Evolution and Ethanol?

For coursework this year, our challenge is to analyse what students on my course think about alcohol consumption and drinking culture. This was done by opening up a survey with questions for the students about things like whether they thought drinking was a necessary part of being a student, experiences they’d had when drinking, and what they thought about student culture. That was interesting reading in itself, as I wouldn’t have been surprised if a few of them were drunk while writing it.

While I was writing the coursework, a pattern came out of what students were saying: of  how their social group and friends formed from being drunk together, and of the importance they all placed on protecting their friends from the dangers they would potentially face while out drinking. This made me think about danger, and about how human society used to be.
Tens of thousands of years ago, humans obviously didn’t live in the same way they do now. They lived in much smaller societies and groups, and in many ways their lives would have revolved around each other to a greater extent. Their family and friends would have been everything, and they would have been mutually responsible for each other. Social bonds would have had to be far stronger to function properly: the friendship/hunting group would have had to be absolutely sure they were all trusted and trustworthy to ensure their survival.

This absolute, fire-forged trust is something that isn’t available in society in the same way now. After all, consider how many of your Facebook friends would help you escape from a wild animal that doesn’t like the idea of being your lunch? (I’m not saying that people don’t trust each other now, or anything like that, just that the same idea of survival dependent on a social group isn’t present now for the majority of people).

Another thing that a lot of students talked about was the idea of there being a set “level” or amount of   drunk-ness that their group would generally get to, and that they would often not want to be around people or environments that went too far beyond this level.

This got me thinking, what if the reason people put themselves into dangerous and self-destructive situations so much is as an unconscious recreation of that conflict? In other words, a subconscious motivation for people to go out and drink to the point where they put themselves in danger is because then the people that help them are definitely to be trusted, and ok to be friends. Also, they would then, on other occasions, be the sober and responsible one while others get drunk, because that will establish that they will mutually protect each other. That could also be why they would have that set level of drunk behaviour, because that is what has been established as the groups’ behaviour  and anyone breaking such a simple code of the group then could not be trusted in a life-or-death situation.

Obviously, there isn’t exactly any way this can be tested, so its an interesting thought experiment at most. However, it is intriguing to me how much complexity is actually found in a seemingly-simple thing like going out for a drink, so I would love to know if anyone else has any ideas.

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