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
The claim was, "it is only about." If the claim was, "it is sometimes about," or "for some people, it is only about," I would not have taken issue with it.
I've heard that as the explanation for why that Aztecs used alcohol enemas. Now that's extreme.
A quote from the letters of Charles Bukowski (possible paraphrasing since it doesn't seem to be online):
"drinking is just another way of thinking... by drinking I get to have two lives instead of one".
Alcohol does make it easier to forget one's ("far") troubles, but this effect is amplified by the rituals and framing of "drinking". When life is divided by habit or custom into "drinking" and "non-drinking" intervals, pouring a drink signals that one is entering that other world for a while.
I have on several occasions used the time to write out instructions or advice for myself. When sober I don't think the advice doesn't make sense. It can be hard to read because it is unflinching. I hadn't thought of it is "far" but in certain respects that may be a first approximation -- it is the distance of me from you, applied to the self, which allows honest assessment, rather than the distance of now from later, which we normally use to fool ourselves. Echoing the other reply quoting from Sagan, it's not that the advice doesn't make sense, it's that it is coming from a perspective which the "sober" mind doesn't take easily.
Forgot to address your other question. I have written quite a bit when I have been high. It is hit or miss. Sometimes the things I have written are actually interesting. It is all speculation of course, but sometimes it looks insightful to me at least. Other times it will be so rambling that it becomes incoherent and other times it is just complete nonsense. For example, I have, a number of times, gone through my google reader blogs while stoned. One trend that I notice is that I tend to "like" and "share" a lot more things and add more comments to a greater number of them. My blogs include many nerdy blogs (like this one). I tend to think they are more profound when I am high than I do when I follow up on them the next day. However, I also notice that of the ones that I shared while high, when I revisit them, I have more insights and interesting comments the next day too. Again, it is usually in the direction of extending a hypothesis into other territories or generalizing further etc. Far mode.
I think I should have put complex in quotations marks. By "complex" i really mean very far-reaching, all-encompasing type thoughts where you break down a phenomenon into a small set of rules. For example, I once decided while I was high that my mothers behavior was like that of a robot. Sounds ridiculous. But it made perfect sense at the time. At the same time I have thought of, what I believe to be, some good insights as well. The point is that we shift to an extreme far mode. I wish I could be more articulate about this. Maybe I should smoke a bowl haha.
"And why wouldn’t we have evolved to think just as nearly as was useful to think?"
Maybe we have. Our brains keep in near/far balance by using emotional rewards and punishments. Could it be that the process of making us think nearly tends to be more reward-focused (pleasure), and the process of making us think far is more punishment-focused (anxiety)? If so, then maybe we are always in a state where we would be happier if we could get ourselves to think more nearly, but our brains won't let us unless we hotwire them by getting drunk.
I've found if I'm dozing off while drunk, that the usual hypnagogic images seem somehow far off in the distance. Perhaps this squares with the immediate looming larger for the inebriated.
Calling this a "failed insight" makes me think you've never drank in a group of men before.
I suspect it depends on whether your thoughts are ordinarily complex. Carl Sagan has a nice essay about his marijuana use in which he credits the use of pot as the inspiration for a number of useful insights, and addresses the notion that complex thoughts while high turn into meaningless tripe the next day. It's worth a read.
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we're down the next day.
We drink socially to diminish our ability to lie to our associates about who we are. It builds trust.
If you get roaring drunk with your maybe-enemy and the two of you have a great time, you're probably safe relaxing your guard a bit. If he'd been carrying a grudge against you, he would have acted on it when he was inebriated and less able to suppress, ignore, or explain away whatever it was about you that set him off.
Tyler blogged a paper on this not long ago, I think.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world. -C.S. Lewis
I've tried integrating while on mushrooms once. I would constantly forget what I'm doing and stare at the pretty grid lines. IIRC, when I later checked my calculations, they were all wrong, with lots of misspellings.
Drinking among males in some cultures emphasizes the ability to consume copious quantities of alcohol without collapsing.
That said...I think the ritual is more to ensure even and deep drunkness than to sort out winners from losers. I say this because I don't think those that can't hold their liquour are excluded from the group in the future unless they get violent.
Still, on the surface, there is an association between physical fortitude and throwing back a ton of booze.
I think to understand the reason it's persisted in the culture has to do with context.
Socially-approved drinking is drinking with friends, with food, at celebrations.
Socially-disapproved drinking is drinking when sad, drinking when angry, drinking when alone.
The socially-approved version uses alcohol as a means of emphasizing already existing bonds of reciprocity and group-membership. During a Chinese New Year banquet it is common for people to almost compete in out-toasting each other. During a wedding drinking is matched with friendly words and stories about the bride and groom.
By pairing these positive experiences with a near-salience-inducing drug it helps us look only at the superficial positive aspects of the experience and ignore the underlying far-logic of the entire enterprise. When you're drunk you don't believe people are being nice to you and giving you food because they want your help in the future, want to improve their status, or want to avoid your future wrath. You believe they genuinely feel whatever they immediately are expressing.
You can make basically the same argument for why socially-disapproved contexts are disapproved of. They are damaging for society, they make loneliness, anger, sadness, low-confidence more salient. They make you less likely to cooperate, less likely to help others, more likely to damage or destroy things.
This is also why cunning businessmen will do negotiations over drinks. If the teeth of the contract are well-hidden, you're less inclined to look for them past the rosy future your counterpart has painted while handing you your next shot.
Next objection...what about the countervailing forces? Surely society wants some far-sighted, deep-seeing individuals? Surely individuals prefer not to be duped by their tribe? Why aren't we all smashed all the time?
Arguably, this is why people don't drink at work, don't drink at lunch (in the Anglophone world) or before noon...this is also why people that drink very rarely at all will still have a glass of champagne at a group-bonding ritual like a wedding.
Yes, there is a lot of social pressure.
One solution could be join your friends but drink something nonalcoholic. At least here it is possible to order mixed drinks without alcohol. They look like the alcoholic versions (-> less stigma), are cheaper and taste better :)