Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Drink was invented just in time

Self-control has always been valued in human affairs. No collaborative scheme can ever survive if everyone does exactly as they please.

Arguably, as civilization developed in the post-Neolithic, the premium attached to self-control grew, as social relationships straddled ever greater divides of time, place and class.

Death to the insolent and the hot-headed!

Conscientiousness is ever the enemy of spontaneity. Cold planning replaces warm emotion. How do we ever know what a person really thinks, if all we see is their reasoned, prosocial persona?

Self-control undermines social-bonding, replaces affinity with transactional logic. There are no real friends, only 'colleagues' and 'business partners'.

But no-one likes the calculated relationship. Does she love me or is this just manipulation - or worse, could it be that she's just making the best of it?

We need to close down the neocortex, turn off the calculation, erase forward-thinking, 'be ourselves'.

In vino veritas.

It was therefore very fortunate that the Neolithic revolution invented alcohol along with civilization, or we might well have all died out by now in atomised solitude.



1. Turning off prosocial norms is not without risk

Alcohol is a blunt instrument - and blunt instruments can kill. All cultures which have had to live with inebriation evolved biochemical pathways to mitigate its effects - alcohol tolerance.
"The tolerance to alcohol is not equally distributed throughout the world's population, and genetics of alcohol dehydrogenase indicate resistance has arisen independently in different cultures. In North America, Native Americans have the highest probability of developing alcoholism compared to Europeans and Asians." [Wikipedia].
2. The connection between alcohol use and personality type

You might expect that the trade-offs between self-control/rationality and alcohol-induced spontaneity would vary across different personality types. And you would be right.
"Many studies have shown the importance of personality traits as factors related to alcohol use and misuse. The relationship between personality traits and alcohol consumption was studied in a sample of 149 non-alcoholic women using the Karolinska Scales of Personality (KSP) and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire-Revised (EPQ-R).

"The results showed positive correlations between alcohol consumption and disinhibitory personality traits (sensation seeking, impulsivity, psychopathy, nonconformity) and dimensions (psychoticism and extraversion). Sensation seeking combined with impulsivity were the strongest predictors of alcohol consumption. Anxiety-related traits and neuroticism were not related to alcohol frequency/amount of alcohol use."
3. The social construction of 'drinking'

If alcohol mediates the uncertain line between high-minded prosocial ideals of behaviour and our underlying biological reality (social animals with the usual drives in the engine room) then drinking is clearly going to be the subject of much social construction.

I only draw your attention to 'social drinking', which moderately and tastefully lowers social inhibitions in a controlled way, and 'binge drinking' which ... er ... doesn't.

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