tv QA Edward Slingerland Drunk CSPAN June 27, 2021 8:00pm-8:59pm EDT
answers questions from members of the house of commons. on landmark cases, case of giddy on who went on trail for petty crimes but was denied a court-appointed lawyer. ♪ host: edward slingerland, your new book entitled drunk, how we stumbled our way through civilization has an eye-popping opening. people like to masturbate. they like to get drunk and eat twinkies. not typically at the same time but that is a matter of personal
preference. from a scientific perspective, we have told that these all have one thing in common. they are evolutionary mistakes. sneaky ways that humans have figured out to get something for nothing. you have been researching why people drink. the scientists right or wrong? guest: they are wrong. that is my argument. for a variety of reasons. if alcohol is a mistake, it is a costly mistake. unlike masturbation which is relatively harmless. evolution will not get too worried about people and other species gaming the system so getting a pleasure reward for no good reason or something for. in the case of twinkies, it is more serious because it leads to diabetes, all these problems but it is a really recent problem. the taste for sugar and fat that drives us to eat twinkies is a
relatively recent problem. it is a modern industrial societies we have access to junk food and things like that. it's still not to the state universal. there are plenty of places in the world work getting fat and sugar is slight problem. one of these high jacks or mistakes is not really costly. the other is very recent. alcohol on the other hand is very costly. it is a poison. it is physiologically damaging. it raises cancer risks. it causes alcoholism so it is estimated that 15% of the human population is prone to alcoholism. it can lead to tragic consequences for the individual and everybody around them. it is costly in terms of resources. it is estimated that in ancient
sumer, we have the beginning of where beer is a major staple up to where half of the grain. half of their food was turned into beer. half of their food stuff turning into a liquid neurotoxin which seems very strange if it's a mistake. in modern industrial society, it is about one third of peoples household budget on food and drink go towards alcohol. that is almost certainly underestimate because of the prevalence of black markets and things like that and underreporting alcohol purchases. if it is a mistake, it is a costly one. the surprising it's been around for so long. that leads to the second issue. it is not a recent problem. it surprised me when i was doing the research. the standard story is we discovered our culture. we settled down. we grew grains. notice that if we left it sitting around in some water, it
would ferment. in that story, alcohol is kind of a mistake. it is a byproduct of agriculture. the archaeological record is suggesting now that we were making beers out of wild grains long before we had agriculture. we have direct evidence as far as 13,000 years ago and indirect evidence as far back as 20,000 years ago. hunter gatherers were making beers out of wild grains. agriculture started as a byproduct from wanting to get drunk. we were motivated to make better beer and so we cultivated grains, making them more productive. the drive to settle down and create agriculture was driven by this desire to get intoxicated rather than the other way around. the antiquity and cost of alcohol use makes it unlikely that it is in evolutionary mistake.
>> you are joining me from western canada. you are a professor of philosophy. how did somebody with your background get interested in the use of alcohol? guest: that is a good question. most of my questions would like me to answer that as well. it actually grows naturally out of previous work i did. my day job was early chinese philosophy. i have written previously on attention there. all these thinkers i look at in early china want you to be spontaneous. they want you to be in this state that i translate as effortless action. it is like being in the zone when you play sports. it is a state we lose a sense of self. everything sort of just works. everything feels effortless and perfect. you can solve problems. they have -- they want you to be
spontaneous but how do you tried not to try? that is a topic of one of my earlier books. how do you consciously make yourself spontaneous? it seems like a paradox. and it is from a cognitive scientific perspective. in one of these texts. it is really kind of a side, but they compared the person to somebody who is drunk. they are relaxed. they are feeling spontaneous. that puts a seat in my mind and i think of this idea that this is a tension that you cannot solve to just forcing your way through it. you cannot try to be relaxed. maybe chemical intoxicants, especially alcohol are these tools to get around the paradox to reach inside the brain and turn down the prefrontal cortex. the part in charge of attention and control. it might be a tool that
societies have used to create artificial spontaneity that may have important functional benefits. host: to that end, we were looking for clips to elevate the conversation. he found a clip from a movie from 1945. he is the drinker at the bar in this clip. let us hear how he describes how alcohol makes them feel. >> out, don't worry about me. come on, join me. >> no thanks. >> you don't approve of drinking? >> not the way you drink. >> it pickles my kidneys, yeah. what does it do to my mind? and makes it so the balloon consort. -- it makes it so the balloon can soar.
