How often do we collude in our own destruction? Three stories:
1. Years ago our family, through a combination of circumstances, found that we were on the visiting list of a well-known Wellington alcoholic. He was a very intelligent man, previously a reporter on a local paper. But alcoholism had taken him over. He seemed to think the drink made him "spin" better. He would arrive at our home often late in the evening. It seemed that it was always raining when he came to us. We would feed him baked beans were the only food he could keep down and give him a bed for the night. But as a precaution, we took his cigarettes and his bottles from him. The next morning, warmth and food were no longer attractive. Only the drink would answer to his immediate needs. And so he would take his bottle and leave. It was irredeemably sad.
2. About five years ago, I visited Alice Springs, right in the middle of Australia. I was visiting friends and, of course, Uluru (Ayer's Rock). But I could not help noticing the numbers of aboriginals, drunk in the river bed and drinking more. I was told that it was inevitable. Asking more questions, I found out that many of the aboriginal communities drew profits for community development from the local alcohol outlets, but there were few constraints on how this was spent. In a cruel paradox, they were both drinking for their own "welfare" and drinking their own welfare.
3. Recent discussion on the Responsible Gambling Bill before Parliament has suggested that if the number of pokies were controlled and the fair operation of the machines effectively checked, it would be local communities that would suffer because they would not receive grants from the profits. Sports clubs, we are told, would be especially big losers. The health of the community would suffer. What a strange logic! People do not have the money to give donations, but they do have the money for pokies, which fund the community activities previously funded through donations. But where does the real health of the community lie? The only gain is in the number of compulsive gamblers, whose "treatment" is funded from the profits from the pokies.
And now, it seems, we are getting tired of Lotto and sales are dropping. So there is a new ruse, called Affinity 3 NZ, to persuade community organisations, including churches, to raise funds for themselves by selling tickets and receiving 30¢ a sale. Again the invitation is to collude in our own destruction.
This is the way that the marketing and consumption of addictive substances work. They set up conflicts of values, offering immediate and short-term satisfaction and pleasure and an easy and fun contribution to the needs of society. Yet the very sales achieved add to those needs at the expense of what would genuinely and sustainably serve our cause. By falling for their glitter we undermine the causes for which we stand, as our friend undermined his health and his intellect, as the aboriginals undermined their entire communities, as sports clubs undermine the well-being of their members, and as churches undermine their ability to live the love of Christ in their communities.
It just is not worth it.
This article was first published in the Otago Daily Times of May 21, 2002.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin.