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October 3, 2022 74 mins

“We could not have civilization without intoxication,” says Professor Edward Slingerland in his important new book: Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization. Indeed, “the use of intoxicants should puzzle us as much as religion does.” This episode examines how and why intoxicants – and particularly alcohol -- have played such a crucial role in the evolution of human societies. Humans are, Professor Slingerland points out, “the only animals that deliberately and methodically get high.” Understanding the evolutionary dynamics of intoxicant use is essential to thinking clearly about the role intoxicants can and should play in our lives today.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Hi, I'm Ethan Nadelman, and this is Psychoactive, a production
of I Heart Radio and Protozoa Pictures. Psychoactive is the
show where we talk about all things drugs. But any
of view is expressed here do not represent those of
I Heart Media, Protozoa Pictures, or their executives and employees. Indeed,

(00:22):
heat as an inveterate contrarian, I can tell you they
may not even represent my own and nothing contained in
this show should be used as medical advice or encouragement
to use any type of drugs. Hello, Psychoactive listeners. So

(00:45):
I'll tell you one of the most frequent comments or
suggestions I've gotten from friends and other listeners since I
started the podcast over a year ago was what about alcohol?
What about booze? You haven't done any episodes on that,
and that's got to be, you know, in some respects,
one of the you know, biggest drugs of them all.

(01:06):
And so I thought the best way to have a
first episode that addresses the issue of alcohol would be
with Professor Edward Slingerland, who published a book last year
called Drunk. The subtitle is How We sit, danced, and
stumbled our way to Civilization. Now. Edward is the Distinguished

(01:28):
University's Scholar and Professor of Philosophy at the University of
British Columbia and Canada, with adject deployments in Asian studies
and psychology, and he's a co director of the Center
for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture and
director of the Database of Religious History. He's also a sinologist,
which means he's not an expert in sinus as he's

(01:48):
an expert in china um and that's a lot of
his more academic writing, although this is quite an academic
book in its own way as well. So I just
thought he would be a wonderful interest. Edward, thank you
so much for joining me on Psychoactive. Thanks for having me.
So what would be the elevator? Pitch the basic argument
of your book in a few sentences. We've long been

(02:10):
told that our taste for alcohol and other chemical intoxicants
is an evolutionary mistake, and that's not the case. And
in fact, there are a host of both individual and
social benefits to intoxican use, and these benefits have paid
for the obvious costs. So so alcohol consumption is costly,

(02:31):
it's it's bad for our bodies. It can lead to
all sorts of social ills, um. But the taste for
alcohol has remained in our both genetic and cultural repertoire
because of these various individual and social benefits that have
been trucial in allowing human beings to make the transition

(02:52):
from small scale hunter gatherer societies to these large civilizations
that we live in now. And so, you know, far
from being a byproduct or a mistake, intoxication has been
at the center of civilization, um for as long as
as human beings have been doing anything in an organized

(03:13):
fashion as a species. Let me go say the audience,
stead of all the books I've read, uh for this podcast,
this has to be easily the most enjoyable read. It's
not just scholarly and thoughtful, but it's written with an
incredible sense of humor and a dry witticisms, and it's
just a pleasure. And one of those little lines that

(03:34):
Edward uses at the beginning is he says people like
to masturbate. They also like to get drunk and eat twinkies,
not typically all at the same time, but that's a
matter of personal preference. So why Edward, why is that
line right at the top of your book. Well, first
of all, that line was written at probably about point

(03:56):
oh eight blood alcohol content. So I had been working
on the book proposal. I had written ten versions of it,
I think, and my every time my agent would send
it back and she's just like boring. Zache read to
it and she and she was right. So I had, Um,
you know, I had all the science and it all history.
The arguments were there, but it was a very kind

(04:18):
of plotting aid to B two. See, you know this
is a puzzle. This is why it's interesting. Um, it
didn't draw you in. And I realized, oh, you know what,
I haven't taken my own advice in the book, which
is that if you need a creative insight or you
need something new, you need to drink a little bit.
So I was on a conference trip. This was pretty pandemic,

(04:41):
and I had a couple of hours before I was
meeting my colleagues for dinner. So I took my laptop
down to the hotel bar and ordered myself a Negroni
And by the end of that Negroni, it felt like
I was taking dictation. So that line came to me,
and then the rest of that what's now pages one

(05:01):
to two of the book just appeared in my head
and I just wrote it down. You know, I needed
something to draw people in and get them hooked. You know,
I start with masturbation and junk food, just because the
standard story has been that, you know, alcohol is just
like those things, It's just like these other vices. It's

(05:24):
a kind of evolutionary mistake. And the main motive for
writing Drunk was to point out that that's not the case.
Our our taste for alcohol and other chemical intoxicants is
actually qualitatively different from vices like junk food or masturbation.
And it's important to realize that because we can't understand

(05:46):
um why it's been so central to civilization with without
realizing that that dis analogy, right, I think you you
make the analogy partially in the context of saying, there
are two major theories about why alcohol has been so
prevalent and survived for thousands of years among humankind, notwithstanding
its abundant negative consequences. And you see, there's a hijack

(06:08):
theory and a hangover theory, and you kind of disabuse
readers of both, so say a little more about that.
So hijack theories argue that alcohol is just the ethanol
molecule just happens to hijack a reward network that evolved
for other reasons, and so that's where masturbation comes in.
Masturbations a classic example of the hijack. So um evolution

(06:33):
gives us this awesome reward, the orgasm, for the thing
that it most wants us to do, which is pass
on copies of our genes to the next generation. So
the adaptive target of the orgasm is reproductive sex, and
yet humans and other organisms have figured out all sorts

(06:53):
of wildly nonreproductive ways to get that reward. So that's
a classic hijack. We're getting the reward even though we're
not doing the thing it's supposed to be. For the
reason evolution lets us get away with that is because
it's not very costly. Despite what you might have been
told when you were younger, masturbation doesn't cause you to
go blind. It's pretty physiologically negligible in terms of its cost,

(07:17):
and the basic system works right. Um evolution is not
into perfection, it's into a broke don't fix it. So
this is it works well enough um the other type.
So that's the dominant story. If you open a psych
one on one textbook. It's going to tell you that's
why we we like to drink this this hijack theory.
Um mismatches are a different type of evolutionary mistakes. So

(07:42):
this is where something was adaptive in our evolutionary past
but is not adaptive now, and that's where the twinkies
come in. So junk food is a classic example of this.
So having a taste for sugar and fat and wanting
to gorge on sugar and fat when we come across
it has historically been a very adaptive trait in humans

(08:03):
because those things were in short supply and you should
gorge on them when you find them. It really only
becomes a problem quite very recently in history when we
live in these affluent industrial societies where we have access
to twinkies and junk food and all sorts of bad things,
and it's very costly, So unlike masturbation, it's actually very

(08:26):
bad physiologically. It's to obesity and diabetes and all these problems.
But it's a very recent problem and it's still not universal,
so there's still plenty of places in the world where
getting enough calories is a challenge. So here's a case
where um it's it is costly, but it's so recent
and geographically localized that evolution hasn't had time to deal

(08:48):
with it. So when it comes to alcohol, the problem
is it's not like either one of those things. So
it did evolve for a good reason, but now things
have changed and it's it's not adaptive. So unlike masturbation,
alcohol is very costly physiologically, it's physiologically dangerous, it's economically costly.