i am one of the great ones. host: does that ring true in your research? guest: i quote a bit of that in the book. there is this ancient ubiquitous idea of alcohol going along with creativity. the association between alcohol and poets and writers. i argue in the book that this is not random. we have very good scientific evidence that alcohol can enhance creativity. one of the studies i look at had subjects trying to solve what is called a lateral thinking task. it is where you can't power your way through a solution. you have to see it. they gave subjects placebo or a drink that had alcohol in it. people seem to do best at this task when they got to .8 -- .08 alcohol.
it's two drinks. it's one you stop driving. it's when you can't drive that you think more creatively. interestingly, i was writing the proposal for this book. i had gone through 10 iterations or so and my agent kept saying that is not good. she was right. or something missing. i had not taken my own advice or the advice from the evidence and studies. i had not written any of it drunk. i sat down with my laptop at a hotel bar. we spent three quarters of the way through it. i wrote those lines you read at the beginning of the show. we invested the jazzy way of starting the book. it is in the feeling i had which was taking dictations. i got into a relaxed state of mind. it really felt like i was
writing down words that were being read to me from some part of my brain. there is this ability. the prefrontal cortex which is important for getting stuff done. it is control, impulses, staying focused on tasks, it is an important part of the brain to have. but, i review evidence that it it interferes with creativity. if you can turn it down temporarily for a few minutes, it helps. where you -- host: we surprise the number of jurisdictions during the pandemic labeled alcohol sales as potential businesses? guest: all jurisdictions did. it is really interesting. there was debate over gun stores, golf stores. there was no debate about liquor stores. i think in the united states, pennsylvania try to close liquor stores and it lasted 12 hours before the outcry force them to
reopen. that to me is one of the pieces alcohol use is woven into our culture and the lives. let us part of the puzzle i want to explain in the book. host: you come at this from history and makes it with biochemistry, and at, neuroscience, altogether. you write in the closing pages that you thought about this book for quite a while. what brought you to say this is time to get this together and publish it? guest: i think because of the growing feeling that we had a scientific problem that needed to be solved. we had this mystery hiding in plain sight. some of the previous work i had done is on religion. looking at the evolutionary underpins of why we believe in supernatural beings. why we engage in religious rituals. my approach to religion has been what is puzzling from an
evolutionary perspective, puzzling behavior? worshiping beings that don't exist. doing costly things that are not having a real effect even though they might have one. why has this behavior evolved? why has it stayed part of the human repertoire? i came to feel that intoxication was one of those things. why are people so drawn to intoxicants? the shallow answer is well the basic question of drunk is why people like to get drunk? the superficial answer is that it makes us feel good. it is pleasurable. the deeper question pushing it back is why does it make us feel pleasurable? why does evolution allow it to make us feel pleasure? that felt like a puzzle i had to dig into. host: are we the only species that seeks intoxication? guest: other species will drink
alcohol if they can get their hands on it. i tell the story of someone in the extended in law family kept a pet lemur. it got into a store of alcohol swabs and squeeze the swabs and drink enough alcohol to get drunk and fell off the landing. that is the end of the lemur. animals well, if they can get into alcohol, drink it. this tricking a pleasure center in a lot of brain systems. humans are the only ones who made producing serious quantities of alcohol center of their organized activity. we have been focusing on how to make alcohol and make it more potent. for as long as we have been doing anything organized as a species. that is really unusual. we have a special drive to seek
intoxication that other species don't seem to have. host: from a scientific perspective, we hear alcohol is a depressant. you explained that it it -- it has two phases. guest: alcohol is very complicated. it is called a pharmacological hand grenade. when it hits your brain, it is doing so many things. often all at once. it is a stimulant in various ways. it's emulates serotonin production. it boosts endorphins. the feeling of elation. it is raising mood. it is relaxing you. it makes you feel good about people around you. it is a depressant part of it that is targeting the prefrontal cortex along with other systems of your brain that is a major one i focus on. it is turning it down a few notches. one way to look at it is it is
giving the playground monitor a vacation so kids comply on the road. it is decreasing inhibitions for good and bad. it is making you feel good about yourself and the people around you. once you get it to higher blood alcohol contents, the depressant effects start to swap out the other effects and that's when you get people falling asleep, passing out. it really depends on the dosage, how quickly you are drinking, whether you have food in your stomach or not, it is variable. it is a hodgepodge of different effects happening at the same time. host: in addition to describing the importance of the prefrontal cortex of our brain on human capabilities, you have a theory of the three c's. it distinguishes us as a species and how important they are in the creation of community and success as a species. we talk about that?
