Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

On Drinking

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I’ve received a fair amount of pushback from my commentary about drinking, where-in I made the argument that drinking had a political and social role in American culture. A number of west coast friends countered that they lead enjoyable social lives without the need for drink. For some, the reason they didn’t drink was because they were concerned about how they would act under the influence of alcohol, and for others, they didn’t see the point of inebriation. I found both answers to be two sides of the same coin.

I should first note that alcohol is indeed both a biologically and psychologically addictive substance: Above caffeine, below nicotine. There are people who simply can’t drink, and who should not try just for the sake of drinking. What struck me, on the other hand, about the stories these people told me was that they weren’t so much about addiction but about a behavioral concern: They were insinuating a Jekyll and Hyde scenario with the application of alcohol.

To me, alcohol is by nature an uninhibitor, which is to say, when you’re drunk, you become more you. Your personality does not transmute into something else. In South Korea, for instance, it is common practice for new business partners to drink together explicitly to reveal the uninhibited nature of each businessman: Only in such circumstances, they surmise, can they trust each other’s intentions. In Scotland it’s posited that the sincerity and personability intrinsic to the social protocols of the public house provide a glue for overall relationships.

Thus, I am concerned if I hear a person say that they cannot trust themselves to drink for behavioral reasons: What they are implying, to me, is that they have become adept at hiding their personal issues while sober. The alcohol in that scenario can be a route to exposing unrelated problems, which is different than saying the alcohol is the problem.

The same issue can be extended to those people who feel no need to drink, or rather don’t see the point in it: They are, in essence, turtling up – instead of revealing their nature and potential vulnerabilities to friends and acquaintances, they are pointedly guarding such. It’s a defensive measure more than anything else, which I understand and appreciate, but I worry that such is limiting their human experience. It’s a cause not for resentment but for pity.

Of course, that being said, South Korea and Scotland are heavy drinking cultures. However, while it is broadly known that humans are at heart social animals, interestingly enough, one of our longest and most universal traditions is the usage of mind-altering substances. There is not a culture in the world, aboriginal or modern, that does not traditionally partake in at least one mind-altering substance. While psychedelics and hallucinogenic drugs are relatively rare, depressives – like alcohol – are quite common. Society as we know it has grown up around readily-available intoxicants. We as a people have gone to great lengths to manufacture our own environment, both external and internal.¬†There’s something also to be said for the drug-like qualities of non-imbibing practices – such as the asceticism of meditative chanting or the emotional manipulation of ensemble music – and it’s interesting how much our society is centered around publicly sharing such experiences.

If this sounds like a rejection of naturalism, well, that’s kind of a byproduct of the human condition. I am, after all, currently suspended 52 feet off the ground through a combination of mostly limestone, sand and clay treated to look and act nothing like the original materials and constructed through a process and protocol that is far more complex sociologically than it is from an engineering sense. We exist in a world that requires 12 years of education just to function and 18 years to make any real sense of it all, to say nothing of making informed amendments on established convention.

Funny enough, learning how to drink is included in that education, but isn’t exactly part of the core curriculum, which illustrates more or less our relationship with the world: We know we tend to solve things better through collaboration, but the¬†how of it is still a bit fuzzy. We live in a Best Practices circumstance, and by far the best practices evident involve anything that facilitates hanging loose together. In moderation, of course.

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