Monday, October 7, 2013

From the Archives: Review of 'The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health, and Society' by Gene Ford

This article originally appeared in The Arlington (Va.) Journal on May 9, 1991, under the title, "The sober truth: The Prohibitionists want to control our lives" and the Roanoke (Va.) Times & World News on May 19, 1991, with the all-caps headline "BOOZE BANS: NEO-PROHIBITIONISM THREATENS OUR FREEDOMS." I have made some minor formatting adjustments so it can appear on the Web for the first time.

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In a recent ("Blitzed," April 22, 1991) New Republic article, Princeton University student Joshua Zimmerman reports that a California school district banned "Little Red Riding Hood" from first-grade classrooms because Grandma has a glass of wine after she is rescued.

He also notes that after a single incident of overdrinking that gave him a bad hangover, a campus counselor told him that he was "teetering on the brink of alcoholism" and should seek treatment.

Fox TV's "Beverly Hills 90210" recently portrayed a similar incident; the teen-age protagonist got drunk once, and by the end of the show he was at an AA meeting.

These are but surface symptoms of a deeper malady affecting American life today: neo-Prohibitionism. Another symptom is the attempt to link alcoholic beverages to illicit drugs -- an inapt analogy heard often in the wake of the drug arrests at the University of Virginia and Radford University.

The net effect is to shame social drinkers, driving the vast majority of drinkers who do not abuse alcohol into social closets. The neo-Prohibitionists are social engineers who want to legislate their moral agenda and increase state control of people's private lives. This is unhealthy, politically unwise and morally reprehensible.

In response to the new Carrie Nations, author and lecturer Gene Ford has written a comprehensive book, The Benefits of Moderate Drinking: Alcohol, Health, and Society. Ford reviews all the relevant literature on alcohol and human health, and charges that fearmongers have exaggerated the negative health effects of alcohol and buried the research demonstrating alcohol's benefits.

These pseudoscientists have cowed responsible physicians and scientists to the point that few are willing to speak in favor of moderate alcohol use.

One exception is Thomas B. Turner, M.D., former dean of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In his foreword to Ford's book, Dr. Turner notes that "the moderate use of alcoholic beverages has been with us for millennia; so has alcohol abuse. It is important to understand the difference." The new Prohibitionists, it seems, are unable to make that distinction.

Today's alcohol debate is over whether individuals should be allowed to control their own lives, to make personal decisions about their own behavior.

Ford sees the new Prohibitionists as the foot soldiers in a shadow army of totalitarians who seek to increase state control over individual behavior and decision-making.

He asserts that the anti-alcohol studies are skewed and emotionally biased. "New temperance" activists, as he calls them, use "highly selective and bastardized science to single out alcohol . . . to garner public support for their Draconian measures."

"New temperance devotees are classical political progressives wearing the mantle of public health," Ford writes. "Like stern mothers and fathers, they seek Orwellian control over the conduct of your most intimate personal lives. Progressives like to set standards for others. They suggest what you can eat, what you can drink, how you can exercise, the nature of your sexual practices, even what you and your children should read. Since the middle of the past century, when Christian progressivism evolved into a form of political fundamentalism, there has been a strong undercurrent of repression in American society."

Alcohol use and abuse have been with us since prehistoric times - in fact, some anthropologists believe that civilization itself began because prehistoric man abandoned his hunting-and-gathering lifestyle and began planting crops to ferment grains and fruits into alcoholic beverages.

Those early farmers who consumed beer and mead were better nourished than those who simply consumed gruel.

As man advanced technologically, he began to write; the earliest written record we have found is a Sumerian tablet containing a recipe for brewing beer! The Bible, Greek philosophers, and Roman poets all lauded alcoholic beverages. The moderate use of alcohol is something deeply imbedded in our culture.

Banning Red Riding Hood is just the tip of the iceberg. Millions of Americans who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, a cocktail after work or a beer at the ballpark suffer increasing ostracism from a vociferous and vocal minority of social "progressives" whose paternalism tells them that they know better than we about ordering our lives.

They want to expand the government's already broad powers to interfere in our personal decisions, something we must firmly resist.

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Note:  Gene Ford is also the author of The Science of Healthy Drinking (2003); The French Paradox & Drinking for Health (1993); and Ford's ABC's of Wines Brews and Spirits (1996), among other books and articles.

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