Of pleasure and togetherness: what is real and what is constructed, the pleasure of using alcohol or the pleasure of community in a common cause…

To meet with people from widely different nations and cultures, but united in common cause, is a pleasure. So it was at this year’s IOGT International 165th Anniversary Celebration sessions too, a meeting that I was privileged to attend.

Less alcohol, more joy

What makes for such happy sharing across sexes, ages, colours, creeds, nations and cultures? In this instance, the dynamism of the spirited and lively planners, organizers and implementers was an obvious contributor. And there was the inspiration provided by new and creative ideas and actions, including many from the host nation Sri Lanka. Some of these showed how the reduction of alcohol use is accompanied by increased joy for all. Understanding on how this can be achieved was clearly advanced.

Interest in such activities, that make clear to all alcohol consumers how they can take more control over their consumption, was clearly seen. This includes reducing alcohol harm by reducing the amounts consumed.

‘Harm reduction’ is often used as a subtle ploy to suggest that reduction in harm has to be achieved with no reduction in consumption. Such commercially-driven ideas reinforce the belief that ‘enjoyment of alcohol’ is proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol users are quietly led to believe that they must drink right up to the designated limit of ‘harm’, to maximize enjoyment whilst supposedly avoiding negative effects.

We all heard during this lively meeting how most alcohol consumers, when prompted through correct interventions to re-examine their experience, discover that their enjoyment is greater the less alcohol they consume – other than a few heavy regular users.

Common purpose – global solidarity

Quite another aspect of the meeting was the solidarity that is experienced when committed people join together in a shared enterprise. At its most superficial, this may be seen as similar to the bonding among people in a group consuming alcohol together. Any shared enterprise, or even simple ritual, allows us to connect. One of the attractions of alcohol is that it offers such a ready means of building links – an instant cohesion fostered through ritualized sharing. Bonds among the participants of the IOGT meeting were, on the other hand, based on the recognition of an already known common purpose. Such closeness has more depth but is not as rapidly built as that among a group of strangers getting together to consume alcohol.

The immediate offer of fellow-feeling, which sharing an alcoholic drink offers, is similar to what smoking cigarettes or praying together does. But the alcohol ceremonial provides further benefits. It offers not only ritual but also a socially learnt freedom from fear of critical appraisal.

These, totally extraneous, advantages that consuming alcohol offers aren’t as readily available to the non-consumer. Matters such as this, that make the alcoholic beverage appear special, render its consumption attractive. Once alcohol consumers too begin to spot these, the veneration of the chemical, and of intoxication, diminishes. One likely outcome of this conference is an increased effort to get alcohol users too to recognize some basic truths about their alcoholic drink.

All in all, liberation is in the air.