Drunk Is Near

Malcom Gladwell talks about how drunks act very differently in different cultures.  If you remember that sex is near, love is far, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn the key:

If you are good-looking and the world agrees that you are good-looking, drinking doesn’t make you think you’re even better-looking.  Drinking only makes you feel you’re better-looking if you think you’re good-looking and the world doesn’t agree.  Alcohol is also commonly believed to reduce anxiety.  … Put a stressed out drinker in front of an exciting football game, and he’ll forget his troubles.  But put him in quiet bar somewhere, all by himself, and he’ll grow more anxious. …

We’ve misread the effects of alcohol on the brain.  Its principle effect is to narrow our emotional and mental field of vision.  It causes, they write, “a state of short-sightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of experience have a disproportionate influence on behavior and emotion.”

Alcohol makes the thing in the foreground even more salient and the thing in the background disappear.  … The drinker is … at the mercy of whatever is in front of him. …. Psychologists …went into a series of bars and made the patrons .. imagine that they had met an attractive person … ended up in bed – only to discover neither of them had a condom.  The subjects were then ask to respond on a scale of one (very unlikely) to nine (very likely) to … “I would have sex.”  … Drunk people came in at 5.36. … Sober people came in at 3.91.  … But [they] went back to the bars and stamped the hands of some of the patrons with the phrase “AIDS kills.”  Drinkers with the hand stamp were slightly less likely than the sober people to want to have sex in that situation.

So do we drink to make ourselves think more nearly, and so bond more closely to those around us?  Or is it only about showing that our bodies are strong enough to withstand chemical overdoses?  And why wouldn’t we have evolved to think just as nearly as was useful to think?

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