Tennessee Wining (July 12, 2016)
Friday before last, I stopped on the way home from work to, for the first! time! ever!, purchase a bottle of wine at my favorite grocery store. As did many of us, and therefore I was expecting a festive scene. But not so. “Strained” would have described the atmosphere far better than "jubilant”.
You would have thought that Prohibition had just ended – or was beginning the next day. It seemed like all and sundry were stuffing at least one case of wine each into their shopping carts, then guarding it like a pit bull would a litter of puppies until it was finally shepherded safely through the parking lot. Busy, but rather solemn.
Not a lot of fun, in other words. Maybe I’m just very stupid about this kind of thing, but I wasn’t expecting anything nearly as somber. So I decided to ask the internet what might be going on. Here is some of what I found.
Tennessee passed the U.S.’s first ever prohibition law (and people say we're never first in anything) in 1838. First ever prohibition law -- in a state where in 1810 there were over 14,000 registered distilleries. One for every person! No, that's silly, but I’m not that far off. With a population of about 261,000, that makes one registered distillery for about every 20 people living in Tennessee at the time.
Drinking “spiritous liquors” (as the law so quaintly stated), then, is clearly serious business here. Why? Well, there’s the money of course, and I don’t mean just for the sellers. It’s probably no coincidence that the emergence of the temperance movement coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the need to have workers alert enough to perform repetitious and often dangerous task 16 hours a day, six days a week, without losing body parts.
The temperance movement must have run right up against the desire -- need, I'd say, really -- of said workers to take the edge off their boredom. No wonder the history of alcohol prohibition is so, ah, lively. But Tennessee was mostly still agricultural then, so manufacturing couldn't have been playing THAT big a part.
Big wads of cash of course, that's always serious. But taking the edge off reality is just as serious, whether you're farming or working in a 19th century factory (or a 21st century office, for that matter). People drink alcohol to alter their state of consciousness. Every other reason is just grafted on afterwards. That includes wine, sophisticated or ordinary, boxed or bottled, suitably matched with a meal or guzzled behind a dumpster.
But deliberately altering one’s state of consciousness is, as a rule, Viewed with Great Suspicion in American society. And that is a sad thing, because an altered state of consciousness is not only a normal state for humans, but probably essential for sanity.
Consciousness is the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings and perceptions and of our surroundings, at any given moment. It creates our personal reality, our sense of who we are and what part we play in said reality. “Normal waking consciousness” is the state of consciousness where you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and completely in the moment, like when you are driving. Like you are supposed to be when you are driving, rather.
But that brings up the next point -- levels of awareness vary quite a bit during waking consciousness. The aforementioned Bushy Tailed is only one of many possible normal states, all the rest of which are considered to be altered states of consciousness but are just as normal as the first.
Under the most ideal of circumstances, an individual will spend less than half of his or her life in normal waking consciousness, and that is as it should be. Sleep is one of those normal altered states of consciousness. So is daydreaming, a state where we should be spending about half of our awake time in order to be psychologically healthy. Then there is the state where you are really focused on a task to the exclusion of the outside world, and meditation -- two examples of altered states which are considered to be higher states of awareness than normal waking consciousness.
What’s different about an altered state of consciousness? It depends which one it is we are talking about, of course. But in the case of the kind that alcohol brings about, the nervous system slows down (reflexes, heart rate, thinking, everything). Your inhibitions are vanquished, setting you wild and free (or so you feel). And the mental noise and chatter dies out and leaves you gloriously at peace.
People drink because it makes them feel better. People LIKE altered states of consciousness. But, at least partly because of that Judeo-Christian work ethic we can expect to hear about so much between now and the next election, we as Americans tend to think that altered states of consciousness – and anything else that makes us feel good and that doesn’t put a dollar in someone’s pocket somewhere – must be a sin. Or at the very least, a poor use of time.
Strange, because there is hardly a religion out there that doesn’t contain practices designed to deliberately alter the consciousness. The theory being, of course, the better to know god, since apparently you can’t really see Him unless you get a little bent. Even the Pilgrims and Puritans, whom we don’t generally think of as big partiers, were fine with imbibing alcohol.
So why was everyone in such a bizarre mood Friday before last? Derned if I know. Maybe just worried about getting their cars out of the Trader Joe’s parking lot without sideswiping each other, although you'd think that would always be an issue there.
But I doubt that that grim mood will recur. How can it? Wine in the grocery stores, people! Quietly alter your state of consciousness just a bit at home safely, and stay sane! Woo hoo!
--dr. diane holmes
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