In honor of St. Paddy’s Day, the greatest drinking holiday of the year, I’d like to discuss inhibitions for a bit. I’m sure most, if not all of us, have either heard or used the phrase “alcohol lowers your inhibitions.” This phrase is common to the point of cliche, but like most cliches, euphemisms, and deep metaphors, we don’t spend much time decoding the exact meaning of the phrase.
Let’s tackle “inhibitions” first. What exactly are “inhibitions”? The wiki entry for “social inhibition” states:
Social inhibition is what keeps humans from becoming involved in
potentially objectionable actions and/or expressions in a social
setting. The significance of this inhibiting behaviour varies greatly
from person to person, and may be closely linked to a person’s
confidence. Many people use the effects of alcohol to free themselves
from these inhibitions, providing more active experiences in society,
however this can become over enhanced when too much alcohol is taken.
To paraphrase, inhibitions are anything that prevents a person from acting in a way that person, or the person’s immediate peers, would find to be objectionable. I don’t want to get too terribly philosophical, but Nietzsche wrote in “Beyond Good and Evil“:
Ultimately `love of one’s neighbour’ is always
something secondary, in part conventional and arbitrarily illusory,
when compared with fear of one’s neighbour Once the structure
of society seems to have been in general fixed and made safe from
external dangers, it is this fear of one’s neighbour which again
creates new perspectives of moral valuation. There are certain strong
and dangerous drives, such as enterprisingness, foolhardiness,
revengefulness, craft, rapacity, ambition, which hitherto had not only
to be honoured from the point of view of their social utility – under
different names, naturally, from those chosen here – but also mightily
developed and cultivated (because they were constantly needed to
protect the community as a whole against the enemies of the community
as a whole); these drives are now felt to be doubly dangerous – now
that the diversionary outlets for them are lacking – and are gradually
branded as immoral and given over to calumny. The antithetical drives
and inclinations now come into moral honour; step by step the herd
instinct draws its conclusions. How much or how little that is
dangerous to the community, dangerous to equality, resides in an
opinion, in a condition or emotion, in a will, in a talent, that is now
the moral perspective: here again fear is the mother of morality. [emphasis mine]
So, let’s couple those two thoughts. According to Nietzsche, fear of social isolation or social rejection causes people to act “moral;” therefore, I’d posit that the greatest inhibitor of human behavior is essentially fear. That means that if we wanted to, we could change the phrase to “alcohol reduces your fears.” Now the phrase gets more interesting because we need to ask ourselves two questions: 1) What are we afraid of? 2) Why do we subconsciously, or consciously, think our desires will get us socially ostracized?
Before I go much further, I want to go ahead and acknowledge that I’m about to make some broad generalizations, but don’t worry, I’ll refrain from making any generalizations about broads.
What are we afraid of? From my extensive, purely anecdotal-based research, I’ve come up with a few things. First off, a lot of people are afraid of appearing to be gay. Watch a group of “hetero” guys after they’ve gotten a few drinks down’em. They start hugging, slapping each other on the asses, playing “gay chicken,” and so forth. And as Joe Francis knows quite well, girls will quite literally go wild, with either gender, after they’ve been drinking. This says to me that many people want to be more affectionate and in some cases even sexual with the same sex, but the fear of social isolation keeps them from acting on their desires. Alcohol reduces their fear of social isolation, and thus, lowers the inhibitions.
The ironic thing about this is that the most homophobic guys I’ve ever known turn into chronic same-sex ass grabbers when they get drunk.
Some people cry when they get drunk. You’ve seen’em at the bar or at a party. They’re laughing and having a good time, and the next thing you know they’re on your shoulder staining your nice silk shirt with their bitter tears. The ironic thing about this is that a party atmosphere is the last location you want to discuss a serious situation, but the crying-drunks are too scared to express themselves sober. More fear.
And then you have the fighters. Some are actually good at fighting and some of them get beat up every time they get drunk. I actually think this person is emotionally similar to the crying-drunk. The inclination to pick a fight indicates to me a deep sense of anger that the fighter-drunk is afraid to reveal in his or her sober life, so instead the fighter-drunk will get blasted and then let that anger escape. But again, this is ironic because allowing their anger to explode in a drunken incident often results in far greater social isolation than if the person had simply dealt with it sober. Even more fear.
So why do we all think that acting truthfully to ourselves will result in isolation? Yeesh. That’s a toughie. Religion. Politics. Parents. There are so many variables in that causal chain that I don’t even want to tackle it.
A few paragraphs back, I wrote that we could probably change the phrase “alcohol lowers your inhibitions” to “alcohol reduces your fears.” I’ll revise again, and claim that we could change the phrase to “alcohol allows you to act true to yourself.”
Now the question becomes whether or not acting truthful to ourselves should ever be considered immoral. Obviously this is an extremely subjective question, but I’d claim that any behavior that doesn’t harm another person or doesn’t infringe upon another person’s liberty and freedom would not be immoral.
Which means that using alcohol to be truthful to yourself is a waste of alcohol. So if you’re going to drink, drink because you like the taste and not because you need to express yourself honestly.
If we all lived like that the world would be a better place and everyone would be happier.
Well, except for the folks at Coors, Budweiser, Natural Light, Miller, Old Milwaukee, Boone’s Farm, Mad Dog 20/20, Riunite, or Thunderbird.
But everyone else would be happier.