Now you see the violence inherent in the system!


Upon starting my workday, I really shouldn’t be scanning beer blogs. Unfortunately, the disturbingly nocturnal Phil Cook seems to always post an excellent read just as I am about to begin something productive. Worse, this time it’s motivated me to bloggery with its libertarian-enraging opening paragraph talking about regulation and taxation. After the red mist cleared, and my higher brain functions returned to full (ahem) potency, one thought stuck in my head. The concept of alcohol causing violence, around which much of the latest round of moral finger-wagging and fun-policing seems to be based.

Now, while Phil doesn’t really mention the causes of all that regulation and taxation (and why should he? He’s talking about the context around a certain beer and its associated brandwank), it does seem to be taken as read that alcohol causes violent behavior. I mean, we’ve all heard reports of drunken idiots commiting various unsavoury acts, right? Most of us have probably witnessed this for ourselves. Naturally alcohol must be the cause. Best we tax the living bejeezus out of it to “fix” the problem! I mean, that’s always the right answer, isn’t it? Please Mr. Government, I am but a weak mortal. Please regulate others in order to save me from myself. After all, it’s their fault really…

Well, what if that’s backwards? Myself, my friends, and a ton of people I am acquainted with drink a fair amount on a regular basis. In the pursuit of flavour and social enjoyment, we often suffer the usual side effects. I’ve never seen any of these people become violent or act like idiots other than in harmless and usually lovable ways. Certainly nothing more than slightly irritating at worst. Where is the evidence that alcohol causes violent behaviour? Is it not far more likely that violent people use alcohol as an enabler or an excuse? If so, why do we punish the producers and sellers by taxing and regulating the crap out of the substance when the vast majority of those who consume it cause no trouble at all? Why should the violent intent of a few idiots impose regulations on the majority of us? More importantly, why do we all just seem to blindly accept this?

I think it’s about time we started telling the government and the useless brigade of fun police to just get their goddamn noses out of our business, our pockets, and our drinking habits. There are laws against violent and destructive behaviour already. Use them. Leave us alone.


6 thoughts on “Now you see the violence inherent in the system!

  • Ben Lewis Evans

    After a very quick look on google scholar here is a decent looking meta-analysis of some experimental (i.e. causal not correlational) studies that looked for causal relationships between alcohol and aggression – http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bbushman/bc90.pdf

    The meta-analysis concludes that “… the results of the review indicate that alcohol does indeed facilitate aggressive behavior. The effects of alcohol on aggression were similar to the effects of other independent variables on aggression. In addition, alcohol appears to influence aggressive behavior as much or more than it influences
    other social and nonsocial behaviors”

    As mentioned above this was found by going to Google Scholar and typing in “alcohol and aggression” and this meta-analysis was on the third page. Quickly looking at the other links there also seems enough evidence to indicate that there is a linkage between the impact of alcohol on serotonin metabolism and aggressive behaviour that appears to be supported by (again experimental, not correlational) studies in both humans and lab rats.

    So, there does seem to be a significant body of evidence supporting the claim that alcohol as a chemical can cause increases in aggression (190,000 results for “alcohol and aggression there on Google scholar, a good proportion of which will be correlational work but it does appear there is enough experimental stuff in there too). Certainly, in my field (Traffic Psychology) there have also been plenty of controlled experiments done on drinking and driving (some in the lab I work in, although not by me – they have also done Ecstasy studies here too, again not me… some people get all the fun ;) ) that also show increases in aggressive driving behaviour (as well as other impacts on performance) associated with alcohol consumption.

    However, to address your point about it being backwards, it is indeed also likely (looking at the evidence) that individual dispositional factors or situational factors also mediate or moderate the biological/chemical reaction caused by alcohol (the meta-analysis also finds this). So, as it often is with this stuff it is not a simple issue of “alcohol causes everyone to be aggressive” or “violent people are enabled to be violent when drinking or use it as an excuse”. Rather it is a more complex interaction of factors that produces the end result. However, it does appear that one of those factors is a causal influence of the chemicals in alcohol on the human body that “facilitates” aggression.

  • greig Post author

    I saw that one Ben. The authors themselves spent quite a while discussing the issues with the methodology. Even if they’re right, it doesn’t change the point. Don’t regulate the thing, regulate the behaviour. It’s already illegal to beat people up. We have more than enough government do-gooders. We really don’t need any more.

  • Ben Lewis Evans

    Meta-analysis people always bitch about methodology, that is their job. That and complaining about the incomplete reporting of statistics in papers :)

    Usually I wouldn’t have commented, however, a seeing anecdotal statement followed by “where is the evidence?” is like a red flag to me – I saw it and heard it in meetings far too often when I was a government do-gooder.

  • Eric Crampton

    The most convincing bit of causal analysis I’d seen was a piece by Carpenter, I think from 2008, that showed zero-tolerance policies on youth drinking (US) reduced youth drinking by 13%, reduced nuisance and property crime arrests among youths by 5%, and had no effect on violent crime. State by state variation in enforcement of zero tolerance laws lets you try for a causal estimate, though we need to be careful that if states implement zero tolerance because of a perceived peak in youth crime, then simple mean reversion could drive some of the result.

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