guest: we are primates. our closest relatives are chimpanzees and bonobos. our basic biology is primate biology. even if you look at how we live, especially in large-scale societies. i live in downtown vancouver. i'm looking at the view of skyscrapers, buildings, cars moving around. then cooper looks a lot more like a beehive than in and colony than the kind of settlement you would see chimpanzees or early humans preagricultural humans living in. we are primates but the way we cooperate, we cooperate on a scale that looks like social insects. this is a puzzle. how do you get human beings to cooperate on a large scale? the three c's are that we are creative, cultural, and communal. creative, we are dependent on creativity in a way no other animal is. we need tools.
the cheetah doesn't sit around figure out and out better ways to catch gazelles like coming up with bows and arrows. they have teeth. they can run. gazelles have their natural defenses. they can get better of this but it's to genetic evolution not cultural evolution. humans are helpless without tools. we are biologically dependent on tools. if you think about the simplest and most earliest tools: fire. we have become so dependent on cooking our food. we use fire, we cooked food, and makes the food more digestible. it is like pre-digesting food for an infant. we do this for ourselves and our jobs have changed. our teeth are smile -- smaller, our jobs are more -- less robust. our digestive track is smaller than it should be. we have become biologically dependent on fire. we need fire and we need tools
humans can't capture the tool -- food they need without tools. the environments are to -- changing so many new tools. we are competing with other cultural groups. we exploit the same resources we are exploiting. we need better tools to compete. we are dependent on creativity in the way that nobody else's. this is one of the functions of intoxication. it helps to free the mind so we can come up with new solutions. i talked a little bit about psychedelics in this regard as well. we are cultural and communal. we are open to other people. we need to be open to trusting them. trusting that the information they are giving us is reliable. we need to cooperate with strangers and -- in what is called a publix goods game or prisoner dilemma situations. we need to cooperate in situations where we have no guarantee that the other person will cooperate.
we just have to trust them. it seems that humans have evolved by reading emotional cues and other people. are you trustworthy? can i go on this hunt with you? alcohol i argue, is one way we do a better job of assessing out potential cooperators. alcohol makes it harder to lie for instance. paralyzed the prefrontal cortex and it's harder to live. what is more surprising is that inmates is better at detecting lies. humans it turns out when we are not focusing detecting lies, we don't do a good job. if we just relax and take in the cues, we do a better job. the same way that we meet and shake hands. cultures use intoxicants as treaties at meetings, business meetings. anywhere where hostile people in
the figure out how to cooperate as a kind of cognitive disarmament. if i sit down and drink with you, i'm taking out my prefrontal cortex, putting it on the table and saying i am not armed anymore. you can trust me. things i'm saying are sincere and authentic. it is a tool in the same way as a chemical intoxicant has been used as a tool by humans to help us adapt to this niche we have grown accustomed to. guest: your book gives examples throughout history and modern times where alcohol has been deployed specifically in your theory to lower the instincts of the pfc. and have a positive gain. one is general george washington and liquor for the troops. host: guest: he believed it was important for building morale to give them alcohol. this is where the bonding effect
of alcohol is important. this has to do with lowering the pmc and being able to have a feeling that the person you're interacting with is the real person, not some put on version of them. this is where it is important. have the endorphin level rise in your body as you drink alcohol, you start to feel better about the people you are with. you start to feel like you're are part of the team. maybe we are a team against other teams. i've looked at experimental work that has been done or if you put strangers together have them engage in conversation, they're supposed to some other task but the experience is about alcohol and it has a pulley -- placebo. people will be drinking alcoholic drink that is not, are people like not drinking anything at all. they have trouble hitting it
