While digitizing Volume 8 of my 1926 Book of Knowledge Encyclopedias, I came across this very interesting article below titled “Alcohol, the Enemy of Life”.
The article gives us an interesting perspective on how society viewed alcohol during the Prohibition and the Temperance Movement.
If you collect a lot of vintage ephemera as I do, you’ll no doubt see a lot of articles, advertisements and even whole books and pamphlets dedicated to warning people about how dangerous alcohol can be.
The temperance movement fell out of favor eventually, especially when Prohibition ended in 1933, but finding these kinds of works gives us an exceptionally interesting view into American culture and history surrounding alcohol.
Of course, beyond just the historical aspects, ephemera related to the temperance movement has personal significance to me.
I’ll have to do some more digging into the different things mentioned in this article – and of course it’s very likely some of the information here may be outdated, inaccurate, incomplete – but I think they still make a solid case for why sobriety is a good thing.
Alcohol, Enemy Of Life
This article was first published in The 1926 Book of Knowledge Children’s Encyclopedia, Volume 8.
The terrible curse of drink–-Robert Martineau’s picture The Last Days in the Old Home
ALCOHOL, the product of the fermentation of sugar by the yeast plant, forms part of the daily diet of many people and is consumed in enormous quantities.
In various parts of the world, large areas of land are devoted to crops that yield a quantity of sugar, or of starch that can be readily turned into sugar, for the production of alcohol for drinking.
In this country, immense sums of money are still spent every year on alcoholic drinks. And this is not spent in building up the bodies of men and women and growing children. It is worse than lost, for the effect of alcohol upon the nation, and especially upon the youth of the nation, is such that if the money were thrown into the sea every year the country would be a thousand times better off.
As it is, men buy with it poverty, and crime, and cruelty to children, disease, insanity and death, all of them in rich abundance. Wealth is either life, or what serves life; illth is what injures life. And men take our essential elements of wealth – the land, the sunshine, the water, the air, and good useful foodstuffs – and turn them into these dreadful things.
But all this we shall study later. Meanwhile, remember that what is spent on drink would buy many battleships every year to defend our coasts.
It is true of every living creature, without exception, that poisons are more injurious to it when it is young than when it is grown up, because when it is growing it is developing.
There is a great difference between growth and the miracle of development, and development may be stopped while growth goes on. Alcohol will do this, for alcohol is a poison, and there is no form of life that it cannot destroy if it is used in sufficient quantities.
Not even tuberculosis, one of the most deadly of diseases, causes so many deaths as alcohol. Tuberculosis is what is called “catching,” for it is due to microbes which spread from one person to another. It used to be thought that children did not suffer from it, but now we know they do. There is in this country a terrible amount of tuberculosis among little children.
Fortunately, however, we do not always catch diseases, even when their microbes enter our bodies. The microbes are the seed, but our bodies are the soil, and the seed cannot grow if the soil is unsuitable.
Breathing foul air seems to make the soil ready for tuberculosis. That, of course, is why we sleep with our windows open. But there is another thing which makes the soil much more ready for the growth of this deadly seed, and that is alcohol.
Ignorant people believe that alcohol opposes tuberculosis, but this is not true. It has been proved that there is much more tuberculosis where the quantity of alcohol drunk is large than where it is small.
A district which consumes about three times as much alcohol as another district has more than three times the death-rate from tuberculosis. Alcohol breaks down the resistance of the body to the microbes.
THE LARGE NUMBER OF CHILDREN WHO DRINK ALCOHOL
Now it has been generally supposed that children do not get alcohol to drink in this country, but investigations have shown that, in spite of all laws, the state of things is not so different from that in Europe as we had thought.
In some countries, the problem of child drinkers has become serious. In a German town, a government doctor found that seven out of ten children drank wine or beer daily. In London, it was found that four out of every ten children examined in the primary grades of several schools drank alcohol regularly. The proportion in this country is not so great, but it is still too large.
