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Intemperance

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INTEMPERANCE Let us now turn to the pathological aspects of adult life in the home.

Among the vicious habits which impair or destroy normal family life none other compares in devasta tion with the appetite for strong drink.

Alcoholism is no doubt sometimes an inherited taint, the outcropping of a degenerate germ plasm, certain to take some form of mental or nervous in stability—if not inebriety, then some other less or more harmful. Sometimes it is no doubt a disease, even if not inherited, akin to insanity. Sometimes, no doubt, it is a mere weakness of the will, an in dulgence in pleasure, like overeating, or extrava gance of any other harmful kind.

Primarily, however, when considered in its effect on individual and family welfare, alcoholism is to be looked upon as a habit, easily formed under favoring conditions, easily prevented at the outset under favoring conditions, beginning often, not always, in youth or early manhood, increasing by easy stages, undermining gradually economic efficiency, the sense of family responsibility, per sonal and social standards, creating fleeting de lusions of power and resourcefulness for which there is no substantial basis, and leading on, just as tem perance reformers have always said, straight to destruction, physical, economic, social, and moral.

Bad associations and good advertising lead most often to the drink habit. The light and warmth of the saloon, its convivial sociability, its wide-open hospitality, its omnipresence where it is present at all, its business-like efficiency for its own ends, its brilliant advertising signs, its substantial backing by distilleries and breweries, by journalism and politics, and the feebleness of its competitors in the kind of social service which it renders, are surely enough to account for the steady supply of victims in the early stages of this pernicious habit. The elimination of the saloon does not eliminate the inheritance of degenerate racial stock or strengthen weak wills or insure temperance as a positive virtue. But it does prevent or diminish the temptation to form the alcoholic habit. It does increase the chances of normal development, through adoles cence and early maturity, of those who have begun life fairly and come through childhood safely.

An entirely dry community, i. e. one from which alcoholic beverages strong or mild are deliberately barred, is a new experiment in the world. In mod ern times the experiment is very modern indeed and hardly yet tried on any such scale, or for any such period of time, as gives a sure indication of its suc cess. Thoroughgoing, courageous experiments of this kind, however, of which we are witnessing the most magnificent instances in the Russian Empire and in France at this moment, are congenial to the progressive spirit of the modern world. If the use of intoxicants is ancient, so are the evils inherent in their abuse. If normally strong men have withstood its worst ravages, yet in all ages men of average strength have succumbed to it: their lives cut short f in disease by its complications; their families de I prived of normal guardianship and income; their ) standard of life kept miserably low, and all their crea tive power destroyed. It is not merely degenerate

weaklings who have been victimized by strong drink. The average man has suffered a more tragic, because needless, injury from it. For the great body of the working population the disappearance of this par ticular temptation to wasteful expenditure and harmful indulgence is unqualified gain. For their ' wives and children it is gain immeasurable. For their descendants in the third and fourth generation it will be compounded gain, unqualified and immeasurable.

Whether the elimination of the saloon, and all its illegal substitutes, should be by prohibitory law or by the steady pressure of public opinion and the corresponding increase of restrictions on its manu facture and sale, may be open to question. It would be a victory on a higher plane if strong drink were to be overcome by the voluntary growth of temperance principles. All the reasons for re fraining from indulgence in strong drink are equally strong reasons for not indulging other vicious ap petites and it might seem safer to save the young men altogether from carnal temptations. There are numerous measures short of prohibition which are genuine temperance measures; and on a high plane prohibition itself is not one. It is too primi tive, too naive, too direct, too crude, to be called by so moderate and restrained a term as temper ance. But this crude directness, this writing into the law of a downright conviction, if it is not diplo macy or education, is at least legitimate warfare and religion. It is an impatient short cut with an old and nasty foe. Like the Palmer-Owen bill to prevent child labor,—which just failed of passage in Congress and probably will pass another year,— it does the business. And we can surely sym pathize with the determined reformer who says that he is weary of pleading with boys and men not to fall into the net which plotting villains spread in plain sight before the eyes, when it is practicable to gather in the nets once for all and break them like playthings in the hands of strong men. There is no need to keep temptations needlessly about for the sake of developing character. All that are required to develop strong character will remain after we have done our level best not to lead men into temptation but to deliver them from evil.

Intemperance is but one, though the foremost, of the evil habits which undermine the home. Lazi ness, shiftlessness, improvidence, quarrelsomeness, extravagance, sensuality, greed, jealousy,—every human emotion or instinct may be perverted to an evil habit, breaking down the normal life of the individual at work and in the home.