By Dr David Laing Dawson
Evolution has endowed us with an impressive organ between our ears, an organ that allows us to do all the things mankind has contemplated and accomplished. It has also endowed us with self-awareness. Now it has been pointed out that even a lobster demonstrates a kind of self-awareness when it distinguishes its own claw from that of another lobster. But you can be pretty sure the lobster does not contemplate the meaning of its life and the certain end of its life, nor what other lobsters think of it.
This terrible awareness of our own existence and the inevitable pain, loss, suffering to come, and inevitable death, are the necessary consequences of such a wondrous cognitive capacity.
This level of self-awareness has spawned centuries of puzzlement, theorizing, university departments of philosophy, psychology, sociology and theology, countless religious and fantastical explanations, and a search by each one of us for something, some idea, some activity, some habit, some guru, some God, and/or some substance to dampen the horror of existence, at least in the evening, or once a week.
As Marx put it: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
We have always needed something to dampen awareness, to allow us to relax, feel safe, forget, to smile, laugh loudly, speak without fear, and come away saying, “Well, that was a good time.” And then, perhaps, fall back into work and worry the next day.
And now it is 2023 and we live in a time when our awareness is heightened by a bombardment of information, a time when we know something of the beginning of both the universe and human existence and can foresee the end of both. A time when we no longer fully understand the tools we use, a time when an AI platform can write my essays for me, a time when poor souls exchange their money for a blockchain in the sky.
Substance abuse has dramatically increased, along with the industry that tries to help. Gurus thrive. Evangelical con men thrive. The snake oil business thrives. Every day Google offers me several 30 minute videos that will shrink my prostate, give me better sleep, clear out all toxins, prevent cancer, and grow my penis. None of this is surprising.
And this is the moment the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction decides to recommend zero consumption of alcohol, while Health Canada says we can have two drinks per week.
Let us get real, people. Grandmothers gave better advice. “Moderation in all things” they would tell us, but we do need some of those things, in moderation. And when we forbid one of those things, we humans will turn to others. And alcohol, for those of us with the genes that allow us to metabolize ethanol efficiently, is not one of the worse things to which we will turn. In moderation, of course.
Meanwhile Google tells me there are ten or twelve health benefits to drinking whisky. So I will continue to have my two or three drinks most evenings.
Only a decade ago the ruling was three or four per day for men and two or three for women, and red wine especially contained some good antioxidants.
Well, okay, I’m just rationalizing. But. That is also what we do, we humans. We find ways to dampen the anxiety of existence and we rationalize.
Apparently Donald Trump does not drink. Wish that he would. I’ll bet George Santos will claim he doesn’t drink if asked, but maybe if he did some veritas might emerge.