Since recording a talk and panel discussion for The Festival of Free Thinking, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking myself. The theme of this year’s festival was Tearing up the rule book. To me, that’s not quite as subversive as it sounds. Breaking rules is not just about disobedience, it’s also about stepping out of existing paradigms and starting from scratch. Sometimes you end up in the same place, sometimes you don’t.
The talk was about alcohol and hypocrisy, and you can find it here http://bbc.in/1M49yQ4
So what would happen if we did tear up the rule book when it comes to alcohol? We might take the debate to the brain, or to the soul, rather than talk about livers and heart disease. We might consider the paradoxes of alcohol – its fabulous power to make people feel better, alongside its presence in more than a third of suicides. We might look anew at the debate about relative damage when compared to other drugs – bravely and objectively this time. We might question why people drink, and try to get at that, alongside trying to patch things up for people where it goes wrong. We might get scientists to look at what artists can tell us about addiction, and vice versa.
Something has to shift in the debate. I’m not sure what that something is, but if it doesn’t shift we’ll just have more of the same. During the recording for Radio 3, fellow panellist David Yelland asked the audience how many of them had someone close to them who had a problem with alcohol. More than 50% of people put up their hands. More of the same just won’t do any longer.