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Why is an Opinion More Offensive than Drunk Driving?

Posted by Chance on August 29, 2006

Yes I know, Mel Gibson is old news. But I found this article at Crosswalk titled “Alcohol and the Mel Gibson Saga”.

The article states:

James B. Butler, executive director for the California Council on Alcohol Problems, has said: “Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving, and during the arrests made a number of anti-Semitic remarks. It now appears that his Hollywood career may be in jeopardy — not because he was drunk, not because he was driving and putting people’s lives at risk, but because of his remarks. Interestingly enough, alcohol is not identified as a significant contributing factor…”

Interesting point. Now, don’t get me wrong, anti-Semitic remarks are indeed harmful. But so is driving drunk, something that gets so little attention. I think that driving drunk is worse, since it actually kills people. Hateful remarks can ultimately lead to violence at times, but drunk driving is more of a direct aggression against people. The tragedy of Mel drunk-driving has been overshadowed.

The article goes on about the evils of alcohol. It has a quote from Billy Graham:

Years ago, the famous evangelist Billy Sunday described the destructive nature of alcoholic beverages when he said:

“If all the combined forces of hell should assemble in conclave and with them all the men on earth who hate and despise God, purity and virtue — if all the scum of the earth could mingle with the denizens of hell to try to think of the deadliest institution to home, church, and state, I tell you, the combined forces of hell could not conceive of or bring into being an institution that could touch the hem of the garment of the tavern to damn the home, mankind, womanhood, business, and everything good on earth.”

Hmm, convicting stuff. I do agree that alcohol has done so much damage in the lives of families and to our country.

So what should be done? Prohibition didn’t work. Or did it? The article quotes William J. Bennet, who was “former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under former President George H.W. Bush.” He states:

One of the clear lessons of prohibition is that when we had laws against alcohol there was less consumption, less alcohol-related disease, fewer drunken brawls, and a lot less drunkenness. Contrary to myth, there is no evidence that prohibition caused any big increases in crime …. The real facts are these: As a result of prohibition, 180,000 saloons were shut down, and 1,800 breweries went out of business. In ten years of prohibition, the death rate due to alcohol decreased 42%, the death rate due to cirrhosis of the liver decreased by 70%, crime decreased by 54%, and insanity decreased by 66%.

I’m not sure I agree. But I have to consider the source of both arguments. Most people concerning this issue believe that prohibition was a mistake. Libertarians often point to the rise of organized crime when alcohol was prohibited and extrapolate that argument toward drug legalization. I have never actuallly looked at the numbers for this time period, but knowing human nature, I doubt prohibition had the desired effect.

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10 Responses to “Why is an Opinion More Offensive than Drunk Driving?”

  1. Dan Trabue said

    “I think that driving drunk is worse, since it actually kills people. Hateful remarks can ultimately lead to violence at times, but drunk driving is more of a direct aggression against people.”

    So, those Islamic clerics who teach that they must subdue the West with violence, that’s cool, since they’re only voicing an opinion?

    Believe me, I’m opposed to all sort of driving-related dangers, including drunk driving. But there is the potential to kill many more people with our rhetoric than the relative few that we can kill with our cars.

  2. Chance said

    Hey Dan,
    I see your point, and I think in many cases voices can be more dangerous than drunk driving.

    In the case you mentioned, I think it is more than simply stating an opinion, it is more of an incitement to violence. And it is more than some stupid journalist saying that, it is the leaders of the country, or people raising up terrorist organizations.

    In the case of Mel, he said bad things about the Jews, but I don’t recall him saying that we should take up arms against them. And even if he had, yes, it is still an incitement to violence, but it is an actor just being drunk and stupid, not the leader of an organization or country.

    However, in the post, I did refer to things in generics, talking about hateful remarks in general. So, let me rephrase it a bit. Opinions can be dangerous. I do not see someone saying negative things about another ethnic group as dangerous, but I realize there is a thin line here. (I could be wrong. I don’t recall Mel saying anything inciting).

    It just bothers me that in this case, the opinions are more offensive than his actions.

  3. Dan Trabue said

    Concerning your thoughts about prohibition, I think they’re important to consider.

    I’m with you (I think), in that while I don’t consider Prohibition a success, neither do I consider non-prohibition a great success. With some 16,000 deaths a year just from drunk driving (not counting the other human and societal costs associated with alcohol), what we currently have is not working great.

    This is why I’m in favor of methods of trying to include actual costs of products. This, of course, is nearly impossible, but I think if we could better reflect actual costs, it may serve at least two purposes.

    1. If alcohol has byproducts that costs our society $x a year and we increase the price to cover that cost, fewer people may be willing to pay that price.

