Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Tuesday Thought Experiment: Consumption Of Alcohol

Tuesday Thought Experiment: Consumption Of Alcohol

I remember back in university when in ethics class a few basic rules to go by when considering an action. Rules such as "would you tell your mother?" or the one which I'd like to discuss here: "what if everybody behaved in that manner?" And it sounds entirely reasonable to suggest that, and indeed the rules of the land are crafted that way. Drink driving would make the roads a much more dangerous place, yet there's a blanket rule about the limit one can drive at.

Consider the following situation: Two men go to a bar and each consume several pints of beer. Now one of these men when drunk becomes aggressive and violent, while the other becomes placid. Each of them has engaged in the same behaviour, and the outcome from engaging in that behaviour is completely different. While one man goes home and beats his wife (something he only does when drunk) while the other goes home without incident.

So in this situation, if either individual were to be the example of the validity of such behaviour, then there would be opposite outcomes. If the man who gets violent and aggressive when drunk was the case study, then it would seem that binge drinking would be completely unethical. Whereas if the man who becomes placid when drunk, the behaviour would have no ethical consequences.

So if I, as one of those who becomes placid when intoxicated, was to ask myself "what if everybody did this?" I couldn't extend from my behaviour to a wider audience. Could most people drink heavily without incident? Perhaps, there's a lot more drunks than there are crimes committed. But at the same time, if everybody drank it evidentially seems that there would be a higher rate of crime.

This is why I find stories of alcohol / drug use particularly annoying. The cautionary tales that may or may not be a typical experience. Yes, these extremes exist, but can we infer from individual tales that nobody should engage in the same behaviour they did?

Now an objection to this is that it's not the consumption of alcohol that's the problem, but the stealing / violence / destruction of property / etc. that's the problem, and the ethical principle still stands. Yet it seems to follow on that A can lead to B, that it's more than just correlation. That for some, it's the consumption of alcohol that stems to negative behaviour.

But maybe I'm being too specific in what to apply this to. If I knew that I had a higher susceptibility to getting into fights when I drank, then it's the package of drinking and its consequences as opposed to just the action of drinking. So that for someone who isn't abusive when drunk, they have a different ethical consideration to one who is more likely to.

And here the law gets in the way, bars in Australia are not legally allowed to serve toxicated patrons. But is there a problem with serving someone who is drunk but not interfering with others? I can't honestly say there is. Yet serving an abusive violent alcoholic in my opinion would be a problem. And this would infer at least part responsibility on the one serving the alcohol. But that is another matter.

To bring this back to the initial point. When it comes to such matters where there is variation among effects, then it can't be assumed to use a blanket rule in regard to its behaviour. In the case of drinking, I need to ask myself what if everybody behaved the way I do when having drinks on a Friday night? Not whether that action of drinking itself is wrong, but what behaviour I do over the course of the night.

If I couldn't handle the alcohol and it might lead to destructive behaviour towards others, I'd see it as an ethical problem. I'm putting others at risk by my decisions. But if it doesn't affect me in that way, then there's no ethical problem in getting drunk. That it's not the action itself, but the consequences thereof. Swinging a knife in a stabbing motion is harmless when doing it alone, but if someone is in front of you the action could be deadly.

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