The news is out that Charles Kennedy’s death was caused be alcoholism – cue public debate on alcoholism.
We’ll leave aside here the ludicrous situation, whereby a social problem only gets discussed when it effects someone in the public eye. Anonymous people can die alone from alcoholism on park benches, bedsits and hospital beds and it attracts no media coverage at all but that is how society is ordered here.
The present debate on alcoholism is another that seems to be attracting a lot of heat but little light.
Why is it in this country that addressing such a problem almost immediately reduces to moves to restrict the freedoms of the mass of people.Take the Newsnight debate last night, Clare Fox rightly argued that there was a major difference between social drinking and alcoholism – they are not two sides of the same coin.
The media debate such as it is on the subject of alcohol is the same as it is on so many other areas of public life. Take a skewed view as a result of giving some interest groups, with employees to pay, a disproportionate say in the debate. The result, we end up with a restrictive/ punitive solution. In the case of alcohol this will mean higher prices for everyone and ideally some way of locking people up more easily for drink related activities.
Would it not be more useful to actually look at the problem in a different way. Alcoholism is growing but why? Depression is a huge problem, look at the number of people on anti-depressants in the UK. Mental health problems generally are growing incredibly – there is predicted to be a mental health explosion over the next 10 years. Maybe UK plc really is not a very happy place?
Should we not be looking at the society being created that is incubating these problems. A society of low paid insecure work probably contributes. A consumer based society that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing – individuals are increasingly judged on what they have rather than what they are. A society where more and more people live alone, where traditional community links are breaking down. The psychological as opposed to physical draw bridges are being pulled up everywhere.
A society undergoing a huge physiological change as a result of the internet revolution – changes that no one seems interested in discussing.It is the society that has been created that leads to problems like alcoholism, depression and other mental health issues. It is this wider debate that needs to be had, not the usual ill-informed rantings about restrictions and punishment.