Consequences of the Nobly Ignorant

In my previous post, The Indonesian Prohibition: Why It Might Not Be A Good Idea, I discussed the topic of the banning of alcoholic beverages in mini-markets. I speculated that such a ruling would result in the lower-class of Indonesia, primarily the blue-collar workers, seeking alcoholic thrills through other, less legal means. Unfortunately, my guess was spot on, although its proof remains anecdotal as of now. But before I can discuss the central issue, and push for its credibility, a limited amount of background information is necessary.

My family and I run a small laundry, with less than twenty employees. Their pays are not extraordinary, in fact quite inadequate for the quality of their work. This is not a matter of thrift, rather a result of the limited financial resources my company has, and the lack of better-paying jobs on the market. Thus they have settled in the company, some for more than five years. I know these peoples quite well. I am not well-suited for, and cannot find the coldheartedness necessary to view employees as mere cogs in a machine. Some I consider friends, and the newer ones acquaintances.

Each Saturday my employees and I play an hourly game of futsal—a kind of football played by teams of fives—as a routine. Practice games are held regularly, with all of us being split into two opposing groups. On rarer occasions we would have the opportunity to spar against other teams, most of them coming from blue-collar jobs as well; security guards, construction workers, janitors, et cetera. The sense of camaraderie common to cooperating members of a sports team is quite prevalent amongst my people.

My workers went from calling me “boss,” to a first name basis, then moved on to various nicknames. Some of which are insulting yet humorous. On the pitch, they no longer hold their strengths back, and would laugh maniacally whenever I bleed and bruise—of course, I inflict the same pains on them, all in good humor. And in return, I treat them in the same manner. Eating the same meals they do, learning their native languages little by little, and of course, drink the nights away whenever we have the chance to.

Alcohol in whatever forms is an integral part of my employees’ culture. From the youngest to the most senior, all of them have a taste for beers, whiskies, and the bizarre concoctions of local distributors. Their first two choices of drinks do not worry me in the slightest, as I drink them quite often myself. However, the last of the three is often times hazardous and strictly illegal. One of the latest trending alcohols on the local market is a mixture called benzene, which as the name indicates is basically a mixture of ethyl alcohol, any flavoring of choice, and a few drops of petroleum. Its effect, needless to say, is enough to knock out stallions. I am all for experimentation in cocktails, but only the dimmest of fools would think that petroleum is in any way safe to ingest.

Before the sale of light alcohols was prohibited in mini-markets, my employees drank regular old beers. They can’t afford a Guinness or a Heineken, but what they bought were perfectly safe Indonesian beers—especially considering that they actively condemn drunk driving. Now that choice is taken away from them, and to keep themselves entertained in a condition of poverty and menial labor, one of the few affordable choices they have is booze. Currently, ones that are capable of destroying the human body from the inside, much faster than absinthe and its kind.

On a night of celebrations, after beating our opponents with a difference of six goals, one my workers bought a bottle of benzene out of his pockets. I immediately asked him how often he consumed the drink. “Pretty much every day,” he said. I prodded him some more, asking whether or not he knows of the risks inherent to the concoction. “What risks?” he asked, puzzled. After half an hour of lecturing, I managed to convince him that his lungs, liver, intestines, and whatever other organ the petroleum would pass through could potentially be corroded. Resulting in internal hemorrhaging and unimaginable pains. Then he said something which terrified me. “I’ve been coughing a lot. Sometimes blood comes out. Is this [the benzene] causing it?” Immediately I replied in the affirmative, and gave him the money to buy some other drinks, ones that I know are safe to consume. If I cannot stop his habit, at the very least I can limit its damages.

The problem with the prohibition act is a lack of necessary information for those affected, and reactionary measures for the individuals who have been blocked from one of their most beloved and cheapest source of entertainment—whatever else can an employee with a monthly wage of less than three-hundred Dollars buy? My employees are not the most educated of the populace. Not a single one of them have attended a day of university, and only about five have high-school diplomas. They do not know the dangers that exist around them, the ones that are known mostly be the ones fortunate enough to receive formal education. Thus, their drinking went from an innocent pastime, to an activity that I must oversee, lest one of them fails to realize that he is accidentally annihilating his own internal systems. As their employer and friend, I am honestly scared of what might happen in the future should I fail to notice any changes in their drinking habits.

Instead of merely taking away beers and other such “immoral” goods from affordable stores, backers of the prohibition must implement certain programs to aid those who have been tied to the clutches of alcohol. Taking away the only accessible, legal path is not the way to stop people from drinking. Rather, it is an encouragement for the hobbyists to look for backdoors. Quitting alcohol, as with any other addictive substances, is not an easy task. Without the appropriate help and allocation of resources, what will happen is not an end to intoxication, but a beginning of deaths from alcohol poisonings, the thickening of bootleggers’ pockets, and other undesirable side effects.

I do not deny the noble reasoning behind the prohibition. What I am criticizing is its implementation. How it is currently being carried out is ineffective, and would likely create more suffering than relief. If there is anyone who can affect the nature of Indonesia’s prohibition act, I beg of you to do alter it immediately. For now, the consequence is coughing up blood to a person under my protection. And as I’ve said my proof is anecdotal, though I cannot help but wonder how many more of the poor are suffering through the same sicknesses as this employee of mine? After all, why would they admit to consuming illegal beverages? A stay at the hospital followed by a trip to the penitentiary is not an appealing rehabilitation program.

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