Update: When I posted this yesterday, I introduced the topic of alcohol on the road by mentioning recent publicity about Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) being down on my state of Wisconsin for alcohol-related fatalities here, while Utah was getting credit for having the best record. But there’s another side to this story. Before you Utahans get too complacent, and before you Wisconsinites get too offended, you should look at the actual progress report from MADD and see the shocker: While Wisconsin had a 5% drop in alcohol-related fatalities in 2006, Utah had a 64% increase! If we apply basic principles of media science and extrapolate that rate for two or three years, Utah will soon lead the nation in drunk driving, and after a decade or two, every Utahan will have been killed at least twice by drunk driving. This is far worse than global warming or overpopulation, though it may help solve the latter crisis.
(And let me remind you that while Wisconsin does have more drinkers than Utah, it is one of the safest places in the country to live. Low crime, good health care, a clean environment, lots of decent people, and generally strong family values – I’m glad to be here by choice. I just stay off the roads on New Year’s Eve.)
Now back to the original post:
I am disappointed that more vigorous steps have not been taken to reduce drunk driving here and in many other places. There are penalties in every state for drunk driving if you get caught, certainly, but it seems like it would be easy to crack down on drunk driving by simply having police regularly target the parking lots of bars. Pull over a driver as they leave a bar’s parking lot at 2 am, check for alcohol, and then whip out the cuffs. I’ve driven by hundreds of bars at night and can’t remember ever seeing a police car staking out the action nearby. Why not? Why not have sobriety checkpoints near bars? And why not make it illegal to serve a person enough alcohol to suffer from impaired driving?
So why do so many states have such implicit tolerance for alcohol on the roads?
Legislative efforts to deal with the problem face powerful resistance. I think it’s more than just a cultural tolerance for alcohol – I think it’s the concentrated power of those who profit from our abuse of the deadly drug of alcohol. The liquor lobby in Wisconsin is powerful and effective.
A statement in the revealed Word of Wisdom (Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants) seems remarkably prophetic for our society and is much more appropriate today than it was in 1833:
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation-
5 That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
“Evils and designs . . . in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” – what an apt and prophetic description of the rise to power of the institutions that promote alcohol and other harmful substances forbidden by the Word of Wisdom (tobacco and implicitly other addictive drugs).
Maybe we wouldn’t need such a strict prohibition on alcohol under the Word of Wisdom if it weren’t for the prophetic realization that there would be such intense promotion of alcohol abuse in our day. The marketing, the peer pressure, the alcohol-centric cultures that we live in, make it dangerous for many to permit even a little alcohol use in our lives. For some, the intent to drink just a little gets out of control, especially at places like some of our universities (e.g., at some of our universities, where binge drinking is a way of life for a majority of students, according to student surveys).
The power of conspiring men in promoting harmful addictions is perhaps even more powerfully evident when we consider the tobacco industry. In spite of massive public outcry, tobacco growers continue to be subsidized by the US Government – something that has been going on for over 70 years. Government has become dependent on the taxes that our tobacco addictions generate, and cannot seriously contemplate any steps that might dry up that source of especially filthy lucre. The effectiveness of tobacco lawyers, the brilliance of tobacco marketers, and the political savvy of tobacco executives are legendary, and in some cases, these skills may have been used in ways that may illustrate what the Lord meant by “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men.” Of course, “conspiring” is such a harsh and emotionally charged word. Perhaps we should something more objective like “leveraging core competencies to maximize shareholder value and achieve strategic growth objectives.”
I’ll be sharing an interesting story along these lines in one of my next posts, based on something I picked up from one of my favorite books, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.