Although I wrote in my last post that social media makes people miserable, Twitter is also a fantastic resource for acquiring knowledge from experts and specialists in different areas. One of my favourite accounts is Rolf Degen, who daily tweets a number of scientific studies into human behaviour. Just before Christmas he linked to a story concerning the impact of alcohol consumption on politics, suggesting that booze makes us more right-wing. According to the paper ‘alcohol strips away complex reasoning to reveal the default state of the mind’ and drunkenness therefore encourages ‘low-effort, automatic thought’ and so promotes political conservatism. Similarly, as this study of the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam shows, ‘anxiety exerts a general inhibitory effect on harmful acts toward other humans regardless of whether the motivation for those harmful acts is selfish or utilitarian.’ People, once loosened up by alcohol, are more willing to punish wrongdoers, and certainly drink is long associated with violence and in particular communal mob violence.
Personally this jars with my own experience; since conservatism is associated with higher levels of fear – conservatives’ brains perceive threats more than those of liberals – I think I tend to become more liberal as I drink more. Of course in the morning, when I wake up in bed still wearing all my clothes and my mouth tasting like sandpaper, that’s a different matter.
Or perhaps it’s because social liberalism is more acceptable in polite society, and many of us are more right-wing than we let on. Public liberalism may be partly maintained for sexual selection reasons: since women find the qualities behind liberalism – generosity and compassion – attractive and high-status, many men exaggerate these aspects of their character. One of the reasons that most of the men caught up in #MeToo dragnet are on the left is that the vast majority of young women prefer socially liberal men, and so if you are a player or a predator then that’s the pose you will adopt. (Women attracted to social conservative men are also more likely to demand he puts a ring on it before anything untoward happens.)
But liberalism is such a recent innovation that its thin veneer may come off just as easily as those centuries of Latin civilisation rub off the Germans and English after a few drinks. After all progressivism, like its grandfather Christianity, is a revolutionary idea that goes against all human tradition and instincts.
Alternatively, perhaps alcohol use inspires trust and warm feelings, but only in a parochial way. In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt cited the use of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle hormone’, which produces parochial altruism’; people playing group games who were sprayed with oxytocin were more likely to play altruistically towards members of their own group, ‘but they showed no concern at all for improving the outcomes of men in the other groups’. Oxytocin also ‘caused Dutch men to like Dutch names more and to value saving Dutch lives more’, although it showed no increase in hostility to outsiders. Alcohol use in European societies almost certainly played a part in forging the region’s high levels of trust, but its social bonding impact is limited to the group.
In other words, alcohol might make us Oakeshott conservatives, preferring ‘the familiar to the unknown… the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.’
Or as the old British saying goes – you and me, pal, hic, you and me against the world. Anyway, have a Happy New Year and don’t get too reactionary tonight.