I was in Utah last week for vacation, and wow that state is incredible. Their local government has a monopoly on the sale of alcohol, putting some intense restrictions on your drinking regimen. For example, grocery stores can only sell light beer, meaning no beer with more than 3.2% alcohol by volume. Or, say you’re thumping at a club and you’ve thrown down for bottle service — they won’t even let you pour your own liquor! Really.Your server must pour it for you… using an electronic meter to ensure the cup never has more than 1.5 ounces of hard liquor in at a given time.
As someone whose drinking habits have by some been described as “alcoholic,” you can imagine how these laws really cramped my style. On my first night there, I tried to get a drink after 10:00pm — it was nearly impossible. I had to get a cab to the biggest hotel in the area, buy a bottle of wine there at the bar, and transfer it back to my hotel, to consume by myself in my room. When I told my cab driver what I was up to, he began a big rant about Utah’s drinking laws.
“This is America,” he said. “The land of the free. I should be able to drink what I want, when I want, as often as I want to.” His point was that the Mormons are the reason these laws are in place, and there should be more separation between church and state.
I didn’t say anything. It’s not my place. I don’t live in Utah so my opinion doesn’t really count on any practical level. But the more I listened to him rant about how much he hates Utah’s drinking laws, the more I began to wax philosophical in my head about how much I love them.
I mean, sure, I get it: I should have the unrestricted freedom to get myself drunk is fine logic. But what about the freedom for a community to restrict or prohibit drinking or whatever else? Shouldn’t we honor both freedoms? What makes one freedom better, or more important, than another?
The typical superficial response: The former is better because it encourages freedom, while the latter restricts it. A smarter retaliation: If you can’t opt to restrict freedom, you’re not free. Or, in more obscurantist language: The key — no matter what door it opens — always confirms the prison. Just think about that esoteric bomb of wisdom for a minute.
Get what I’m saying? I can appreciate that Utah has its own culture, even if it’s a culture very largely against alcohol, just as I appreciate New York for its very loose and liberal drinking laws. That’s what makes the United States so cool, that we have diversity of cultures and laws.
I want Utah to be the Vatican of the USA, governed by magical and weird thinking. Las Vegas, its complete antithesis: commercial paradise regulated primarily by capitalism and hedonism. And ideally all across the USA, with each city a new world: not the same place, but a different place — with different values, different types of government, different layouts, different advantages, different disadvantages.
I don’t want universal laws. Universal just means the same. Where’s the fun in that?
I want a country of double standards. No, I want a country with a billion different standards. A moving target of standards for every single person! I don’t want organization and fairness. I want the beauty and excitement of chaos. I want difference! I want relativism par excellence! I want multiculturalism! I want Kenny Powers to have his state. I want Judith Butler to have her state. I want Barack Obama to have his state.
But, of course, at the end of the day: I want us to be the United States. United in our belief that in the USA, it’s about your freedom to live in the community of your choosing, where you can do what you want, when you want — even, yes, restrict the freedom of others.
Stay weird, Utah.