Oh, go on – HAVE ONE MORE

Oh, go on – HAVE ONE MORE

 

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ALCOHOL AND US

Overturning alcohol mythology is wholly entertaining. But we should try also to make our efforts more effective even as we enjoy them. All we need, to start the exploration, is an entry ticket and apparent willingness to subscribe to existing beliefs. The entry ticket is drinking. Simply holding a glass of the beverage in hand may also suffice.

We are permitted to enter the magical alcohol world and enjoy its privileges to the full, whether we consume one drop or gallons. And the less we consume the more thoroughly we are able to enjoy the privileges allowed the drinker and the opportunities available for amusement, such as observing the inanities to which many drinkers so seriously subscribe.

To desire ethyl alcohol for the sake of experiencing the effects of intoxication is a sign that the fun in our lives may already be getting boxed in. Linking greater enjoyment with increasing consumption makes no sense, other than for those who’ve already lost it. The largest part of the good results from alcohol is derived from the fact of drinking rather than the act.

Boringly loud drinkers, those ill-mannered when drunk and insistent heavy users who want everybody else to drink as they do, all give alcohol a bad taste. They also spoil the fun that can genuinely be had from the relaxed social environment that nearly all cultures have now learnt to associate with alcohol. We have to figure out the most effective and effortless ways of rescuing drinking rituals and settings from their inordinate influence.

The timid, the weak and the decent aren’t allowed their fair share of the positive dividends that the culture associated with alcohol offers society. It takes little effort and some ingenuity to spread alcohol benefits equitably.

 

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ALCOHOL AND PLEASURE

 Summary

Pleasures are of different kinds, and most of them are physical.  Whether pleasure refers only to sensory experience is a matter of definition.

Amongst pleasurable sensations, some are inherently pleasurable or born pleasures.  Some sensations become pleasurable.  And some have pleasure thrust upon them.   Physiology is the most appropriate lens through which to examine pleasure of the first kind – inherently pleasurable sensations.  The second kind, sensations that become pleasurable, are better understood through psychology.  Studying how pleasure is forced upon some experiences is mostly the province of sociology.

Alcohol sensations cannot legitimately be accommodated alongside sensations that are born pleasurable or are inherently so, our first category.  Review of the scientific evidence clearly supports this conclusion.  Hedonists are led completely astray when they seek pleasure in alcohol.  And when they find it there, they cease to be hedonists.

Psychology is a more appropriate discipline through which to analyse the alleged pleasures of alcohol and sociology probably the most appropriate.  Sociology has less strong a tradition of subjecting its explanations to critical experimental scrutiny than physiology.  Many claims for wonderful effects from the use of alcohol therefore escape rigorous scientific study.

The aura that encourages recognition of alcohol as pleasurable is linked to Western mythology.  Mythology gives in only to power.  There are no other alcohol mythologies left that can credibly contest the power of western tradition.  Most alternative mythologies have capitulated, in all but name.   And converts from outside the ‘West’ are even more insistent on protecting its myths than the westerners themselves are.  That leaves us with only western science as a power strong enough to challenge western myths.  Science too has of late been in retreat.

Western science must eventually triumph over western mythology if the claims for pleasure in alcohol are to be really put to the test.  This requires that the relevant branches of western science, such as physiology and pharmacology, make the serious scientific study of pleasure its business.

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ALCOHOL AND POVERTY

 Poverty is not just low income.  Nor are poor people a uniform and homogeneous mass, whose development needs are all the same.  But some common characteristics of poor living conditions obstruct development.  These include the lack of boundaries leading to others intruding into personal life, aspirations being limited and the uncontrollable diversion of extra income into readymade unproductive channels – especially alcohol use.  There are forces that operate within and outside poor communities to ensure that people do not escape from poverty.

The impact of alcohol on human development is not only on economic affairs but also on general wellbeing – including healthy social relating.  Alcohol affects both aspects.  It is a significant contributor to maintaining and worsening economic difficulties and it likely plays a role in generating poverty too.  It keeps poor people collectively poor. Alcohol consumption is driven strongly by ritual and symbolic pressures and not only by the desire for its chemical effect.  Huge alcohol expenses impact not only on the families of heavy consumers but also on the community as a whole.  Customs associated with alcohol use ensure that those who consume little or no alcohol have to subsidize those who consume more.

There is a synergy between alcohol use and poverty in damaging people’s wellbeing, including their physical health. The combined influence of these two factors often has disastrous impact.  A particular example is the permission that intoxicated individuals are given to interfere in the affairs of others.  This social practice causes heightened harm in poorer settings – where the associated overcrowding allows intrusion into each other’s personal lives.  The combined effect on the powerless is particularly nasty.

Actions to reduce poverty pay relatively little attention to modifying people’s spending habits and the factors that govern such habits.  These include both local and remote influences – the impact of which can be modified by successful collective action. Lack of personal control over expenditure is particularly evident in relation to special events and celebrations.  Alcohol provides a good ‘entry point’ to engage communities in a process of positive change or development, which includes taking control over their established patterns of expenditure.  People find it quite feasible to reduce their collective alcohol expenditure, when guided to address collectively the determinants of use.

Responses to poverty, alcohol problems and their combined effects on human development would do well to consider the following recommendations:

  • Poverty reduction strategic plans should spell out clearly their underlying assumptions and premises and be comprehensive in their approach.  There should be greater attention to the great variety and diversity of people and communities classified as ‘poor’.
  • Comprehensive strategies should include attention to common factors that impede progress of poor families and communities, and ways of overcoming these.  Alcohol is an example of such factors, while the tendency for people in a crowded community to obstruct each other’s progress is another.
  • Poverty reduction interventions must include ways of improving management of limited resources.  Unaffordable expenditure on substances such as alcohol, or on special events and celebrations, are examples of things that can readily be changed.
  • Strategic plans should provide space for local initiatives and actively seek lessons that can apply across settings.
  • Proposed poverty reduction interventions should spell out clearly the processes that they propose to generate, within families, communities and society at large, through which their expected results are to be reached.
  • There are many local or community level initiatives that deserve to be a part of broad poverty reduction initiatives.  Examples are already available of successful interventions that can be widely applied because they are based on clear theoretical premises.

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Published by Nest, Sri Lanka –  http://www.nestsrilanka.org/

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