Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

A couple of vaguely related links today. At the Free Society, Joe Jackson has written about how the doctrine of zero tolerance is the precursor to prohibition.

Zero-risk and zero-tolerance are increasingly promoted as ‘the only game in town’. If pleasure is mentioned at all, it’s likely to be depicted as something illusory, and as a sign of weakness. Moderation? Freedom of choice? Even if there are such things, we apparently can’t be trusted with them.

We’re living longer than ever, but we seem to be doing so in a state of constant fear – thanks to the people who are supposed to be there to make us feel better. It almost makes you want to go to a monastery and live on raw carrots. Except that sooner or later, someone is going to decide that that’s bad for you, too. So it’s hardly surprising that some of us say, to hell with it all, and just get drunk.

That’s the problem with zero tolerance: anything else, however moderate, however pleasurable, becomes ‘extreme’ – and also a transgression, which invites more and more stringent prohibition. It never ends.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports the end of a chapter for one prohibition. Absinthe was banned in France after a moral panic in the nineteenth century because...

"The anti-alcohol lobbies really rammed home the message that absinthe makes you crazy and a criminal," she says.

"So that has stayed within the collective memory; people are afraid of absinthe."

Now the ban is being fully overturned, although not for the noblest of reasons.

Absinthe was first made, not in France, but just across the border in the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland.

And a Swiss judge recently approved a request to give the region exclusive rights to produce it. For the moment, this ruling applies only in Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union - and so has limited impact.

But because of Switzerland's close ties with the EU, it is possible that the Swiss could seek to extend the ruling across the block.

Producers say that this is what has galvanised the French government to lift the ban now.

France would be the biggest loser if such a ruling were to be extended, but with the drink still technically illegal at home, it would have found it virtually impossible to contest.

It's an interesting read and includes this great quote from Oscar Wilde.

After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.


Mark Wadsworth said...

Splendid headline. It's a pity you couldn't somehow build in a sketch where a cardio-vascular surgeon advises the beautiful lefty film actress to drink the stuff: "Absinthe makes the heart grow, Fonda."

Anonymous said...

For Wads It Worth, very clever, as usual.