If I go to a bar and have one or two drinks, I usually have a fine time, perhaps watching a football game or chatting with friends. If I have three to five drinks, I usually get up the confidence to meet girls, and sometimes get a number. Eight drinks, you’ll see me making out on the dance floor with some chick I just met. Ten drinks…I’m waking up the next morning at her apartment in Long Beach, piecing my night together, looking for my underwear and wondering how much the cab home will cost. Oh, booze. You’ve done it again!
Alcohol is a well-known social lubricant, alternatively loved and despised in modern cultures. We all know the groupthink on drinking: “Yeah, it increases confidence and decreases inhibition, but most of that is in your head.” Fair enough…I admit that many a night I’ve gone home with someone I thought was a Cameron Diaz, only to wake up next to a Courtney Love. But I did go home with somebody…shy sober Adam doesn’t do that, ever. And herein lies a fundamental point: For all the trouble it causes, alcohol is a bridge that connects modern men and women to their primal instincts and urges. And while that may not always be pretty, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Human evolution isn’t just the story of our own history, but of all the species who predated us. They’ve all chipped in something: For instance, those two kidneys you carry are a relic from our aquatic ancestors, who needed help filtering a lot of salt water. Humans no longer need two kidneys, but we have them anyway. Weird, isn’t it, that all that modern human stuff inside you is built on some old fish parts?
Your brain evolved the same way. It’s built on an insect chassis: the most basic part of the human brain works without even having to think about things. Pump blood. Breathe air. These programs operate continuously in the background. Reptiles added a layer on top of that, contributing “instincts” to the organ: Hungry? Time to find food. Horny? Time to have sex. Scared? Better fight or run away.
Then mammals took it to another level: conscious thought. And in the past million years humans have really made an art of it. We pioneered the part of your brain that asks “Which shirt should I wear?” “Is there a God?” “Team Jacob or Team Edward?”
What I find interesting about alcohol is that it seems to take us a step backwards, removing us from the realm of conscious thought and taking us back to the mid-level domain of instinct. Thanks to alcohol, I have seen sophisticated trial lawyers mindlessly devouring leftover spaghetti with their hands. I have seen well-behaved family men punch strangers in the face for offering minor threats. I have seen corporate executives banging in public bathroom stalls.
Civilized behavior? No. Necessary behavior? Yes. Eating, procreating, defending yourself with violence…these are the instincts that helped your ancestors survive. We have to remember that the most sophisticated levels of our highly evolved brains were not meant to replace instincts, but to compliment them. We forget this in the modern age. When you feel the instinctive desire to engage in sexual intercourse, your conscious brain is supposed to help you do it. It is not supposed to reason its way out of the desire. Take the following statements:
“I like this guy, but he’s not Jewish, so I can’t date him.”
“I’d like to have kids, but I’ll wait till I finish my master’s degree.”
“I am attracted to that girl, but she might reject me, so I’ll just sit here.”
Gah! This is what modern men and women are doing with their superbrains? Talking themselves out of sex? It’s no wonder that living with these ass-backwards social norms Monday through Friday drives us to binge drinking on the weekends. I think we’d probably lose our goddam minds if we couldn’t get wasted every once in a while and access the real, pure, hard-wired instincts that drive our behavior and emotion.
Then again, we wouldn’t need to drink to access these parts of our brain if we were doing it more often sober. That’s how cavemen and cavewomen did it before the advent of alcohol. When they were hungry, they killed animals and ate them. When a hunky cave-dude met a sexy cave-babe, they didn’t text each other for a few weeks or fill out eHarmony questionnaires on compatibility. They smiled, embraced, and snuck off for a steamy cave-bang. That cave-dude and cave-babe are your very, very great grandparents. What made them tick makes you tick.
Nowadays, everything is different. Thanks to religion, nobody wants to be a sinner, a deviant, a harlot. We’re taught that our urges are evil…the instincts your ancestors spent millions of years developing are now simply vulgar vices that should be repressed at all costs. The most necessary of all evolutionary adaptations–the desire to reproduce—has been stigmatized. Oh, I’m sure a lot of people think 2011 is a time where society is far more liberal and open to sexuality. Yeah, if you compare it to the 1950s, or 1500s. But I compare it to the era where our minds and bodies were actually forged by mother nature: 500,000 years ago. And mark my words…the 70’s ain’t got nothing on 500,000 B.C. Caveman mating would have made Austin Powers blush.
Drunken hook-ups have at times filled me with feelings of regret or shame. But other times they have swelled within me feelings of accomplishment, joy, and even fulfillment. I have had booze-driven trysts that ended up as only a one-night stand. But I’ve also had vodka-soaked dates that led to long-term relationships. Alcohol is neither virtue nor vice; it is merely a mental aid that gets us to do something we want to do anyway, something we should do anyway. And I’m not attacking our modern brains…insects and reptiles didn’t put earthlings on the moon, or invent the microchip. Humans did. And they couldn’t have done it if they were drunk all the time, concerned only with base instincts. But we wouldn’t have got here without the base instincts, either. Alcohol, for the time being, is a way for us to set the intellectual pursuits aside for a moment and concentrate on the simple stuff that we tend to over-complicate in our daily lives. When society learns to loosen up, when individuals get in touch with both their modern and primitive selves, we won’t need the booze as much. Until then, like the slags we drunkenly roll home—it’s better than nothing.
So to all you playboys and party girls, I say: slut it up. In the days of your ancestors, you would have been successful breeders, and the straight-laced prudes would have gotten old and grey, dying childless, their genes destined for extinction. One day, you’ll get drunk and find that special someone, and they’ll probably be drunk too. You’ll start dating, get married, have kids…and as your primitive need to reproduce gets fulfilled, your need to binge drink will dissipate. And as you stare into your children’s eyes, so full of love and wonder, you’ll barely remember that they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for a bottle Stoli raspberry and some Red Bull.