off. if you look at the videos of them interacting, it is awkward. fake smiles, smiling for the camera. if you look at the health commission, they are hitting it off. they are smiling with what is called a sincere smile you get when you are really amused. afterwards, they report feeling bonded by feeling really bonded with people. people like george washington didn't have access to this. they had a gut feeling that getting people who needed to trust each other in dangerous situations and work as a team together. getting them together and getting alcohol was helpful. a modern -- host: a modern example use was the navy seals program. would you talk about that? guest: this is an anecdote from
a relatively new book i read for this commander had this message for people taking them to this brutal training process. it is very physically and mentally demanding. he thought a crucial caps on to the training was the last night where they all went out to a bar and got quite drunk. the experience of laying down your guard. taking that mental machinery on an and on the table. he thought it did the final work of gelling them as a group and making it possible for them to work together. the navy seals are pretty evidenced-based. there are things they want to do. they out different techniques. i think the fact that successful organizations like this are using alcohol as a tool and
teambuilding is very revealing. host: you had a personal example when you are alert -- lead into the google whiskey room. guest: giving a talk at their campus and i mentioned the study about the .08 leading to higher creativity. this is just a footnote in my talk about spontaneity i was giving them. when the talk was over, somebody put their head up right away and asked if i'd heard about the ulmer peak? i hadn't. it may be hypocrisy. steve ballmer discovered this very narrow blood alcohol level where he was supernaturally good at coding. he got really great at this blood alcohol content and went down again. he would keep himself hooked up to an iv of alcohol to hover right at that sweet spot. it's hard to imagine doing that. it gets at this idea that people
have independently discovered that at a certain level of inebriation, they are peaking in their performance. they are able to think out-of-the-box and think more creatively. steve ballmer independently discovered this. after the talk, i was being taken on a tour. . they took me to the whiskey room. it was amazing room with great selection of single malt scotch is, foosball tables, beanbag chairs. when they get into it as a team and run into a wall, trying to solve some problems, they are not solving it. banging their head against the wall isn't working. instead of remaining in front of the computer and continuing to bang their head against a wall they go into this room. they pour themselves scotch and sit in some chairs. they just start talking. what they discover is that often
one or another person at a certain blood alcohol content level will have a new solution to get around this problem. just like the navy seals example, this sat -- stuck to my mind in a way that organizations are using chemical intoxicants instrumental to solve very specific problems. host: as you write in the book, there are some people invited -- not invited to the parties. women and those don't drink are not a -- invited in. that is one of the downsides of using it as a tool. guest: you create an in group, you create an outgroup. that is a problem. the other problem is the way that alcohol is deployed in a lot of rational environments for instance, you see at professional conferences. it is the case. a lot of the real work gets done not in the talks but after the
program is over one people are going to receptions and hanging out at the hotel bar having drinks. this is a tricky subject. it seems the case that this is where new collaborations get struck. this is where you have a new idea talking to a colleague from an another field when you don't speak too normally. important things happen in these environments. it is the case that if they are hostile to it. if our young woman, i would feel uncomfortable hanging out with a hotel bar with a bunch of colleagues. i talk about this at the end of the book. alcohol has got this dark side to it. so i think about dionysus as giving gifts. one of the gifts he gave us was the golden touch. turn -- did not turned out great for midas. the gifts of dionysus are dangerous. they come with downsides. i think of the culture, we
haven't done a good job to use alcohol in a way that makes everybody feel comfortable. people who don't feel comfortable. women may not feel comfortable hanging out in a bar environment where people are drinking. if you don't drink for religious surgeons, you are frozen out of that. if you are recovering alcoholic, you have to wake up early the next morning. if you have to go home to take care of your kids, you don't have the luxury of thing around after work at the bar. it freezes out a lot of people. there is no current answer to this but i think that organizations need to figure out a way to use alcohol anyway that doesn't disadvantage people who don't drink. 4 host: muslims are an example of major religious groups, mormons, pentecostals, who disavow alcohol consumption and yet their societies have been enormously successful. does a turn your theory on its head? guest: no, i think the fact that
