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Daniel Goldman

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Do anthropologists have a negative bias towards alcohol?

I've only had a chance to do a small amount of research on the topic of alcohol as it relates to anthropology. However, even though alcohol certainly has positive effects on populations such as acting as a societal glue, anthropologists seem to focus on the negative effects related to its use.

Is this an actual bias or have I simply not researched enough in order to find the anthropologists focusing on the positives of alcohol use? Also, if there is a bias, why? Is it due to the western, and thus "puritan", origins of anthropological research?


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    May 3 2014: What an interesting take on alcohol. Short answer seems to be no from a purely scientific view. But the species' often tragic fascination with the subject would definitely garner a lot of attention.

    Let us not forget that alcohol is a poison and the reason we "get tipsy" is because it impairs our balance and co-ordination and excessive amounts will kill us outright. Every year the news is rife with stories of teens "chugging" so much booze that they die shortly afterwards. We "pass out" because our bodies are saying that our minds are so impaired that the body has to step in and shut us down before we kill ourselves but many still die anyways. Alcoholics are addicted to the use and abuse of alcohol while drunks who far outnumber them are prolific.

    Then there is all the mayhem that flows from copious alcohol consumption, namely assaults and brawling in the streets, domestic violence, impaired drivers mowing down the innocent and child abuse. Add to that all the unnecessary health costs of ruined livers, failing kidneys, stomach cancer and diabetes and a host of other illnesses directly attributable to alcohol consumption.

    Anthropologists study human beings and surely would find the species' fascination with the substance to be curious, especially since the use and abuse of such a substance can become such a negative factor in the well being of the species. .They would also be fascinated by the proliferation of purveyors of the substance, the consumer clamor for the substance and all the social ceremony that evolves around the substance despite the problems that flow from it.
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      May 3 2014: This is conflating the use and the misuse of alcohol. Also the bias against alcohol seems to be greater than against other drugs including tobacco and various hallucinogenics used in religious practices.

      Should we ignore the positive aspects of alcohol use, including its health benefits in smaller dosages (most substances in a high enough dose will be toxic, but many are helpful in smaller doses) because it has negative consequences of over consumption? Let's not forget its use as a societal glue. Moreover, we have leavened bread because of alcohol. There are other beneficial aspects as well. Human evolution was, to some extent, driven by alcohol in nature. I could go on about the interrelation between alcohol and humans (and plan to in a book, if I ever have time).

      Also, why alcohol and not the others? Don't get me wrong, anthropologists do look at the negative aspects of drug use, but there are also quite a few who focus on the positives of its use or at least do not make a judgement call regarding it.
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        May 4 2014: While I admit I only spent a couple of sentences on your question I appreciate the opportunity to expound on the subject.

        Only the most obtuse would try to argue any positive benefits of booze given all the harm that flows from its use. Granted, there certainly exists a culture as well as a very lucrative industry that evolve around its consumption but there are just as many people - perhaps more - who avoid that culture, its use and, thereby, its consequences as well. Fortunately I am not an anthropologist and, therefore, can speak much more frankly about the stuff.

        What I find amazing about the consumption of alcohol is the need to "acquire" a taste for it because everyone's first drink of booze is, invariably, a repulsive experience. To consume it regularly we have to ignore our natural revulsion at its harsh taste until our body develops a tolerance for it, not unlike becoming accustomed to the stench of urban pollution and noise that assaults city dwellers every minute of the day.

        It seems that human beings do all manner of things that are unhealthy for them and will blithely ignore the harm being done to their health. Others make different choices.
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          May 4 2014: Anthropologists are not there to judge good or bad. They are there to learn. In either case, ignoring positives simply because they are negatives is obtuse and poor science.

          However again, you are confusing the effects caused by misuse and the effects caused by use. You are also ignoring many beneficial aspects of alcohol including its use in creating bonds and reciprocal relationships. You're forgetting that alcohol has in part driven our evolutionary history. You are forgetting that alcohol is, at least in part, the reason why we have breads. Then we h

          You did at least mention economics, and alcohol has a huge impact on our economy. The amount of revenue generated by alcohol production and consumption is something worth studying and should not be ignored simply because there are negative consequences of over-consumption. And there are noted health benefits.

          Regarding the idea that one must acquire a taste for alcohol, this is not true. It depends on the individual and also on the drink. In addition, this is the same result with many foods/drinks. For instance, we've lost our taste for bitter herbs for instance, even though we used to consume them all the time. Introduce someone to sushi for the first time and odds are there will be some repulsive experience. Likewise natto (that you more or less love or hate).

          "It seems that human beings do all manner of things that are unhealthy for them and will blithely ignore the harm being done to their health..."

          Again, this is due to the over-consumption of the product. You called alcohol a poison. However it is only a poison if it is over-consumed. You also mentioned earlier that teens get wasted, but again, this isn't a product of the alcohol, but rather the way we treat alcohol and its access to teenagers. Nations where people are introduced to alcohol in a family setting do not have this same concern.

          So, while there may be negatives, there are positives and the job of an anthropologist is to study all of it.
      • May 5 2014: Daniel

        I dare you to ".. go on about the interrelation between alcohol and humans.. in a book.. " without using the word "boredom".

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