Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A New and Dubious Career Opportunity

The other day, while walking in the Barkley Village shopping center in Bellingham, I spotted an a-frame sidewalk sign, advertising a new business. I not only was made aware of a new business, but indeed, of a new business category. Call them "professional enablers for substance abusers".

The name of the business was Sober Rovers, also known as "Designated Drivers for Hire". Their business card (which I saw today for the first time) says, "Too drive to drunk? We'll get you and your car home."

Prior to this occasion, I had known about the designated driver concept, of course. After all, I'd just moved to Bellingham from Chicago, where Halloween and St. Patrick's days seem to exist mostly for the purpose of giving adults an excuse to get drunk (even though there's no historical evidence, as far as I know, to support the idea that St. Patrick was himself a drunk).

I only recently realized that playing nursemaid to drunks (or "inebriates", as one recent news story described them) had actually become big business. I guess it had to happen, sooner or later, especially in this economy. Ya' gotta' love that entrepreneurial spirit!

Back when I was in high school, I remember being asked a question which puzzled me: "Do you party?"

Well, of course I partied. "What a stupid question," I thought. "Doesn't every kid love cake and ice cream?" I partied every year, on my birthday. and on every other kid's birthday to which I got invited. I also partied on various holidays, such as Christmas and Halloween (back when Halloween existed mostly for little kids who wanted to dress up in silly costumes and beg for candy).

It wasn't long, of course, before I figured out that in many teenagers' minds, the seemingly innocuous term "party" was synonymous with other phrases, such as "get inebriated (or high) and make an ass of one's self". Or another phrase which (quite appropriately, in my opinion) ends with the suffix "-faced" and begins with a word which means "fecal matter". (Gosh, doesn't that just sound enormously fun? Maybe to you it does. Personally, I'd rather keep my face feces-free.)

Can't be bothered to exercise a bit of self-control? No problem, dude (or girl friend)! Call Sober Rovers, and they'll act like adults, when you want to pretend that you're half of your actual age, but without the benefit of wisdom or parental guidance or supervision or a social conscience.

Some folks would undoubtedly think that this is a new and socially beneficial business trend. After all, there have always been certain individuals who had difficulty imagining how folks could enjoy themselves without getting plastered. If such folks are going to get drunk, regardless of what anyone says, then I suppose that some might argue that companies like Sober Rovers can minimize the extent to which they jeopardize the lives and health of other people.

Sorry, I'm not buying it, because I don't buy the fatalistic idea that people are going to get drunk regardless of what anyone says. What people say can make a huge difference in what decisions are made by their peers. Some folks will still make bad decisions, of course, but giving in to determinism only serves to make things much worse. People do have free will (until their addictions get so bad that they can barely even think for themselves about the most rudimentarly aspects of living). We do no one any favors by denying that such is the case.

The decision to get drunk is itself a form of socially tolerated (if not approved) acquiescence to the ludicrous idea that drunks can't help getting drunk, and that the best we can therefore do for them (and for those they might harm) is to furnish them with a kind of safety net. Hence, we have those who want to disingenuously describe alcholism as a "disease," as if one catches drunkenness the way another person might catch a cold, from viruses floating through the air, or the way a camper catches poison oak. (In a similarly fatalistic way, there are those who talk about a host of other problems, including homosexuality, adultery, urban crime, abortion and more).

If that were really true, then folks would be incapable of planning ahead by making arrangements to hire the folks from Sober Rovers for the evening. By definition, for anyone to hire anyone from that business or any comparable business is to plan ahead to get drunk, or to stand by and watch as someone gets drunk, without doing anything to stop it.

Was public drunkenness a problem only when folks started driving automobiles? No. Drunkenness has been dangerous as long as people have been getting drunk. If you have read the Bible, for instance, you know that Lot had incest with his daughters, after they got him drunk. For similar reasons, women have been raped, and men have been murdered, and little children have been mercilessly beat by the parents entrusted with their protection and care. One doesn't need a car to do any of those things. Therefore, hiring a designated driver will not prevent any of those non-automotive things from happening. So how exactly such a service makes it "safe" to get drunk is anyone's guess. Certainly not safe for the guy's kids, after he arrives home from his night of self-centered "fun".

