The Common Good

Whilst discussing the merits of alcohol in society over at Blogging Theology, it struck me that this is an interesting question to look at, and in more than one way.

Does alcohol cause problems? Obviously it does. Were alcohol to be discovered tomorrow, it would probably be banned. However, it wasn’t and isn’t, and since it forms a big part of social events and gatherings, of all shapes and sizes, we should accept that it is here to stay. Some cultures and religions forbid consuming alcohol, and some people choose not to drink. If that is what you believe/choose, then fair play to you.

However, the question raised on Blogging Theology can be summed up as ‘why should those who lack self-control have to suffer so those with self-control can enjoy a drink?’ I would much rather turn this question on its head.

Plenty of people can and do drink in moderation, each and every day. Most people know what their limits are, and in this day and age, the dangers of over-indulgence in anything are understood better than they’ve ever been. With that in mind, are those who can take responsibility for their actions really responsible for those who don’t?

A better question would be ‘why should those who can enjoy a drink sensibly be denied the right to do so because of those who can’t?’ Am I to assume responsibility for the habits of the person next to be in the bar, who is not willing to take that responsibility for themselves?

I saw this point countered with a slight rephrasing of ‘love thy neighbour’.

I find this idea, whilst in some respects quite noble and good (showing kindness to others, even strangers, is never wrong), to be one often co-opted by those who want to interfere in other people’s lives. ‘The common good’ is a subjective term. Who defines it? By what standard are we to determine the common good? Clearly, this standard cannot be formed from any one culture or religion in a multi-cultural society, for someone inevitably loses. The notion of the common good also reduces individual responsibility for our own actions – it allows the alcoholic to say ‘well, I don’t have to take ownership of my own behaviour, society should do that for me’. Needless to say, I don’t accept this position.


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