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The Human Ritual Of Celebration By Way Of Self Destruction

Reflecting on the 4th of July (as I am still recovering several days later) it occurred to me that Americans are interesting specimens when it comes the way we celebrate milestones.

Case in point: 4th of July is a holiday where we take the day off of work to drink too much, eat copious amounts of red meat and blow shit up.

All acts of destruction in one way or another.

When you think about it, we have several holidays and milestones that are marked at least in part by excessive drinking, tantamount to poisoning ourselves:

New Year’s Eve: drinking to surviving yet another year
Fat Tuesday: drinking and eating too much to prepare for a ritual religious fast
St. Patrick’s Day: drinking to celebrate a culture of alcoholism
Memorial Day: drinking to Posthumously celebrate our troops
4th of July: drinking to celebrate America’s freedom to do what we want
Labor Day: drinking to celebrate my having to work that day
Halloween: drinking to lower inhibitions so you can dress like an idiot and go out in public and act like an idiot
Thanksgiving: eating too much AND drinking to tolerate being around your family

Then there are birthdays, weddings and funerals where we abuse ourselves to commemorate life, love and death. And high schools reunions where we drink to mollify ourselves about how old we ate getting and how little we have achieved.

As an anthropologist, I am aware that this cultural phenomenon is not owned by Americans nor is it a contemporary trend. Humans have been busy killing themselves for centuries. And booze has been the weapon of choice as far and wide as time and space.

The question is why? In most tribal cultures, for example, use of mind altering substances has the purpose of achieving a higher spiritual state for the purpose of self discovery or connecting with the earth or spirit world. they are also used to aid in negotiations and communication ( allowing everyone to get over those elements of human nature that serve as barriers to productive conversation.

But how does that translate to drinking excessively on holidays? I think the connection is related to the fact that all these milestones typically involve either voluntary or forced interaction with large groups of other humans. And even though we are necessarily social creatures by nature, I don’t think we know what to do with one another or how to play nice without everyone handicapping themselves just a little.

That being said, we have never been good at moderation. It’s the part of the genetic code that got left on the room floor somehow.

So let’s drink to tolerating one another…even if we can’t tolerate being in our own skin.

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Categories: Anthropology, cocktails, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Rituals, Well-being | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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