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GTBT: Prohibition

Note: I know full well this internet publication has been actively encouraging my grandson's recent shenanigans. I suppose you find all this most amusing. Well, if you think I’m just going to sit here and take it, if you think I’ll keep churning out Good Thing, Bad Thing lectures while you laugh like a pack of fellatiated hyenas… Well… You’re right, I guess…

Once there was a wonderful period in American history; a period in which women weren’t allowed into politics. Do you know what happened during that time? The nation was built. Do you know what happened right after? Prohibition.

How predictable.

It’s just like Gladys putting the toilet lid all the way down. What on earth for? I understand the toilet seat part – much as I don’t like it, I understand it – but the lid? You have to lift that part up too, you know. Sheesh. Sometimes I swear they really are a separate species.

But seriously, ladies. How badly could you fuck things up right of the gate? No booze? Not a drop? This was the touchstone of your great political awakening? What in the name of sweet Georgia Brown were you thinking!

Oh, but you just had to get into politics, didn't you? You weren't happy being regarded with a special dignity and respect that hardly anybody remembers anymore. All that went out the window ages ago. I swear you gals have no idea what you lost.

Well, here’s the part where I hold you responsible for the goddamn mess you caused. You and your henpecked, browbeaten, pussy-whipped congressmen. Let me tell you how the country went dry and consequently lost its mind.

Let me tell you what a lack of alcohol can do.

Now, I admit I may be biased. The O’Flannery clan didn’t flee County Cork in the old country just so we could sip sodas at the church picnic, thank you. We like our liquor brown and neat and continual. To be honest, I’m pretty goddamn hammered right now.

But it turns out drunkenness isn’t for everybody. When I’m three sheets to the wind, the worst Gladys can expect from me is a besotted dissertation on the War of 1812. But then, not every man possesses my gentle spirit or manful self-control. Some men, bitterly unhappy with their condition, rough and prone to violence on a good day, will stagger home in ill-humor. And if they hear a single unkind word – from the wife, from the children – they may very well raise their hand to strike.

One can hardly blame the good wife for supposing drink lay at the root of this evil. Even if the husband was peaceable in his drunkenness, a woman might find he’d spent nearly all his weekly pay at the saloon. What to do when your man foolishly squanders away his wages amid dubious company? Not only did she likely depend upon her husband for subsistence, in many (if not most) cases, she also loved him. This is something, I think, many scholars miss. It isn’t easy to confront the fact your man may be a stupid, cruel, probably violent jackass.

What if there was a certain substance you could blame for all this? What if instead of merely bringing his faults to the surface, this substance put the faults there in the first place? You see how scapegoating works? Never underestimate, dear readers, the human capacity for self-deception.

This may help explain the outright hysterical demonization of beer, wine, and “ardent spirits” by the various temperance movements of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. In hindsight, their claims seem utterly insane. Among other things, liquor induced blindness, created “fat organs”, caused dropsy, cholera, blood poisoning, paralysis, impotence, barrenness, and spontaneous combustion. Yes, spontaneous combustion. These our historical facts.

Fuck you and fuck your kids.

They actually taught this abysmal balderdash in schools. They told boys they’d go insane if they touched a mug of beer. They told girls they’d be unable to have children if they sipped a glass of wine. Thus beginning the time-honored progressive tradition of lying to children.

It didn’t have to be this way. There was no earthly reason temperance had to go into the "progressive" basket of causes. As a movement, it had been around since the dawn of the country. Early temperance organizations avoided any nincompoopery. They advocated for private moderation and restraint. They sought to convince and persuade, rather than enforce. To combat the lack of clean water, they built drinking fountains around the country. They founded charities for women widowed from drunkard husbands. All that I could get behind.

But once the progressives got their dirty claws into temperance, the movement went balls-to-the-wall political. It wasn’t enough to advocate and debate – you know, like the free people we’re supposed to be. No, no! The new progressive way to get things done was to print egregious fabrications, frighten young children, and deploy what they themselves described as “pressure politics”.

Any of this sound familiar to you? Could you draw a line from the mobs of (mostly female) zealots descending on state capitols to the mobs of (mostly female) woke-scolds inhabiting the TWIT-ter today? The answer is yes. Yes, you can.

Let’s name some of them: There was the Good Templars (1851), a group of ladies (and hairbrained men) who met at “lodges” and conducted “secret rituals” as decreed by some sort of “high templar”. Sounds completely normal to me. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (1874) was even wackier. These psychos would baptize their children into the movement with bizarre ceremonies that involved tying white ribbons to their wrists. Jesus... And finally there was the Anti-Saloon League (1855), who were perhaps the most fanatic and unscrupulous of the gang.

Here's a story: In 1909, the Phoenix chapter of the Anti-Saloon League compelled a teenager named Frank Shindelbower to testify that various saloons had sold him liquor. The saloons subsequently were stripped of their licenses – until, that is, the Arizona Gazette reported that young Frank had perjured himself at the behest of the league. Staging false crimes, are we? Hmmmm……

Oh! And do you know who else was down for the struggle? Gee, let me see here… Who could it have been…? What other group always seems (so inconveniently) to have been attached to progressive causes throughout the years…? Golly, let me take a guess. The KKK?

You got it, kid. The Klansmen eagerly hopped aboard the temperance train at some point. Across the southern states, the Klan and the Anti-Saloon League were joined at the hip, going so far as to oppose “unmasking” legislation intended to prevent Klan terror. Well done, all around.

But Professor, you may ask, aren’t you coming down a little hard on these ladies? Didn’t you say earlier we should take pity on women of that time? Well, yes, one should have pity, but only to a point, you see. Let’s take a look at one of these marvelous, perfectly lovely, not-at-all-crazy gals to see what I mean.

