June 18, 2018

Freedom, Drinking, & Evolution

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of folks (including myself) say this or that about what they “believe” based on how they grew up, what their family did or didn't force on them, or the particular hand the world dealt them throughout their life. While this is totally natural and very understandable in a humanitarian sense, it really doesn’t do much for our overall psychological well-being and stability. So many of us choose (or choose to accept) our current value systems—culture, religion, social principles, etc.—based on what is essentially just a subjective reaction to our environment, rather than a conscious or thoughtful action on the part of what we objectively think about reality.

“My parents made me go to church, so I really hate it now,” is a real common negative reaction. “I come from a family of democrats, so that’s how I’ve always voted,” is a fairly normal kind of political stance. Another type, which most of us don’t really consider, is this kind of thing, “I grew up watching football all the time, so I’m a huge fan.” Not all of these things may seem like what I would call “value systems,” and while some are far more important than others in a moral or social sense, they and others like them are all heavily formative to the kinds of people we are. They play an important role in our morality, how our time is spent, our careers, our friendships, our judgements of the world and people around us, and sometimes aspects of our lives as subtle as what we eat and drink.

There are basically two types of drinking a person does—active drinking and reactive drinking.
Speaking or drinking (alcohol, that is), this whole concept is kind of like drinking. And, well, even if it’s not, I’m still comparing it to drinking to make my point. Situational detail aside, there are basically two types of drinking a person does—active drinking and reactive drinking. For the moment, let’s set aside the unfortunate yet all-too-common problem of alcoholism, although I’ll come back to it shortly.

Active drinking is the best kind of drinking one can do. You might also call it social drinking. This is when we drink because we want to. It includes drinking good-tasting beverages, largely your high-quality beers, fine wines, and sugary or festive mixed drinks, perhaps with a dainty umbrella or piece of bacon stuck in. It also includes celebratory or traditional drinking of just about anything (be it it fancy brew or filthy swill), like having champagne at weddings and baby showers, beer at a barbecue, wine at snooty art galleries and formal events, or whatever else you like at parties and such. Active drinking is really just another way of honoring the timeless human convention of sharing social communion over food and drinks. It’s festive, fun, and socially healthy, in moderation, of course.

We all fall victim to reactive behavior from time to time.
Reactive drinking can be the worst kind of drinking one can do. Regardless of what you think about what I’ve written so far, I think we can all agree there’s a huge difference between having a few customary beers with friends and family at a wedding and drinking a bottle of whiskey by yourself while mourning a recent divorce. This kind of drinking, regardless of type or quantity of the beverage, is really no different from the abuse of medication. Anyone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one, failed relationships, or even just despair over anything that’s important to them, has likely done this. It never really helps, isn’t very healthy at all, and almost never ends well for anyone. We all fall victim to it from time to time, but we also have to acknowledge that it’s the result of reacting to or trying to cope with something that life threw in our path.

Incidentally, reactive drinking is often what leads to detrimental things like alcoholism, drunk driving, and generally doing stupid things we regret later when our friends tell us about it. Nonetheless, diving too far into the dangers of irresponsible alcohol consumption are beyond the scope of this article, so I’ll just leave it as a side note and move on to the real point.

Drinking to forget our problems, sources of pain, or personal failures is a mostly natural reaction, but it’s not healthy or productive. Likewise, it’s perfectly natural to choose opposing or complementary value systems to indulge our stewing dissatisfaction or ease our desire to fit in and make us feel successful, respectively. It's perfectly natural, but not usually healthy or productive. Regardless of being healthy or productive though, I’d like to point out a different quality that’s wrapped up in the whole equation, the conceptual quality of freedom and slavery.

Choices are choices, whether they’re active choices or passive acceptance.
Choices are choices, whether they’re active choices to do or think this or that, or passive acceptance where we idly accept doing or thinking this or that instead of choosing not to. You’ve probably heard that not making a choice is choosing not to choose, or neglecting to act is choosing to stand idly by while something happens. Evolution is characterized by critters reacting to their environment—some of them dying off or failing to reproduce under certain environmental conditions while others survive and pass on their adaptive features through reproducing more offspring. In this way, all organisms are kind of slaves to our environment, with the exception of modern humans, which pretty much as a species said, “Screw this environment noise. We’re inventing agriculture, air conditioning, shoes, and refrigerators.”

Us humans, by adapting technology and such, have somewhat freed ourselves from merely living in reaction to our environment, slaves to every heatwave, blizzard, or drought that came along. In doing so, we freed up our time from that pesky task of surviving, allowing us to create works of art, literature, philosophy, Netflix, and jelly beans. To bring this back around to our value systems, the same applies to living simply in reaction to other value systems. If we just choose whatever beliefs or practices that our parents or culture imparted to us, then we’re kind of slaves to custom and acceptance, following along blindly to ease our social transition into this or that demographic. Likewise, if we merely choose whatever beliefs or practices that are in opposition to what we stand against, then we’re kind of slaves to the actions of others.

Religion, politics, and all sorts of organizations have perpetrated some atrocious things over the years, but it’s really nothing new. Those things have been going on as long as people have been around. The moment two mouths started talking, the argument was born, and all institutions are controlled by humans with mouths that tend to argue and screw up a lot. But, neither successful visionaries nor revolutionaries operated only on a reactive stance. The American Revolution wouldn’t have been very successful if we had driven away oppression and then just stopped. We had to have had a visionary ideal to pursue in the revolution, and subsequently work at building it in the process. The same goes for our own little revolutions every day and in every choice we make.

“Strange that we defend our wrongs with more vigor than we do our rights.”
-Kahlil Gibran

If you choose to defy this or that belief system just because your parents forced you into it, or because some jackass may have deceived you or given the institution a bad name, then you’re really just allowing yourself to be a slave to your environment. What’s really difficult is to share core, fundamental beliefs of any kind with a complete and total wackadoo and be able to distinguish between your sensible approach to that value system and their, well, wackadoo approach to it. If you can choose your value systems regardless of what any other person thinks, rather than in spite of what they think, them you’re truly free. When you’ve truly freed yourself from convention and spite, choosing to act rather than simply react, to be free to think independent thoughts rather than be a slave to others’ opinions, then perhaps you too can be free enough to create things like literature, Netflix, and jellybeans.