It is perhaps not to be wondered at that some parents are still ignorant of the harm that alcohol may cause. It is not very many years since doctors themselves began to realize it. Not very long ago it was generally believed that alcohol had strengthening powers. Men supposed that beer gave them strength to work. But the great scientists have taught us that this is not the case, and we now know the truth of the matter.
WHAT SCIENTISTS SAY ABOUT BEER AS FOOD
The British Board of Education found that alcohol was interfering so much with the schools that it issued an official pamphlet on the subject, based upon the studies of many scientists.
On the point of the food-value of beer the pamphlet says:
“It is true that it contains a certain amount of nourishment. There is, for example, a little sugar, and there is a small quantity of the food substance found in meat. To obtain enough food from beer for it to be of serious consequence as a source of energy, however, it would be necessary to take an extremely large quantity, and the good that might be done by the nourishing part of the beer would be more than counterbalanced by the harm done by the alcohol contained in so large a quantity.
This is one important reason for not taking beer as a food. Another is the expense, for, even if no harm were done by the amount of beer which it would be necessary to drink, the cost of such a meal would be far greater than the cost of an equal amount of nourishment taken in the form of ordinary food. For these two reasons, therefore, beer cannot be considered to be one of the foods which the body requires.”
THE BRAIN MORE WONDERFUL THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE
But the cost is not the most important thing. There is a very clear rule about alcohol, and other substances like it, in the way they act upon the body. It is, first, that the younger and the further from its grown-up state the creature is, the more it is affected by the poison. That, of course, we can understand. The earlier the period of development, the more serious is a wrong step; the further, so to speak, the creature will go out of its right way.
The second point is that alcohol, and other substances like it, affect the body, whether developing or already grown up, in a certain precise order.
Our bodies are made up of many parts, some of which we may look upon as older than others, and those which are older we must also look upon as lower. The backbone, for instance, is very old, for we know it is as old as the fishes; parts of the brain are very old, but we can trace in the brain, quite clearly, newer parts which are higher in their duties, and more easily upset.
There is, indeed, a part of the brain which is often called the “new brain.” It is by far the most wonderful thing in the whole universe, so far as we know it. Now, the point is that the newest and highest parts of the brain are also the most delicate. They are the most likely to be injured by anything when we are grown up, and if anything interferes with the development of a growing child, these parts are the most certain to suffer. The same is true of injury done by old age or by disease; the last to come is the first to go.
THE GREAT LAW THAT THE LAST TO COME IS THE FIRST TO GO
“Last to come” has a double meaning, because it applies both to the race to which we belong and to ourselves as individuals. The parts and powers of the brain that develop last in ourselves, as we grow up, are those that have developed last in the history of the great line to which we belong.
The rule is that when the individual is disturbed in development, or is poisoned by anything that acts at all upon the brain, or grows old and begins to go downhill, as we say, that which last came iS the first to go. On the other hand, the very oldest part of the brain, such as the part by which we breathe, is the least delicate. It is the first to come and the last to go.
Every other part of a man’s brain may have been practically destroyed, and he may be quite unconscious from a huge dose of alcohol, but the part of his brain which makes him breathe will hold on to the last, until perhaps the alcohol poisons even that, and then he dies.
This law about the different levels of the brain ought to be known by every intelligent person in the world because it is the greatest discovery ever made in this branch of science. It was made by an Englishman, Dr. Hughlings Jackson, who died only a few years ago.
Alcohol perfectly illustrates Jackson’s law in every part of it. When young children are exposed to the effects of alcohol their development is interfered with most in its highest parts.
That is the terrible thing about alcohol, and other substances like it, that they strike at us where we are most human, and interfere less with the least human parts of us. There are some hundreds of thousands of persons in the world to-day, of all ages, whose brains and minds have not properly developed. The most moderate figure goes up into the millions, but we know that that is far under the real facts. The lives of these persons are worth nothing to themselves and much less than nothing to us.
THE CELLS OF OUR BRAINS THAT CAN NEVER BE REPAIRED
We, of course, have to pay for their keep, and for all sorts of terrible evils, like crime, drunkenness and cruelty to children, which flow from the existence of these people. They all illustrate the truth of Jackson’s law.