they have been relatively successful supports my theory because it would be easy if alcohol as a cost, prohibition should be awesome for cultural groups. somewhat show they outcompete other cultural groups. there is a story i tell in the book, a historical account from the 780. it is an islamic official traveling in what is now russia to meet a recently converted ruler to check up on them and make sure they are being a good muslim. on the trip, he meets vikings. it is one of the first accounts we have of vikings from outsiders. they were impressed by their size and fierceness but is horrified either drinking. the account of their drinking is accurate. they would get one drunk,
falling to fires, hurt each other, get into fights. he thought this was animalistic behavior and amazed that they could even function. and yet, they did functioned they functioned quite effectively. if you want to talk about a successful cultural group, they were pretty successful. first of all, large proportion of northern europeans are descendants of them. they were the first to sail to the american -- americas. if alcohol really only had negative consequences, a cultural group like islam that came up with a solution to it, prohibiting alcohol consumption, should have completely wiped out cultural groups that use alcohol and yet, that is not the case. i don't have it in the book, but a talk i gave on whether prohibition is in place right now in the world. it's not very many places.
they are all muslim countries. it's not as prevalent as you would predict if alcohol really only had cons and no benefits on the others to the -- other side of the equation. host: you use the southern mediterranean culture and its incorporation of alcohol in their culture from early ages in comparison to for example, northern european cultures where distilled spirits and inches and the like, russia for example, stand in contrast. what is to learn from looking at those approaches? guest: it is probably the case that the populations have about 15% of the population is prone to alcoholism. alcohol is in rates that we observe in different countries are quite variable. russia has high alcoholism. germany has low. there has got to be some
explanation for that. it's not genetic, it is cultural. that is where we get to the idea of northern versus southern drinking cultures referring to europe. in anthropological circles, i talk about northern drinking cultures focused on distilled liquors. they drink to get drunk. drinking is a separate activity, something you do from meal takings. public drunkenness is not only not frowned upon but probably considered heroic or manly like something guys do. drinking alcohol is considered taboo. children are not allowed to do it and it is forbidden. strict rules about who is allowed to drink. those seem to encourage binge drinking and unhealthy drinking patterns. if you look at southern european cultures, they drink more wines and beers. lower alcoholic averages.
they had distilled liquors but use them in small amounts at the beginning or end of a meal and it's all about the meal. the only drink alcohol at the meal table. you'll drink at lunch and dinner but you only drink at the table. it is a part of life. it is part of what one does. kids are included. children get a little bit of one at the table. usually water down when they are young but stronger as they get older. kids learned alcohol is just a normal part of life. it is part of the sensual pleasures you enjoy it with a good meal. drunkenness is frowned upon so people who drink to the point of getting visibly drunk or disapproved of. these are implicit cultural practices. you just learn this. i learned this when my ex-wife is half italian and spent time in italy. i learned quickly. i come from more of a northern
drinking culture just from being american. americans tend to drink like northern europeans. i learned that you drink wine at the table and you don't take it away after dinner and sit in your room and read a book. people will look at me where it. one does not do that. that seems to help. incorporating alcohol in a healthy way into your daily life in a communal setting, setting of a meal seems to help people integrate it in a way that it doesn't become a danger. host: you see the u.s. compared to these two examples have the most individualized and fragmented drinking cultures. what do you mean? guest: historically, drinking has been a communal event. you drink and a public ritual setting. a setting where you are sharing food with people. you don't drink in private.