(09:10):
Unlike junk food, it's ancient. We've been producing and consuming
alcohol all over the world, um for you know, probably
at least twenty thousand years, probably much longer. So it's
an ancient problem. So evolutions had plenty of time to
deal with it, um if it were actually a mismatched
type of mistake. And so UM I argue in the

(09:31):
book that given the ubiquity and the costliness and the
ancientness of our taste for alcohol, there's got to be
something else going on. There have to be some adaptive
benefits that are paying for the costs, and so probably
the bulk of the book is dedicated to walking readers
through both you know, what the challenges are that we

(09:54):
face as species, as humans and then how alcohol might
be giving us these adaptive benefits. Right, So, in the book,
I mean, you make this fascinating set of arguments about
why alcohol and how alcohol has been essential in human evolution,
and then bring it up to the present day, which
we'll get to later. And you also want to say,
we could not have civilization without intoxications. And now without

(10:17):
understanding the evolutionary dynamics of intoxic in use, we cannot
even begin to think clearly or effectively about the role
in toxic cannon should play in our lives today. So
when you say, you know, we could not have civilization
without intoxication, it's a bold statement. Say more about that, well,
and there's one sense in which, quite literally, intoxication probably

(10:41):
gave rise to civilization. So so one thing I'm trying
to flip on its head in the book is the
standard story that I had learned, which is that our
production of alcohol is kind of a mistake. So it's
an evolutionary mistake that we like to drink. And then
the fact that we make alcoholic beverages is a kind
of byproduct of civilization and agriculture. So the standard story is,

(11:05):
you know, we got agriculture, we started civilization and then
at some point are you know, excess production. We decided
to play around with a little bit and discovered we
could make beer and wine and things like that. Um.
When I started to look at the archaeological record, when
I started doing the research for the book, I realized
that the it's almost certainly the case that it's the

(11:27):
other way around. So in the book I talked about
this beer before bread hypothesis. So if we want to
talk about the Fertile Crescent, so the mid East where
probably where agriculture first started, we see these hunter gatherers
coming together, building this massive religious architecture. We don't know
what it's for, exactly what they did there, having these feasts,

(11:49):
So we have the remains of feasts and then drinking liquids,
and they have these big vats that held liquids, and
maybe they were drinking sparkling water, but it's really unlikely. Um.
We don't have direct chemical evidence from the one site
that I talked about in the book, Gobeck Late Tepe,
but we know that people were making beer in the region. Um,

(12:10):
we have evidence from thirteen thousand years ago. So this
is the Psyche Cobeck Late Tepe is ten tend to
twelve thousand years old, way before agriculture we did. We
don't have agriculture yet in that region, and yet hunter
gatherers are coming together and and brewing beer. And so
the idea is that, um, what motivated hunter gatherers to

(12:33):
then start settling down and cultivating crops and making them
more productive was the desire to make more and better beer,
not to make bread. It wasn't for nutrition, it was
for psychoactive reasons. And then you know, I look at
evidence from other parts of the world that wherever you look,

(12:53):
it seems like the first cultivated plants were chosen for
their psychoactive properties, not for a new trition. And so
that's a sense in which quite literally the desire to
get intoxicated gave rise to civilization. It's what caused hunter
gatherers to settle down in the first place. You know,
you reminded me, Edward. You know, when I've over the

(13:14):
decades as I've been speaking around the world around drug
policy or reform, and I put, you know, oftimes make
the point that there's, you know, almost never been a
drug free society and human history, UM, which is a
relatively few exceptions, and that if you look about it,
whether you're looking at alcohol, you know you have basically
hunter gatherer tribes living in remote areas, oftentimes with no

(13:34):
contact with other societies, who somehow figure out alcohol. And
it seems like you have cultures figuring this out independently,
and somewhat the same thing happens with some of the
psychedelic plants, and so it sounds like that's partially what
you're saying that. So why why do you think the
agricultural hypothesis that alcohol came with agriculture became so dominant?
I mean, wasn't there enough evidence even before these theories

(13:58):
of the agricultural impetus for for alcohol. I don't know
if we had some of this data. So we didn't. Um,
we didn't have sites like go Beckley Teppe back then. Um,
we didn't have some of this more recent work. We
have evidence now and very this is very recent of
beer making thirteen thousand years ago in present day Israel.
So I think partly it was we didn't have the data.

(14:20):
We didn't we hadn't discovered some of these sites. But
I also think it's um, it's part of this broader prejudice.
Or kind of weird. Um. I call it a kind
of neo pured in blind spot in scholarship. So you
see it in religious studies. So that's my my PhDs
and religious studies. And let's say we're talking about ritual Um,

(14:42):
we talked about you know, synchrony and singing and music
and maybe sleep deprivation or how people are using pain
you know, painful activities and rituals to enhance their their
mood or feeling of bonding. And what no one ever
talks about out is these people are often high as
hell when they're doing this. Yeah, and so um, it's

(15:06):
this weird blind spot where we're fine talking about piercing
and scarification and sleep deprivation, but you want to start
talking about psychedelics or about alcohol use, and people get
really oddly queasy. I talked in the book about some
of the seminal figures in religious studies. So merch Aliata,

(15:28):
who wrote this classic big book on shamanism. Um, you
know he's got this whatever, seven eight page book on shamanism,
and I think he mentions chemical and toxicans two or
three times, and always in a negative way. Um, you
know this is kind of fake shamanism is when you're
using psychedelics. So there's just it's a weird lacuna in scholarship,

(15:50):
and I think it has to do with this kind
of this odd puritanism where we don't like to talk
about chemical on toxicans. I mean, at one point you
make the argument fact that it's those societies which most
integrated alcohol, including getting raucously drunk, that ended up being
the more successful ones. Now I was wondering, as I'm
reading your book, do you actually have a decent control

(16:12):
group that you're comparing all this too and making that statement.
But you provide a lot of good examples of that.
So in terms of control groups, UM, the control group
is the extinct cultures that we don't know about because
they didn't they lost the competition. I mean, that's one
of the connections of this book with my earlier work.

(16:32):
So I did UM in cognitive science Evolution of Religion.
I was involved in a large research group that was
trying to explain, you know, what this mysterious thing we do,
which is religion. So you look all over the world
and you see people worshiping invisible beings and you know,
piercing themselves and do engaging in these painful rituals and

(16:54):
cutting off the foreskin of their penis and um, refraining
from eating delicious poor and shellfish, and and building these massive,
useless monuments. So um. You know what really got me
thinking about religion in this way was the first Emperor
of Chin's tomb. I don't know those people were familiar

(17:17):
with this terra cotta army they discovered in China's as
the person who unified China. Um massive fake army made
out of terra cotta, individually made, each soldier carrying real weapons,
and then lots of real wealth was thrown in the ground.
Gold and these labor bronze vessels, Horses were killed, people

(17:40):
were killed and thrown in the pit, and then they
buried it all in the grounds for this dead guy
in the afterlife. And I remember when I first kind
of learned about that site and realized how much of
the gross national product of the state of Chin went
into that tomb. You know, I thought this was a
period when these these states were in brutal competition with

(18:02):
one another. Why isn't the case that there was a
state as powerful as Chin, But instead of building a
fake terra cotta army. They built a real army, and
instead of throwing all this wealth in the ground, they
used the labor to you know, build more effective city
walls and do practical things. Why did they not outcompete
this culture that was throwing all this wealth in the ground.

