The dangers of a sober society

How intoxication creates society

Alcohol has long been recognized as a useful social lubricant for parties and gatherings. Yet few of us understand the historical importance of intoxication, and the fundamental role it has played in forming societies. In this article, Edward Slingerland argues that alcohol helps us to access truth, and posits that intoxication should be taken seriously as a tool for building consensus and harmony in an increasingly divided world.


A recently-discovered ancient Chinese text, dating to the 4th or 3rd century BCE and written on bamboo strips, contains the evocative declaration “harmony between states is brought about through the drinking of wine.” [1] In ancient China political agreement was reached without the participants first voluntarily impairing their brains with carefully-timed and calibrated shots of liquid neurotoxin. The Roman historian Tacitus noted that, among the barbarian tribes of Germany, every political or military deci

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