron law of Prohibitions. What is the iron law of Prohibitions? Prohibitions are always enacted by US, to govern the conduct of THEM. Do you have me? Take the alcohol prohibition. Every single person who has ever written about it agrees on why it collapsed.
He further elaborates:

Large numbers of people supported the idea of prohibition who were not themselves, opposed to drinking. Want to see it? Let me give you an example, 1919. You are a Republican in upstate New York. Whether you drink, or you don't, you are for the alcohol prohibition because it will close the licensed saloons in the City of New York which you view to be the corrupt patronage and power base of the Democratic Party in New York. So almost every Republican in New York was in favor of national alcohol prohibition.
And, as soon as it passed, what do you think they said? "Well, what do you know? Success. Let's have a drink." That's what they thought, "let's have a drink." "Let's drink to this." A great success, you see.

There you have it. There is always an US and a THEM. Liberty for "just us," not all. And if you STILL don't get it by this point, he goes on to drive the point home even further:

I just want to go back to the [English] prohibition against the drinking of gin [in the 1800s]. How could a country prohibit just the drinking of gin, not the drinking of anything else for forty years? Answer: The rich people drank whiskey and the poor people drank [guess] what? -- gin. Do you see it?

He also points out that the rationale for drug prohibitions often follow the same pseudo-logic. Cannabis was banned partly due to anti-Mexican racism and competing business interests, opium banned due to racist fears of the Chinese immigrants, and cocaine was banned due to (largely fabricated) fears of superhuman, coked-up black men going on murdering sprees and raping white women. (Cocaine ironically became popular due to Southern liquor laws designed to keep whiskey out of the hands of lower-class blacks, thus driving them to a more dangerous substitute.) And the very first laws on the books against these other substances specifically targeted such groups. Even to this day, minorities are disproportionally targeted for Drug War enforcement, while the Clinton drug czar Lee Brown speciously claims that drug legalization would be "genocide" against blacks. You read that right. WE can handle it, while THEY cant.

Of course, Dr. Whitebread was not talking specifically about the 21 drinking age, but it too follows the same "iron law" as an age-based selective prohibition of sorts. In fact, it applies a fortiori in this case--the "us" group being adults over 21 and the "them" group being "minors" under 21, the latter being politically impotent at the time it was passed. Supporters of the 21 drinking age, who usually drink themselves, invariably say something to the effect of "well, WE can handle it, but THEY can't." And guess who takes that as a dare?

Nevermind that 18-20 year olds are judged capable of handling war, guns, cigarettes, questionable "dietary supplements," gambling, cars, trucks, motorcycles, chainsaws, dangerous jobs, sex, marriage, and even having kids. But not beer. This would clearly fail the Martian test (can you explain it to a Martian without sounding like an idiot?) for obvious reasons.

In the entire history of the world, there has never been a society in which adults drank but teens did not, nor has the reverse ever been true. While this is also true for other substances, it is especially true for those substances that have gained the widest acceptance in a society. And no substance in history has ever achieved this widespread status quite like ethanol. And that, my friends, is why the 21 drinking age is the greatest alcohol policy failure since Prohibition.

Mike Males observes that in the USA, youth have the least amount of freedom relative to adults. The key word here is relative. Look at other countries around the world and see if you can see a pattern. Ever notice how the less relative freedom teens have, the worse the excesses (of all kinds) are among adults in such cultures? The reason for that is very simple. Those adults feel they need not worry about being good role models, since teens will face harsh punishment for emulating their behavior. Do as I say, not as I do--farcical (and pharisaical) to say the least. Being "grown-up" apparently just means making better excuses for bad behavior rather than truly behaving better. And what passes for "education" is often little more than "just say no" and disingenuous scare tactics. Such cultural schizophrenia is clearly not the best way for teens to be socialized into the adult world. And the excess-loving adults they eventually become are living proof.

But why is America like that? How could these obvious farces still be with us? Dr. Males notes that it is more than just fear of young people in general, it is that today's youth are more racially diverse (i.e. less white) than the older generation, and this is more true in America than any other industrialized country. So the in-group-out-group thing is even more pronounced since there is more than one dimension to this fear/loathing of the Other. How did we get to be so primitive?

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