    2. The increased price could have taxes whose purpose is to offset the societal costs. ie, alcohol taxes could go to pay for alcohol rehab, a fund to aid families devastated by drunk driving, ads to discourage irresponsible drinking, etc.

    I recognize this is sloppy and would need some thought, but it seems to me that if prohibition has been a failure (and this is true for our war on drugs, as well) and non-prohibition has been a failure, that we ought to try other approaches.

  4. The Prophet said

    Dan,

    I like your ideas, although it sounds very complicated… might be a lot of red tape there. It all comes down to trusting the government that the money will go where it should.

  5. The Prophet said

    Do you think that should be broken down at the state or federal level?

  6. Chance said

    Interesting thoughts Dan. I do think though that we should still localize costs to those actually responsible for the harm done. Not that you are saying the opposite, but I don’t think we do enough to punish drunk drivers. Passing the costs to everyone is an interesting idea, especially for things done on the national level, but if we focus too much on that, it passes the responsibility onto everyone, not those who abuse alcohol.

    There was an article the other day at cato.org saying that drug ads were not very effective for children. That’s the thing though, it’s hard to know who is telling the truth. The conservative Christian site says such and such program to curb this immoral activity is effective, the libertarian sites say they are not. Who do you trust?

    For one though, I think we need to provide harsher punishments for those driving drunk, especially those who hurt people. The thing is though, this usually takes ineffective forms, like lowering the blood-alcohol limit to unreasonable levels, when they should focus on those who do actual harm. That’s another topic though.

  7. Dan Trabue said

    Josh, in general, I’m in favor of doing as much as possible at the local level. For what it’s worth, that’s my starting point, but then we need to look at what is and isn’t working at that level and see where we do and don’t need larger intervention.

    Chance said:

    “I do think though that we should still localize costs to those actually responsible for the harm done.”

    Agreed. Certainly agreed. But if we’re having maybe 15,000 drunks causing these deaths each year and the doubtless billions of dollars of damage (as much as you can put a price on it), there’s no way the individuals responsible could foot that bill.

    Like it or not, we have some problems caused by corporate (as in, all of us, not “corporations”) and personal decisions that are bigger than individual solutions.

    This is where, it seems to me, we need to decide that we need corporate-sized answers.

    As to holding people responsible, I’m in favor of that approach even when alcohol is not involved. We have 40,000 deaths by autos each year (of which ~16,000 are alcohol-related). The rest are called “accidents” usually, but they almost always involve driving too fast, talking on the phone, juggling a dropped coke can or some personal bad decision.

    I’m not in favor of criminalizing that behavior, but I am in favor of saying, “Your driving resulted in a crash, you will lose your license for a year.” or, “Your driving resulted in an injury, you lose your license for five years.”

    We need to take actions to emphasize how dangerous 2,000 lb hunks of metal filled with explosives are, and to remind us to not take driving lightly.

    The spokesperson for AAA ran down a jay-walking pedestrian, killing the pedestrian. She didn’t see the pedestrian because the sun was in her eyes and because the pedestrian was jay-walking.

    It was an “accident,” sure. But nonetheless, a person is dead and she gets off with only a guilty conscience and now she’s the spokesperson for AAA!!! There’s something wrong with our auto policies….

    Sorry, different rant. Got off on tangent. sorry.

  8. Chance said

    That’s okay Dan. You make a good point with accidents in general, spurred by my comments concerning drunk driving.

    Two family members in the past month were involved in accidents, thank God it wasn’t worse, but the people who hit them had no insurance or registration. That is unacceptable. In many instances, all they get is a ticket and that is it.

    I think negligence can reach a level to where someone forfeits their driving privileges. Too many of us see driving as a right, but it really is a privilege, and if you prove you cannot be trusted with that, you should forfeit that privilege for a certain amount of time.

    Ideally, costs of accidents would not be passed on to the public, but that seems to be the case so many times.

  9. Anonymous said

    I really wish people would look up statistics before they use them. The statistics you use are for alcohol-related fatalities. Which means according to the NHTSA who provides the statistics, that any driver or nonoccupant had a BAC of over .01 or higher. It has nothing to do with the cause of the accident and indeed the statistics are estimated. The BAC is the only estimated statistic derived from FARS data.

    Even then for most situations, accidents with no alcohol involved cause more deaths numerically. Be cautious of statistics and those who use them to influence you.

    otoh I there are very probably more drivers / pedestrians in traffic at anytime without any alcohol in their system. Which explains that but not the fact that people treat these alcohol-related fatalities as “deaths caused by drunks”. The media, law enforcement, politicians, nonprofits with an agenda all do it. Watch out for the numbers.
    The glossary has the definition of alcohol-related.

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2005EE.pdf

  10. Anonymous said

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2005EE.pdf

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