The 75th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition is this year, and it exemplifies what I believe is the most pressing social issue of our day: At what point does the well-being of society take precedence over individual rights? As a California winemaker, I have seen both the passion and the abuse.
These days in America, it seems that our intolerance for each other is growing at a faster rate than our ability to adapt to our increasingly crowded and diverse population. Whether the issue is gay marriage, gun control or medical marijuana, people are getting more vocal and better organized to dictate to others how they should live, in order to protect their own values or justify their own standards of behavior.
But how effective are laws and enforcement in solving problems that are more demographic than political? The answer may lie in our history.
The 18th Amendment (Volstead Act) became law in 1919, advocated by groups including the Anti-Saloon League with legitimate concerns about the effect alcohol was having on their families and workplaces. Political pressure by women with the impending right to vote and anti-German (brewmeisters) fervor due to WWI helped secure its passage.
The unintended consequences included the rise of organized crime, corruption in government and deaths due to bad alcohol. These reasons, and the need for revenue to replace the loss of the income tax base during the Great Depression led to the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933 repealing Prohibition.
How are we faring today? Alcohol is involved in 45% of all traffic accidents. At least 14 million people meet the criteria as having alcohol related disorders, taxing our health care resources. Young people are affected especially hard, with binge drinking rampant on high school and college campuses.
However, the vast majority of alcohol users are responsible. A CDC study shows that 95% of adults are light, moderate or non-drinkers. There are documented health benefits to daily, moderate intake of alcoholic beverages.
The answer, I believe, is not in passing laws, but in attitude. Our society, as a whole, must be considerate of others’ rights, but insist that those individuals exercise their rights responsibly.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.