Our supposedly accidental taste for alcohol has not been eradicated by genetic or cultural evolution

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

The fact that our supposedly accidental taste for alcohol has not been eradicated by genetic or cultural evolution means that the cost of indulging in alcohol must be offset by benefits, Edward Slingerland suggests (in Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization):

Evidence from archaeology, history, cognitive neuroscience, psychopharmacology, social psychology, literature and genetics suggests what some of these benefits might be. For instance, the ancient and cross-cultural view of alcohol as a muse is supported by modern psychology: Our ability to think outside the box is enhanced by one or two drinks.

This is why artists, poets and writers have long turned to drink. The name of the Anglo-Saxon god of artistic inspiration, Kvasir, literally means “strong ale.” This is also why some modern companies that rely upon innovation, like Google, judiciously mix work with alcohol—by, for instance, providing whiskey rooms where frustrated coders can relax and expand their minds when struggling with a challenging problem.

There is also wisdom in the Latin saying in vino veritas, “in wine there is truth.” Alcohol impairs our ability to think strategically and puts us firmly in the moment, which makes us less capable of lying. In the same way that we shake hands to show that we are not carrying a weapon, downing a few shots is a form of cognitive disarmament that makes you more trusting and more worthy of trust. This is why, throughout history and across the world, treaties and trade deals are seldom negotiated without copious quantities of liquid neurotoxin.

It’s also why the advent of Skype and other teleconferencing technologies had no measurable effect on business travel before the Covid-19 pandemic. For a business in London, Zooming with potential partners in Shanghai instead of flying there would mean a considerable savings in time and money. Yet people still endured long trips and jet lag in order to gain access to the subtle, crucial social cues that sitting around a table doing shots of sorghum liquor provides. Once the Covid-19 crisis passes, expect business travel to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

Consumed in moderation, alcohol also alleviates stress, enhances mood, makes us more sociable and provides a much-needed vacation from the burdens of consciousness. It is no accident that in the midst of the pandemic liquor stores have been classified as essential services almost everywhere.

But the long-term impact of the past year’s global lockdowns, which have rendered social drinking difficult, remains unclear. Studies show that people who have a “local” — a neighborhood establishment serving food and alcohol that they regularly frequent — enjoy better mental health and are more connected to their communities. In the wake of Prohibition in the U.S., the number of patent applications fell by 15%, suggesting that we might expect a decline in innovation and productivity over the next few years.


  1. Carl says:

    All of this nonsense without mentioning the main issue with alcohol: it kills germs and acts as a preservative. Calling alcohol bad for health without acknowledging its historical role in water safety and preserving calories in a safe and portable form is quite silly.

  2. Altitude Zero says:

    Those human groups who either banned alcohol, or who never produced it, have not really been notable for their contributions to human civilization and flourishing

  3. Bruce Purcell says:

    Jerry Pournelle liked to say the Spartans voted on everything twice, first drunk, then sober.

  4. James James says:

    We Anglo-Saxons need alcohol to overcome our natural autism in order to socialise and mate.

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