Friday, October 31, 2008

Jack London: Socialist and Friend of Prohibition

"John Barleycorn" is a character from an English folk song. In essence, it is alcohol personified. When Jack London wrote a memoir about his struggles with alcohol, he picked that as its name. It is a vivid portrayal of the struggle and denial associated with alcoholism, although Jack firmly denies that he had any inherent inclination to abuse alcohol, whether through the biology of addiction or genetic disposition. He saw addiction more as a function of social pressure.
In his memoir, Jack shows himself to be a strong supporter of prohibition. He even goes so far to reveal that he supported suffrage (the women's right to vote), because he believed that women voters would be the key to enacting prohibition.

Jack showed a degree of naivety in assuming that it would be easy to stop abusing alcohol once prohibition was enacted, since he assumed the period of prohibition would be an era when no one else drinks and no drink would be obtainable. Of course, we have the advantage of hindsight and we can reject that notion as foolish. After seeing years of prohibition (both of alcohol and other substances), we now know that prohibition removes neither supply nor demand.

Jack London envisioned a time when the use of alcohol would be relegated to the status of other defunct activities such as witch burning. Thankfully he was wrong.

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