Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If We Must Drink - Let it Not Be Like Hogs

The ancients, without the benefit of Diving Revelation, came to a completely reasonable conclusion regarding virtue. They invented a test, called "The Golden Mean", a sweet spot of behavior that did not tend toward an extreme, and applied this test to human actions and determined thereby whether or not such actions were virtuous, and the degree of their morality or immorality, by how closely the act adhered to the mean.

For instance, bravery stood in the middle between cowardice and foolhardiness, love between lust and frigidity, and moderation in consumption between abstention and gluttony.

It is upon this third point, moderation, that I wish to expound in my maiden post, as a way of introducing my philosophy of booze.

We who drink, and who care about drinking, should strive for moderation. This is not to say that we must shun the pleasant effects of alcohol or be ashamed when drinking on account of the act itself is pleasurable. Rather, moderation is best defined as a capacity to enjoy something, really enjoy it, without guilt because we are aware of our limitations. In this context, one may drink regularly, and even heavily, while remaining moderate.

Furthermore, one must understand moderation not only as attention to one’s capacity while drinking, but the integration of one’s behavior while drinking with the behavior of drinking itself. This is to say that as one consumes and is conscious of that consumption one must also balance the consumption with the realities, activities, and persons attendant to the consumption, i.e., one’s companions, bartender, wife and children, banker, family and reputation, prevailing customs and standards, liquor store owners, landlord, the highway patrol, school children in the vicinity, the boss one must answer to in the morning, etc.. The virtue in this exercise is self-proving in that those who do exercise thusly will be spared many, many physical, financial, and moral consequences.

I would also add that, for a serious drinker, the manner of one’s drinking should reflect such seriousness. Just as one would be unwise to exercise extreme fastidiousness in any endeavor, one ought not to be conspicuously picky or fay when it comes to his choice of drink. While it is legitimate to hold a preference or particularity, there is nothing so amateurish or unmanly as a booze snob of any variety. Take a wine snob, for example. Wine is the simplest of all alcoholic beverages. Fundamentally, you simply squeeze grapes, set the juice in a cool, dry place for a period of time, and you are ready to go. The complex chemical reactions that turn Welch’s into wine, while able to be manipulated to some degree, are automatic, a gift of nature and the loving God Who is its author. Everything ancillary to the wine itself, including debates about containers, shady sides of hills in particular French provinces, vintage, etc., are inside baseball nonsense of the order of debates over the superiority of Dungeons and Dragons in the pre- and post-Gygax eras.

And this general principle stands for those who will drink labels rather liquor. One cannot be moderate if one binges $350 bar tabs once a week drinking himself silly on overpriced rotgut for the sake of his social standing. The opposite is also true: The hipster who will not touch a beer that costs more than $2 or less than $8 likewise suffers from the moral disease. This behavior is, I hasten to add, the surest course to making drinking a misery over the course of a lifetime. The serious drinker knows that he can satisfy his thirst with a far greater degree of satisfaction, while spending a fraction of what his conspicuous counterpart does, by concentrating on drinking what he likes over a longer period of time.

We cannot mention the urban trend of yuppie/hipster joyless drinking without also mentioning their opposite on the axis of virtue, the howling winos who suffer from alcoholic dependency. Since you are reading this on the internet, you are probably not a wino, nor do you seek to join their ranks, and I don’t think I need to give a full treatment of why being a wino is a bad thing. But to illustrate the Golden Mean, we should note that the wino has more in common with the yuppie/hipsters than with the serious, manly drinker who practices moderation. Therefore, if I were to make a classification, I would say that the extremes of the axis and those who occupy them (bums, hobos, frat boys, investment bankers, etc.) are closer to "alcoholics" than a conscientious man who puts away a fifth-and-a-half a week while watching TV in the evenings.

Thus I conclude that the heart of moderation is a dedication to enjoyment of consumption, rather than a dedication to consumption itself. As I write this, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I find that many otherwise responsible adult people of my acquaintance are putting a lot of work into consumption. They are making a real effort to abuse their livers, getting up early and steadily drinking through to the next. They remind me of those kids, those infant booze hounds I knew in school who mistook liberty for license and ability for duty. I’ll repeat that, if one does not practice moderation, and concentrate his efforts on enjoyment rather than abuse, then his bender is without purpose, empty, shallow, and, I’ll guarantee, painful to live with.

I’ll end with a quote from Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron from his Bartender’s Guide which encapsulates my drinking philosophy better than anything I could write:

"Dedicated to those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure; who achieve contentedness long before capacity; and who, whenever they drink, prove able to carry it, enjoy it, and remain ladies and gentlemen."


  1. Well said, Mister. Although I must add my own credo: "All things in moderation, including moderation." That is to say, there is a time to go shit-house nuts, but that is a specific time.

    And it definitely is not St. Patrick's Day. Gross.

  2. Here, here. Moderation is not altogether the moderate use of a thing but rather the considered enjoyment of the thing. And there is a time for getting sloshed. But unless it happens that your mama dies on March 17th, there is no St. Patrick's Day exception for the general rule of good behavior.

  3. What I mean is that the quantity of consumption need not be uniform in every instance, but the intention underlying the consumption should be.