Friday 30 September 2011

Prohibition Is Unnatural - A Review Of The Art Of Suppression

The Art of Suppression is the third book from Chris Snowdon, and the second on the theme of historical prohibitionists following Velvet Glove, Iron Fist which - if you haven't yet read - you really should put on your Christmas list, or something.

Chris's blog tackles many of the same issues as discussed in Puddlecoteville; with generally the same viewpoint; and he writes as eliquantly elloquentley good as what I does on here, like; so you'll not be surprised that I was expecting to enjoy his latest offering. I do try to be objective in these things though, so will give my honest opinion throughout.

I read this in one session while taking a very rare day off due to an agonisingly painful strained back (life doesn't begin at 40 ... the aches and shonky bits do). Its arrival came in very handy as I couldn't move many more muscles than a hand and a couple of fingers without experiencing what felt like a Ford Focus with a suspension problem being driven up and down my lower spine by a 17 year old joy-rider. 246 engaging pages distracted me long enough for the muscles to chillax, visit a health spa, and enjoy a couple of cocktails before getting back to their day job of enabling me to stand without inducing an ear-piercing scream.

Sub-titled "Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800", Chris split his work into six chapters charting prohibitionist tendencies in a number of areas. Beginning with the battle against alcohol in America - much of which had been touched upon already in his first book owing to the intertwining of personnel in the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco debates of the late 19th and early 20th century - he then moved on with chapters on the move to extend US Prohibition to the rest of the world; the banning of Opium (effectively the starter gun in the 'War on Drugs'); the very silly - and lethal - continued EU ban on snus; before detailing the arguably sillier policies towards 'designer drugs' such as Ecstasy and Mephedrone (aka Meow Meow). The last chapter ties it all up with a bow, and includes 'a modest proposal' which would induce a fit of the vapours in any prohibitionist worth his salt sodium substitute, and therefore is worth the purchase price alone.

By pulling together so many different strands of prohibition - or attempts thereof - into one concise, easy-to-read narrative, Chris manages (to me, anyway) to highlight how very similar the methods used over a century ago are to the ones employed regularly today. And, as he wrote himself just the other day, it's odd that we are able to spot, quite readily, the misdirection, bandwagon-jumping, and quackery from the past, yet seem unable to identify the very same bullshit when it is thrown at us from the point blank range of right now.

Bullying of politicians; the default, and false, demonisation of industry to avoid debate; the level playing field as a tool for authoritarianism; misrepresentation of societal indicators; manipulation of the press; pinning of their particular grouse to a populist (and often racist) scare; the use of taxation as a cover for prohibition; lying (a biggie in the snus debate); science by press release; incubation of irrational moral panic; and the bastardisation of science and education for ideological ends. All have their roots in history. All are still used today. All are still swallowed by an unquestioning public. All lead to outcomes which make little difference - or sometimes increase the danger - to the substance or practice which is being targeted.

For example, after Prohibition in the US, the World League Against Alcoholism was set up to bring the same 'success' to the rest of us, as had been enacted in the USA. Triumphant temperance yanks were despatched to every continent to instruct others how to get the same policies rammed through. We see the same phenomenon in ASH training alcohol bansturbators now, and in Australia's decision to go global with their tobacco control expertise.

Chris highlights other similarities in approach, such as a disgusting callousness endemic in single issue nutters, exhibited in a quote by chief US prohibitionist Wayne Wheeler - who ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohol to stop it being used to make moonshine - on hearing that it had killed, crippled, or blinded 10,000 people.

"If a man wishes to violate the Constitution of the United States, he should be free to commit suicide in his own way"
Rather reminiscent, don't you think, of Jane 'they'll just have to die' Deville-Almond.

And, of course, the 'next logical step', which we are all very much used to by now. The dangerous irresponsibility of those who see appeasement as a valid tactic against these hideous people could not be made clearer by the words of Herman Trent - a prohibitionist from New Jersey - who celebrated all his temperance dreams coming true with this victory speech on the eve of Prohibition.

I regard the anti-liquor crusade as merely the beginning of a much larger movement ... If I had my way I would not only close up the saloons and the race-tracks. I would close all tobacco shops, confectionary stores, delicatessen shops, and other places where gastronomic deviltries are purveyed - all low theatres and bathing beaches.

I would forbid the selling of gambling devices such as playing cards, dice, checkers and chess sets; I would forbid the holding of socialistic, anarchistic, and atheistic meetings; I would abolish the sale of tea and coffee, and I would forbid the making or sale of pastry, pie, cake and such like trash.
Darn! Shame he's dead, else he could have walked into a five-figure salary at the BMA.

Now, if you think this is all doom and gloom for those of us who possess some proper life perspective, you'd be wrong. Chris lays out the history accurately but with a sublime humour. While distinctly depressing at times, the one thread that is unavoidable throughout is that prohibitionists have always experienced eventual failure. Yes, they have reached goals and achieved targets, but their efforts have contributed precisely zero to the human existence.

To name but a few - prohibiting alcohol led to a prolonged crime spree, higher fatalities, and more unsafe practices with the distilling of moonshine; banning opium availability led eventually (with the help of the medical profession) to vastly more dangerous morphine and heroin dependency; attacks on smoking have contributed to higher incidences of obesity; and clamping down on the benign Ecstasy has spawned a plethora of legal highs which governments are scrambling to control, but never will.

This is because prohibitionists completely misunderstand the irresistible force they are up against. Any form of prohibition fails for one simple reason, it is not compatible with the human condition, as Chris touches on in a final chapter laced with dark satire and calm commentary in equal measure.

Prohibition flounders because it is unnatural. Not only does it wage war on plants that grow in the soil, but it denies the human urge for intoxication. Whether we call this urge the 'restless search for bliss' or 'the pursuit of oblivion', it is an innate characteristic of our species which the law cannnot suppress.

On the downside - as I did say I'd be critical - there was a spelling mistake on page 60-something I seem to remember.

Apart from that. Buy it, it's a cracking read.


George Speller said...

So good I'm trying to make it last.

PeterJ said...

I see from her website that Jane DeVille-Almond has now set herself up as an expert on obesity.

There's a surprise.

Chuckles said...

'All are still swallowed by an unquestioning public.'

In my experience, it is swallowed by an unquestioning 'Mainstream Media'. The public usually exhibit enormous amounts of common sense on such matters, the media simply endlessly parrot received wisdom to the best of their limited abilities.

Maverick said...

Looks like one for the must read list ..

Dick Puddlecote said...

Chuckles: I get what you're coming from, but here's an example. I've been reading a comments thread elsewhere on plain packaging where all and sundry believe beyond all doubt the nonsense that smokers cost the health service money. They've been told that, and have no economic sense to question it. So the lie sticks and is regurgitated ... vehemently.

Dr Evil said...

What the hell did this Herman Trent eat? What did he actually like? What didn't he understand by the term 'Land of the free' in the the jolly old anthem they use?

Jay sus!

Ian Thorpe said...

The one issue nutters are incredibly useful to the dark forces of authoritarianism. They divert attention from what is important.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Chuckles I think that plenty of people believe all the propaganda, i.e. that there is a boozing epidemic, that smokers cost non-smokers money, that we ought to contribute more into a pension scheme etc.