The highest, the latest, the most delicate, the most human part of their brains has been injured, but they breathe as well as we do. No power on earth can repair this injury. It is one of the most remarkable facts about the brain, or, indeed, about nerve-cells anywhere, that once destroyed they are destroyed forever. No new nerve-cells can be made beyond those with which we are born, and no damaged nerve-cell ever recovers. Now, alcohol is very largely responsible for the making and for the existence of these unfortunate children and grown-up people; and all of them are so many terrible illustrations of Jackson’s law.
Jackson’s law applies in just the same way to cases where people of any age take a large enough dose of alcohol to affect their brains. They may do themselves no permanent harm, but while the brain is under the influence of alcohol we find that the last to come is the first to be affected, and to be the most affected. Now, it is very interesting for us to ask ourselves what it is in our brains and minds that is the very highest and latest thing.
THE POWER OF SELF-CONTROL MAKES MAN HIGHER THAN THE ANIMALS
What is it that a child learns last and finds most difficult to learn? What is it that some grown-up people have never learned? What is it that makes the difference between the highest type of man whom we can trust always, and always be sure of, and other people of whom we cannot be so sure? It is not the power to move one’s body, certainly, nor is it the power to see and hear, nor yet the power to speak. It is not even the power to think, though people are apt to suppose so until they look into the matter. It is self-control.
In creatures other than man there is almost no self-control. We may watch them at a zoölogical garden year in and year out and we shall find few signs of it. If we train one of the most intelligent of all animals, such as the dog, it is only fair to say that we find the beginnings of self-control there; but that, of course, is with man’s help.
The greatest thing in us apart from love, which is greater in one sense, is the power to say “No”: the power not to yield to this or that or the other because of some consideration which we have in our minds, and which we regard as of higher importance.
WHY CHILDREN CRY AND GROWN-UP PEOPLE DO NOT
In children, self-control is not an easy thing.
When a child is hurt, it cries. Older people may be hurt just as much, but usually they do not cry. The brain has learned how to control the tears.
In the same way, children will laugh more readily than grown-up people, and often they find it very difficult to keep from laughing at times when it is not at all polite to other people to do so.
Lack of self-control is the most certain and constant mark of defective-minded people of all kinds; and it is the first and most certain mark of poisoning by alcohol, and other things of that class, that they strike at the most human thing in us, the last to come and the first to go.
People who could keep their temper without alcohol lose their temper under its influence; they start laughing or crying, and cannot stop, at things which would not have made them either laugh or cry when they were all right; they do rash things when anyone puts the idea into their heads; they lose their caution and their judgment; they say things that they would not usually say.
We commonly suppose that the first effects of alcohol are when the muscles of a man’s body are affected. But that is a great mistake. The first effect of poisons of this kind is shown upon the highest parts of the brain, which have nothing to do directly with any muscles. The muscles are directly controlled by the lower part of the brain.
HOW ALCOHOL SPOILS THE HIGHEST POWERS OF MAN
It is only later that the levels of the brain which work the muscles are affected, and always Jackson’s law holds good, and these parts of the brain are affected less than the parts above them. T
he latest and most delicate movements are affected first. The most human movements, so to speak, are those of the thumb, and these are injured very quickly, as the writing shows, or any kind of delicate movements in which the thumb is concerned.
Then the delicate movements of speech are affected, and next the delicate movements by which the two eyes work together. Under the influence of alcohol they work separately, so that the person sees double. Afterward the coarser movements, such as those of walking, are affected; but, as we have already learned, the movements of breathing remain to the last.
ALCOHOL DEADENS THE SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG
People who drink alcohol lose the sense of right and wrong. They tell long stories about things that never happened, and exaggerate so that you never know when they are speaking the truth. At first this loss of the moral sense is hardly noticeable, but it gradually increases, until at last all sense of responsibility and duty is swept away.
I’ve got a lot more to write on this topic, but I hope you enjoy this little article and the perspective it brings, and of course I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!