Chris Snowdon has a piece today – Soda is new tobacco – which mentions in passing the growing calls for a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control, modelled on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. He mentions the European Alcohol Policy Alliance. A bit of searching turned up a Lancet editorial calling for a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control from back in 2007.
I suppose they’ll get one. Our spineless politicians and our even more spineless captains of industry will do their bidding, and the new treaty will be signed, and the denormalisation and demonisation of drinkers will commence.
Control. Control. Control. They always want control of everything.
They seem to see themselves as being airline pilots, or captains of ships, steering society this way and that. And all they need do is turn the wheel, and the whole ship of humanity will head down the course they choose. Their conceit seems to know no bounds.
But does it ever work? Does society actually change in the way they want? I was arguing gently with Churchmouse about this today, over at his pad:
It’s one of the oddities of prohibition that it always results in stronger drugs. Instead of beer and wine, you get whisky. You get more of a bang per litre. Same with cannabis, where we now have skunk, with a greater bang per gram. And the same with opium, as it led to heroin. And coca leaves led to cocaine. And in every case it becomes easier to overdose.
If prohibition was lifted, the reverse process would happen. The most powerful drugs would fade out of use. It’s prohibition that forces these powerful drugs into existence, and the end of prohibition that would drive them away. One might even say that the prohibitionists are the real drug pushers.
To me it always seems that, when you apply pressure (or force) to a society, you’re unlikely to get your way. People resist. To every force, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s simple physics. Apply pressure to a society, and it compresses like a spring, storing up energy. And when that energy is released, it pushes back the compressing force the way it came. And this seems to me to be the inevitable fate of Tobacco Control: they will be expelled from society like arrows shot from a bow (which is a kind of spring). They will depart very suddenly, and at very high speed.
But this is something that I very much doubt that they will have foreseen. It will come as a complete surprise to them.
But then, I’m not a control freak. I don’t want to make anyone do anything. I don’t want to live in a society in which everything is under control, right down to what people eat and drink, and what they wear. If anything, I want a society which is out of control, and in which everyone is free to do as they like (within limits). A society that is under control is one that is a prison. And I don’t want to live in a prison.
But it seems that, for the controllers, it just comes naturally to want to control everything. As if there must always be a helmsman standing at the wheel of the ship, and it can’t be allowed to just do its own thing.
Which brings to mind an experience of mine when I was just nine years old. I was sailing on a Dutch cargo ship from Brazil to Holland. There were very few passengers on the ship, and I was the only boy on it, and I had the complete run of the ship. And I went everywhere, and looked at everything. I looked at the enormous and noisy diesel engines, and the big shining cylindrical propeller shaft that spun out through the stern of the ship. And I looked at the funnels and the lifeboats and the hold (she was carrying raw sugar, and I was occasionally given a sticky lump of it to eat). And I looked at the map room and the radio room and the bridge. And I peered through telescopes and binoculars and various other instruments. She was called the m.v. Gaasterland.
There were always one or two officers on the bridge, and occasionally the captain too, and they were more than happy to show me anything I wanted to see, and tell me anything I wanted to know.
And then one day, when I’d climbed the steep stairs to the bridge one day, to my astonishment I found that there was nobody at all on the bridge. There was no-one keeping watch. The bridge was deserted, and so was the map room, and the radio room too. The captain’s cabin was just behind the bridge, but when I tapped on the door there was no reply. Where was everyone?
With mounting alarm, I gazed out of the bridge windows to the horizon ahead, as the ship drove on at full speed (25 knots). What would happen if, all of a sudden some other ship crossed our path? Or some whale had surfaced in front of us? Or we encountered an iceberg? Or a line of rocks?
The ship had an automatic pilot. You set the course by twiddling a dial to select the course in degrees from north, and the automatic pilot held the ship to that course. Next to it was a switch that returned control to the wheel. And I knew how to work it.
I examined the automatic pilot, and noted the course. I also noted that the ship was on autopilot.
Quickly, in this emergency situation, I decided to assume command of the ship.
I memorised the course setting of the automatic pilot, and then switched to manual control, and took hold of the wheel. And then, wondering if I was actually in command of the ship, I turned the wheel a bit. And, to my surprise and gratification, as I stood on tiptoes to see out the window, I watched the ship’s bow began to swing to one side. It was an astonishing thing to see. I had 25,000 tons of ship turning under me!
The ship must have turned by 10 or 15 degrees before a horrifying new thought occurred to me: the ship was now off course. What would happen when the captain returned, and discovered that his ship was on a new course? And what if there were rocks nearby? I had not consulted the maps in the empty map room to see where in the Atlantic ocean the ship now was.
So, no sooner had I taken the ship off course, than I decided to return it to its previous course. I turned the wheel the other way, and watched with relief as the bow started to slowly swing back the way it came.
And when it had returned back to its original course, I switched the autopilot back on again. And then stood watching the wheel intently, because under autopilot the wheel would turn back and forth slightly, as the autopilot made minute adjustments to the ship’s course. I noted with relief that it did.
And finally, both elated and terrified, I left the bridge as empty as I had found it, and let the ship take its own course over the empty ocean, doing its own thing.
Now, was the ship under control when it was on autopilot? Or was it under control when I boldly assumed command? There’s a very good case to be made that the ship went out of control once I assumed “command.” Because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew a little bit, but not half enough. Would anyone seriously think that a nine-year-old boy could really command an ocean-going 25,000 ton ship? No, of course they wouldn’t.
And the same applies to Tobacco Control.