is drinking just outright pathetic?

June 6th, 2007

The things we do in life can be split into different categories. Some are noble (not too many of those), some are a pursuit of excellence, some are intellectual escapades, some are efforts toward physical improvement. Generally these are things we don't mind people knowing about us. Then there's a different class of things. Things we do out of discipline or duty (mundane things like clean and work), things done out of temptation, things done out of greed or jealousy, things done out of want for physical gratification. These things are more sketchy, some of them don't make us look so good.

Among those definitely in the latter class of things is alcohol consumption. Now, I didn't say responsible consumption of alcohol or cultural enrichment, or anything like that. I call it by its most colloquial, universally understood name: drinking.

Most kids think that alcohol is very exciting, because they can't have any. Once they're in their teens, they actively participate. Not only do they drink, but in the course of testing their newfound freedom, they do a lot of really dumb things. Driving under the influence, vandalism, violence, drugs etc. Now, there is an unwritten rule saying that this is okay. "It's part of growing up." You're authorized to act downright infantile in the assumption that in a few years you'll be an adult and you'll have this behind you." But there is an important point to this, that of freedom. Going from a kid to an adult is a steady increase in the number of freedoms you have. This is very tingly. You go from being able to do certain things in a restricted way to being able to do just anything and everything. When you're a kid, you're likely to want the things you can't have. But when you're an adult and you can have anything, what are you supposed to want?

I definitely have this instinctive conviction that life is supposed to be an evolution. You're supposed to develop in some way, to improve yourself. That doesn't mean a hopeless quest for perfection, this isn't some holistic belief system. And you won't be the perfect person at the end of it. It's just a conviction that you should be trying to develop in some way or another, at any given moment. Life is long and you have the time to try anything you want to try. For every new thing you learn, book you read, country you visit, hobby you acquire, you go from who you were to someone.. slightly different.

On the other hand, there are some things that don't change. Physiological needs don't change much, emotional needs don't change much, the need for intellectual fulfillment changes in form, but not in principle.

One thing I find completely pathetic, that doesn't change, is the craving for alcohol. Think about it, think back to the first time you were really excited about drinking. Maybe you were 18 then. And what is it that people do when they're "enjoying themselves"? They drink themselves under the table. It's true for teenagers, it's true for students, it's true for working people, for senior working people, for seniors, it never stops. Now tell me, how many of the things you really loved doing when you were 18 do you still do a lot? How many of the interests you had then do you still maintain? And wherever you are in life, extrapolate to all the different stages of life. We don't stand still in life, we're moving somewhere.

But drunkenness just doesn't stop. Teenagers revel in it, students worship it, working people yearn for office parties, Christmas parties. It is that escape, that excuse for entering the other class of behavior. It's an excuse to do things and not remember, or do things and regret them.

But let's ask the question, how pathetic is this? How sad is it that people who have become 20 years older still crave the same primitive fulfillment they did two decades ago? And it's not just that they crave it. It's that they still observe it with the same sense of worship that they did in the past. Alcohol is still the escape, it's still the fulfillment. Nothing has changed. Where is the sense of development? You've lived 20 years and you haven't made any progress towards more ambitious goals. How sad. If you had wanted to play with the same toys at 35 that you did at 5, most people would think there's something wrong with you. Or if you were reading Harry Potter at 15 and still at 45, a valid question would be "where is your intellectual development, why haven't you moved on to more challenging books?".

Now, there is a distinction to be made about alcohol. If you consider it as a cultural artifact, then it is a lot more like food and drink we consume. If you have a glass of wine with dinner, because that's cultured, you're not really taking an excuse to do things you couldn't otherwise have done. Alcohol as an "enhancement" isn't really a problem. If you "get a buzz going" and feel a little more comfortable with the people around you, that's okay. But enhancement means just that. If you try a new brand of fuel and get a 20% better mileage, that's an enhancement. A 50% is an enhancement, perhaps even even 100%. But if you get totally fucked up, not knowing where you are, what you did or what your name is, that's not an enhancement, that's total transformation.

Does that mean drugs that totally alter your consciousness should be outright dismissed? That sounds a bit hasty. Perhaps there is merit to it. But they aren't universally worshipped like alcohol either.

But, here's the problem. So often alcohol isn't an enhancement, it's the goal itself. When people look forward to that weekend party, "having a good time" is defined explicitly by drinking itself. It is the goal. If you told people let's have a party without alcohol, they would protest. You wouldn't be removing just some addition, you would be removing the very thing that makes people excited. There's nothing more obvious to prove that drinking is the goal in itself.

It is this worship of drinking that's depressing. In many circles it's almost religiously observed, and this has nothing to do with peer pressure or "you don't have to participate if you don't want to", it has to do with how incredibly sad and lame the actual pursuit is. So when people do actually get together "in good company", what they actually want, their interests, their level of ambition, what they value, it's pathetic. And it's just as primitive at age 25 as it was at 15. People who are otherwise intelligent, successful, admirable, they turn into individuals whose one thought is "let's get drunk."

You've lived 60 years and the one thing in life that you think about in terms of feeling good is drinking. You're so pathetic.

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4 Responses to "is drinking just outright pathetic?"

  1. erik says:

    "When people look forward to that weekend party, “having a good time” is defined explicitly by drinking itself. It is the goal. If you told people let’s have a party without alcohol, they would protest."

    I disagree. Alcohol is an important part of weekend parties because it helps people to 'let go', relax and get a buzz going, as you put it. I've never been to a party where 'having a good time' is defined by drinking alone. But if you want to have a weekend party without it, people would still protest. Why? Because they would also protest if you suggested to have a weekend party without music. It's part of the whole experience, of what people have grown accustomed to, what they feel they need to unwind. If alcohol were all there is to it, people wouldn't mind having these parties on their own, by themselves. You can drink by yourself, nobody is stopping you. Yet (most) people don't.

  2. numerodix says:

    There is no *one thing* that defines why people go to a party. It's not the people alone, it's not the place alone, it's not the music alone and it's not the booze alone. Obviously I exaggerate to make a point and to cut down on an already long text that would be much longer yet if I were trying to handle all these little subtleties.

    Of course, there are different parties and different people. But in some case without alcohol, people would find the experience extremely flat. Which is a very sad thing. It's like an addiction to something that simply must be to fill a gap.

    However, leaving that aside, going back to the example of forever having the same interests and never evolving, do you not find it extremely sad that people want alcohol all of their lives?

  3. erik says:

    Not really. That goes for a lot of things, doesn't it? There's very little intellectual evolution to be found in life-long practises such as listening to music, going to the movies and all those things.

    Now I have absolutely no clue whatsoever why people would cycle the same 5 kilometer round every morning because they want to. I think that's boring but to say that it's sad other people enjoy it sounds a little arrogant :D

  4. John says:

    I come from a seriously heavy-drinking culture, and even now, being teetotal is considered a little odd. I don't drink, nor do a number of friends, but we're the exception.

    I think it's a bit sad that some people can't relax and can't be sociable without drinking. And kind of like Dawkin's argument about mild religion, social drinking makes really heavy drinkers look more acceptable.