Sunday, February 9, 2020

Can Inhibition Do What Prohibition Couldn’t?

One hundred years ago on January 17, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. That amendment established the prohibition of “intoxicating liquors” in the nation—and initiated thirteen years of national turmoil.
The Long Road to Prohibition
The inimitable Ken Burns produced a three-part, six-hour documentary film series in 2011 under the title “Prohibition.” The first part is titled “A Nation of Drunkards,” and it begins with the more than ninety-year history of the road that led to Prohibition.
In 1826, Lyman Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father, preached six sermons on “intemperance,” as the drinking of alcoholic beverages was called then, and those sermons are still available in many places online (for example, see here).
Beecher (1775~1863) then co-founded the American Temperance Society that same year. That first anti-alcohol organization was followed by the founding of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1874 and the even more influential Anti-Saloon League in 1893.
Joining forces, the latter two nationwide organizations spurred the election in 1916 of the two-thirds majorities necessary in both houses of Congress to propose the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Prohibition Amendment
In the last half of 1917, the Senate voted 65-20 in favor of the 18th Amendment, and that was followed by a 282-128 favorable vote in the House. Then it was sent to the states for ratification.
On January 16, 1919, the necessary 36th state (out of 48) ratified the Amendment, which began,
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.
So, the following year on Jan. 17, Prohibition went into effect—and this was the beginning of a period of increasing lawlessness in the country.
The second part of Ken Burns’s documentary is titled, “A Nation of Scofflaws.” Opposition to Prohibition led to rampant and flagrant violations of the law and resulted in a rapid rise of organized crime around the nation, such as typified by Chicago's Al Capone.
After only 13 years, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment which was proposed by Congress in February 1933 and was ratified by the requisite number of states that December.
For the most part, legalized Prohibition was a dismal failure.
What about Inhibition?
I am using “inhibition” here as explained in Encyclopedia Britannica: In psychology, inhibition means theconscious or unconscious constraint or curtailment of a processor or behaviour, especially of impulses or desires. Inhibition serves necessary social functions, abating or preventing certain impulses from being acted on . . . .”
And I am suggesting that since legislation was so ineffective in curbing the consumption of alcoholic beverages, perhaps education leading to inhibition (= conscious constraint) may be what is necessary.
Statistics reported in 2018 indicated that there was a 67% decrease in smoking from 1965 to 2017. That was partly because of the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packages—and a general turning away from use of tobacco by society at large. Tobacco usage greatly decreased because of inhibition, not prohibition.
Why couldn’t, why shouldn’t the same thing happen with alcohol, a drug much more harmful than the nicotine in tobacco—as made clear in the following image of “drug harm” in The Economist last year? 
To some extent, it seems that the movement toward inhibition has already begun. According to an article in The Economist’s “The World in 2020,” there are signs that drinking is going out of style. The author avers that in a generation or two, drinking in rich countries could seem outdated. May it be so!
(I wrote about this same issue four years ago, and I encourage those of you who want to think more about this matter to read/re-read that article titled “The Case against ‘Demon Rum’”.)


  1. I appreciate Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago for being the first to respond to this new blog article and for making the following pertinent comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations about alcohol consumption.

    "While Prohibition was something of a disaster, there is little question that our various governments should be doing more to discourage alcohol consumption. The liver oxidizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, a class 1 carcinogen, so alcohol consumption increases one's cancer risk. There are other health risks, of course, such as cirrhosis of the liver. The many problems for society caused by excessive alcohol consumption are well known.

    "Some of our nation's Founding Fathers were drunkards and alcohol abuse was a much bigger problem in the 19th century than today, so we have made some progress, but not nearly enough. There are still far too many drunk drivers with the consequent injuries and deaths."

  2. As with most issues, there needs to be balance. Vices flow from the excesses or deficiencies of virtues. Medical issues from excess are very real, and exacerbated by the use of tobacco and/or over consumption of trans and saturated fats. Depending on genetics, some are more effected than others. Education will help some.

    But I have also felt the meanness and intolerance of teetotalers, as one who consumes a couple of alcoholic beverages per year, and partakes in altar wine (communion) at traditional churches.

  3. Prohibition was a trial run for the war on drugs. The main difference was the targets, Catholics with prohibition, and blacks with the drug war. A combination of jobs, education, and treatment is the best way to resist both rum and opium. All sorts of negative results flow from governments efforts to micromanage personal behavior. Current culture wars over abortion and homosexuality show the same dynamics. Jail cells should be last resorts for worst behaviors, not goals for unpopular populations. Our society would be a better place if we lived by Jesus' injunction to get the beam out of our own eye before we try to get the mote out of our neighbor's eye. Resentment, greed and anger are not good foundation stones for any society. Jesus taught us that God is love. Call that inhibition if you want. Just remember that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine, and when the Son of Man came eating and drinking they called him a glutton and drunkard. It was John the Baptist who never had a drink!

  4. Here is a brief comment from Thinking Friend John Tim Carr in California:

    "I think Education is Better than Force and hope we do that with Alcohol."

  5. And then I received this long response from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "I re-read 'The Case against Demon Rum.' I can add little but my own experience.

