Friday, June 22, 2007


In a series of emails with a friend recently, the subject of absinthe came up (again). (No, it wasn't Mr. Tweedy - who, I have noticed, never posted a followup to his entry on his absinthe purchase of half a year or so ago. I assume this means it wasn't really to his taste.)

Absinthe is interesting to me not because I want to try it (it contains anise, the flavor of which I dislike), but because I suspect the (largely international) ban on it is one of the precursors to our current disastrous drug policy. It's the original wrongly maligned substance, really. For whatever reason, the public just didn't like the crowd that used it, and they (rather, one Dr. Mangan) concocted a series of experiments which purported to show that it was more harmful than other alcoholic drinks. In fact, at 136 proof it is - but because of the higher alcohol content, not - as was widely claimed - the thujone. It has been demonstrated that thujone isn't even hallucinogenic (as was believed at the time), and in any case there isn't enough of it in absinthe to have deleterious effects on human drinkers.

But public hysteria over thujone plus the all-too-convenient case of a man murdering his family after two glasses (never mind that he also drank a lot of regular alcohol that day, and never mind that literally millions of others were consuming just as much or more absinthe daily without murdering ANYONE) was enough to get it banned in Switzerland in 1908, and (most) everyone else quickly followed suit.

And that's it folks. One series of bad (probably deliberately so) experiments, and one sensationalized murder case, and suddenly the rights of millions to indulge in a not-particularly-harmful recreational beverege were gone.

It's sad that it's so easy. And it's also ironic, I think, in a country as religious as the US. All polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of our fine citizens believe in a ghostly, otherworldly soul completely separate from our bodies controlling our actions. The body tempts, but the soul controls - that's how it goes, right? So why the complete lack of faith in people to make mind-over-matter willpower-driven decisions? It just doesn't make sense to me.

Absinthe's legal status in the US is questionable; no one seems to know exactly what the laws are (Customs and the FDA have different positions). But in it's way that makes it especially scary - because you just don't know where you stand or what your rights are when you choose to drink it. In any case, I think absinthe bans probably set the stage for our current drug policy - because it taught the fascists just how low a bar the public really set on these issues.

I frankly don't know why we spend hundreds of millions each year trying to control things like pot and absinthe that are demonstrably no more dangerous than other things currently legal. And I frankly also don't know why the general public fails to see the nasty side of all this War on Drugs nonsense. It isn't just that we spend so much money fighting this lost cause - it's more that we throw people in jail left and right (perversely in the name of "helping" them!!!) for doing nothing more harmful than lighting up a joint (or sipping absinthe) in the privacy of their own homes. It's time to stop - and to recognize that what people put in their individual bodies is none of the government's business (and please spare me the argument about drunk driving and the like - NOTHING about legalizing drugs would mean that we'd have to let intoxicated drivers off the hook for causing injury or property damage!!! We could even tighten the penalities for actual damage done if that would make people happy).

In this spirit, I link the coolest public service announcement I have seen in a long time. Way to cut through the fog on the bogus War on Drugs...


At 6:56 AM, Blogger Jon said...

Actually I liked it alright. It's just too expensive to ship in and I'm too cowardly to carry it into the country myself. :(

At 6:59 AM, Blogger Jon said...

(Oh, and by the way, I agree. I liked the video.)


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