Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pardon my selection bias, but this fits in PERFECTLY with something I've thought since high school

A very, very long time ago -- before I graduated from high school, in fact -- I grew disgusted with the prevailing idea in redneck culture that "I was drunk" was some sort of excuse for bad behavior. Are you kidding me? This always seemed to me absolutely insane, as the very obvious rejoinder was, "A person who can't hold his liquor has no business drinking." One of my very deep-level criticisms of the culture that largely shaped me -- a culture, by the way, that I feel very lucky to have been raised in, such that I find it a compliment, not an insult, to be called "redneck" -- was that we should have condemned bad behavior when people were drunk just as fiercely as we would have condemned the same behavior when they were sober. We should have been applying ferocious social pressure to make it clear that Real Men Behave The Same Way Drunk As They Do Sober, and that Young Men Who Behave Badly When Drunk Don't Have Enough Manhood To Be Drinking At All.

Now comes a fascinating piece by Kate Fox to point out that the entire "alcohol makes you behave badly" thing is a complete myth, whose only social purpose is to give people who want to behave badly an excuse for doing so. You really must just read the whole thing; but here are some choice bits:
Clearly, we Brits do have a bit of a problem with alcohol, but why?

The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.

But we are wrong.

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, "Oi, what you lookin' at?" and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, "Hey babe, fancy a shag?" and start groping each other.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.

There is enormous cross-cultural variation in the way people behave when they drink alcohol...This variation cannot be attributed to different levels of consumption - most integrated drinking cultures [i.e., cultures where people behave more or less the same way when drunk as when sober] have significantly higher per-capita alcohol consumption than the ambivalent drinking cultures [i.e., societies where drunks are usually louts].

Instead the variation is clearly related to different cultural beliefs about alcohol, different expectations about the effects of alcohol, and different social rules about drunken comportment.

...

Our beliefs about the effects of alcohol act as self-fulfilling prophecies - if you firmly believe and expect that booze will make you aggressive, then it will do exactly that. In fact, you will be able to get roaring drunk on a non-alcoholic placebo.

And our erroneous beliefs provide the perfect excuse for anti-social behaviour. If alcohol "causes" bad behaviour, then you are not responsible for your bad behaviour. You can blame the booze - "it was the drink talking", "I was not myself" and so on.

...

If I were given total power, I could very easily engineer a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem - a nation in which young people would binge-drink coffee every Friday and Saturday night and then rampage around town centres being anti-social, getting into fights and having unprotected sex in random one-night stands.

I would restrict access to coffee, thus immediately giving it highly desirable forbidden-fruit status. Then I would issue lots of dire warnings about the dangerously disinhibiting effects of coffee.

I would make sure everyone knew that even a mere three cups (six "units") of coffee "can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour", and sexual promiscuity, thus instantly giving young people a powerful motive to binge-drink double espressos, and a perfect excuse to behave very badly after doing so.

I could legitimately base many of my scary coffee-awareness warnings on the known effects of caffeine, and I could easily make these sound like a recipe for disaster, or at least for disinhibition and public disorder.

It would not take long for my dire warnings to create the beliefs and expectations that would make them self-fulfilling prophecies. This may sound like a science fiction story, but it is precisely what our misguided alcohol-education programmes have done.


Really, really, really, read the whole thing.

And to all those rednecks and undergraduates who have been saying all my life, "Sorry, I was drunk and I wasn't myself," I now take my stand on Kate Fox's authority to do what I've always wanted to do: I call B.S. on your lame, pitiful, contemptible excuse.

Grow up and be a man who can hold his liquor, or else leave the drinking to us grown-ups. Simple as that.

HT: Robin Hanson.

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