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Bullies 2, Beer 0

It’s very sad to me, but the truth is despite all the rhetoric we heap on our kids about bullying never working, it really is an accepted practice in adult society. It’s no wonder kids turn to bullying when they see it modeled for them in countless ways throughout society. To look at me today, you’d never know I was a skinny runt of a kid until I bulked up in junior high school, first growing what was then called “husky” and then stretching taller to lose some of the — ahem — husk. And that meant that I did have several early encounters with bullies to the point where I have essentially a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Few things work me into a lather quite like a bully. And while it would be nice to believe that those same schoolyard thugs grow to realize the error of their ways, the sad fact is that many incorporate such philosophies into their adult life. Violence, fear and threats are all around us from the macro view of governments flexing their collective muscles and going to war down to the microcosm of individuals throwing their weight around in small ways; cutting people off in traffic, ignoring people in retail lines and stepping to the front, and generally throwing their weight around knowing that they can get away with it because most people don’t like confrontation. You also see it publicly in politics, sports, college hazing, the military, the workplace and even online where a lack of face-to-face cues often allows people to write things they would never say to another human being in person.

But where I’m noticing it more and more lately is in the neo-prohibitionist community’s aggressive bullying of society and their targets, the alcohol companies themselves. It sure feels like they look at the rest of us as less than human, to be pushed around, threatened and cajoled, using fear to make us tow their line, as if we were all children who didn’t know any better. Their world seems to allow for only one opinion and woe be to anyone with a contrary one. I personally have been threatened by one of these groups with legal action.

Here’s how Wikipedia defines a bully:

Bullying is the act of intentionally causing harm to others, through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion such as manipulation. … Bullying is usually done to coerce others by fear or threat.

That’s certainly the tactics used recently by several neo-prohibitionist groups to stop people from raising money for pediatric cancer and also to stop MillerCoors from selling their Alcopop Sparks. And unfortunately for decent society, their bullying tactics are working. They claim to want to protect kids, of course, but what kind of message does bullying send to them? “By any means necessary” is obviously their motto but I can’t help but think that has a cost to society that they’re overlooking (or simply don’t care about).

The Marin Institute, the CSPI and Join Together is crowing about MillerCoors’ decision to stop making Sparks. They’ve also settled disputes with thirteen states attorney and the City of San Francisco. Back in September, Sparks came under fire once more when the horribly misnamed CSPI filed suit. (They’re not remotely interested in the public interest, just a narrow sliver of it that agrees with their agenda.) I wrote at the time that it was a slippery slope for the beer industry not to support MillerCoors and I continue to believe that.

Then there was the Running of the Santas, a charity event in 25 cities to raise money for kids with cancer, which both the CSPI and Join Together objected to because people dressed up in Santa Claus suits, ran two blocks and — gasp — drank alcohol. They were very concerned that kids might see Santa drunk, but apparently not concerned that money was being raised to find a cure for pediatric cancer. Priorities, I guess. But what sort of person thinks it’s more important to stop kids from the mere potential of seeing drunken Santas than to find a cure for the cancer these same kids may soon die from? Anheuser-Busch had already bowed to their bullying and withdrew their support. Now MillerCoors has reportedly done likewise, according to Join Together.

I certainly understand these decisions by MillerCoors, at least from a business perspective. They’re in business to make money. Period. They’re not in business to tackle complex social issues of morality or take on the self-righteous factions of our world. I get that.

Still, there’s a part of me that wishes they’d man up and take on the bully, because that’s the only way to stop one. Bullies count on the fear and the threats that are their stock in trade. It’s that very corporate rule that business is all that matters — legally all that really can matter — that these bullies are using as a wedge to further their agenda. They know that the alcohol companies cannot be perceived as being in favor of underage drinking or people overindulging, and so they paint a false portrait of just that, suggesting the very opposite of what is in the company’s best interests to win over public sympathy. It’s the worst kind of propaganda. Bullying is not exclusively a childhood problem, but one that lingers throughout our lives, it’s only how we deal with a bully that defines us. And that’s perhaps what is scariest of all, that bullying continues to work time and time again. And it will keep on working until we stand up to the neo-prohibitionists.

I’ll leave you with a couple of great quotes that neatly express why I feel propaganda is so pernicious and why we must stand up to the bullies who use it.

“Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”
          —Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, 1997


“When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, ‘This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,’ the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything—you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.”
          —Robert A. Heinlein, If This Goes On, 1940

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