« PreviousContinue »
don the temperance garb simply to stalk political game is usually so plainly visible. The occasion lends itself beautifully to play upon moral as well as political cowardice with the common effect of relegating a great part of the public to a passive rôle. Those who are vitally concerned about the drink evil but would seek to eradicate it by successive steps, and not by an empty fiat of law, usually get buffetings from both sides; by the extremists for favoring evil and by the trade for efforts to curtail its interests. But one can afford to risk both in a good cause.
We are asked, almost commanded, to abide by the assumption that the liquor problem has been thoroughly explored in all its depths. Even if it were true, the acceptance of the proposed universal solution by no means follows. Unfortunately, the final authoritative word on the subject of alcohol remains to be spoken, whatever special pleaders may assert to the contrary. The evils connected with the abuse of drink are plain, yet we cannot uncover the chain of causation to its uttermost link. Science still halts before the fundamental question: Why do men become alcoholists? Therefore, it cannot pin its faith on a legislative "thou shalt not" as a sovereign cure for ailments that may be rooted in the constitutional peculiarity of the individual, and of which alcoholism may simply be a symptom. How far drink is the active originating cause of physical and mental disorder is still to be determined, and the knowledge thus far gained does not point to a remedy applicable
Until recently the fatuous notion prevailed that drunkenness could be successfully dealt with by invoking the penal code. Now we demand a diagnosis of the individual case, recognizing that a complexity of causes may underlie the trouble. How, then, can we be content with pure assumption when facing the infinitely more obscure and complex social disorders in which liquor appears to play such a prominent part? To catalogue all of them as chiefly of alcoholic origin is so much easier; it fits in with the seeming simplicity of the one remedy advocated. But the truth must be insisted upon. The substitution of mere assertion for fact yields a dangerous guide to action. As in the case of the individual, so in that of society generally, an accurate diagnosis must precede the application of a specific, lest we injure where we would heal. In short, patient inquiry must still be the order of the day, beginning with the alcoholist himself.
The confident belief that the pathology of the alcohol situation is but imperfectly understood does not imply that all constructive effort must wait upon scientific investigations. The fight against the drink evil must go on, and many tried and still useful weapons wherewith to wage it are at hand. Moral suasion continues to be available and is a greater force in the world than coercion. Education' and the amelioration of social customs are now as ever powerful adjuncts to right living. But education must be founded upon truth and not upon a counterfeit or upon pure fiction invented for purposes of propaganda. Finally, weak human nature can be shielded from temptation by rational progressive control of the liquor traffic. Apparently, efforts in this direction are not even welcomed by extremists who with a curious perversion of logic express an absolute faith in legal restraint raised to the nth power, but scornfully deny the efficacy of any lesser restraint. It is begging the question to say that our restrictive legislation has been a total failure, for it has not been rational nor progressive. True, it is exceedingly prolific, but it evidences a search for varieties rather than for central principles; each state seems to want its special brand of laws. The invention of legal irritants has been mistaken for the discovery of elements that make for stable control. The whole fabric of liquor laws is of the haphazard order, from the pivotal question of the authorities who should grant privileges to sell and their power of control, down to the most trivial detail. The experiments may appear numerous, but are for the greater part revivals of time-worn expedients.
This backward condition of our liquor legislation is easily accounted for. Its key-note has always been repression and penalties regardless of whether they could be enforced. Progressive measures have been blocked not solely by the trade but by persons most inimical to it, whose theory is that the worse the status of the trade becomes the sooner it will be abolished. Therefore, they look askance at such practical means of promoting sobriety as that of taxing intoxicants according to their alcoholic strength and of favoring the substitution of the least intoxicating beverages in every way.
It is a commonplace to refer the shortcomings of liquor laws to the political meddling of the liquor trade. That it has displayed a pernicious activity in this respect no one can deny, but it is a fair question whether we may not attribute this largely to our method of handling the whole situation. The question of liquor selling is still a rare factor in the politics of prohibition states where the question of obedience or disobedience to the laws is a constant issue in elections. The same spectacle may be observed not only where restrictive laws far outstrip public opinion which is needed to give them force, but where all effort to demolish the liquor traffic is directed through political channels. The bane of the situation is that instead of eliminating the saloon from politics we are perforce keeping it in politics. Take as an example the notorious perversion of the local option principle when so applied to countries that an important urban population, against the express desire of the majority, is forced to accept the dictates of a rural population which is little affected by the outcome. The middle western states furnish numerous examples of local option merely as a device for gaining large political units in the interests of eventual state prohibition. Naturally, under such circumstances, the trade meets political tactics in kind.
The lawlessness of the saloon, and its brazen use of politics, where not under careful restraint, is an old story and an inevitable concomitant of raw social conditions. On the other hand, it cannot be gainsaid, the liquor traffic gradually ceases to trouble politics when placed under discriminating and thoroughly enforced control; in other words, where the best system of legislation has been developed. Then, too, the recognized spokesmen for the liquor interests realize full well that their future security lies in obedience to law, and not in achieving freedom from restraint through devious political methods. The elements that have not yet learned this lesson must be made to do so.
Those who dread the prospect of unbridled indulgence in drink no less than the spectacle of whole states in open rebellion against law and order, cannot afford to sit idly by and let the liquor question be fought out by the absolutists on one side and trade interests on the other. It is for them to build on facts, not on unalloyed theory, relying upon wholesome influences as more productive of sobriety than the prohibitive letter of the law. Not least among such influences is sane, progressive legislation. Apparently this cannot be worked out in conjunction with the present day leaders of the temperance movement in this country. The greater the pity! But it is a curious reflection upon prevailing conditions that, in the constructive work to be done, one can turn with greater confidence in their intelligent co-operation to some of the advanced leaders of the traffic itself.
The acceptance of the doctrine of force as the means of making men sober spells the despair of the temperance cause; its hope lies in efforts for gradual betterment through ethical forces and general enlightenment plus progressive restriction.
“DO YOU DRINK?"
In its issue of May, 1914, the American Museum of Safety published, as a supplement, a so-called "Bulletin Board” entitled, "Do You Drink?” with two diagrams which pretended to show the time lost by sickness each year by moderate drinkers and abstainers, together with their relative death rates. These diagrams were so novel and apparently so lacking in scientific authority, that we submitted them to a qualified actuary with a request that he study them carefully and give us his opinion thereon. His report, which is appended, was submitted in due course to the American Museum of Safety
In accordance with the request made by you in our interview of June 18th last, that I make a study of the origin, and justification or lack of justification, of the diagrams published under the heading “Do You Drink?” on a leaflet inserted in the May issue of the American Museum of Safety's "Monthly Bulletin," I beg to advise you that I have carefully examined all available tabulations and other data of any importance dealing with Sickness Insurance, and as a result of my investigation report as follows:
The two diagrams presented on the insert-leaflet of the “Monthly Bulletin," a copy of which is herewith attached, are of radically different character, and for purposes of identification I have marked them, respectively, No i and No. 2. While I, of course, have no specific information as to the sources from which the American Museum of Safety drew the information on which the two diagrams were based, there is practically no room for question as to the origin of Diagram No. 1, the figures employed in the "comparison of the average amount of time lost by sickness each year among moderate drinkers and abstainers” being identical with those cited by Dr. Newsholme in his article on “The Influence of the Drinking of Alcoholic Beverages on the National Health," on pp. 343-357, of Horsley and Sturge's work on “Alcohol and the Human Body," which was published in London in 1908. Dr. Newsholme quotes therein certain figures as to the alleged mortality and sickness rates from “the Report of the Public Actuary of South Aus