(18:26):
And the answer has to be there has to be
some adaptive benefits to doing that kind of crazy stuff. Um.
And so you know, we explored how these kind of
costly displays and um sacrifices helped to build solidarity and
and get people past cooperation problems. And I think the
same is true of alcohol. You know, an ancient sumer,
it's estimated they took half of their grain and turned

(18:49):
it into beer. So they're taking really nutritious stuff that
could make into bread and turning it into a liquid neurotoxin. Essentially,
you would think that groups that didn't do that would
out compete groups that did um, that just kept all
their grain for nutrition. And yet that's not the case,
because we see that the cultures that survive use psychoactives

(19:11):
in this way, So it's got to be doing something
for us. Well, let me just stop you one second.
I remember hearing reading that if you look in American history,
the period when we had the highest levels of alcohol
consumption in American history. We're back at the origins in
the late at late eighteenth century, early nineteenth century. But
that also one of the factors was that it was

(19:31):
that turning alcohol into grain was a good way of
preserving it, a good way of transporting it. So that
you know, yes, there are these arguments for drinking and
then all this, and and there's the arguments about it
being safer than water when water was impure, but also
easier to preserve and to transport. So how do those
things figure into all this? So those are kind of

(19:54):
in the mix of the various mismatch theories. So one
of the mismatch theories is the dirty water hypoth This
so um, you know, contaminated water has been a problem
for most of our history. Is a species. If you
take contaminated water and fermented into beer, it becomes possible.
So that's one of the mismatch theories is that it was,
you know, our taste for alcohol was adaptive in our

(20:16):
evolutionary paths because it helped us hydrate in situations where
the water was contaminated. Um. The problem with that theory
is that there are lots of ways to to fix
contaminated water, including just boiling it. And boiling it is
a lot easier than turning it into beer, um, and
doesn't have the downsides of you know, the negative physiological

(20:38):
impacts that beer it could have. Another of the theories
is calorie storage. The problem again, problem with this one
is we think while you turn into beer and it
lasts for a really long time, that's actually not true. Um.
That's true now because we have hops and other ways
to preserve beers, but most historically made beer is actually
spoiled quite quickly. Like chea cha beer made out of

(21:03):
maize in South America, I think has to be consumed
within two or three days. Um, So it actually doesn't
last that long. When you're thinking about the American frontier,
what you have in mind is distilled spirits, and that
is a really good way to preserve things. Distilled spirits
last for a really long time. They're relatively easy to
transport because you're packing a lot of ethanol in a

(21:26):
small package. Um. But distilled spirits are relatively recent thing too.
As I point out in the book, they're really in Europe,
really only seventeen hundreds that we had these. But yeah,
once you get distilled spirits, you can now preserve your
grains in a way that um is not only long lasting,
but compact and easy to transport and trade. And so

(21:49):
alcohol really becomes a different type of thing once we
figure out distillation. But that can't be part of the
story if we're talking about, you know, some behavior that
started twenty tho years ago. We'll be talking more after
we hear this ad part of the way you also

(22:19):
frame this thing, and this gets into i think a
little more. The meat of the argument is you frame
some of this is a struggle between two Greek gods,
between Apollo on the one hand and Dionysius on the
other hand. So lay that out for our audience. Yeah,
so Apolo. One way to look at this is Apollo
is the god of the prefrontal cortex. So I talked

(22:41):
the prefrontal cortex plays a big role in my book.
It's really important part of the human being, right, whether
it's very physiologically expensive. We wouldn't have it if it
wasn't doing something important. You need it to control your behavior,
you need it to be ordered. So you know, a
Paulo is the god of order, kind of doing things

(23:04):
the right way, symmetry control, you know, it's about control,
and the PFC is the center of cognitive control of
executive functions. What allows you to um suppress desires or
um stay focused on a task and not get distracted.
It's what allows you to persevere in the face of

(23:24):
you know, tiredness or boredom. It's everything that a four
year old doesn't have, UM, but that a successful adult
has to have. And civilizations need this. We couldn't build
civilization without this kind of UM, perseverance, focus, self control,
and that's all the realm of Apollo. The friends of
Apollo chemically are stimulants, so things like caffeine and nicotine,

(23:48):
you know, they strengthen our ability to focus and stay
on task. But the Greeks, you know, and the Greeks
thought Apollo was really important, but they also worshiped Dionysius,
and so UM. You know, Dionysius is the the god
that comes out when we thrown the PFC or turn
it down a few notches. Dionysus is more like our
childlike cells um, so creative, trusting, open to new experience,

(24:15):
willing to try anything, engaged in play. Kids are like this,
and adults can be like that temporarily when they essentially
reverse uh cognitive maturation and go turn the PFC down
and go back to being like like they were when
they were little. And what's interesting the reason I find
Dionysius useful in the book is the Greeks worshiped Dionysius

(24:39):
is a god and recognize the importance of both Apollo
and Dionysis, But there were a lot were more worried
about Dionysius than a followed. He's Um, dionys is a
little bit scary. Um. He's worshiped as a god, but
they're wary of him. And it's I think significant, and

(25:00):
that the gifts that that Dionysius can give you can
go wrong if you're not careful. They're often two sided.
So Dionysus is the one who gave for instance, Midas
the Golden Touch, which didn't work out very well for him. Um.
So they respected and worshiped Dionysius, but they also saw

(25:21):
the dangers there, and I think that's the right attitude
to have. Tour Chemical intoxicans in general and alcohol in particular,
is respecting its power, seeing that it's important part of
our lives, but also being aware that I can turn
you into an animal like like Dionysus. Good you know it.
Recently did an episode with a German writer, normanal Or

(25:44):
what a book called Blitz about how the German army
was so successful, especially in the Blitzkrieg over Belgian, Netherlands
and France, because of the use of meth amphetamy and
in all their drug use. There's almost no discussion of
the role of alcohol um in modern day the value
from modern day armies. So say more about the war
fighting abilities of of uh, you know, alcohol and why

(26:08):
alcohol was seen as a friend to that more than
an enemy. Well, the crucial thing to get soldiers to
fight effectively and your army to be cohesive and effective
is getting people to trust each other. Right. I argue
in the book that one of the central features of
human life, especially in larger scale societies, is the fact

(26:30):
that we have to overcome these cooperation dilemmas. They go
by various names prisoners dilemma, tragedy of the commons, but
the common structure is we we all do best if
we trust each other and and if we don't pursue
our im mediate selfish self interest. If we can do that,
we actually all end up better in the end. I

(26:51):
mean this happens all the time in life, mundane situations
like helping your friend and move a couch when he's moving. Um,
you kind of the most dramatic example is war. Right,
You're literally sacrificing the most important thing your life for
these other people. And so UM, armies are effective to
the degree to which they can form these cohesive groups

(27:13):
that trust one another and operate well together as a
as a unit. And and how do you do that?
You look at one an army attacking another army, especially
in the pre modern period, UM, the first thing that
comes to mind is like ant armies fighting, or you know,
you see humans cooperating on a scale that looks like
social insects and sacrificing themselves in a way that looks

(27:36):
like social insects. We know how social insects pull that off.
It's because they're all genetically the same. They all they're
basically one big superorganism. It's puzzling how primates pull that off,
because we are not one big superorganism. Um, we're individual
primates with primate biology, and yet we behave like social

(27:57):
insects sometimes, and the key to that is things like religion,
So religions doing some of that work. But another really
crucial um cultural technology that we use to forge individuals
into cohesive trusting units is alcohol and other intoxicans. So
you know, we get drunk together, we are down regulating

(28:20):
our PFC, so we um we're less able to lie. So,
you know, lying or trying to trick another person into
trusting you when you're not really trustworthy is a really
cognitively demanding task because at the same time, you have
to keep in your mind both what the truth is,
which you know to be the truth, and then the

(28:40):
fake thing you're telling this person. You've got to make
all your facial expressions and emotional reactions fit the fake thing,
and you have to suppress any that that applied to
the real thing that you don't want them to know about.
It's really very PFC heavy task. If you hit the
PFC with some methanol, it really impairs your ability to

(29:02):
do that. And so you bring people together, you get
them impaired cognitively so that they can't lie, they or
it's harder for them to lie or act in an
untrustworthy way. Your simultaneously boosting endorphins and sarahtonin these kind
of social bonding hormones that make you feel good about
yourself but also make you feel good about others and

(29:24):
feel connected to others. This is how you forge individuals
into super organisms, and at least temporarily, and so you
can see why throughout history militaries have used this technique
for for forging individuals into units and then also giving them.