Let me tell you about Carrie Nation.

Carrie was born in Kentucky in 1854, and at some point fell deeply in love with a young and promising physician fresh out of service with the Union. Alas, the man was an alcoholic and did not live much past the birth of their first child. Grief stricken, Carrie committed the rest of her life to combating the evils of alcoholism, and here’s where my sympathy starts to run a little “dry” if you will.

Carrie turned into one of those “I don’t need a man, I’m married to Jesus” kind of chicks. Even though she did remarry – to a much older man – it was solely financial. I highly doubt he got so much as an old-fashioned on his wedding night, but anyway.

Carrie was a real piece-of-work. Every night, she’d get on her walkie-talkie to God, who transmitted the next day’s marching orders, which were basically all the same. Show up to some humble dram-shop, pick up rocks lying on the ground – “smashers” Carrie called them – and hurl them at the windows. Once, her second husband joked that a hatchet might do more damage. Carrie replied, “That’s the most sensible thing you’ve said since I married you.” They got divorced soon after.

Carrie embarked on her career of hatchetations without him. She got real good at it too. She’d gather a crowd of hymn-singing “churchfolk” to her side and proceed to wreck the only amusements a poor working man could afford at the time.

The madness of it all was that she thought she was carrying out the Lord’s work. She’d tell proprietors straight to their face, “Hello, you godless destroyer of men’s souls.” And she’d appeal to the patrons, “Men! I’ve come to save you from a drunkard’s fate!” before hacking the place to pieces.

There was nothing anyone could do about it at the time because – and if there are any lady readers here, please take note – most men are decent, and decent men have a rule about laying hands on a woman. You could take a baseball bat to our 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and we’d have to stand by and watch like witless apes. You could take our beloved VHS collection and hurl it from the roof – not a thing we could do!

Mind you, I’m not complaining. It is a very old and a very sacred rule, and I wouldn’t wish it to ever be forgotten. But let’s please not pretend it doesn’t exist. Allow us that much.

Oh, you're the bees knees, baby. I'll never let her hurt you again.

So, now we come down to it. Prohibition itself. How did that happen? The year is 1918. The temperance movement had just reached peak insanity. The nation’s young men were all off in foreign countries – fighting and dying, as young men are expected to do – and whose views on matters of national importance could be effectively ignored.

Wayne Wheeler, the slimy busybody behind the Anti-Saloon League, measured that the time was ripe to pressure the Congress into prohibition. Wayne was something of a slick customer. He adroitly maneuvered the Anti-Saloon League into lockstep with the Women’s Suffrage movement – which was also peaking at this time – ensuring him a nearly endless supply of women marchers to back up his lobbying campaign.

Indeed, to the minds of many Americans, suffrage and prohibition were practically the same issue. Many congressmen supposed (wrongly) that if they yielded to the ladies on prohibition, they’d give up their demands for the vote. Obviously, they had no idea how mob politics works.

The progressive movement was in ascendance. Ten years earlier, the 16th Amendment had been passed, authorizing a national income tax – BURN IN HELL, YOU TRAITORS!!! – and this proved important. The liquor tax, upon which federal revenue had long depended, was no longer seen as crucial. This removed one of the crutches wavering politicians had at their disposal.

With pressure mounting and resistance crumbling, Congress finally passed the 18th Amendment prohibiting the manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors. It was ratified by the states a year later. The 19th Amendment, granting women's suffrage, was enacted the following year. Both received bipartisan support.

So, there you go. Prohibition. Men who could control their drinking were unfairly punished for the misbehavior of men who couldn't control their drinking and who - I hasten to add - continued to drink. Within less than ten years of prohibition going into effect, economists estimate that Americans were drinking just as much as they were before prohibition.

Now, I know I haven’t covered any of the bootlegging or the speakeasies or the rumrunning – you know, what people usually think of when they hear the word “prohibition” - but it occurred to me that the origins of prohibition were less well known and just as interesting. Maybe I’ll address that other stuff in a second lecture. Still, one question remains.

Prohibition. Good thing, bad thing?

At the risk of shocking and appalling many of you, I’m going to roll with good thing on this one. Inconceivable, you say? Well, look…

What man, woman, or child among us doesn’t like to wet their whistles once in a while? It brings friends and family together. It can take the bite out of a hard day, or get a boy his first smooch, or lead a man to lifelong love.

But there do come times – and I think we’ve all been there – when it becomes too much of a good thing. When we have, shall we say, regrettable moments, perhaps even painful or hurtful moments. And then for our own good, for the good of those around us, I think we need to put the bottle down for a while.

We must remember the Almighty never meant for hooch to be a cure-all, much less a permanent escape from our duties as men and citizens. And by 1919, I think the nation was ready for just that kind of breather.

What did I ever do to deserve you?

We just had to get away. It was sapping at all that was good in us. Sure, our wives were wrong to regard the sauce as the devil incarnate, but if we had all just cut back a bit, maybe it never would’ve come to that in the first place. If we had all just… I dunno, gotten our acts together sooner, we wouldn’t have broken their dear hearts so.

But no, we just had to push our luck. We just had to let it destroy us. We had to turn into crusty cantankerous old men who scream at the television all day long and lose any interest in romance. And then one day, you find that Gladys doesn’t speak to you anymore. You slip into bed and she rolls away. You can’t remember the last time you went out to eat, or saw a movie, or just went for a walk together.

And your children won’t talk to you and your grandchildren never visit. Sometimes, you feel as though you’ve almost forgotten their names. And you may find yourself wondering, “Is this it? Is this how my story ends? Will anyone remember me when I’m gone? Will they even notice at all?”

I’m sorry… I…. I have to go…

Do your reading,

James O’Flannery


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