    "As you know, I was raised in a Baptist minister family. Prior to entering the ministry, my Dad would give speeches against against alcohol whenever given the opportunity. His anti-drinking obsession only grew after entering the ministry. To this day I remember an incident when I was six-years old, in which my father explained that Jesus only drank unfermented grape juice, as did his disciples and members of the early Christian Church. That bit of expository thinking came in the context of an event when my father was trying to find unleavened bread for the Lord's Supper early on a Sunday morning. I innocently remarked as to why he couldn't substitute broken soda crackers. My father insisted that the efficacy of that Holy Communion depended upon using the exact element which Jesus used in the first Lord's Supper. I thought for a moment and again, innocently asking, as to why we didn't use wine instead of grape juice. Needless to say, that childhood reasoning when over like the proverbial 'lead balloon!'

    "Other inconsistencies bothered me as I grew older. My oldest brother was a chaplain in the paratroops in Germany at the close of World War II. He told us that German Baptist drank beer like we drink iced tea. He later served as a missionary in Israel and India working with Arab Christians who drank wine daily. I learned that alcohol use was a cultural issue, but American Baptists made it a moral issue. One of our early, popular Baptist preaches regularly used 'bourbon and branch water. In fact, it was the Reverend Elijah Craig, pastor of the Crooked Run Baptist Church in Virginia, who invented bourbon whisky when he accidentally charred barrel staves he was making for his whisky barrels. By the way, he was imprisoned, not for making whisky, but for preaching!

    "During my adult life, I have known of Baptist preachers and other godly Christian who used alcohol in moderation, but did so in secret because of the evil that Baptists have associated with its use. Being a Baptist minister myself, I have sadly endured the anti-alcohol tirades of Baptist preachers who who have given 'Scriptural proof' to abstinence. I associate that with Fundamentalist mentality--the practice of deciding what is right and wrong, and then twisting Scripture to support their view."

  6. Thinking Friend Dickson Yagi, a Japanese American from Hawaii who was my colleague for many years at Seinan Gakuin University, makes the following comments:

    "As a So. Baptist I signed a teetotaler pledge card in a church campaign by a zealot from the mainland. This church pledge protected me from so many wedding and faculty parties where pressure forced all men to drink in Japan. So many faculty members wished they had this So. Baptist missionary excuse to keep from drinking. In my eighties now, I am eternally grateful for this So. Baptist prohibition of alchohol that insulated me for my 30 some years as a seminary student and missionary in Japan."

  7. What about Inhibition?

    My family tree is filled with those who could never find a way to overcome the scourge of alcohol. My grandfather died in his RV drunk. The last time I saw my grandmother was when she was walking down the street to the local Casino where she would drink to excess and gamble her Social Security check away. She died at 86, homeless and alone on the streets of Phoenix.

    My dad was the only one to break the bonds of addiction when someone told him about Jesus.

    I suggest that there must be a resource that a person can appropriate that is outside themselves. A resource that can provide what is missing in the life of the abuser. For the poor and marginalized education is not part of the life experience.

    Legislation is not the key as we have seen in history. While Inhibition (education) is needed and should be part of our educational structures there has to be more.

    It was the personal resource of Christ that turned my father to a life of sobriety.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Frank. I appreciate you sharing what faith in Christ did for your father and am so thankful that because of that he was able to break out of the "bonds of addiction."

      (I wrote a longer response yesterday, but for some reason it seems to have disappeared--and I don't have time to write more now.)

    2. (Here is the longer response that I wrote on 2/10:

      Thank you so much, Frank, for sharing this personal story of your family--the tragedy of your grandparents and the conversion experience of your father.

      I think you are certainly correct in suggesting that once a person has become an abuser, "education" is no longer sufficient to turn things around. A religious experience such as your father had is the best way to "break the bonds of addiction," and it is a shame that more people don't hear that message or respond to it affirmatively.

      I have not had any direct conversation with people who have gone through the AA program, but AA seems based on Christian principles and has been the means for helping many people overcome addiction. I thought it was interesting that at the end of Ken Burns's six-hour documentary on Prohibition there was a plug for the AA. It's a shame he could not have also talked about the even more important possibility of religious experience such as your father, thankfully, had.

  8. Local Thinking Friend Delores Jankovich sent the following comments three days ago, and I am sorry to be so slow in posting them here.

    Hello, Leroy,

    Another important article. Thank you.

    "I don't know if my comments belong here but I will briefly mention what I see happening in our culture now.

    "Psychiatric drugs have become of epidemic proportions. In fact researcher and scholar Robert Whitaker has written a book 'Anatomy of an Epidemic.' It has been suggested that the long term use of antidepressants may lead to dementia.

    "Many people would rather rely on their physicians and take a pill rather than address what is wrong holistically.

    "And psychiatry has remained harmful. I don't know if you have noticed all the articles in the media about the holocaust. The holocaust was started by psychiatrists who initiated their euthanasia program.

    "So psychotropics are now the problem rather than alcohol or tobacco."

    1. Thanks for reading my blog article and for responding, Delores. I think it is more correct to say, however, that psychotropics are now a problem as well as alcohol and more than tobacco."