(29:44):
You know, the other thing alcohol does is make you reckless, um,
and that that's you need a little recklessness if you're
going to be fighting against other people. So it reduces
um magdola response, it reduces fear, reduces stress, um. The
I think militaries have always seen as crucial, and I
think that's really only changed recently when warfares become more technical.

(30:09):
So alcohol was crucial when we were picking up swords
and rushing into battle to fight other people. Um, It's
less helpful when I'm sitting in a control room trying
to pilot a drone. So I think that's one of
the reasons that we don't see it as much in
modern armies, just because the nature of warfare has really
you know, it is interesting right, because I firstually you

(30:30):
have this great line in the book that those who
puked together stay together. I guess that's in some sense
of good some nation what you just said. But I'm
thinking about the Navy Seals. I think you mentioned them
in the book, and that's you know, one of the
great military elite military units in the US in the world,
but just recently has been the news because of all
the abuses. And that's obviously one where you know, the

(30:51):
commanders want their you know, their Navy Seals not just
to survive all sorts of brutal forms of training. They
want them to get drunk to bond. But then the
question is all of that somehow linked to some of
the abusive stuff we've also seen there or not? Yeah, yeah,
so they you know, the Navy Seals are on an
organization that's not sitting in a control room by autting

(31:11):
drones right there doing really physical, dangerous stuff that looks
a lot more like more traditional types of warfare. And so, um,
I tell that story about this this Navy Seal commander
who after training would take all the group out and
get them really drunk, and there's a level of intoxication

(31:31):
that you get in UM business meetings or treaty meetings
that's more moderate, and that's you know, dealing with this
kind of building trust thing. There's a level of inebriation,
especially once you get distilled spirits, where it's going beyond
UM so much intoxication per se and becoming more of

(31:53):
a costly signal UM. It's almost like you know, scarifying
yourself or doing something painful. It's the fact that you're
hurting yourself and you know you're gonna be really in
bad shape the next morning, but we're all doing it
together and we're all doing it voluntarily. That shows that
you're one of the group. So it becomes a kind
of hazing. It's a it's a form of hazing really

(32:15):
and you can see how that both could be useful
in building UM a sense of belonging and a sense
of group bonding, but could very easily tip over into abuse.
And so that's the nice edge that you're walking when
when you're using these type of hazing techniques which all
cultures have used. I mean, there's all sorts of initiation

(32:36):
rituals that you know often involve huge quantities of intoxic
ins and then often physical pain or danger or fear
to get people to bond, and it's a it's a
delicate balance to get enough of that so the bonding
happens without tipping over into abuse or arm. Groups that

(32:57):
don't use intoxicans, either because they don't have them they
live in an extreme environment where it's hard to make them,
or they banned them for religious theological reasons, tend to
substitute other practices that get you to the same place. UM.
So I talk about the Pentecostals who don't drink, but

(33:18):
they have these prayer sessions where they work themselves up
into these frenzies where they start you know, falling the
floor and start speaking in tongues, or they handle snakes,
so they have the same effect and kind of down
regulating the PFC and and boosting some of these feel
good hormones. So groups can use that instead. It's just
that that's really you know, I think, as I may

(33:39):
put it this way in the book, is it's kind
of a hassle, Like staying up all night singing and
dancing is really time consuming and difficult. Um And so
there's a good reason that most cultures are like, yeah,
we could do that, but why don't instead we just
sit around and drink beer. So there's different routes to
that state. But then non chemical and toxican ones um

(34:03):
are much more time consuming. Well, you know when you
were when you were both when I was reading your
book and then again when you were telling the story
about how you came up with that opening line about
masturbation and such, you know, into the influence of a
fairly high amount of alcohol. But it made me think
of some of the books that are out there. I mean,
you know, there's a book called The Thirsty Muse about
the use of alcohol by famous you know, literary writers.

(34:25):
There's a book called Opium and the Romantic Imagination about
how famous writers you know used opium. Uh, there's a
book called Cigarettes Are Sublime. And of course you have
all the Silicon Valley folks and Nobel Prize winners, you know,
who claimed that their psychedelic experience helped ride on the
insight that resulted in they're creating, you know, zillion dollar
companies are winning a Nobel Prize, and sometimes sometimes cannabis

(34:48):
gets credit like that. I was just hanging with a
friend of mine who was one of the leading scholars
of international relations in the world, and he credits you know,
his occasional cannabis used to being this thing that's given
him some of his best insights in flections. So yeah, yeah,
Now I talked in the book about this, you know,
the there's all over the world throughout history there's a
connection between chemical and toxic ins and creative types. So artists, poets, shamans,

(35:15):
you know, people who were coming up with new stuff
and and I talked about why that's not a myth.
Evolution faced this design trade off where it needed us
to have a PFC so we could get to work
on time and focus to things. Um, but it also
needed us to be creative and trusting and they give

(35:35):
you things and um. And one way at dealt with
that trade off was by slow walking the maturation of
the PFC. So that's the last part of the brain
to mature. UM. It doesn't fully mature until you're in
your mid twenties. So it's really the last part of
a human to mature. And that keeps kids, you know,

(35:56):
flexible and creative and able to learn new things and curious.
There's good, both indirect and direct evidence that chemical and
toxic ins are a solution to this design trade off.
We we have to have a PFC, but with these
substances we can turn it down when we want to
and get back to a more childlike state of creativity.

(36:19):
UM and being able to see new possibilities and so UM.
There's a very good reason that artists and poets and
anyone but anyone who needs a new insight. So you know,
I talked about my talk. I gave it Google one
of the Google campuses, and I was talking about at
some point, alcohol and creativity. The study had just come

(36:39):
out showing that if you've got people about point oh
eight B A C, they solve lateral thinking tasks better.
And they said, well, we know, we're taking you on
our tour. And so the first place they took me
on their tour was this whiskey room. They said, when
they're working on a problem and they hit a wall
they can't figure it out, instead of drinking more coffee

(37:02):
or smoking nicotine and sitting in front of their computers
and working pulling all nighters, they stop and they go
to the whiskey room and they pour themselves a little
bit of scotch, and they sit and bean bag chairs
and they just chat. And that's how they tend to
um get past these problems because what they need is

(37:23):
an insight and and alcohol is helping with that, especially
audience that you mentioned something called in that context the
Bomber peak. Yeah yeah, yeah, yeah yeah. So they asked
me if I had ever heard of this concept, and
this is, UM, I think it's probably apocryphal, but um,
we could find out. We could contact Steve Bomber. But supposedly,

