Columns 2006

The booze made me do it

Ah yes. It’s my favorite excuse in the whole world, right up there with “the dog ate my homework”.  It is, of course, “Alcohol made me do it.” Isn’t there any personal responsibility left in this world? If we do something wrong, must we always find a scapegoat on which to fix the blame?

And so Mel Gibson comes out with the trite old saw that he isn’t anti-Semitic.  It was the alcohol talking.  Yet the words came out of his mouth.  Do you think there might be a reason alcohol chose Mel’s mouth for those remarks as opposed to someone from, say, the B’nai B’rith?

I’ve lived in Alaska a long time and have heard alcohol blamed for everything from child abuse to cultural degradation to unfortunate marriage proposals. I fully expect that the next thing we will hear is that alcohol was the cause of the pipeline leaks that necessitated a shut down of half of Prudhoe Bay by BP.

Alcohol has often been called a social lubricant. But it can’t lubricate that which isn’t there.  Few of us have not, at one time or another, imbibed a tad too much and said or did things we later regretted. But if we were being brutally honest with ourselves, something most of us are loathe to be, we would see that our words or actions represented something deep within us that needed only the lifting of a few inhibitions to come to the surface.

All of us have these little dark spots that we long ago learned to keep secret.  In our sober, sane and rational moments, we know they are inappropriate. Society has taught us that they do not belong in what my mother referred to as “polite society”. And so we hide them until that one drink too many causes our guard to slip.

For those of you who question this truth, let me put you to a test I learned many years ago.  Everyone reading this column who has ever gotten drunk, or even just a little tipsy, raise your hand.  OK, I see lots of hands up out there. But now comes the real test. All of you who, while drunk, raped someone, molested a child or committed any other felony, keep your hand up. Hmmm…seems like just about all hands went down.

And that is the best indication of just how much credibility we should give to the excuse that alcohol made me do it. The alcohol may have lowered your inhibitions enough to act on an impulse or make a statement about your boss’s intellectual capacity that you would otherwise have kept secret, but it didn’t cause you to do or say anything that wasn’t somewhere inside you to begin with. 

Our laws and courts recognized this years ago when they stopped allowing it to excuse the murder and mayhem on our roads caused by drunk drivers.  That attitude soon spread to other criminal matters and it is now commonly accepted that being drunk does not excuse any crime you may have committed while in that state or relieve you of your responsibility for your actions. 

Mel Gibson would have been better off admitting that what he said was wrong and that without alcohol he would never have actually expressed those thoughts even though they were obviously somewhere inside him. He would then have committed to not only sobriety, but to working out the hate that seems to lurk somewhere in his darkest recesses.  After all, there were not words that automatically come to most people’s minds when drunk.  They are, in fact, very specific, ugly and scary. 

Let’s repeat that test.  All those who had their hands up before admitting to having perhaps been intoxicated at some point in their misspent past, put your hands back up.  Now all those who spewed forth hate filled statements against a specific group of people based on their religion, color or national origin, keep your hands up.  Hmmm…a few more hands stayed up this time.  Maybe that’s telling us all something we’d rather not know about the dark places in our souls.

The sober Mel knew those statements were not acceptable to society. The drunk Mel used them as his first line of defense against whatever imagined enemy his inebriation caused him to see. Maybe we all should examine our dark places.  Exposed to the light of day, we can at least hope they will wither up and die away.