Happy 2017! To start off the new year I have fellow Scribohopile member Dave Finch as a guest blogger today. And today he shares some history about alcohol.
Our 16 years of “Prohibition” were pretty loopy when you come to think about it — especially when it did nothing to curtail poverty like it was supposed to. It’s likely that drinking is more a response to the pain of poverty than a cause of it. The barrel smashing temperance ladies and their puritanical husbands didn’t realize how deeply ingrained our regard for alcohol is. Prohibition just made money for a lot of black marketeers. There were 500 speakeasies — on Manhattan island alone.
It turns out we’ve been slurping ethanol for, oh, about 10 million years. This, according to authors Tattersall and DeSalle who have a book out titled A Natural History of Wine published by Yale University Press in which they reveal some interesting stuff. Dr. Tattersall is a curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, and Dr. DeSalle is a curator of entomology there.
We all know that as mature fruits continue to ripen to the gooey mess we often find at the bottom of a bowl of grapes or apricots ethanol is formed. Despite the fact that we also use it in our gas tanks, it’s hard to find a species that doesn’t like to drink it too. We fastidious humans insist on processing the fruit until we can draw off a clear fluid that looks pure and clean – but it’s the same stuff you’d get sucking a rotten peach. Alcohol.
Research, the doctors tell us, has discovered that our ancestral hominids developed an alcohol tolerance gene about 10 million years ago and we’ve been getting a kick out of it ever since. Wine in the form we drink was invented about 8,000 years ago, so if the human race was going to hell in a wine soaked hand basket my guess is it would’ve happened by now.
A tiny animal thought to be disturbingly similar to our ancestors is called the pin tailed tree-shrew of Malaysia. It’s a tiny monkey like creature that weighs in at 3 to 4 ounces and regularly parties on fermented palm sap. They’ve been doing it so long they have evolved to enjoy their toping — in heroic amounts — without getting too plastered to evade hungry raptors. One imagines early in their tippling careers a lot of them became a lot like partying humans – unable to move much faster than giant slugs. Those unfortunates were eliminated by natural selection and the remaining boozers survived to repopulate the species with real two-fisted soaks. They seem to have evolved specialized mechanisms for effectively neutralizing the toxic properties of ethanol since they show no signs of intoxication even after a late night out.
According to the doctors many species are fond of fermentation. It you want to see an elephant stagger like a New Year’s eve reveler at midnight, head him to a marula tree when the fruit is overripe. He won’t leave it until standing up becomes a challenge. Howler monkeys in Central America and African chimpanzees are also great juicers. The chimps make sponges out of crumpled leaves to soak up fermented juice from the raffia palm and then suck on them. Fruit flies are also notorious tipplers – ethanol makes them feel chipper.
Modern humans are late comers to the planet and we only have 8,000 years of wine drinking behind us. Give us a while and maybe we can evolve like the tree-shrews and enjoy it without getting blotto. Drugs too maybe? Good luck with that given the zero tolerance policy throughout most of the world. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much risk of us all descending into a world of drunken, homeless degenerates.
About Dave Finch
After 50 years as a member of the State Bar of California (I was admitted to the Bar at age 3, you see) I have removed the fraternal robes of the lawyer and taken quill in hand to write about a topic that is critical to the health of our nation. Over the years I have cut my teeth, strengthened my arm, and streamlined my brain as a trial lawyer, a mediator, arbitrator and volunteer settlement judge, a county hearing officer and a civic leader. My study of economics has contributed greatly to the effort in which I now engage — to rally our magnificent country to the cause of drug policy reform in a system of toleration, counseling and control.
You can find Dave at his blog http://www.finchdiablog.com.