Cry Censorship and Let Slip the Flying Dogs of War

Four beers good. Two beers better. Don’t believe it.

Free speech and beer are two topics that are near and dear to my heart. So, I wanted to depart from Beer and Wine Journal’s usual homebrewing— but mysteriously not winemaking — content and write an opinion piece.

To start things off, and just so everyone is clear, the current kerfuffle between Flying Dog and the Brewer’s Association (BA) is not a First Amendment issue. The government isn’t trying (or succeeding) to censor anyone, so nobody’s Constitutional rights are being abridged. Secondly, the BA is a private group. As such, they can make whatever rules they want (within the bounds of legality). Thirdly — and this will be the main theme of this article — all groups that give themselves the power to make rules will continue to make rules until they run into opposition. Any group that has the ability to tell others what to do will attract people who like telling others what to do. And those who really like making rules will likely rise to a position of leadership. In turn, the people who like bucking rules will resist them. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes.”

Think about it. Neighborhood associations are never run by a level headed person who is able to take most reasonable differences in homeowner opinion in stride. They are invariably run by someone who wants to — and will find the time to — measure your zinnias to see if they fall within the approved size range. The approved size range is, of course, their opinion and may have even been decided before anyone in the neighborhood actually planted zinnias. (“If we’re soft on the zinnia issue, what happens when somebody plants giant sunflowers? We’ve got to nip this in the bud!”)

The BA maintains a list of beer styles and lists the criteria that — according to them — define these various beer styles. It also runs a contest based on those criteria. The Beer Judge Certification Program does the same. These groups want to tell you what is acceptable to brew and what isn’t. Officially they don’t, but most people love to do what they are told, or even believe they are being told. To see how brewers in general interpret the style guidelines, observe how brewers who flaunt them are treated on any internet forum. Like the guards in Milgram’s 37th experiment, the rule defenders fall over themselves to punish the transgressors. How dare they flaunt the made up rules?

Of course, having rules and categories isn’t inherently a bad thing. The Westminster Dog Show has all sorts of rules about what features define what dog breeds. And, their yearly contest to see whose dog best measures up to those specifications is very popular. And that’s all fine up to the point that someone suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with mutts. Mutts will never win a medal at Westminster, but they will clean up in contests based on the dog’s skill, such as catching a frisbee. So don’t take this article as a slam against the BA or BJCP. They are doing what groups do. I’m simply defending mutts, flying or otherwise. 

The thing that corresponds to some folks desire to make rules — the yin to that yang — is that most people want to be told what to do. Humans don’t love freedom. We despise it. Thinking is something that supposedly separates us from the other animals. But in reality most people will do anything they can to avoid it. Most prefer to have a strong leader to think for them, hand them their opinions, and tell them what to do. This is true even when the believer is disadvantaged by following the leader. This is how ridiculous charlatans like David Avocado Wolfe, The Food Babe, and Gwenyth Paltrow gain large followings. This is how people come to believe in anti-vaxx propaganda, creationism, flat earthism, anti-GMO propaganda, homeopaths, climate science denial, etc. A healthy minority of people are able to rationally pick apart the arguments of those they disagree with. But almost nobody casts an equally suspicious eye on their own beliefs. As such, humans are easily led.

And hey, feel free to disagree with me. You may think I’m crazy, or I’ve taken a purposely aggressive opinion to get a rise out of people. But guess who agrees with me (other than Stanley Milgram)? E.O. Wilson. Who that is is left as an exercise for the reader. (And hopefully skeptical readers will ask why they should believe anything Wilson says.)

“And so it goes.”

But, we were talking about Flying Dog, the BA, and free speech, weren’t we? Flying Dog has carved out a niche in commercial brewing by giving their beers rude names and packaging them with potentially offensive labels. They (almost desperately) want to be “edgy.” They dress this up a bit from run of the mill crudeness by getting renowned artist Ralph Steadman to draw the labels. His presence is the patina of culture gilding their sophomoric content. 

Now, are Flying Dog beers offensive? My answer is no. To me, things that are calculated to offend rarely do so. You can choose your own answer. We live in a society where everyone is offended by something. So, if I were Flying Dog, I wouldn’t break my arm patting myself on the back because I managed to offend someone. 

In any group, every member is going to try to stake out some territory. It’s inevitable that some members are going to be on the fringes. As the zinnia measurers gain power, those members are always going to be faced with a decision — knuckle under or leave the group.

I’ve always enjoyed the paintings by Ralph Steadman on Flying Dog’s labels. I admire them frequently before buying beer from some other brewery. I am, however, glad that Flying Dog proved it wasn’t neutered and didn’t heel on command. There’s nothing more pathetic than “rebels” who knuckle under to authority at the first opportunity. So, sincerely, good for them. 

As I mentioned up front — and you might have guessed by the rambling midsection of this article — free speech, freedom of expression, and the forces that work against them, are something I’ve thought about extensively. This article is basically a Pavlovian response to the article linked above and the internet discussions of it. And, for whatever it’s worth, I think self-censorship is the most insidious form of censorship. So let me just close with my person opinion on this issue. Authority is always going to try to extend its authority. Rebels will always rebel. And so it goes. There will always be someone trying to tell you what to do. I think that most people underestimate how healthy and human it is to tell them to fuck off.

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  1. This article was like a date when you’re 14-wait… Talk a bit dirty… Talk a bit smart…wait… And …… payoff at the end.

  2. Herb Meowing says

    fuck off ;/

  3. A couple of takeaways:

    1) It helps to read the linked article first so you know what the “kerfuffle” is about.
    2) Kurt Vonnegut is/was a fucking genius.
    3) I’m guessing my “Olde Wytches Tainte” would not meet with the board guidelines.
    4) Thanks for an entertaining read; I know way too many people who would fit perfectly into the square holes that are being chiseled out for them every day

  4. E.O. Wilson is a cunt!

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