Virtuous Drinking and States of Intoxication

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from John O’Brien, a Lecturer in Sociology at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Waterford, Ireland. His research has focused on alcohol policy, political leadership and social memory. In 2018 his book States of Intoxication, a historical sociology of alcohol and its place in state and society, was published. His recent work has focused on urban policy, examining the ‘creative city’ thinking, the growth of cultural quarters, and the expansion of the night-time economy. His current research projects focus on the secularization of addiction treatment services, alcohol-related public order offences in the night-time economy, and commemoration.

Screenshot 2019-04-09 at 8.11.51 AMThe history of psychoactive substances is the history of taxation and the revenue base of states. That governments have always had this preoccupation can be seen in how the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest records of any state, has more to say about alcohol than any other subject. The alcohol industry has long been promoted by states as a means of guaranteeing a crucial revenue stream. Nearer to our times alcohol contributed 40% of total revenue over the 19th Century in the UK (Harrison, 1971), with this falling continuously however, as economies become more complex, to 35% in 1900, to 12% in 1940, to 7% in 1967, to 3% in 1987, with the figure standing at 0.5-3% for EU states today (Anderson & Baumberg 2006: 54). While the falling dependence on alcohol has opened the door to public health policies, it remains an old-reliable that few governments are willing to forego, and liberalisation of other psychoactive substances is largely justified through arguments concerning revenue and the costs of foregoing it.

Bernard Mandeville, in the context of the 18th Century gin epidemic (inspired by a revenue hungry British government) wrote: “Bare virtue can’t make nations live, In Splendour; they, that would revive, A Golden Age, must be as free, For acorns, as for Honesty”. In other words, private vices can be public virtues, and an emphasis on virtue can be a recipe for poverty. Vice – a going to the extremes, a failure to act in a proportionate manner, a disregard for tradition – can be beneficial, as it will generate economic vibrancy and fill the coffers. We could perhaps trace the genesis of Anglo-Saxon attitudes to alcohol and psychoactive substances involving the propensity to binges to this sharp utilitarian perspective. It is a dramatic contrast to the virtue ethics that had largely governed use previously, stemming from Platonic thought, which emphasised what was in due measure, embodied in the figure of Socrates who could not become drunk. The true philosopher could not become drunk because they were the embodiment of the measure, of ‘the good’.

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“Drugs Cause Paranoid Reading and Writing”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Sean A. Witters, Ph.D., a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Vermont. His current book project, Using Addict, looks at the evolving language of addiction, tracing the images and stories of drug use and dependency that flow through literature, film, medicine, and culture from the 19th century to the present. In this post, he responds to Alex Berenson’s recent book Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, about which Points hosted a roundtable in January.

“Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” 

-Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Address

screenshot 2019-01-21 14.01.00I recently found myself linked to a group of researchers cited in The Guardian in Jamiles Lartey’s article on an open letter that criticizes the controversial claims about cannabis, mental health, and violence in Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence. Alex Berenson’s response in the article is marked by the same paranoiac construction of truth that shapes his book and its unfortunate impact on the public discussion on drugs, addiction, mental health, incarceration, and harm reduction. Berenson insists, “Physicians know the truth.” Without regard for his own credentials, he rejects the expertise of the signators, privileging medical degrees over doctorates in epidemiology, biochemistry, criminology, sociology, psychology, history, and neuroscience and ignoring the significant role of MDs and dual degree-holders with specialties in public health. When he chooses to rely on the earned expertise of non-MDs, as he does in his first chapter, he claims interpretive pre-eminence. This is most notable in his dispute with historian Isaac Campos who has criticized Berenson’s cherry-picked use of his findings. In his response, Berenson claims that Campos doesn’t understand findings apparently hidden within his own research.[1]

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“How to Paint a Morphine Addict”: Notes from the “Substance Use and Abuse in the Long 19th Century” Conference

Editor’s note: Today’s post comes from Hannah Halliwell, a third-year History of Art PhD student at the University of Birmingham, England. In it, she describes the work she presented at the “Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century” conference, held last September, and her winning entry into the Creative Competition. You can follow Hannah on Twitter @hanhalliwell. Enjoy!

Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century was a two-day conference at Edge Hill University, England, on 13th-14th September 2018. It was an interdisciplinary symposium with fascinating talks on topics ranging from alcoholism and cocaine use to opium, logistics and concepts of addiction. A personal highlight was being named the Creative Competition winner.

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Approaching Edge Hill University for Day 2 of Substance Use and Abuse

As I neared the end of the second year of my History of Art PhD at the University of Birmingham, I realized I had missed the Call for Papers deadline for the Substance Use and Abuse conference. Whilst researching attendance details on the conference website, the words “Creative Competition” caught my eye. This was a way to get involved with the conference, although it was a far cry from the usual 300-word abstract submission. Regardless, I saw it as an opportunity to present my research on visual representations of the morphinomane (morphine addict)[1] in French fin-de-siècle society (c.1880-1910) in a new way.

The task: “Your research in one image.”

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Fraud in Addiction Treatment Centers

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest blogger Nicole Allen. Nicole is a freelance writer and educator based in the Michigan and believes that her writing is an extension of her career as a tutor since they both encourage learning and discussing new things. When she isn’t writing, you might find Nicole running, hiking, or swimming. She’s participated in several 10K races and hopes to compete in a marathon one day.

It seems to be these days that whenever there’s money involved, there’s always a sure case of fraud. Although fraud is not new in business transactions, it can be surprising that some people are finding devious ways to trick insurance companies into paying for the rehabilitation process. Much like watching crime and investigation documentaries about insurance fraud, individuals can also “fake” their way into claiming a benefit from a company, without using it for the actual cause.

