‘Why Don’t You Drink?’

(now I’m questioning myself in the titles of my own posts. Eep)

This is a question I’m asked seemingly every five minutes these days, because I keep meeting new people, usually in bars where my non-drinking is rather apparent, to which I give all my usual responses. But I was wondering if that question itself is a bit backwards: it places the emphasis on me to justify why I’m not drinking, instead of assuming that sobriety is the default, and that drinkers should be the ones to have to defend themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offended when people ask why I don’t drink, and I’m quite happy to have a conversation about it in general – this isn’t an awkward topic for me. But it’s true that even a non-drinker like myself buys into this system, of drinking being the norm from which sobriety deviates, because I’m using terms like ‘non-drinker’ to highlight the fact that people don’t fit this norm – I don’t feel obliged to specify that others are ‘drinkers’ in the same way.

This comes down to a question of naturalness, that is what is it natural or expected to do in our society; someone that does what is expected of them is usually a ‘person’, and someone who deviates is qualified with an adjective, which places the linguistic emphasis upon the deviator to justify why they’re different, rather than the conformist to defend their conformity.

(as a sidenote I’d like to specify that these descriptions are neither inherently positive or negative; someone who stands up to oppression may be a ‘revolutionary person’, a positive description, and someone who rejects the idea that murder is a criminal activity devoid of morality can be a ‘slaughtering shit-headed person’ by the same logic)

And that conformity is based increasingly on what society tells us is normal, rather than what might be biologically normal; I don’t want to open a can of worms by talking about sexuality and ‘normality’ here, but it’s true that Ancient Greece included male homosexual relations as an integral part of its society, while later Western cultures criminalised the thing – same species, same biological desires, different cultural standards of normality and the need to justify oneself.

You could even say that social, as opposed to animal, constraints are greater indicators of normality as society has progressed; with greater factions within culture, there are even more ways in which we can defy the norm, and be questioned on it. Whether you’re into metal, pop, hip-hop or early eighties East Coast hardcore punk, there’ll be some group somewhere that tells you you’re doing being you wrong, and with the increase in connectivity brought about by the Internet, those voices are louder than ever. Of course, the other side of this is that it’s easier than before to find people who won’t question you and your ideas, either with the intent to undermine you or out of blissful yet ultimately offensive ignorance.

This means that I struggle to see a singular ‘way of doing things’, a universal cultural norm we should all adhere to or face scrutiny, at this point; even drinking alcohol, so long a mainstay of European culture right up to this century, is no longer as ingrained as it used to be – I have friends that don’t drink, and movements from Straight Edge to the Dryathlon have made sobriety not simply an individual rejection of a cultural norm, an identity made of absence, but an active identity in its own right, one with all the communal perks and collective ideas of the ‘drinking’ community.

This isn’t only why I don’t drink, but why I do whatever the frak I want more broadly; I’m not particularly interested in rejecting mainstream things for the sake of rejection, because there isn’t a single mainstream identity large enough for me to piss on to get any satisfaction from, and I know that whatever my random tastes in clothes, books, games and even sex, there’ll be a group of equally random people somewhere I can associate myself with, creating much greater pleasure than mere disassociation.

In truth, I’ve probably found a lot of those groups here at uni, which is why I’m doing quite a few things, and why I’m enjoying every last one of them; I’ll just have to find the Mass Effect 2 Society, and my life’ll be pretty complete.


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