Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Violence and alcohol: Who would have thought?
As much as we might like to pretend that it is not the case, men are violent. It’s in our nature. Fortunately, nature does not always have the final word on the matter. For the most part, at least in our personal interactions, we manage to keep our violent tendencies on a leash. We are able to restrict ourselves to verbal warfare and other kinds of one-up-man-ship. We provide ourselves with various sporting and competitive outlets. Or the occasional war. All socially acceptable ways of channelling our violence, it seems.
Unfortunately, there are at least two things that undermine our capacity to control our violence; and these usually go together. They are: alcohol and the tribe. Alcohol removes our inhibitions (there’s a startling revelation for you). Not surprisingly, then, when you grease a verbal confrontation between two men with a little alcohol, physical violence will almost always follow.
Although some violence is private, much of it is public and serves a social role. Men, like most animals, seek to establish a strong position within the tribe and to gain the fear and respect of other members of the tribe. Violence within the tribe serves to establish the hierarchy. Violence between two men from different tribes not only serves to establish a hierarchy of tribes, but also to build up a man’s prestige and status within his own tribe. It is not surprising, then, that when groups of people (tribes) are out drinking on a Friday or Saturday night violence frequently erupts between the men. Can any of us actually, genuinely, be surprised by this? Disapproving, yes. But surprised? Caught unawares? Surely not. Given the mixture of men, alcohol and tribalism it would be astonishing if violence were not to erupt.
There appears to be an increase in this kind of violence across Australia at the moment. Whether this is actually the case, or whether the apparent increase reflects a change in the policing and reporting of such events, is difficult to say. Either way, there is clearly a problem here. The social restraints which are normally operative break down in such situations. Alcohol is clearly an issue. Perhaps we will never change this, though, until the same television program that, before the commercial break is expressing its ‘sincere’ concern about such events, following the commercial break is showing images of people ‘having fun’ at New Years events, and of sporting teams ‘having fun’ while celebrating a victory. It’s not much use bemoaning such violence if, in the next breath, we are bragging about how pissed we were the other night. Because, despite all our protestations, getting pissed still seems to be a cool, ‘fun’ thing to do.
Australian society is experiencing something of a dissociative episode at the moment concerning this issue. On the one hand, we are rightly appalled by the violence that is occurring; on the other hand, we cannot yet shake the idea that to have fun means to get pissed. We continue to extol the virtues of drunkenness and show not only tolerance, but even fondness, for the drunken larrikin. Yet that same larrikin will be punching someone in a moment, and we will all be ‘surprised’ and appalled. In the next breath, though, I will be called a wowser for pointing out the problem. ‘They’re only having fun,’ I will be told.
In the end, I am quite happy to have finally found my role in life, that of an old, grumpy, antisocial killjoy.