Eighty years ago this week America’s long national nightmare of prohibition ended, but that doesn’t mean prohibitionists have abandoned the cause.
One of the current terrors of the public health police, who have taken up the mantle of the late Carrie Nation in both spirit and form, is that children might see adults having a few beers and socializing and having a laugh and not glassing each other and think this is a perfectly normal thing for adults to do. Because everyone knows that adults cannot crack a beer without engaging in “alcohol-fueled violence” and costing the taxpayer $25 billion a year.
So far, so predictably neo-prohibitionist. And, just as the Prohibition of old was promoted by a coalition of Baptists and bootleggers, todays’ bluenoses are joined by their opposite number, namely grown-ups who want to have a few beers without ever having to see a child.
Examples abound of these twin worries expressing themselves: Think of those silly ads portraying suburban barbeques where there was food on the table and beer in the fridge as a sinister form of inter-generational child abuse.
More recently Monica Dux weighed in with equally silly thumb-sucker at the Drum worrying deeply about beer or wine served at school fetes.
And now we have Sarah Harris’s salvo in the Telegraph this week suggesting that kids should be banned, full stop, from pubs, because she and her mates want to be able to have a big session in peace, and anyway, a for-profit prohibitionist named Paul Dillon told her the whole idea was abhorrent because drinking is evil and kids shouldn’t learn about it anyway.
It’s all a bit confusing but let’s try and puzzle it out.
There’s a big push on in the public health industry – the neo-prohibitionists – to “denormalise” the consumption of alcohol. The strategy is to incrementally, via a sort of secular sharia, make more and more spaces in the culture booze-free, ring-fencing drinking into smaller and smaller zones while. The theory is that as occurs happens more and more people will enjoy socializing over caffeine-free herbal tea and going to bed at 9:30 after an amusing evening making shadow hand animals.
As a subtext to all this, it is mandatory that children not see adults drinking lest they realize that it’s actually not as big a deal as those who don’t like drinking think it is. If children are allowed in the beer garden or wines are served at the school fundraiser, this agenda is threatened.
Because after all, P&C mums and dads have a few wines after the working bee are not likely to punch on after building the canteen herb garden.
Hipster dads aren’t going to glass each other in front of little Atticus and Phoebe-Bijou at the local Sunday afternoon beer garden over the last order of pulled pork sliders.
But Harris is not a neo-prohibitionist, she likes a drink – even if she relies on the likes of Dillon to support her argument. And she pulls out other arguments, to be sure. Yes, there are some awful kids and awful parents out there who behave badly, but that’s because responsible parents have been told that they should stay home, leaving only those who don’t care to come out and colonize public spaces.
Even OH&S, that last refuge of a scoundrel, a statist, or in this case the army of Kants for whom no personal aesthetic cannot be made into categorical imperative to be imposed on society, enforced by another few hundred pages of regulation, gets a look in in Harris’s argument.
But most peculiar is that in her desire for a peaceful drink, she finds common cause with those who would ultimately deny her that freedom. With a few throwaway phrases she endorses the notion that somehow Australia is a nation of soaks in need of a church basement and 22 million folding metal chairs is a popular one, pushed by a helpful rent-a-quote academic “expert” whose livelihood depends on creating a panic that will lead to more “calls for action” in the press and more grant money from politicians.
Yet on any league table Australia is a middle-weight power, well below lots of Western European countries, and by all accounts we’re drinking more wines than beers or the hard stuff.
In any case, there is one good reason to bring young people not just to the pub but to restaurants, museums, and plenty of other places they will have to negotiate as grown-ups.
Children are nothing more than adults in training, and if they never see, they will never learn to do.
This is not about the tyranny of children, or inflicting howling brats on the world.
Rather, properly deployed, it means exposing children to the world and saying, See this? This is how it’s done. It’s about socialization.
And children are also, paradoxically, a civilizing influence. Go to Europe if you don’t believe me. Mrs Prick and I recently undertook a four-week intensive field research program looking at (among other things) issues surrounding wine and food and found children everywhere. Dogs, too. Is someone going to seriously argue that Italy hasn’t got it figured out?
Pubs such as the Henson Park in Marrickville are great examples of pubs that can be family friendly. At the same time, pubs should also be allowed to ban all under-18s, full stop, if that is their wish – a half-point, at least, of agreement with Harris.
Harris and her mates might like to go have a massive mid-afternoon sesh without any little ones around, and that’s perfectly alright.
But it’s a big world and there’s space enough for all. And one’s personal preferences should not be inflicted universally – especially when they provide aid and comfort to the enemy.