(37:46):
you know, Steve Bomber, the former CEO of Microsoft and
great coder, um discovered that his coding ability peaked at
this very narrow blood alcohol content, like very specific and
narrow blood alcohol content, and so supposedly he would keep
himself hooked up to an alcohol I V to just

(38:07):
be right at that whatever point, you know, zero seven
eight seven that he found was the best way to code.
And it gets at this idea that there's an optimal
level of inebriation where you're still sober enough to remember
what the problem is you're trying to solve, and you know,
still you have your faculties intact, but you're loosened up

(38:31):
enough that you're you're flexible, you're creative, you're doing new stuff,
and humans you know, humans know this, and consciously you're
unconsciously we use chemical intoxicants too, as an aid, as
a tool, as a kind of mind hack when we
need divergent creativity or we need lateral thinking. Although you know,

(38:54):
I'll tell you when I was working on my dissertation,
I would occasionally go out of dinner with a friends.
You know, I would have a drink or two with dinner,
and then I'd have like a double espresso in the evening, Okay,
And I racically saw it as my speed bowl. It
was my speed and I worked on two, three, four
in the morning and the ideas would be flowing in.

(39:15):
Might be a little looser in my writing, but I'd
have the energy that You make a fair bit also
of the genetic arguments, and you talk about the Asian
flushing syndrome infect the numerous places in your book explain
why that's significant. So one counter argument, so you know,
I say, well, look, our taste for alcohol is ancient,

(39:37):
and if it were only a costly mistake, evolution would
have done something about it by now. One counter argument
is that sometimes evolution can't fix a problem. Something really
is a mistake, and it really is a problem. But
evolution can't fix it. And there are two reasons that
could be the case. One is what's called path dependence.
And I'm using intentional language here, but this is all

(40:00):
in process, but previous choices constrained later choices. And so
a good example of a mistake like this is the
human back. We have all these back problems because are
our backs are terrible for for walking up right. You
would never design a bipedal organism with a back like ours,

(40:20):
But evolution didn't have the luxury of designing us from scratch.
It was taking a tree living primate and gradually hacking
it to to walk up right. Um, so that's a
path dependence problem. You just you get stuck in a
certain value and designed space and you can't get out
of it. Another possibility is just that the right variation
hasn't come along yet, so selection can only act on

(40:43):
variation that exists. And so it's possible that alcohols is ancient,
costly mistake and genetic evolution would love to solve it,
but it just hasn't had a solution yet. And so
this is where this is why the Asian flushing syndrome
plays such an important role in the book, because this
is the solution to the problem. Um, so you know

(41:05):
why do people like to drink? What? Because it makes
us feel good? While the question is why does evolution
allow it to make us feel good? And clearly it
doesn't have to. It can make us feel bad if
we consume alcohol, and that's what this syndrome does, so
it's a What's interesting is this is a set of
two mutations to two separate mutations, and they're not linked,

(41:27):
so they're clearly getting selected for for some function, and
they interrupt our ability to metabolize ethanol. If you consume
any alcohol, it makes you flush, it makes you nauseous,
it makes it gives you heart palputations. Basically, Um, if
you have this genetic syndrome, drinking doesn't make you feel good.

(41:47):
It makes you feel bad. And it actually is so
effective and discouraging alcohol consumption that a chemical that mimics
its effects is used to treat alcoholism quite effectively. So
this is a silver bullet. If our taste for intoxication
is a genetic mistake. The solution exists in the gene pool.
It's not the case that evolution hasn't come up with

(42:10):
a variation yet. Because essentially it's allowing people to get
mildly inebriated, but once you drink too much, it's you
feel bad. They can't even really drink enough to get inebriated. Um,
they can drink enough to get um. Some of the
benefits that are supported to some of these mismatch benefits, right,
maybe micronutrients, But yeah, they don't. They certainly don't. They're

(42:31):
protected from alcoholism, for instance, because they just don't like
to drink that much. And this gene complex, it's estimated
it evolved seven to ten thousand years ago and around
kind of where modern day Shanghai is, probably at the
same time as the creation of rice agriculture, so it

(42:51):
seems to be some adaptation to rice agriculture, and it's
possible that it's protective against tuberculosis, could be one of
the functions. It's also protective against fungal poisoning, so it
could be, you know, an adaptation to dealing with storing
grain and wet conditions. But in any case, it hasn't spread.
So this solution to the problem of alcohol has existed

(43:14):
for probably ten thousand years, and yet it's remained in
this relatively geographically constrained area and hasn't spread very far.
And that's not what you would predict if alcohol was
just a costly mistake. This would be like if you
had a gene that caused people to not like twinkies
and love you know, Brussels sprouts and eating their greens.

(43:38):
If twinkies were a scourge that goes back twenty thousand years,
that gene would would spread pretty quickly. Um So, to me,
this is a very clear case of where you have
this supposed problem, you have a very clear solution quote unquote,
and yet the solution doesn't spread. So that suggests that

(43:58):
the problem isn't just a album, right, There must be
adaptive benefits that are coming along with it. M hm.
So you say about alcohol, on the one hand, you
see alcohol is more like a pharmacological hand grenade. You
also describe it as the king of intoxicainst and the
perfect drug. Now you've talked about some of this, but

(44:23):
the pharmacological hand grenade is that a good feature? Yeah,
it's it probably is is a feature and not a buck.
So this is a This phrase comes from Stephen Brown.
The Journal with Stephen Brown. He's the one who coined
the term pharmacological hand grenade UM, and he compares that
with lasers. You know, the LSD or cocaine is like

(44:44):
a laser. It's going in and doing a very specific
things to the brain. Alcohols um pressing several different regions
of the brain while it's simultaneously rapping up sarahtonin and
doorphins and so giving. It's a stimulant in various way.
Is this seems to be this mix of effects seems
to be a feature of alcohol. UM. I think if

(45:06):
I could revise the book, I wouldn't call alcohol the
perfect drug. I would call it the least bad drug.
UM in the sense that it's not perfect. But if
you gave a cultural engineering team some design specs, you know,
you said, look, we need we need it intoxican because

(45:28):
we want to down regulate the PFC, we want to
up regulate these hormones. It's got to be easy to make.
You should be able to make it out of anything.
It should be easy to discover. It should have consistent
cognitive effects across individuals. It should have a short half life.
There's got to be a mechanism in the body to

(45:51):
break it down and get it out pretty quickly, so
you can get back to normal quickly. It's got to
be easy to dose if you gave them this whole
list of things you need. Did alcohols pretty much the
ideal solution to these problems. But it's not ideal. I mean,
alcohol would be the perfect drug, I think, if it
did everything that it does, but it wasn't physically addictive

(46:14):
and it wasn't so physiologically harmful. Let's take a break
here and go to an ad. A lot of the

(46:36):
books about the benefits of moderate drinking and bonding, but
it's also in part about the benefits right of getting
drunk um both historically. You know, you talk about the
Vikings and they're great drunk fests, and how much massive
about alflaking. You get how incredibly successful they were for many,
many centuries um, and you bring it up to the present.
But I do think that's an important role that alcohol plays,

(46:59):
like assist friendships. The guys I've been friends with since
college forty years ago, you know, are the ones I've
probably got the drunkest with, and those are the ones
where it kind of got in, you know, the the
inhibitions you have as a young man in your twenties
about sharing very intimate stuff. I mean, we broke through
talking about stuff like that in a way that bonded us. Unfortunately,
none of us actually shouldn't say one of us Will

