Drink and the new moralism


Now I’m not one to shun a few pints but what is going on with the growing division between the public moralists and the private boozers in this nation? We’re known more for drunkeness than the kinds of things that get most of us down: bad traffic jams, the state of the health system, poor quality schools. Instead we hear endless tirades about drunken young people (explains the voting pattern on You’re a Star) and private drinking amongst ‘housewives’. Moral panic develops at rapid rate: “men beware, your wife is drinking at home. Stop this moral decline” kind of thing.

It seems that there is a new moralism developing around drunkeness. I have heard many people ranting on the radio and read endless and badly-written letters to national newspapers about the state of the nation’s youth and alcohol consumption. 40% of Irish badgers are drunk most of the time, 390% of young people have had drunken episodes in school, 4,567% increase in drunken driving arrests this weekend alone. That kind of thing. What gets my goat is the holier than thou attitude expressed implicitly or explicitly. It is almost as if it comes as a surprise to us that Irish people drink ‘a lot’. Hell, even the EU tells us we are bad people and we must curb our excesses – and we go right along with it.

Now that the Catholic Church’s men in black have weighed in with a well-meaning pronouncement challenging our consumption behaviour, we’ll have every two-bit election candidate claiming that they’ve never touched a drop of tha creatur. Is it that now that we can measure our alcohol consumption that it becomes a problem or is that it does not square well with our recently-found commitment to the global economy – you know – lots of commuting, increasing productivity, childcare commitments yada yada?

Have the letter writers not heard that there’s a smoking ban in operation in pubs? Do they not know that younger people see their 18th birthday as a goal to be reached? What country have they been living in for the last 25 years? Sure we drink a lot of alcohol when compared to other European countries but we also drink a lot of tea and have a really free press. Personal alcohol consumption is a problem for people who have a drinking problem. The rest of us happily consume what we know ourselves to be safe levels. Is this a further example of a country ill at ease with the demands of modernity?

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