David Biggs asks what makes alcohol such an essential part of the human experience?. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
David Biggs asks what makes alcohol such an essential part of the human experience?. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

What is this magical power that alcohol holds over the human race?

By David Biggs Time of article published Apr 9, 2021

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I have often wondered what this magical power is that alcohol holds over the human race. For thousands of years, men and women have contrived to ferment berries and other fruits to create substances that make them behave stupidly.

In today’s technological world we are well aware of the effects of alcohol consumption. On festive occasions, our governments often ban the sale and public consumption of alcohol and — voila! — the road death toll drops dramatically and hospital trauma units enjoy a quiet weekend.

It’s been shown to work again and again, but we still demand the right to drink and drive (and kill each other) for the rest of the year. Why do we do it?

I suspect that the earliest cave families filled calabashes with berries and left them in the sun outside the cave mouth to ferment and turn to alcohol.

This would have resulted in neighbours fighting with each other and molesting the women from neighbouring caves. They had no motor vehicles with which to destroy themselves, so they probably did it by falling out of tall trees or jumping off high cliffs.

Those too drunk to climb tall trees probably fell about bumping into rocks and drooling tearfully down their best hyena-skin shirts and moaning that nobody loved them.

Nothing much has changed over the millennia and drunk people are still seldom a pretty sight, even in designer clothes. None of this will come as news to our readers. It’s been happening for thousands of years.

My query is, why do we do it? What makes alcohol such an essential part of the human experience?

Some religions (including mine) even incorporate an alcoholic drink into their most sacred rituals. Could it be that life without any danger would simply be too dull and boring to contemplate? Maybe we enjoy tempting fate. Isn’t that why people scale high mountains or go on hair-raising 4x4 mountain trails or take up sky diving or mountain biking? Unless you do it carefully and know the rules there’s a chance you could be killed. In a way alcohol is similar.

That first drink is merely for friendship and relaxation. Somewhere around the fourth drink you realise you’re funny and clever. A few glasses later and you become bullet-proof.

The path between funny and bully-proof is a narrow one. The problem is that it’s seldom a bullet that gets you. More likely to be a car. Or the guy who is one drink ahead of you.

Last Laugh

Late one night a drunk fellow was on his hands and knees under a lamp-post, obviously searching for something. A kind passer-by stopped and offered to help.

“What have you lost? “ the man asked.

“My watch. It fell off when I tripped over the gutter.”

“Where exactly did you trip?”

“Along there. About half a block away.”

“So why are you searching here?”

“It’s a waste of time looking back there. There’s hardly any light there at all.”

* "Tavern of the Seas" is a column written in the Cape Argus by David Biggs. Biggs can be contacted at [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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