There are some people who’ll say that ‘ethics of drinking’ is an oxymoron of sorts, while others will say, screw ethics, drink, have fun. But over the years, I’ve burned some grey matter over this.
When I was too young to drink, I had taken on a, for that age typical, position that drinking is a bad thing, and I will NEVER drink. The NEVER lasted for a couple of years, by when I was not too young to drink anymore. I let go my former diktat to myself. I started with the stronger brew: the iconic Old Monk rum. Then, for a while, scoffing at beers, and insisting that wines are a snobbish waste of money, I stuck to rum, despite inability of my system to really cope with it. Over the years I had puked in the roadside gutter, I had a new year’s first day completely wiped off the calender due to extreme bouts of vomiting, and so on. Finally, I embraced beer, another U-Turn, gradually started loving it.
My first girlfriend was not comfortable with the very concept of drinking, so one fine day I stopped drinking. Drinking was never such a big deal to really risk a relationship over. I was off it for over a year or two. Then when I broke-up with her, there was no real reason not to drink. So I started again, sticking mostly to beer this time around, which suited my constitution — the next morning you don’t have to worry about headaches, and stomach issues. In IIT, it became a religion of sorts. More so. It became a unit. You could measure money in no of beer cans. You could measure height. You did. Some of the best times of our life in IIT were spent over draught beer in a vegetarian pub in Ghatkopar, and baby-corn pakoras and other munchings. But drinking never threatened to become a need. And none in the group has even come close to being dependent on alcohol. Rarely do any of them drink now, if at all.
Later, I was again in a relationship, and although this time my wife to be was okay with my drinking earlier on, when I called up on her birthday — okay correct that, after her birthday was over, at 0030 next day — horribly drunk, she was concerned about my ‘drinking’. Another period of ‘abstinence’ started.
Over the years, I picked up wine drinking, and pretty much enjoy drinking wine, and occasionally a good beer. But these days, I drink with very very few people (add another very if you want). Many believe I don’t drink, which actually suits me. Sometimes white lies or refusal to correct wrong impressions is the easiest way out. But increasingly we live a public life, thanks to Facebook and the likes. Keeping such white lies going is mostly not worth it.
What has this to do with ‘ethics of drinking’, you ask? I’m getting there. It’s about choosing ‘who’ you drink with, and who you don’t drink with.
Yesterday, for instance, I learned that a friend I used to drink regularly with died recently. His distant relations who gave me the news attributed it to his alcoholism. He was as old as I am — late thirties. He supposedly died due to complications after jaundice. The link between his alcoholism and his death might not be rock solid, but on circumstantial evidence, I’d probably attribute it to his drinking problem. Was I responsible for his death, a tiny bit? I know it’s preposterous line of thinking. But then how about everyone collectively, who drank with him? Why couldn’t we have had good times without the ‘substance’. One thing I’ve noticed through my periods of abstinence is that I did not have significantly bad/different time then. Drinking starts as a means to companionship with actual human friends, and then, for some, it becomes ‘the’ companion.
So here is the hypothetical question: if I had known he was going to be an alcoholic, would I still have shared a drink with him? The answer is a firm no. Borderline? No. So, in a way, I was relying on my judgement of what’s to come, when I continued drinking with him. If you ask me, there IS such a thing as ‘ethics of drinking’.
Yes, you can’t really stop an alcoholic-to-be by refusing to drink with him/her. Mostly, s/he’ll just find someone else to drink with, or drink alone.
Back in the IIT days, a friend asked me my opinion about trying out alcohol. I advised him not to, considering he was emotionally struggling then. I said, if you drink now, you’d probably be dependent on it. For some reasons, he agreed with me. (If I remember it correctly, I told him, if you want to drink to forget your worries/pain, don’t drink). Later in his life, he did start drinking, but in those crucial years, I still believe he could have turned alcoholic if he had picked up drinking at that time. There IS ethics of drinking, if you ask me.
Here, then, are the rules I’ve set for myself.
- I’ll never drink (in small intimate groups — unlike social occasions where drinks are served) with any friend who drinks at any time because he ‘has to’, at that time. If I can see him not being able to say “no”, or I’ve seen him being unable to say no, for me, he’s potential alcoholic. I won’t drink with him/her.
- Goes without saying, I’ll not drink with a ex-alcoholic, or current alcoholic.
- I’ll never drink with anyone who becomes abusive after drinking.
- I’ll NEVER initiate anyone into drinking.
- I’ll never drink with those for whom drinking is a ritual — every x days.
You can’t always list down all rules. You have to take a call on a case by case basis, based on a guiding principle. I know at times you hurt people by refusing to drink ‘specifically’ with them. If you are not drinking at all, it’s easy. But if you do, and if you choose, you’re in for trouble. But when was ethics without troubles.
This blog is an attempt to explain my ethical position, to lessen some of the hurt people feel. On the other hand, I know this could work exactly the reverse way. I will take that risk. Those who prefer white lies over truth probably won’t be able to take me much in the long run, anyways. Better now, than later.
In the past, on the issue of smoking, I have taken a somewhat contradictory stance, when some of my friends were trying to use peer pressure to make another friend quit smoking. I had refused to join them and shun him. There is a small but important difference. I never smoked, and never encouraged smoking, but refused to ‘oblige’ people to quit smoking, just as I refuse to ‘oblige’ people (even possible alcoholics) to stop drinking. I’m too much of an individualist to do that. People have a right to kill themselves, slow or fast, or take risks. It’s like shunning a person who drives recklessly. But I’ll not join him/her in that venture, if I think s/he’s crossing that thin line — of self control. They’ll have to do that slow dying without me. If there are contradictions, I’ll live with them. I’ve lived with bigger contradictions.