(47:21):
already showed signs of it and eventually did become an
alcoholic and died of his alcoholism in his fifties. Um,
you know, the one British member of our of this,
but all the others it was I think a really
very substantial in that benefits. Yeah. One of the anecdotes
that I ended up taking out of the book, UM
was about that. So it was a good friend of mine,
very old friend of mine who um I had a

(47:41):
bit of a falling out with. We were going through
a tough period and the breakthrough was this was actually
during the pandemic, so it was remote. It was over
zoom um. But we got really really drunk unzoomed together
and he was finally, you know, we got to a
level of in abriation where he could tell me what

(48:02):
he was so angry about, and I was in a
receptive state of mind where I could, you know, grasp
why he was upset and apologize sincerely, you know, and
really feel sorry. And you know, we were able to
share emotions I think you know, particularly men um use
this in their friendships because it's not for whatever reason,

(48:24):
whether it's a genuine genetic gender difference or if it's
just because of cultural norms. Um, sharing emotions is not
something we tend to do. Hell, you know, you do
make me think that. You know, I have to say
alcohol play that pivotal role from me in my twenties. Um,
but once I got into my thirties and forties, it
was displaced in that regard by M D m A. Okay,

(48:45):
I mean in M d A just pivotal in terms
of being able to talk about things that are difficult
to talk about, being able to listen to things that
are difficult to listen about. Um. Now my can't do
with the frequency of alcohol, which then again maybe a
benefit in some regards. But it's an interesting thing that
alcohol and m D m A do share in comic times. Yeah,

(49:05):
and and for similar physiological reasons right there, Um they're ramping.
I mean, M D M A is a stimulant, but
it's got that Um it's it's flooding you with serotonin,
right You're just feeling so good, Um that it's it
has a similar kind of expansive. You get that similar
type of expansiveness that you get can get with alcohol,

(49:27):
but in a much more targeted way. Um so yeah,
I mean that's the I think in a in a
kind of healthy grown up life, we'd understand what what
various chemical intoxicants are good for and what their various
you know, downsides or dangers are, and figure out a

(49:48):
strategy for using them when appropriate. And I think those
of us who are thoughtful and knowledgele with this managed
to do an individual level the the great challenges on
the societal level, which brings us more fully into the present,
which we've alluded to and come to occasionally. But you know,
there's two things going on your book about the present time.
I mean, one is you're basically offering a fundamental challenge

(50:11):
to the kind of neo prohibitionist uh you know thinking
and mindset that's out there. And you know, you you
reference the the study that came out in the British
journal The Lancet in eighteen, the punchline of which was
the safest level of drinking is none, and you dismissed,
don't know, called it terrible or stupid or something like that,
with which I thoroughly agree. And it's notable that a

(50:31):
new study just came out of the Lancet in the
last few months in which they acknowledge the potential benefits
of moderate drinking, especially among older people, only among zero
benefit if you're under forty. Yeah. And then I see that,
you know, you're an American living in Canada now, and
I see that the Center for a Substance Abuse and

(50:52):
Addiction in Canada just came out of recommendations in September,
you know, basically saying, you know, not that drink down
almost to the floor. I mean a very not fully prohibitionists,
but quasi prohibitionist stake. And so you express your exasperation
about all of that, and you know, it's pulling out
the benefits of the office part and all that. But

(51:12):
then there's the flip side, and it's your last chapter, right,
which I think you called distillation and isolation, and this
is just talking about all the harms of alcohol and
what's wrong with alcohol and the fact that we've now
moved not just from being winded but to distilled liquors.
And part of me was thinking, okay, you know, still
just trying to cover his ass here, he's already done
a celebration of alcohol, you know, but but and so.

(51:35):
But then you make an argument about how distillation and
isolation may have changed the game, and that maybe even
that old um I can't remember as the hijacker hangover
theory may have some application that we haven't quite yet
figured out in terms of the future distilled liquors. So
lay that out about isolation and distillation and the problems
there um for our listeners. Yeah, so the distillation first.

(51:58):
So for almost all of our history with alcohol, we've
been drinking naturally fermented beverages, and alcoholic beverages come with
a kind of built in safety feature, which is that
they just can't get much stronger than a certain level
because you know, the easter producing alcohol and at a
certain point they poison themselves. They are more resistant than

(52:21):
the bacteria are, right, So they're they're engaging in biological
warfare against these bacteria that are that are very susceptible
to alcohol. They're tougher, but they're not infinitely tough. And
we've been breeding east to get tougher and tougher so
we can make stronger and stronger beers and wines. But
for most of our evolutionary history, the alcohol content of

(52:45):
of these beverages was capped at a pretty low level.
So the beers we were drinking, we're coming in about
two to three percent ABV, and fruit wines a bit higher,
but probably eight nine maybe ten pc a BV. So
those are relatively safe delivery vehicles for ethanol. They're delivering

(53:06):
ethanol to our bodies at a rate that we can
kind of deal with. And especially like if you're drinking
at two to three pc a b V beer and
you're a fully grown adult, you can drink that all
day long and never get beyond point eight or so
b a c. But what were those Vikings drinking at
those festival as a line you had from Sunday story

(53:28):
and they died with a cup in their hands or something. Yeah,
they were drinking meat, they were drinking meds um that
we're getting up to slightly higher alcohol level, and they
were just heroically drinking massive quantities of it. I mean,
it is physically possible, it's just challenging. You've got to
basically be drinking constantly to get really drunk on things
like that. Then, relatively recently so um in Europe, not

(53:52):
until the sixteen hundreds or seventeen hundreds, which in you know,
the story I'm telling is basically, yesterday, we figure out
how to disable the safety feature of naturally fermented beverages
by distilling them. Um, so we pull the alcohol off
and we could then produce these incredibly concentrated distilled liquors. So, um,

(54:14):
you know, you can get vodkas that come in in
the nineties in terms of a BV percentage, and so
part of my argument is this is a novel form
of alcohol that's so much more powerful it really should
be considered a different drug, and it's much much more dangerous.
You can, um, you know, the sweet spot, let's say
is point oh eight b a c Uh. You're drinking

(54:38):
two to three percent beer. You can drink that at
a moderate pace all day long and kind of stay
at point away. You're doing shots of vodka, you just
blow right past point oh eight into levels where you're
blacking out and you know, potentially killing yourself, um quite quickly.
So we now have access to a much much more
powerful form of alcohol that's order of magnitudes more powerful

(55:02):
than anything we've had to deal with before. Um. So
that's distillation. Isolation refers to the fact that historically our
alcohol consumption has always been social. Having private access to
alcohol is almost unheard of in most societies, and every
society that I know of that uses alcohol surrounds its

(55:24):
consumption with various formal and informal rituals that help individuals
to control their consumption. So I talked about, you know,
the Greek Symposium wine party, where the symposi arc was
in charge of mixing you know, the wine to water ratio,
and you only drank when the thing got passed around
by the symposi arc so they could control the pace

(55:46):
of drinking. In Chinese banquets, you don't drink it will.
You can only drink when someone makes a toast, and
then whoever is in charge of making toasts is um
strictly at least traditionally regulated by ritual. So these are
all ways we control alcohol consumption, and even in what
seemed like completely unstructured modern situations. So you go to

(56:10):
the pub with your friends if you're typically drinking in rounds,
so you know, if you drink too quickly, you've gotta
wait toward your next drink until we're all done. And
the bar keep could not make eye contact with you
if they're worried about how quickly you're drinking. There's all
these ways when we're drinking in groups that we can
moderate each other's behavior. Once you can go to a