i think what is extreme about america is the kind of american puritanism where we like pleasures but we think they are bad. we don't engage in them in this and healthy well because they are taboo. again, i am something like europe where it is part of daily life. american life is more centered around the suburbs and the individual home. the fact that you can go to a drive-through liquor store and have them load up your suv with vodka, twinkies, firearms and then drive home and have all that stuff in your house is evolutionary unprecedented. it's not the way people tend to drink in southern europe. i think that americans have -- are much more private drinkers streaking at home. we are missing all of the type
of signals we would normally get from society about slow down, match the drinking pace, don't drink so much. that is why you see higher alcoholism in the u.s. look more like russia than they do italy. host: i wanted to share some stats you give your the sources are world and data 2017 paired 15.1 million adult alcoholics in the u.s.. it 8000 alcohol-related deaths. the estimate cost to the economy is billions of dollars. 10% of children in homes with alcoholic parents. this is some of the side effects or consequences of alcohol consumption. 100 years ago, the u.s. over concerns over the impact of alcoholic society tried prohibition as a constitutional amendment which of course was dropped. we have a clip and just put a
historical relevance on it from 1933. members of congress speaking after a legislation, really lies in beer containing 3.2% alcohol. let us put this into the mix. >> this is the day we have long hoped for. it is the consummation. we are all happy that we can drink to full liberation of the american people. further income and taxes and to the success of america. happy days. host: all the members of congress saying happy days are here again. why didn't prohibition work? guest: it didn't work for a variety of reasons. top-down solutions don't normally work.
cultures have been trying prohibition since we have had alcohol. since we start making alcohol since we have been doing anything and organize fashion, we have been trying to ban it. one of the earliest legal codes we have from early china is a prohibition edict. anybody caught drinking will be put to death. it didn't work very well. the chinese cap drinking. i think this legal edict was in the same tune that included lots of vessels. the trick to get prohibition to stick, the trick seemed to be combining it with religion. when we talk about islam as a prohibitionist religion, it has got a mix historical record. there been plenty of places and times in history or islamic culture has winked at drinking. some of the best wine portrait
we have comes from persia. it comes from these islamic persian poets and writers who were drinking openly and celebrating wind. islam has a mixed record on this. it seems that prohibition seems so counter to what people want to do that you need to make it a super prohibition by combining it with religion. that is why certain strains of islam have been successful. that is why mormons have been successful. i argue in the book that once you are doing that, it starts to become so counter to basic human desires and two basic functions of alcohol that the prohibition is itself a point. it is not so much that you get this benefit from banning alcohol. it is by so dramatically going against what people naturally want to do, it is a kind of signal. in cognitive science, evolution of religion and literature, we
talk about these costly signals where we take this group sick -- seriously. i will cut the foreskin of my pianist. i will not eat pork. i will not do these things it demonstrate to everybody that i really believe in this group and what it stands for. alcohol prohibition is successful only in the context of signaling membership to their religious group. that is not the case with american probation which is a legal statute. host: i was thinking about you mentioning pennsylvania earlier. pennsylvania has state liquor stores as does virginia in the washington area. the idea there is to control public access to some degree through regulation. at the same time, they make money from the sale of alcohols and they run commercials on tv encouraging people to encourage -- to buy the products. what are people supposed to take
away from that? guest: it is the recognition. mixed messages are reflections of ambivalent attitudes. we have an ambivalent attitude towards alcohol and for good reason. it is not a mistake. alcohol is potentially really dangerous. something i talk about in the book is how alcohol has become more dangerous relatively recently. i think on a fairly long historical timescale, we have been drinking and making alcohol beverages for about 20,000 years. have direct evidence from 13,000 years ago. for most of that history, we have been drinking relatively weak, a b-2-three percent -- 2%-3% alcohol volume. relatively mild. if your sociality is focused on this level of alcohol, it will
be pretty safe. it will be hard to get dangerously drunk. you won't be able to blackout. you won't kill yourself with something like that because the volume of liquid you would have to consume is so great. about 1300s in china and not really until 16--- six and hundred-1700 europe, we found a way -- 1600-1700 europe, we find a way to district -- distill liquors. it is hard to pull off in practice. it is where your heating and alcoholic mixture, boiling off the ethanol and capturing it and turning it back into a liquid. you can get something in the 90's. the cost of vodka is so much more -- a glass of vodka is more potent than a glass of beer. it is just ethanol but it should
be considered a different drug. i think our ambivalence towards alcohol has become stronger and the past few hundred years for the good reason that the forms of alcohol we possess now are much more dangerous. if you are drinking shots of vodka, you can blow right past .08 blood alcohol content into blackout territory. really uncontrolled behavior territory. i think that the state liquor stores or advertising. what cultures would like us to do is drink in a responsible fashion. i think one of the ways we can do that is focusing more on beers and wines and being very cautious. one thing that has changed my behavior since i started writing this book and doing the research was i have become more wary of distilled liquors. they are really dangerous. host: if you can't do an effective job as a government in changing behaviors through
prohibition, i was thinking about the efforts of mothers against drunk driving. a 20 year campaign to educate the public about the consequences of drinking and driving. it ultimately ended in legislature paired we will have another clip here that is from the year 2000. the president was speaking as a law to change the national blood alcohol content standard 2.08. -- to .08%. >> many state legislators have been under the influence of the hospitality industries. they have chosen to defeat these bills despite the science and public support of this life-saving legislature. this is our 20th anniversary.
