How Alcohol Extremists Think: A Model of Delusion

extremismI’ve read a great deal from what some call the “prevention community” and what others call “neo-Prohibitionists”. And I regularly read the various cases for enhanced alcohol regulation as well as the various cases for not “deregulating.”

However I don’t think I’ve ever read a clearer, more concise, or more unapologetic argument for the extreme in alcohol regulation, than that crafted and published recently by The Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based conservative think tank. Though the Sutherland Institute has no official ties to the Church of Latter Day Saints, its policy positions track the social and public policy positions of the LDS Church. This includes their view on alcohol and alcohol regulations.

On April 16, the Sutherland Institute published the essay, “Nothing Silly or Embarrassing About Utah’s Liquor Regulations”. The essay was apparently written in response to various criticisms of Utah’s “Zion Curtain”—the law that requires that in restaurants patrons be protected from seeing drinks mixed by placing a barrier between the bartending area and patrons. However, the essay is really a fascinating manifesto that calls for an extreme form of alcohol regulation. In this essay, a series of principles concerning alcohol are laid out. Among the more foundational principles are:

“Liquor is a personal and societal negative.”

“Liquor makes human beings less free, if being truly free requires full mental faculties.”

“Liquor consumed by children is harmful to the child, especially in brain development. To dismiss the ill effects on children of the outward culture of drinking as an isolated matter for parents not only displays a naiveté about the real world, it also displays a sad ignorance of the proper role of law and government in the maintenance of a free society.”

I’ve heard the case made that alcohol is a social negative. The problem with these kinds of arguments is that in almost every case, only the negative side of the equation is summed up and the positive side of the equation is given less weight. But the really fascinating thing here is the notion that “liquor makes humans less free”. It of course does not, even if the consumption of alcohol does impact one’s mental faculties. One is free or they are not. Is one less free if they are restrained by their community from consuming alcohol? Of course one is less free under these circumstances, but we all live somewhere on the continuum between absolutely free and enslaved.

The other interesting foundational principle laid out is the notion that the “outward culture of drinking” (meaning the exposure of children to drinking) is harmful to children and due to the need to protect children in general, we need to protect them from being exposed to the “culture of drinking”.

It’s a pretty well argued set of principles, even if absolutely ludicrous in many cases. Clearly the existence of liquor makes no one more or less free.

The case made for the actual Zion Curtain is also interesting:

“The argument over the Zion Curtain is about addressing a culture of drinking in restaurants – not in an existing culture of drinking but in a culture of dining. Again, few serious people object to regulating a culture of drinking in a bar. Oddly, though, a growing number of otherwise intelligent people fail to see how they unwittingly invite this culture of drinking into non-drinking cultures, as in a restaurant.”

Did you see what was done here? Drinking and dining were separated out as two distinct things that should not collide if it can be avoided. Despite this being an absurd assertion, I must say, it is very original.

But as this well written essay continues, we start to get to the really cancerous ideas. Consider this:

“Prohibition failed as policy because people needed alcohol to help with pain management in a day and age when they didn’t have all of the pharmacology we do today.”

Pain management? I don’t know where this idea comes from and it is absolutely weird, unsubstantiated and without merit. But, it is an original idea and when wielded with care and craftsmanship, might just lead some folks to believe that alcohol has little or no role to play in society or in a personal life given the fruits of the pharmacological arts.

The essay goes on … and on. It lists its positions on alcohol policy and consumption as well as certain “beliefs” the Institute holds concerning alcohol and alcohol regulation. Among these positions and beliefs, there is one that deserves highlighting:

“Non-drinkers are the better judges of liquor policy because non-drinkers will be disinterested decision-makers in an area where “experienced” observers aren’t impartial.”

Think about this carefully. The Sutherland Institute believes that non-drinkers ought to be the only ones that make policy decisions and determinations about alcohol regulation because they are “disinterested” observers. The implication here…no, the explicit meaning, is that the interests of alcohol consumers ought not to be taken into account when considering alcohol policy. This is the kind of thinking that leads to terrible laws that contradict economic principles, that lead to black markets being born, that results in unnecessarily expensive regulatory regimes and that insult alcohol consumers.

This is a fascinating essay written by a group who have views on alcohol that range from reasonable to delusional. I highly recommend you read this if you have any interest in the how the most extreme and unreasonable proponents of alcohol regulation think.

4 Responses

  1. Donn Rutkoff - April 23, 2013

    Hmmm. Law to be dispensed by the “disinterested decision makers” or observers. Hmmm. What about “consent of the governed”, which comes from an earlier document on freedom.

    Oh my, my, my. Tom, you are late on April 1 joke, aren’t you? Tell me, you are jesting, aren’t you? Sutherland must be part of The Onion, no?

  2. Kurt Burris - April 23, 2013

    I know you said that the Sutherland group is not “directly” affiliated with the LDS church but I feel the need to add a joke he always told: (I grew up in Southern Alberta around a large LDS contingent) Q:How do you keep a Mormon from drinking all your beer on hunting Trip? A: Invite another Mormon.

  3. Sunshine - April 24, 2013


  4. Rodney - April 24, 2013

    Interesting. Empowering “disinterested decision-makers in an area where “experienced” observers aren’t impartial.” is like convening a panel of strictly men to determine women’s health care choices. Oh wait, that did happen. Crazy talk.

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