- Or what makes liquor a moral issue
I am sure Ali Amin Gandapur and Sharjeel Inam Memon have excellent reasons for keeping honey in liquor bottles, and those will be extremely instructive when, and if, they come to light. In the meanwhile, I would like to focus on a more fundamental issue here. For whether the Supreme Court should have other things at the top of its priorities list; whether honey or olive oil in Johnny Walker or Grey Goose bottles should trigger so much hullabaloo on the media; indeed, where exactly the civic freedoms of citizens (or prisoners, or passengers en route to lock capitals down) end; one thing is for sure: we have an alcohol problem, and one which is not getting any better with time.
Alcohol’s adverse effects on the human body are for the most part well-documented. The West and some of the more developed nations in the East have however chosen to draw a strict line between the private and public lives of individuals: a man is free to use any legal substance, so long as he doesn’t become a nuisance for others. Driving under the influence (even of a legal substance), for example, is a serious crime, as it should be. Why alcohol is legal and is not on the prohibited list, while other drugs with similar (even lesser) effects are, is another question however, which many people in the West have been raising for some time now. The way the tobacco lobby was able to influence and delay scientific studies and legislation against it for many decades is revealing in this regard as well. In the end it all usually comes down to commerce.
That alcohol is an extremely addictive substance is also well-understood. But then there are many other things that are harmful for the human body, and which are addictive as well: carbonated drinks, cigarettes, and sweets, to name three. But do the two qualities of being bad for the body, and being addictive suffice to warrant curbing the freedom of the individual to do with his life what he wants to (including harming himself), provided he doesn’t harm others? Most probably not. Some people argue that alcohol causes more harm to the body than fizzy drinks or sweets. Even if this is true, it’s a matter of degrees and it’s hard to draw a line on principle here.
What makes alcohol consumption a moral/religious issue, however, is the fact that it insulates the consumer from the harsh realities of life. It does so by muddying his thought processes and therefore making him less alert to his surroundings. The escape from reality is temporary however, and the reality inevitably comes knocking at the door the very next morning, this time with an additional guest: the hangover. In any case, this sort of comfort is akin to the comfort of a man who switches his fire-alarm off because it disturbs his peace. I wish we lived in a more benign world; but in the world we happen to live in, the hazard-alarm plays a crucial role. The human body equivalent of keeping the alarm switched on is keeping one’s eyes and ears open and keeping one’s mind alert and aware of what’s happening in the world. Any comfort gained at the expense of functionality, sometimes to the prospects of one’s very survival, is extremely dearly purchased. This aspect of alcohol – in my opinion the only valid argument for legislation against its consumption – is rarely emphasised.
When it comes to countries like Pakistan, where liquor is prohibited but is imbibed by many individuals regardless, there are two additional aspects of the issue. One: social, religious, and legal constraints – although they obviously don’t suffice to ensure that the temptation is resisted by all – usually are potent enough to associate some sort of guilt with the practice, causing more problems. Two: alcohol consumption is still overwhelmingly a male thing: barring a small minority, women and wives (being more conservative by choice or necessity) disapprove of the practice, which results in varying degrees of friction depending on the individual and the household. However, more than drinking per se, these problems are more precisely attributable to the general hypocrisy prevalent in the society, and the different standards of morality for men and women.
What makes alcohol consumption a moral/religious issue, however, is the fact that it insulates the consumer from the harsh realities of life. It does so by muddying his thought processes and therefore making him less alert to his surroundings
By all means there are examples of successful men who also drink regularly. ‘Successful’ yes, but are they happy too? Their wish to disengage from the reality suggests otherwise. Can a person who is constantly dependent on this sort of a crutch be said to be happy? For my part, I would rather be happy than successful. But if the conditions of life aren’t such as to allow unbridled delight (as they so often are), I would be content with being as satisfied as is possible under the circumstances. Dispensing with reality in order to be ‘happy’ is little more than an exercise in self-deception.