(56:32):
drive through liquor store and load up your SUV with
a case of vodka and drive at home and have
all this, you know, enough alcohol in your house to
kill a village full of people, and you're alone, and
you can just consume that whenever you want. That's a
really new, evolutionarily novel situation, and a quite dangerous one

(56:54):
because I don't think we're well equipped to moderate our
alcohol concer emption by ourselves. We need social help. Um
And I think you know a natural experiment that showed
this is the pandemic. You know, it's it's a great
natural experiment. Hey, let's see what happens if we don't
let people leave the house anymore, but we still give

(57:16):
them as much alcohol as they want. What's going to happen?
And what happened was people problem drinking became really, really serious.
And I know a lot of people who are still
struggling with with the aftermath of that, trying to get
back to sustainable levels of consumption. After indulging. Yeah, I
mean you quote the aforementioned Dwight Heath once again, the

(57:38):
Brown University anthropologist is talking about one of the greatest
indicators of a problem drinking is drinking alone. Yeah, right,
more than almost anything else. And you also make the
point that America is particularly bad in this regard. I mean,
you contrast the Southern European drinking culture, which you know,
drinking you know, wine and beer with food, and you

(57:58):
with the Northern drinking, which is more about drinking to
get drunk, you know, the skin and Eving countries, Russia, Denmarkets, etcetera.
But then you say America seems to do it even
more problematically in the Northern Europeans. Yeah. Well, it's because
we've got two separate problems, well maybe three separate problems.
One is that we're northern drinking culture. So you know,
this is where you're drinking to get drunk. You're drinking

(58:22):
primarily distilled spirits. Um, you're often drinking and unisex groups.
So a bunch of dudes get drunk together, a bunch
of women getting drunk together. You're drinking two with the
purpose of getting drunk, and the goal is to be
visibly drunk. There's something wrong with you if you're not
visibly drunk as opposed to Southern cultures where we're being
you know, really visibly intoxicated. Is kind of shameful. Um.

(58:46):
It's not not something you want to do in public. Um.
So that's unhealthy. So we've inherited that northern drinking culture.
On top of that, we have a more serious isolation
problem because it's more common in America going to live
in suburbs where, um, you don't have a local that
you go to, you know, on your walk back from

(59:06):
the tube, you get in your car at your office
park and you drive home to your house and you're
drinking alone or most you know, with your family around,
but not socially in the way you do in Europe
or in major cities in in the U s where
you have you know, a pub, a local that you're
going to. Um. So there's the isolation problem. It's higher

(59:30):
in the States. Um. And then on top of all that,
you have this weird Christian culture of the Puritans. You know,
these are the first ones that came over right where
they demonize alcohol and therefore have this kind of love
hate relationship with it. Um. You know, I quote this anthropologist,

(59:54):
Janet Curzan. It's got a great book about um us
drinking culture and the problems with it. We're she's, you know,
as an anthropologist in the American South, she noticed that
she would go to the liquor store because they have
liquor stores and they Baptist drink. But people she had
been at church wouldn't make eye contact with her in

(01:00:14):
the liquor store, and she'd like, you know, try to
wave to them, and they'd like look the other way
and pretend they didn't know her. She was like, let's
this is weird. And then a friend of her said,
you know, you don't say hello to someone in the
liquor store, UM, in the same way you wouldn't if
you were you know, if I ran into you in
a porn store, we wouldn't be like, hey, what are
you getting? It's shameful to be seen there is shameful UM.

(01:00:37):
And that's just a weird attitude to have towards alcohol.
And so you pile all that on top of each
other and you get a really pathological drinking culture. M hm.
You know, just making me think of a couple of
the counter examples UM historically, right, so one you talked
about briefly as the Mornings, who maybe not at their origins,
but you know, shortly after the origins, basically are you know,

(01:01:00):
no inebriants. And I guess I'll point out that, you know,
there's Mormon tea made from a you know, plant that's
kind of feder in it, but I mean basically coffee, alcohol,
all that sort of stuff. Yet a very successful um culture.
And then the second one is Islam, which is banned
alcohol but been tolerant of other ones um and the
Ottoman Empire was, you know, a very successful and powerful

(01:01:23):
empire for centuries. So is it just that, in fact,
drinking was always going on and just didn't talk about
it like in the South, or was it something else
that enabled them to be so successful. We're drinking was
not playing a big role in their culture. So I
think what's happening with with Mormonism And and scholars have
argued this is the case with Islam too. So in

(01:01:43):
the case of Islam, they're surrounded by these Mediterranean wine
drinking cultures and they need to distinguish themselves, and one
of the ways they do it is through these kind
of costly displays. So So this is one of the
feature years of successful religions is that they make you
do counter productive from a practical standpoint, costly things to

(01:02:08):
show that you really believe in the belief system that
you're professing you believe in, and also you do things
that distinguish you from non members. And so I think
that the Mormon ban on alcohol and caffeine is more
like the kind of you know, Mormon underwear and the
other things they do that distinguishes them from people around them.

(01:02:31):
It's a very clever, costly demand on adherents. It enhances
your sense that you are a group different from the
groups around you. But it's it's not directly functionally a
response to the problem of alcohol. It's a group marking device.
So you're in the end of this book basically saying

(01:02:51):
the still liquors are a real threat. You're a big
fan of the office party. You point out how you know,
you and your buddies having some rinks and a lounge
help you get all sorts of research brands to come
up with great ideas and to bond and to you know,
you know, kind of moderate the competition among people and
increase the uh the collaboration but are you basically saying

(01:03:12):
that when you're having office parties, I don't put the
distilled liquor out there. Yeah, and sure, or be worried,
but be more worried about it. So, in terms of
practical considerations, one of the ways writing this book, doing
the research for it has changed my behavior is I
appreciate beer a lot more. Um. I never was a
beer drinker. I'm I'm wine drinker and and and Scotch

(01:03:35):
and various distilled liquors. Um, but I've come to see
the benefit of beer and as kind of a delivery
device for ethanol, a way to deliver ethanol to your
brain and your friends brains at a sustainable pace. And um,
it's changed my behavior. So I had this welcome thing

(01:03:58):
for some new post docs in this product drink that
I run, And you know, I made the conscious decision
to instead of you know, ordering rounds of cocktails for people,
are getting bottles of wine for the table. Um, I
got pictures of beer. And I don't really like beer
as much as I like those other things. But but
I thought, you know, this is actually a more safe

(01:04:19):
and sustainable social truck. Um. So yeah, I would say
be worried about um distilled liquors. I know this is
the case. I think in Germany and some other European
countries there's different ages when you can legally drink distilled
spirits as opposed to beer and wine. Um, you can
drink beer and wine younger, and I think that makes
a lot of sense. Yeah, it makes me wonder with

(01:04:42):
these new you know, these canned cocktails that are coming
out now, which I think the alcohol content is equivalent
to be or wine, and whether that's going to land
up making them more like beer and wine than it
is like drinking shots of something. Yeah, but it's and
competing with beer now. Yeah, and if you're you know,
and nearing something that's deliberately low a b v um,

(01:05:04):
that seems like a sustainable strategy. Mm hmmm. Well we're
just so just to finish off here a little bit
more about your own evolution. Um. I mean, so you know,
you're you're a sinologist, you learned Chinese, you're writing these,
you know, brilliant academic books about ancient China or I
don't call it ancient, but China long time ago. And
then you had a great gause of a care your

