The Eye of a Needle
We often take it for granted that an age and society that fosters moral relativism and that promotes hedonism will lay few, if any, curbs, restrictions or moral codes upon others.
Debates that surround the issues of same-sex marriage, abortion and assisted suicide readily deny, despite sound reasoning that points to the opposite, the real societal impact of such lifestyle choices upon others, preferring to enshrine personal freedom as paramount in the public sphere. The sanctity of life and marriage is thus sacrificed for a new sanctity – that of personal choice. Those who oppose the new ‘freedoms’ of the age are vilified as intolerant, narrow minded bigots.
Diversity, Equality and Discrimination
Bizarrely, however, the new found ‘freedoms’ of the modern age do not extend to everybody. Even in an age of moral relativism, in which everybody has their own truths, certain lifestyles, which for many are grounded in addiction and illness, are still singled out for their effect on the public square.
Recently, while walking down a street in Brighton, I came across a sign in a newsagent doorway that read, ‘The Sale of Alcohol to Street Drinkers is not Permitted on these Premises – The Management’. It so happens that street drinkers have been on the end of near constant attention from the police and PCSOs in Brighton. Doubtless the authorities have their own reasons for doing so, so as not to put off the tourists, to curb antisocial behaviour, to keep the city ‘safe’. However, reading the sign I could not help but think what authorities are saying is somewhat discriminatory, prejudiced and insulting.
What is a ‘street drinker’?
What is a ‘street drinker’ might sound like a question with an obvious answer. It is someone who drinks alcohol on the street. One might ask whether, however, a couple sitting in a park in Brighton drinking champagne are ‘street drinkers’ and whether these persons would be refused champagne once word got around to newsagents to, ‘Watch out for the guy who drinks champers in parks with his wife.’ The word ‘street drinker’ seems to have other connotations of the poverty and misery of the outcast, denoting a ‘tramp’ like existence. These people, I assume – a certain ‘type’ of drinker - who cannot afford to drink in pubs, clubs and bars, but who drinks cans outside, is the real target. It would be too simplistic to say that this message from Brighton newsagents was of the ‘No Irish, Blacks or Dogs’ variety, because this kind of outlawed ethnic (and canine) discrimination was more clear cut. The term ‘street drinker’ is more subjective, a little more ambiguous and left very much to the arbitrary opinion of the newsagent who is being encouraged to think of a client base which is ‘out sort’ and a kind of customer who is ‘not our sort at all’.
Our age, it appears, is to be the age of acute double-standards. For instance, what would the reaction be if, say, a wedding cake maker put a sign up today in his shop window saying that wedding cakes will not be available to same-sex couples who wish for such for their celebration?
Doubtless there would be an outcry, even a clamour for the delicatessen to be closed down by the vociferous LGBT community, especially in Brighton, even though the owner was acting in accordance with his sacred conscience. Where is the political movement for the rights of alcoholics, street drinkers and homeless people? Of course, it does not really exist, because these people either have no voice in the public sphere or are deemed unworthy of having a voice. Of course, one may reply, each shopkeeper has his own right to sell what he chooses to each and every customer as they come, as they appear and I could agree with that principle. It is one that I would say extends to the B&B owner who does not want homosexual activity in his establishment.
Yet, here in Brighton at least, it would appear that this is not the whole story. The decision by newsagents not to sell alcohol to street drinkers is one that has been made with the local authority in what appears to be a city wide action that singles out street drinkers for rejection, enforcing the idea that all are ‘equal’ before the law, but some are less equal than others. The initiative also has the striking effect of reinforcing the notion that somehow, because someone is homeless, poor, or alcoholic, that they are to be treated as pariahs or, at least, second-class citizens.
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