September 13, 2010

Sober Thoughts

One of the lowlights of training for a long-distance run is the realisation that one would be better off without alcohol. I am by no means of puritanical bent, but nevertheless I went ten weeks without so much as a drop passing my lips. After that amount of time, the wagon is far above the road, and the fall from it is all the more treacherous. But I can take my lumps with the best…

How much should a man drink? I talk not of matters relating to health. A man is free to drink himself to an early grave should he so choose, and so long as he takes no other with him. Likewise, a man may be teetotal if he pleases, and if it helps him to run marathons. But these are rare exceptions, and we must discard them. The question is really how much makes a man unmanly? To this I offer no volumetric statistics. Every man knows his own body. And everyone knows when he’s had too much.

The Italians have the right idea(!). The bella figura is a matter not only of outward elegance, but also of inward composure. One must be in control of all one’s faculties, and be highly attuned to one’s society. Alcohol has the irritating effect of dulling our sense of propriety, and muting our inhibitions. These things are matter of self-reflection, and we must be mindful of holding on to this internal dialogue with ourselves. Should we lose this capacity, we have consumed too much. In short, a man may drink, but only insofar as he is able to think. Being drunk no doubt has its merits, in certain times and places, and among certain friends. On the whole, however, it is a state that nobody likes to see, much less experience, and its evils far outweigh its joys.

1 comment:

  1. Good doctor,

    I hear you quash in a moralizing note the last stumbling bastion of insight. Doctor, this is a democracy - people are democrats day and night, even in the great outdoors - the democrat's description of nature - even in private, even in their dreams, I dare say. Let us not indulge the democratic - you may call it Puritan, though they are not quite the same, I admit - instinct for tyranny. Or the temperance league version of the easy virtue at that! You must have noticed how the apostles of health have again come into the public eye, as ugly as they can be, preaching progress and all...

    The crux, I believe, is this: Morality and thought are not the same thing, first of all because thinking requires that we doubt our conventions, whereas morality requires our stern and deadly adherence. Some kinds of men cannot be bent around the democratic passions and habits; if they are not bent around war, they must drink. Women and wine are to peace more or less what men and arms are to war.

    Men take wine precisely because it makes them immoral. For once, they do not have to obey all the rules and expectations the basis of which is hard to assess and unlikely to be very sound. Morality is always tied up with many particular things and that stifles - especially in a democracy - insight.

    Now, drinking immoderately is a show of weakness, or passion. But drinking enough to shake the moral chains is utterly necessary, lest we become conformists of the worst kind. It is impossible to tell sober men to choose between drinking and not drinking - they wouldn't know the former. And some men just dislike alcohol, not that they are dullards... But then we must ask drinking men to choose between being drinking and not drinking, as they are the only ones who may know. At the very least, it is advisable that gentlemen drink, if among gentlemen.

    Remember that gentlemen sometimes are not serious and are detached from the worrying of the day. At night, they can drink together and talk things over... What better school of moderation for those who can be moderate?



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