(01:05:25):
first of your crossover books before Drunk called trying not
to Try? About early Chinese philosophers, you know, talking and
writing about an effortless way of being in the world,
which they called way. Did that in any way cause
you to open up to write this book about drunk?
Or what was the impetus that was directly? It was directly,

(01:05:48):
it was directly related. Um. So yeah, my my colleagues
are a bit puzzled while I have suddenly written this
book about alcohol. Um, but you know, and trying not
to try. I explore this tension in early Chinese is
thought that they want you to get into this state
called way or effortless action. Um, this spontaneous state. You're creative,

(01:06:10):
you're in the zone, you're you lose the sense of
yourself as an agent, and everything works out, you solve problems,
People trust you and like you at this charisma, and
and so they want you to get into this state.
The problem is there's this paradox I call it the
paradox of way or the you know, the version in

(01:06:30):
the title of the book. How do you how do
you try not to try? It's directly paradoxical. So if
I'm telling you, hey, relax, stop trying. Um, the part
of the brain that I'm activating is your prefrontal cortex.
I'm lighting up your prefrontal cortex by asking you to
do something agentic, and yet that's the part of the

(01:06:51):
brain we're trying to shut down, so it's directly counterproductive.
The early Chinese came up with various strategies to get
around that, essentially giving you stuff to do to distract you,
you know, like do this ritual or sit in meditation.
But in the course of writing, especially with the trade
version of that book, UM, I was talking about this

(01:07:11):
story from the really Daoist text where they compare a
drunken person to the Daoist sage, and and they're clearly
using it just as an analogy, so you should be
drunk on heaven and not drunk on alcohol. But it
did cause a little light bolb to go off my head,
and and I thought, well, you know what, you know,

(01:07:32):
if you have cultures that are aware that spontaneity is
valuable for certain goals creativity, trust, and yet is also
aware that it's paradoxical to to ask people to consciously
become spontaneous, what a great work around to find a
chemical substance that you could take that will do the

(01:07:53):
job for you. So you know, it's directly paradoxical to
try to use your mind to shut down your mind.
It's not paradoxical to drink a substance that you know,
completely outside of your control was doing that job for you.
So I started to get interested in the idea that
UM cultures have figured out that you could use chemical

(01:08:15):
intoxicants as this cultural tool to solve the paradox of
how how you can try not to try So, so
that that directly led to UM my interest in writing
this book. I'm curious, you know, your book. I'm curious
about the reactions you've got into it, not least in
the community of alcohol and jog researchers. I didn't do

(01:08:36):
any thorough search, but I'm wondering how it's been received
and evaluated by all of the people getting funded to
look at the problems with alcohol and all of those
alcohol researchers and public health and all that. Yeah, so
it's UM surprisingly positive across the board. You know, I'm
I'm not an alcohol specialist by original training, but I

(01:08:57):
am a good researchers. You know, I did my homework.
I really spent a long time doing the research for
the book, and I reached out to a lot of
these specialists in the field. I'm still you know, there's
still a kind of you want to think of it
as medicalized wing UM. I mean, most of the professional

(01:09:17):
academic publications on alcohol or a medicalized lens, you know,
it's treating it as a physical problem, physiological impact. Those
people aren't convinced. UM. And you know, I still, actually
one colleague I really respect Randy NeSSI, who's UM kind
of the founder of evolutionary medicine. UM remained unconvinced by

(01:09:40):
my argument. So there are people who aren't convinced. And
I do get um kicked back from people who say, hey,
how can you be celebrating alcohol when it's so damaging
and you know, alcoholism such as serious scourge and UM,
but I think I did you know? So that last
chapter about the dangers of alcohol isn't just an ask

(01:10:01):
covering add on. It's at the heart of the book.
I mean, the whole the whole premise of the book
is this is a really dangerous, harmful substance that cultures
have always been ambivalent about, So why do we still
use it? Um So, the dangers and the potential downsides
of alcohol are are motivating force in the argument from

(01:10:25):
the very beginning, I think, um So, I think people
see that as well, and see that. Um Now, even
though I'm talking about the benefits of alcohol, it's really
just kind of to sit in a corrective space alongside
of this. You know, twenty shelves of books about alcoholism
and the dangerous of alcohol. Um, we do need a

(01:10:46):
little bit of a counterbalance looking at the positive functions.
I'm curious, have any of the big beer wine companies
invited you and offered you fat honor arium to come
keynote their annual conferences or something, And if so, have
you acceptive taking money from them or not? Yeah, I'm
actually doing my first one like that in October at

(01:11:10):
the World World Average Association. I think it's a beer
producers organization. And I don't feel bad at all because
I think that actually I think they need help and
they should get help. Um. I think they've been him
this defensive crouch where you know, they've kind of accepted
this story that they're peddling something that's no different from

(01:11:34):
nicotine or pornography or cocaine, And you know accepted. Yeah,
you know, it's bad, and but it's a vice that
people want and so and I don't think they have
to be so defensive. I actually especially beer makers, because
beer is the best, the safest form of alcohol. So
this is a case where my interest intellectually kind of

(01:11:56):
overlap with the interests of an industry. I think we
need to change the public discourse on this. So yeah,
I am. I'm actually doing my first big address to
an industry organization, and I think the beverage industry is
slowly waking up to my book and realizing, oh, here's
some positive arguments for alcohol. And I don't see any
problem with with talking to them about it because I

(01:12:19):
believe in it personally. Well, listen, I I think your
book was wonderful. As I said, there are a few
books I've enjoyed reading more and prepping for this thing.
I think the book is important culturally. I hope it
really does get out there. I saw you tweeting recently
had just been translated into Korean, so hopefully this has
a really substantial global reach. And you know, I hope

(01:12:40):
you don't leave the field because you're really saying something
that's very important. So Thank you ever so much for
writing this and for taking the time to talk with
me and with and our listeners on Psychoactive. No great,
thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.

(01:13:02):
If you're enjoying Psychoactive, please tell your friends about it,
or you can write us a review at Apple Podcasts
or wherever you get your podcasts. We love to hear
from our listeners. If you'd like to share your own stories,
comments and ideas, then leave us a message at one
eight three three seven seven nine sixty that's eight three

(01:13:23):
three psycho zero, or you can email us at Psychoactive
at protozoa dot com or find me on Twitter at
Ethan natal Man. You can also find contact information in
our show notes. Psychoactive is a production of I Heart
Radio and Protozoa Pictures. It's hosted by me Ethan Naedelman.
It's produced by Noham Osband and Josh Stain. The executive

(01:13:46):
producers are Dylan Golden, Ari Handel, Elizabeth Geesus and Darren
Aronofsky from Protozoa Pictures, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick from
my Heart Radio, and me Ethan Nadelman. Our music is
by Ari Blucien and Special Things to a bios f
Bianca Grimshaw and Robert BP. Next week I'll be talking

(01:14:17):
with Boris Jordan's founder and head of cure Leaf, one
of the world's biggest marijuana businesses. This is my fifth
company I've built, and my formula has always never build
a company to sell it. Build a company to compete
and be best in class. And that's what I'm doing,
and I hope I'm successful. But I can tell you
one thing. I'm not building cure Leaf to sell it

(01:14:38):
to a tobacco company. I'm building cure Leaves to be
a competitive in this world. Subscribe to Cycleactive now, see it,
don't miss it.
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