February 07, 2009

Impelled by convention

...there is a very strong tendency toward symmetry in the normal drinking habits of Occidental culture. Quite apart from addictive alcoholism, two men drinking together are impelled by convention to match each other, drink for drink.
Gregory Bateson, The Cybernetics of 'Self': A Theory of Alcoholism, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p325
I like the paper a lot, but I think Bateson never spent much time in Asia or around Asians. I've been in Taiwan for 11 years, and before that a year in China and three in Thailand, and I often drink. In my experience the Asian way of drinking is a lot more symmetrical than that in UK or in the groups of diverse Westerners that I sometimes hang out with. In polite society out here, when you want a sip of your drink you make eye contact with someone else at the table and do a little gesture like you're making a toast, and then you both drink at the same time.

A small point, but things like this - how Asia is so much more spiritual / holistic / healthy / etc than the West - tend to bring me out of whatever I'm reading. Most of the time it's just not true, or not as simple as it seems. The reverse also happens, with Taiwanese people going on about how open Westerners are about sex, when here there are more brothels, love hotels and porn movie stores than I've ever seen outside of Asia. And also Westerners are more free because they don't worry about hard work and money and material things.
The challenge component of alcoholic pride is linked with risk-taking. The principle might be put into words: "I can do something where success is improbable and failure would be disastrous."
The principle of pride-in-risk is ultimately almost suicidal. It is all very well to test once whether the universe is on your side, but to do so again and again, with increasing stringency of proof, is to set out on a project which can only prove that the universe hates you.
Same author, paper, book, p322

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