Thursday, July 1, 2010

Floatopia and the Local Nanny State

Look, I don't like public drunkenness any more than the next person, but the booze ban at the beach isn't just stupid, it is a violation of my rights. There, I've said it. So when the Floatopia protest/booze fests started I was of two minds. First, I was encouraged that students and other protesters were making a mockery of the stupid law. However, I didn't like the fact that many of them would inevitably get drunk and reinforce the negative stereotype that led to the ban. (Full disclosure, Waynok participated in a floatopia, with my blessing, though he did not necessarily drink.)

Now the San Diego City Council is considering banning future such events as follows:

The report proposes to extend the language in the original ban to define “bathers” as “a person floating, swimming, wading, or bodysurfing, with or without the use of a floatation device, including, but not limited to,… a surfboard, …innertube, life preserver…” Lastly, the amendment proposed to extend the ban of alcohol consumption of bathers to the city’s legal limits- three nautical miles from the coast (3.45 miles).
Well, this is certainly a crisis that needs to be addressed by our city fathers.

Thinking about the root cause of how we came to be in this situation, I think it is alack of shame. There was a time when a young man or woman would have been ashamed to be drunk in public, at least after the fact. There was a stronger sense of propriety among the public that didn't require the police to arrest that many people for such a crime to make enforcement and effective deterrent. What has been lost is a shared sense of public propriety. I don't think we drink any more today, see Wes Clark's Avocado Memories discussion of patio culture in the 60s. (One of the best blog posts of all time.)

Today we are less mindful of our behavior overall and are filled with resentment at all manner of constraint. The result is that each new constraint is met with more resentment and attempts to break out of stultifying straitjackets on behavior. It is as if most adults have entered a never-ending adolescence and the only authority remaining is the policing power of government. It is a recipe for disaster. It makes me a criminal when I drink my one or two beers at the beach. It displaces the responsibility for maintaining societal norms from individuals to the government and that is untenable. Contrary to popular belief, a strong sense of shared morality does not subvert freedom, but makes freedom more possible, because we need fewer laws to maintain order in society. (And don't get me started on what those shared values are; Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists agree on all manner of morality, including the impropriety of indecent exposure and public drunkenness.)

What is to be done? We should recognize that more and more laws to regulate behavior are actually counter-productive. Too many laws, and ridiculous ones at that, and people lose respect for the law. Look at how often the speed limit is violated. But fewer laws are insufficient of themselves. People who do stupid things need to rap the consequences of their actions. So, if someone is drowning due to excess alcohol consumption, they should pay for their rescue, as a modest example. Finally, we all need to just pitch in and let those who behave badly know, that their behavior is not welcome, nor will it be tolerated. A little shame isn't such a bad thing.

Now I think I'll have a martini.


  1. Dude, drinking while floating around on a little raft is just begging to win a Darwin award. Personally, I don't mind the booze ban.

  2. KT,
    I don't own a gun, but I mind gun bans. I seldom drink more than one beer, but I mind the booze ban. I didn't publish a Mohammed cartoon, but I resent intimidation that would prevent me from so doing. It's about the freedom to live my life and exercise my rights. I do not acquiesce because the forces of totalitarianism are ever on the move, and they are insidious.

  3. You've made the WSJ now.. lead story today.