Sunday, May 22, 2011

Belief Systems and Alcoholic Justification

There's probably no denying that one of our primary emotional needs in life is to have a sense of belonging.  There's nobody to blame for this phenomenon.  It just happens to be a universal truth that being alone--or excluded--almost always feels bad.  And exclusion happens in  lots of different venues and in different degrees of severity.  Gossip at the workplace, often serves to align us with other people in a strange way: by showing contempt against others in the workplace.  As a quick note, I think it makes sense that exclusion feels bad--we have greater success at surviving in the world if we work with other people and are part of larger groups when different people specialize and take responsibility for discrete items.  When we're alone, we simply, for instance, may not have the expertise, or know how, to save ourselves from a risk.

This is not abstract, by the way.  Yesterday, I had a fever.  A really bad fever.  It peaked at 104.  I was essentially delusional and immobile.  If not for two very close people in my life, who knows what I would have done alone?  They layered wet towels on my abdomen and forehead, and, for what I think was about an hour, thought of bringing me to the hospital.  They wouldn't even tell me what my temperature was (40 c) because it just jumped so fast.  I couldn't sweat.  I couldn't do much, except feel bad.  Honestly, it felt like I drank too much.  Like I was poisoned.  And I was in a sauna at the same time.  Thankfully, I'm sweating now.  And my temperature came down yesterday.  We'll have to keep monitoring it.

The point of this post, though, is to explain a very basic organizing principle among us, people.  It is only this: almost every behavior and belief we have relates to how we interact with other people: the shape and scope of that interaction, for instance, whether we will be vulnerable to them (i.e. whether we'll be expressive about what our internal voice tells us without editing it too much), whether and how much we will sacrifice for them, and, essentially, the depth of the relationship or association. 

When we're excluded--let's say fired from a job--it is often the case that we seek comfort.  We want to know that "they" were unfair and horrible, and that we were in the right.  It is incredibly difficult to do anything else.  This is also, i think, related to our highly genetic predisposition to keep on living no matter what, and that means having an exaggerated sense of self-importance.  And that is common to everybody in every culture.  We all think we're better than average, and it is logically impossible for everyone to be better than average.

So, I think a lot of gossip has to do with complaints, or viewpoints about the social or political world, that serve to form bonds or associations between people that don't have blood connection, and also don't have experiential connection (like they went through certain events together and could prove to each other that they were trustworthy).  I don't think gossip is unhealthy. 

What I've recognized recently is that our views about certain subjects, though, are completely irrelevant--at least regarding the subject at hand.  What is much more relevant is what our view says to the person we're communicating it to: it signals to that person allegiance and a potential bond: that you are empathetic to each other, and "get" where your respective positions come from.  It is very natural to do this and test out the waters.  That's why the person who always says what he or she feels unedited (and it seems like every social gathering has this person) is immediately divisive. Because not everyone agrees but everyone wants to agree.  And they can't.  So there's conflict. 

There's a funny relationship with alcohol in this mix, as well.  Alcohol.  Think about what associations you have with it.  Say the word.  What's your favorite drink?  Think about hanging out with a bunch of stiff acquaintances.  Then introduce the topic of booze.  Immediately stories will pour forth. Of course, it is no secret that alcohol is a social lubricant.  What I think is pernicious is that alcohol, like our belief systems, masks itself as something it is not.  Our belief systems make us think that we have some stake in something important when we often hold certain beliefs for the sake of association with certain groups that we favor.  Drinking allows us to have certain associations with favored people or groups, too.  It allows a certain degree of socially acceptable self-delusion. 

To be sure, I'm not saying that because I'm not drinking, everyone else shouldn't drink.  Still, there's something strange about how alcohol shifts our associational patterns or understandings.  Now that I'm writing this, I find myself less sure of the point I wanted to make, so I'll pull back and let the conclusion formulate itself in my head for a day or two.

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