Thursday, November 20, 2008

Never Trust a Teetotaler

In vino veritas.
With those three words, Pliny the Elder gave voice to a saying so old its origins were already lost by the time he wrote them. Think of it as the first cliche, a phrase they probably coined about a week after the first human tribe figured out that drinking fermented grape juice could make them happy.
In wine, the truth.
Everybody knows that alcohol lowers your inhibitions; that’s one of the main reasons people drink it. You can say and do things after a few drinks that you couldn’t or wouldn’t normally. It’s liberating and fun, one of the great rewards of surviving to your majority and one of the great consolations for what you lose in getting there. By choosing to drink, you choose to liberate yourself, to shake off the strictures of the routine workaday world and live a little. Also it tastes good.
Yes, it sometimes makes you say and do stupid things, things you wouldn’t normally be stupid enough to say or do, but hey, that’s all part of growing up and learning about life. The worst part is that you probably meant it at the time. Shame on you. But as long as you apologize and learn your lesson then everything is generally alright, as long as you didn’t get pregnant or catch the AIDS.
Used properly, alcohol really is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, just like Ben Franklin said. It’s good for you, body and soul, for more reasons than I have world enough or time to share at present.
But some people don’t drink. And not all of them are Muslims.
(Muslims are excused from the following series of sweeping generalizations. They are prohibited by their religion from drinking alcohol (although the word alcohol is, oddly enough, Arabic in origin), and I respect anybody willing to take their religion seriously, as long as I don’t have to also.)

Now, I’m not saying that everyone who abstains from alcohol is not to be trusted. There are many fine people who, for perfectly rational reasons, choose not to drink.
Having said that, when you meet someone for the first time, and they tell you that they don’t drink, you should immediately become suspicious, and be on your guard with them, until such time as you know them well enough to revisit that judgement from a more informed position.
Let me explain.
Very few people don’t drink because they have never drunk. If you meet one, you shouldn’t trust them because they are too closed minded to find out for themselves what something is all about. People who are afraid to have their preconceptions and received wisdom shaken up are dangerous, because they will usually do and say anything to keep those preconceptions and nuggets of received wisdom from coming into question. A brittle worldview is not the sign of a robust mind, or of a soul at ease with itself. Trust these teetotalers least of all.
But most teetotalers fall into another category, those folks who have indeed imbibed of Demon Rum, and been burned by his fiery kiss. Usually those folks go on to burn others, one way or another.
They usually have a story, or several. They don’t like themselves when they drink. Lots of times they have very good reason not to.
And that’s the problem. And that takes us back to the beginning.
In vino veritas. In wine, the truth.
Alcohol makes us simpler creatures. It burns away the artifice and veneer, the surface persona we cultivate to show to others in the daylight. We become more truly ourselves when we drink, more honest about who we are and what (and who) we want. Some people are happy drunks; some people are angry drunks. Some people are horny drunks. Whatever it is that is truly inside you is all you’ll have left after enough cocktails, and the truth will out, at least until you learn how to handle yourself, which is the crux of the matter. Because people who choose not to drink (or even fantasize about quitting drinking) have usually decided that the person they really are is something they can’t handle one way or another.
We all have our faults and our shortcomings, our peccadilloes and embarassments. We all sometimes get the urge to do or say things that we know we shouldn’t and that we’ll regret later. Alcohol exacerbates these tendencies, along with other, more positive tendencies (we are, after all, as much more disposed to love and generosity in the embrace of lady liquor as we are to violence and depravity, if such is in our hearts). The reason you can’t trust a teetotaler is not that they have evil in them per se, it is that they either have too much evil in them, or they lack the character and determination to overcome that evil through force of will.
The reasons that people decide to stop drinking are generally that they do or say stupid and/or terrible things when they’re drunk, and they can’t manage to take control and stop themselves. And if they have it in them to do or say those stupid and/or terrible things, then you have to be careful until you’re sure they won’t do or say them to you.
Again, I’m not saying never ever trust a teetotaler. There are some generally wonderful human beings out there who simply choose not to drink, for a wide variety of good reasons. All I’m saying is that when you do meet someone who claims not to drink, be careful, because the likeliest explanation is that, deep down, there’s something there they don’t like, and neither, most likely, will you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Huseyin Kalkan, the mayor of Batman, Turkey, said
that the town would sue Warner Bros. for a portion of the
royalties from the movie "The Dark Knight." "There is,"
said Kalkan, "only one Batman."
from this week's harper's weekly.