The weird thing is that even though folks who set out to get drunk can actually plan consciously to do so, and can tell you while getting drunk that they are aware that they are getting drunk, it's also true that sober folks tend to be better at exercising impulse control, compared with drunks. That helps to explain why people under the influence have done appalling things they probably wouldn't have done if they'd stayed sober. We're told that boozes reduce people's inhibitions. To my way of thinking, that is not a good thing. Inhibitions are vastly underrated.

Of course, if one doesn't think that any of those things are undesirable, then one is unlikely to see drunkenness as a problem. But I beg to differ.The men who have been attacked and the women who have been raped and the children who have been abused all have good and logical reasons to beg to differ.

It would appear that God and I see eye to eye on that issue. Perhaps that's why the Bible tells us "Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.".... Ephesians 5:18. I also find it interesting that the author of that scripture saw being filled with the Holy Spirit as a superior substitute for intoxication. Or more to the point, perhaps he saw intoxication as a cheap substitute for what God wanted to do for all people who would ask for his blessings and seek to obey him.

Based on the aforementioned scripture, I can easily imagine God saying, "You can be filled with the Holy Spirit; or you can get high or drunk What you cannot do is to have the real Holy Spirit, and have your fake chemical "(un)holy spirit(s)" at the same time. Make your choice."

It is sad, but true, that some people of faith also manage, nevertheless, to get around Ephesians 5:18. It kind of makes me want to ask them: "What part of Be NOT drunk with wine do you not understand?" One doesn't have to be a teetotaler to understand that principle, it seems to me.

Nevertheless, this trend towards professional enablers probably isn't going away anytime soon, for the simple reason that there are plenty of stupid people in the world (and the equally simple reason that there are folks who care more about exploiting people's weaknesses in order to make money off them than in actually helping those people). Just doing a Google search on the phrase "professional designated driver" just now yielded 2,450,00 results for me, including:
I have a final question: Why would anyone expect or trust someone whose judgment has already been impaired to make the right decision about whether or not he or she needed to call a professional enablement service, as I like to call them?

About the only justification I could ever think of for such a service, would be if it was paid for by a restaurant or private host which chose to serve alcohol in moderation, and which knew that certain customers would nevertheless overindulge in spite of their best efforts to discourage people from doing so. Since a sober person's life can be endangered by a drunk driver just as easily as a drunk's life can be endangered by a drunk driver, I suppose that I have to grudgingly admit that in limited circumstances, such businesses may have an important role to play.

Still, I'd much prefer that we as a society would grow up, and stop accepting the idea that that's the best we can do. If we can put the right kind of social pressure on smokers to stop smoking, and if we could thereby make a serious dent in the smoking problem, why wouldn't the same thing work when it comes to inebriation? You say that it wouldn't work. How do you know? Has it ever really been tried? More to the point, have you ever tried it?

I'm not talking about  using the blunt weapon of legal prohibition. I'm talking about restoring America (by virtue of our own good examples) to a renewed sense of personal responsibility for our communities, and to the well-being of the members of those communities.

In other words, let's start promoting the idea that sobriety is cool! Let's start doing the Christ-like thing by seeking to become true friends to people with substance abuse problems, thereby refuting (with our lives and examples) the false idea that a booze-free life is a fun-free life. Self-righteousness never liberated anyone from an addiction, but the love of God has often done so, and it can do it again. So let us become conduits of that love. Not a romanticized and unrealistic type of love, but a love based on speaking the truth.

As tennis player Andre Agassis said to "Inside Tennis" magazine not long ago, "God wants us to grow up, and love is how we do it."

If we want other people to start living their lives in a responsible manner, we must begin to do so ourselves.

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