Alcohol, Violence, Petitions …. and You and ME

This past week, a father visited the office of the Premier of New South Wales and delivered a petition signed by 135,000 Australians. The petition seeks the imposition of harsher penalties for people who cause injury or death through acts of violence, where alcohol is a factor. The family of Mr Ralph Kelly lost their son and brother when a drunken youth attacked him without provocation as he walked down a city street. I am one of those many people who have added my voice to that petition and I fervently hope that the powers that be will take action. They need to ensure that senseless acts of violence are met with punishments that reflect their consequences, rather than some subjective and unrealistic process, that our so-called justice system uses to water down, excuse and justify these acts, denying justice to victims and their families while protecting the guilty.

I’m sure that most Australians are, like me, sick and tired of a kid gloves attitude towards the cowardly thugs who carry out these evil deeds; sick and tired of a legal system that panders to endless, unrealistic claims of ‘mitigating circumstances’. I don’t care what your ethnicity is, what your social status is, whether you suffered abuse yourself in some former time, whether you have no education or a PhD, whether you are a first time offender or a habitual no-hoper, whether you were sober or drunk, drug-crazed or not. If you are an Australian, you should be subjected to the full force of Australian law. And every Australian should be subject to the same laws and the same punishments for the same crimes.

As long as we tolerate a situation where our judges are playing God; imagining themselves to be some divine higher knowing power that sees and considers all these mamby-pamby ‘circumstances’ ….. justice will be forever denied. The bottom line will always be that if you can claim some kind of social disadvantage or substance abuse that somehow magically diminishes your responsibility, you are entitled to be treated more leniently than another person who can’t pull off the same bleeding heart act. Decent people will therefore be treated more harshly than the habitual no-hoper. Those who face up to their responsibilities will always face harsher penalties than those who hide behind their alleged mitigating circumstances. In short, the worse lump of excrement you might happen to be, the better the treatment you can expect from our legal system!

If this all seems insane to you, then I’d like to point out that it is simply a reflection of society at large. If you really want to round up all of the players in these ongoing, senseless acts of violence, you might need a very large net indeed. Society itself, it seems to me, is every bit as bent and twisted as is our legal system. And to seek harsher penalties for alcohol-fuelled violence is like asking for a band-aide to stop a haemorrhage.

In our society, we are addicted to drawing lines. Our legal system draws lines. If you are a normal person who has had the benefit of a normal life, you will stand on a different line than a person who has suffered some previous adversity in their life. Our society works similarly. If you are caught possessing or using using certain mind altering substances, you will be incarcerated. Society expends massive amounts of money and effort, trying to control the trafficking and sale of mind-altering drugs …. and for lots of good reasons. They are addictive, they cause medical harm to users, they cause social dysfunction and the list goes on and on. But then we have alcohol. That mind-altering, addictive drug that causes incalculable harm to society and to individuals and destroys lives, both of users as well as countless innocent victims. Look at the number of road accidents where alcohol is implicated. Add those to the mindless acts of violence that have given rise to this petition. Count up the innocent children who suffer deprivation, hardship and domestic violence, because Mum, Dad or both are drinking the grocery and rent money and taking out their misery on their families.

And what is society’s attitude to alcohol? We embrace it. We condone it. We almost worship it. If you are struggling to understand how our legal system can be so sick and twisted, ask yourself if it makes sense for society to wage war against mind altering drugs on the one hand, and ignore the worst offending one of the lot, on the other.

In recent times, we’ve seen society take a firm stand against the use of tobacco and we’ve stood by while smokers have been progressively pressured and ostracised … all justified by the notions that smoking is bad for the health, both of individuals and of society. We justify our zeal by the belief that we are saving the smokers from themselves, saving non-smokers from the evils of passive smoking and saving society from some unspecified health care costs of looking after people who become invalid, due to their disgusting habit! And we don’t say that smoking is OK, as long as you don’t overdo it. We prohibit it totally in public places and even seek to protect the children of smokers from a parent smoking in the family vehicle.

At the same time, we ignore the obvious and much larger problem that is alcohol. We advertise it relentlessly and invest its use with all the same false messages that were previously employed by the cigarette manufacturers. If you drink beer brand X in large quantities, you are one of the boys and are socially acceptable. If you appreciate this or that wine with a nice cheese platter, you are one of the sophisticated, worldly, successful types. And if you enjoy this or that mixer at the club, you are hip or cool.

People consider that its perfectly OK to (mis)use alcohol as some form of social ‘lubricant’ and we seem so socially inept that we apparently can’t hope to interact socially without alcohol to free up our inhibitions. The advertising industry still thinks its fine to glorify the yobbo element in beer advertisements and the swilling of copious quantities of ‘piss’ without falling down is still considered a valid measure of masculinity in some circles. Inebriation is still considered somehow to be ‘impressive’ and the more ‘shit faced’ you claim to have been, the more cool you are!

Ask yourself what kind of society would have embarked on such a fervent crusade against the relatively harmless vice that is smoking, while ignoring the obvious social cancer that is alcohol.

Taking action by signing a petition that seeks to achieve some kind of sanity within the justice system is a very empty gesture, if at the same time, you continue to condone the use and misuse of alcohol within our society. Its easy to focus on the thugs who carry out these senseless acts and to feel morally indignant at the apparent leniency that they receive in the courts. But if you want to round up all of the perpetrators of this mindless insanity, you’d have to include the advertisers who dream up the garbage advertisements that teach our society that alcohol is desirable, cool, sophisticated and life enhancing. You’d need to include everyone who works in the alcohol production industry and every owner and employee of every booze outlet. And you’d have to round up me …. and YOU …. who allow the insanity that is the drug that is alcohol ….. to continue to degrade our society. We all play a part in the madness of the world that we allow. Maybe its time society grew a brain. Just because America failed with prohibition a century ago, doesn’t mean we can’t succeed now, in a world that is better educated and more sophisticated. Who would have thought we could eliminate cigarette smoking? But we are almost there.

If alcohol really is OK for society, why are we so against a little meth or crack or coke or grass or …… that ultimate evil …. tobacco?????? When we look at the apparent madness of our legal system, its really ourselves that we are seeing …. a fallible jumble of contradictions and blind stupidity. Why should we expect the law to be rational, when the society it seeks to serve is not?

Andrew Caddle 2014-01-17

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