today is a historic moment in the fight against drunk driving. host: it took them 20 years but in fact, they were successful in passing the legislation. you are well aware of the efforts in high schools to educate young people about those consequences of drunk driving that seem to have a positive impact on changing people's decision-making. are there other ways as a society we can influence the consequences if not the behavior of drinking itself? guest: one way i don't talk about in the book and the way it come -- it becomes dangerous is motor vehicles. if people didn't have the capacity to inflict harm on others the way we do once we are driving. that is another way in which we need to be a lot more cautious about alcohol use. especially in places outside of cities where you're just hopping
out of a bus and walking. once you are behind a wheel of a very heavy and fast moving vehicle, you should be much more concerned about alcohol. i think med was successful because they were able to connect this danger to visceral images of young people dying of tragedies happening. the way to get people to change their behavior is through emotions, not the statistics or reason. i think that is why they have been successful. if you want to get people to drink anymore healthy fashion, i think you have got to have modeling of that. you've got to have -- as a parent if you want your kids to drink responsibly, do you give them a pamphlet on drinking? do you show them a video? i thing the best way to do it is to model responsible drinking for them.
my daughter is 14. we have wine at dinner and i give her a bit to taste to take -- she is developing a great pallet. she said it was a little sweet and she didn't like it. she was totally right. had this unpleasant sweetness to it. i think doing stuff like that helps kids realize that alcohol is not this forbidden substance that if we get a hold of it, we should drink as much as possible. it is just a part of life. it is part of enjoying the stake your eating paired it something you do around the dinner table and you drink in moderation. you don't drink to get trunk. i'm hoping that having that balance of experiencing southern drinking culture, she spent a lot of time in italy so she has been around as well. it will help her when she gets to university where probably the most unhealthy drinking culture in the world is north american
university fraternity parties. it's where you have young people. the frontal cortex doesn't develop until your mid-20's. you have kids basically who don't have fully developed parts of their brain doing shots of liquor in opaque plastic cups. don't know how much to drinking or what their drinking. they have no ritual regulations. no cultural norms except to get drunk. that is the most dangerous combination of things you can imagine. how do you protect your kids from that? you gotta give them a different model. if that is the only model of drinking they have and they learn a university, it will be problematic. it will bring that problematic behavior into their adult lives. host: you write about a trend that is developing a long the
younger generations of sober curious and sober bars. is that the right approach? it seems like you're being a bit critical of them calling them technocratic and moralistic in their approaches. guest: i called a cheerful aestheticism. there is a pleasure for pleasure stake in this literature. i think there are some great tips and takeaways. there is a book called mindful drinking. i found it very helpful. her point is that we often drink habitually. we get home from work and we pour ourselves a glass of wine. we don't think, do i want that lots of wine? she is arguing that if you are pouring yourself a drink, do i want to have a drink? you sometimes say no. if you're mindful about what you're drinking as were drinking it, you will moderate your drinking. you're not paying attention that
you drink faster. i think there are great tips here. there are these sober bars that popped up where people can go and socialize over virgin cocktails. nonalcoholic cocktails. that seems like a great idea. the get the same buzz. to get the same effects he would get with alcohol without actually consuming it. i think these are great tips. what i worry about is this kind of neo-puritanism. i worry about it because it risks causing us bad decisions because we are not taking into account that humans like pleasure. most of the book is me arguing, making an evolutionary argument on the usefulness of alcohol. pleasure cannot be a part of that argument. evolution doesn't care if we are happy or not. it uses pleasure as a tool to