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As seen in a Roman epigram: A case of fraud?

Surprisingly, insurance fraud is not a new thing–in fact, it may even be as old as the stone statues built by the previous civilization. As seen in an epigram by the Roman poet Martial, there is a clear evidence that insurance fraud dates back to the old ages of the Roman Empire:

“Tongilianus, you paid two hundred for your house;

An accident too common in this city destroyed it.

You collected ten times more. Doesn’t it seem, I pray,

That you set fire to your own house, Tongilianus?”

Source: Book III, No. 52, Martial

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Radical Temperance: “Drunkards’ Raids” & “Boozers’ Days”: The Salvation Army’s “war on drink”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post rounds up our series from the Radical Temperance conference, which was held in June. It comes from Steven Spencer, Director of The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre and an Honorary Fellow in the School of History, Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester. Enjoy!

Since it was founded in 1865, the Salvation Army has been opposed to the use of alcohol. Its members and clergy totally abstain from alcohol and, from the 1880s onward, its weekly newspaper, The War Cry, regularly carried illustrations of the negative effects of alcohol. In the 1890s the Salvation Army described itself as “a universal Anti-Drink Army” and in this blog I’m going to look at two examples of this war on drink. Both my examples are taken from the first decades of the twentieth century and represent some of the more theatrical approaches taken by the Salvation Army in its rehabilitation of alcoholics.

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“Drunkards’ Raid,” Leyton, east London, early twentieth century

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Radical Temperance: “Cool Sobriety” and the Novel: Anneliese Mackintosh’s So Happy it Hurts

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Emily Hogg, an assistant professor in the Department for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark. Hogg presented this work to the Radical Temperance: Social Change and Drink, from Teetotalism to Dry January conference held in June, and this post dives deeper into her work on representations of “cool sobriety” in the novel. Enjoy!

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Prof. Emily Hogg

“An air of cool hovers around sobriety at the moment,” argues Alice O’Keefe in The Guardian in December 2017, “just as it does over veganism and clean eating.” For O’Keefe, this is exemplified by “the proliferation of sober blogs such as Hip Sobriety (hipsobriety.com) and Girl and Tonic (girlandtonic.co.uk).” Indeed, a sense of fashionable distinction is proclaimed by the very title of Hip Sobriety, founded by Holly Glenn Whitaker. The cool appeal of such contemporary ideas about sobriety rests, in part, upon the way they distinguish themselves from older, staler accounts of its meanings; if sober living was generally understood as “hip,” of course, there would be no need for Whitaker to use the word itself. In this cultural moment, there is a determined effort to rewrite familiar narratives about alcohol and its place in our lives. The Hip Sobriety manifesto, for example, directly challenges a number of well-known ideas about alcohol, stating: “you don’t need to hit rock bottom,” “Am I an alcoholic? is the wrong question” and “It’s not incurable” because “Cured is never having to drink again.”

Screenshot 2018-09-27 08.53.35This reimagining of sobriety has a significant literary dimension: it is driven in no small part by reading, writing, and the circulation of texts. In the Guardian article, O’Keefe, reviews The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, a blend of self-help and autobiography which, as its title suggests, seeks to illuminate the pleasures of sobriety through descriptions of its author’s life. Both Glenn Whitaker’s Hip Sobriety and Girl and Tonic, by Laurie McAllister, stress the significance of reading in the maintenance of sobriety. McAllister lists “6 of my favourite books about sobriety,” whilst Glenn Whitaker’s blog includes posts called “Why Reading is Paramount in Recovery’ and “’13 Essential Books to Build a Holistic Recovery from Addiction’.”

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Radical Temperance: Conference General Report

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Annemarie McAllister, Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire, and Pam Lock, a doctoral candidate and the GW4 Developing People Officer at the University of Bristol. They organized a conference on alcohol called Radical Temperance: Social Change and Drink, from Teetotalism to Dry January, held at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England, from June 28-29, 2018. This is their general report, with more posts to come over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

The signing of the teetotal pledge on 1 September 1832 in Preston by a group of seven men, including the social reformer Joseph Livesey, was a pivotal moment in the history of the temperance movement in Britain. Preston was thus an obvious home for the first-ever conference to bring together historians, social scientists, and third sector groups concerned about support for alcohol-free lifestyles today.  The underpinning rationale for “Radical Temperance: Social change and drink, from teetotalism to dry January,” (28th-29th June, 2018), was that, just as the total abstinence movement had originally sprung from the desire of working people for radical improvement of individual lives and of society, in the twenty-first century we are once again seeing living alcohol-free as a radical, counter-cultural choice.  This had been a project in the making for over two years, the dream of Preston academic Dr Annemarie McAllister, Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), enthusiastically supported by Pam Lock, University of Bristol. At times, drawing such a varied range of delegates together did seem as impossible as the scenario of Field of Dreams (1989, P.A. Robinson). Repetition of “If we build it, they will come,” became a mantra, but to ensure that the event did succeed, considerable, real, support was provided by a team of colleagues and grants from the ADHS and Alcohol Research UK.

A diverse group of nearly sixty academics, graduate students and third-sector delegates arrived from the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Denmark, Ireland and around the UK to share research and experiences, discover connections, and explore the history and legacy of the temperance movement. The conference bags included refillable eco-friendly water bottles and snap-open fans, necessary during the hottest weather Preston had experienced for many years. The latter prompted our favourite joke of the conference from drink-studies regular, Phil Mellows who began his talk on the Newcastle project by declaring: “Nice to see so many fans in the audience.”   Continue reading →