passions of anti-alcohol activism
It is not a matter of mere conjecture that the habitual and excessive
consumption of alcohol is widespread in this country – and
intemperate drinking evidently is not limited to the type that frequent
Sedawatte, the lion’s den of the people’s brew.
seriousness of the problem cannot be overstated, though admittedly
as a nation we are hardly conspicuous for the practice of moderation
or the habit of rational self-restraint in provocation, in passion,
in the pursuit of gratification, in the exercise of a feeling, or
for that matter in our responses to any object of desire.
are after all a nation in which abuse of power and corruption are
said to be endemic, both in government and at every level of civil
society, and perhaps, more importantly, one which has witnessed
suicide-bombers – the seekers of ecstasy through suffering
the practice of moderation is not a conspicuous attribute of our
national ethos, it would nevertheless be absurd to suggest that
a representative and consensual government, however ineffectual,
should shun paying attention to a social problem of the magnitude
that the drinking problem presents.
nothing of the sort is suggested here.
Moreover, the drinking problem as a problem does not cease to exist
even if we were inclined to view narrowly the current interest in
the problem and the regulatory measures proposed in the private
member’s Bill as responses stirred by fury, by political expediency
or by business conspiracy.
let it even be said with the conspiracy theorists that the Bill
is covertly fomented by the monopolies that control the alcohol
and tobacco markets in the country - because of the terror inspired
by Chinese-owned enterprises that threaten the status quo, armed
with low-cost methods and the willingness to match if not surpass
the existing monopolies in business thuggery.
sure, the Bill will slow down the growth of existing popular brands,
but will prevent altogether the emergence of new brands. However,
irrespective of the personal motives animating the proposed Bill,
which are anyway not open to objective inquiry, the drinking problem
remains a serious social issue.
the curious thing about the proposed Bill is not the personal motives
but the ethical thinking at the back of it – thinking that
appears to be in conformity with the establishment ideologies of
both Buddhists and Christians in this country.
smoking and drinking remain to this day in our society practices
that many are accustomed to viewing as taboos – or, to put
it more plainly, the practice of abstaining from alcoholic beverages
and tobacco is considered a mark of good character.
such a connection might defy commonsense, we nevertheless make it.
It might be a needless elaboration to point out that one is not
witnessing a freak of nature, if human vices in any combination,
from viciousness, greed and lechery to niggardliness, vanity and
the like, were seen manifesting themselves in teetotallers and non-smokers.
to those who are commonsensical to a degree, the connection that
exists is between the practice of alcohol and tobacco abstinence
Thus, the practice might signify a response rooted in imperatives
having to do with the body’s health. It might also signify
a response rooted in the fear of failure to practice moderation
– and in so far as it signifies a feeling of impotence and
despondency, it is a mark of vice. But it is difficult to see how
it could be said to signify anything else. In any event, to the
uninitiated at least, the practice of total abstinence is no indication
whatsoever of nobility and goodness of character.
of the toxicity of alcohol and tobacco, addiction or slavish devotion
to them spells ruin. But of what could it not be said – every
single slavish devotion to life’s pleasurable activities is
In fact, with the possible exception of philosophic and historical
study, there is nothing of which the unrestrained pursuit or indulgence
could not spell ruin or fill man with disgust in the end - from
sexual indulgence, eating and the exercise of feelings of anger
or love, to the pursuit of wealth, power and professional or social
distinction. Addiction or slavish devotion of any kind, in other
words, is more a result than a cause of an unruly moral disposition.
Habits indeed bring moral dispositions to maturity. Hence, we do
need to control the character of our activities to acquire good
and noble habits. But in doing it, it is a desperate ethic that
seeks to regulate tightly anything that might be deemed by some
to be a needless challenge to the practice of moderation and self-mastery.
ethic of renunciation, self-denial or ascetic flight may have been
natural enough in an era of meagre opportunity, gruelling poverty
But in an era of increasing prosperity and abundance, it has no
emotional resonance and any law grounded in it undermines law-abidingness.
There is provision in nature for everything that is possible to
do, getting rich, to getting angry, and even for getting drunk.
It is because we live in such a world that we have the occasion
to become temperate, just, considerate and the like.
with the actual characteristics of the world, communistic laws tried
to create unselfishness, ardent reformers brandishing regulatory
measures on alcohol and tobacco are similarly rebelling against
the way the world was made.