get us to do things. we are not our genes. we care a lot about pleasure. it should be a valid goal to enhance our pleasure. at the end of the book, i am worried a little bit about being too instrumental. two ascetic, to about our functions all the time. allowing a bit of intoxication as a form of peer pleasure. i think we do need to preserve that. as long as we are individuals drinking in a healthy situation. host: the pressures and the other direction, not just from governments but the medical communities pushing people towards zero-tolerance or zero consumption because of the cancer increases. certainly, the liver impacts. is that then not the right way to go? guest: no. i talk about this article that argues that there is no safe
level of alcohol consumption. this is the problem. the public debate right now is distorted by the fact that we don't talk about the positive functional benefits of alcohol. we know it causes liver damage, cancer, drunk driving. we know that. on the other side, what is there? having fun. if that is all you're talking about in your cost-benefit analysis, alcohol will lose. fundable always lose. -- fun will always lose. on the others of the equation are positive social benefits. enhance creativity. enhanced bonding. enhanced trust. there are ways of relaxation. the ability to elevate mood and help us adapt to the kind of lives we live in modern society.
on the other side of the equation and have these public -- positive functions, you can make a more informed and intelligent decision. your decision may be that the costs are too high. that is a rational decision to make. you need to make it with all the data. you need to make it knowing what all the positive functional benefits are. that of the medical literature on this considers that. it looks at it from a purely physiological perspective i think that is wrong. host: we were talking about those interviewing you are having fun and inviting you on with alcohol consumption along the way to talk about the topic we are not doing that here. caffeine only. yours is a very serious book. it has footnotes. it is well researched. are you concerned people aren't taking it seriously? is that your intent of a serious discussion of alcohol?
guest: i think discussions of alcohol can veer into being superficial. i think what this book is doing is filling an important intellectual niche. let us have an evolutionarily grounded, evidence bounded -- grounded, history grounded of the role that alcohol has played in human society since the very beginning. since the formation of civilization down to the present day. we gotta use that evidence-based account to think intelligently about what the role of alcohol should be in our present-day lives. i don't pretend to answer this question for individuals. i think it is an individual question. if you have alcoholism in your family, it will be a difference if you don't. if you are going to make a smart
decision about how to use this very dangerous substance, we need to have all the facts at our disposal. that is what i was trying to do. host: what is the best possible outcome for you after this book is published. -- published? do you want to be in debates against public health officials for example? governments might ask you to testify? what would be a good outcome? guest: i live in british columbia. we have had pretty serious lockdowns and we are coming out of the most recent one now. our public health officer is really great. i think that when she was deciding what the restrictions on bars and restaurants would be, she was thinking the way these in purely physiological terms.
what would be the economic impact of closing down for instance, indoor dining? i think as public official start to think about socializing in bars and restaurants, not as frivolous fund that helps the economy little bit. but actually as the way that humans have socialize since we have been human. it is the center of human sociality. people get weird without it. if you take it away, people get strange. they become less productive. they lose their social ties. i would hope that public officials think this is a timely example when they are deciding about cobit lockdowns and regulations. they take seriously the positive social functions of bars and restaurants that of seeing them as kind of frivolous fun. host: the book is called drunk: howie sit, dance, and stumbled our way to civilization.
thank you so much for spending an hour with c-span. guest: thank you for having me. ♪ [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast on the span.org. -- [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, -- c-span.org >> we are funded by these television companies and more. ♪ >> they support c-span as a public service along with these other television providers.
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