Aside from a few diehards, it’s universally accepted that Prohibition, that noble experiment in legislated sobriety, was an utter disaster. In fact, there is a school of thought that suggests there was a lot more drinking going on after it was against the law. I don’t think that’s true, but it does demonstrate the disdain in which we hold Volstead and its many ramifications. However, what we conveniently forget is Prohibition didn’t come out of thin air. The government didn’t just wake up one Tuesday morning and say, “Okay, folks! It’s Last Call!” No, Prohibition was at least a hundred years in the making. It was born and incubated in the early 19th century, when well-intentioned Temperance Societies began making people aware of the evils of demon drink. It grew exponentially as Temperance gathered the Anti-Slavery Movement, Women’s Suffrage and a lot of other activist organizations under its umbrella of social change. Then, after the First World War, when the powers that be became acutely aware and somewhat wary of the newly minted “women’s vote,” Prohibition was no longer up for debate – it became the law. The problem was, despite the horror stories of society’s imminent alcoholic collapse which had been Temperance’s bread and butter for generations, the vast majority of people didn’t want to quit drinking. What our 19th and 20th century ancestors didn’t understand is that, even with the very best intentions, you simply can’t (Now hear this: can’t) legislate an idea or an attitude.
Fast forward ninety years to our current crew of quick-change social activists. They are no longer offended by the effects of alcohol; what bugs them is what we call it. For example, last week a batch of Ron de Jeremy rum was taken off liquor store shelves because a number of people claimed it was obscene. The offending label showed a pen and ink drawing of Mr. Jeremy’s face and the flourished name “Ron de Jeremy.” In smaller print, it had the taglines, “the adult liquor” and “long smooth taste.” Obviously, obscenity is in the eye of the beholder because I can’t see anything obscene here, and from the label alone, neither can you or anybody else. The only connection between Ron de Jeremy rum and obscenity is Mr. Jeremy was once a porn star. Anybody lodging a complaint had to know that. Otherwise, they couldn’t possibly have been offended by such an innocuous label. Curious circumstances to say the least! To be fair, the rum was restocked when someone remembered to click the commonsense icon but another adult beverage was not so lucky.
Approximately twenty-five years ago, Earls Restaurants began selling a beer called “Albino Rhino.” Obviously, it was some version of Pale Ale and it sold well enough to become Earls’ signature brand. However, a couple of years ago, even though Earls never fundamentally changed the brewing process, “Albino Rhino” started offending people — or so the story goes. It seems that Albino Rhino beer is now intolerably offensive to people with a rare genetic disorder called albinism (a lack of pigment in the skin.) Apparently, the beer’s very existence demeans them.
The curious thing is, though, “Albino Rhino” beer has existed for an entire drinking generation. Literally millions of people have not only tolerated it, they’ve gone out of their way to buy it and drink it. Up until 18 months ago, there was no measurable outrage against the brand. Besides, the albino rhinoceros itself (a pigment-less variety of the African rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis) has existed in nature for well over 10,000 years. If the name of the beer is offensive, I would assume the animal got there first. Not only that, but, minority rights notwithstanding, albinism is such a rare condition that it affects only about 1 in every 20,000 people. Therefore, statistically speaking, there are fewer than 2,000 albinos in the entire country. Frankly, there are probably more people named Jim Beam. The question becomes this: should a society place reasonable limits on satisfying complaints or is every unhappy voice entitled to an accommodation?
It’s all a moot point now, however, because Earls, for reasons known only to themselves, have decided to rename the beer “Rhino” and get on with life.
Prohibition failed because in their self righteous zeal to remake the world in their own image, its proponents didn’t care that we are a free society. It’s actually our diversity of thought and opinion that is our strength – warts and all. It’s simply point blank wrong for any group to dictate a one-size-fits-all morality for the rest of us.
Our contemporary prohibitionists, like the early Temperance Leaguers, are relatively new at this. However, given their increasing success at imposing their will on our world, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if, in a couple of years, it becomes impossible to go to a bar and order a “Black” Russian or a glass of “white” wine.