News From the Front

When the space aliens finally opt to make contact, I hope no one is too scandalized when we discover what they’ve been calling us on their wildlife programming. It’ll probably be along the lines of Terra’s Bipedal Booze Suckers.

It would be hard to blame them—what with all these fresh revelations that we started helping ourselves to fermented products two million years ago, and did so to the degree that it permanently altered our DNA.

The studies suggest our pre-human ancestors may well have abandoned the tree life to take advantage of all that fallen fruit fermenting on the jungle floor. Those with a genetic variant that allowed them to efficiently process alcohol were more likely to survive famine and pass their DNA down the line, until, around two million years ago, it became a dominant trait.

Consider it: our DNA was bending toward booze long before we even had the slightest idea about how to make it.

The Drys, with a little encouragement, might begin to refer to this genetic sea change as the Evolutionary Original Sin, that moment when our ancestors shed their guileless animal dispositions, joined hands with alcohol and literally dropped out of their arboreal Eden.

Fully partnered with alcohol, the now bipedal booze suckers journeyed on until, inevitably, we climbed atop the food chain. Now I ask you: Is it mere coincidence that the sole species to adopt persistent alcohol use ended up on top? And if so, why?

It’s a concentrated source of caloric energy and serves as a defense against microbes, yes, but more importantly it nudged us out of that simple survival cycle. Every experienced drinker knows what alcohol does to us. It makes us more social, it strengthens group bonds, it makes us think differently, it ushers in fresh ideas and feelings, it suggests things like picking up a stick and whacking a jungle rat to death so it can be paired with some nicely fermented berries.

When segments of the human population finally figured out how to make plants ferment on demand—and that glorious date seems to get pushed back every time they dig a clay shard out of the ground—those early adopters all seemed to advance quickly past their neighbors. All the early empires—whether Sumerian, Phoenician, Inca, Mayan, Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, etc.—possessed the ability and willingness to mass produce alcoholic beverages. Did that give them an intellectual and physical leg up on the local competition? How could it not?

It should surprise no one, least of all the space alien producers working the wildlife-show beat, that when Terra’s Bipedal Booze Suckers turn away from alcohol, almost always due to religious doctrine, things tend to go haywire. Human society without booze is akin to an engine without oil: it’ll run for a while but eventually friction causes temperatures to rise until it seizes up or explodes. Alcohol is a necessary lubrication, not only for the individual but the societal constructs surrounding him. It certainly explains why the most cartoonishly violent and barbaric organization on the planet, ISIS, is fanatically teetotal. Compare the Most Dangerous and Repressive Countries to the Countries That Consume the Least Alcohol you’ll find the lists are strikingly similar.

And now we know why.