How having a drink helped us towards art, society and civilization

Drunk: how we sipped, danced and stumbled on our way to civilization
Edward Slingerland
Small, brown, $ 45

Canadian philosopher Edward Slingerland’s interpretation of the role of alcohol in history is so rational and sensible that it would hardly be recognized for what it really is. A call for all of us to relax, reflect and even celebrate the crucial role played by the ethyl alcohol molecule in the emergence of what we imagine to be human civilization.

It might, on first sip, taste a bit stuffy – claiming that without the ability to get run over we wouldn’t be there – or at least, we wouldn’t be much more civilized than chimpanzees. Yet Slingerland’s compelling arguments – anthropological, archaeological, literary, and statistical – make Drunk as seductive as a pina colada on a Tahitian beach.

Lunch by Pierre-August Renoir des Canotiers. According to Edward Slingerland, alcohol was the catalyst for the rise of massive civilizations.Credit:

It’s not so much because of his statement of raw fact – for thousands of years, beer and wine have read everything from tribal disputes to nuclear weapons treaties, from erotic encounters to Christmas street parties. .

Slingerland, a cultural polymath of great insight and refreshing honesty, does not advocate that the human race would be better off with “a barrel on every corner,” as various Australian thinkers have insisted over the years. His thesis was born out of a cause-and-effect debate that has crossed the academic view of prehistory for decades and which has intensified in recent times. “Beer before bread” or “bread before beer”?

One of Slingerland’s first cries is: “Archaeologists began to suggest that various forms of alcohol were not simply a by-product of the invention of agriculture, but in fact a motivation for it. – that the first farmers were motivated by a desire for beer, not bread.

This is a significant overhaul of our vision of the “Fertile Crescent” school book on the origins of organized agriculture, and the consequent development of village life, then urban life. Of course, there have been urbanizations that emerged from concentrations of people creating cereals, but it is intriguing to think that they grew cereals to ferment them in bulk, and the extra food supplemented a nutritional base of hunters. -collectors already existing.

Slingerland argues (while referencing the work of many others, including mind-manipulation advocates William James and Aldous Huxley), that the human brain, although an instrument of colossal complexity and capacity, is intrinsically led to modify his perception of himself.

Whether through religion, dance or ritual, pharmacy is basically the universal springboard for the plunge. And although alcohol is not the exclusive mind-modifying molecule (mushrooms, peyote, kava – the list is long and growing, in the lab, legitimate or otherwise), there is still the Esperanto of drunkenness.

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