A Response to Nicholas Kristof’s Question of the Morality of Selling Alcohol from his Farm.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

None of us bear the full responsibility of another person’s choices in life, be it addiction, crime, or other destructive behavior.

Your family may choose to practice a form of agriculture that produces and markets alcohol. That is your choice and is a historical and customary practice for farmers, brewers, vintners, and distillers. Yes, alcohol can be a harmful and sometimes deadly substance, but it is up to the users and consumers of such products to make the choices to use something that may bring them harm, even death.

Grain farmers grow cereals that contain gluten, which, for some people, causes serious illness, and even death. Other people may cultivate or manufacture chemicals that some find addictive, harmful, and sometimes deadly. Others may work in a gun factory, or make bombs.

We all have free will; we all make choices. Others can’t decide for us.

While we shouldn’t go around and put loaded guns into the hands of suicidal or homicidal people, (a decision which is probably heavily influenced by the civil laws of negligence as well as our own personal ethics), neither can we fully prevent others from making bad choices. That decision to use or possess is not mine to make for others.

Our own morals might dictate what we do in our lives, and what we produce or market, or promote. That, however, is a choice and isn’t dictated by someone else’s proclivity to use something that is harmful to them. If we believe someone’s choices are harmful to them, we could choose to enter into a discussion with them, to be persuasive, to advocate for a different thought process and decision making, so as to encourage them to make better choices for themselves. We might ask the Legislature to tax the product, engaging some economic leverage. But, in the end, it is their choice, and their belief system, that will steer their choices in life. I might be an influencer, but I’m not a dictator.

I can ferment my farm’s crops into alcohol, which necessitates some thoughtful and scientific processes and skilled techniques. My crops, my choice. But, I don’t make the decisions for other people to consume what I might create. I could decide not to make my creations available in certain markets, but if I do make it available, if I do market it, then I really am quite limited on who are the buyers.

Society also puts some barriers in place, such as the age restrictions on alcohol, marijuana, and gun sales. Those limits are the result of very thoughtful analysis and the scrutiny of the legislative and political processes of a democratic republic. But, I could also decide not to participate in that marketplace, and that is not a legislative, collective decision, but rather my own morality at play. Economic forces are not decisive here, but instead, it comes down to my own morality and sense of right and wrong.

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Neal Lemery

Neal Lemery

Author of Building Community, Rural Voices for Hope and Change; Mentoring Boys to Men, Climbing Their Own Mountains; Finding My Muse on Main Street.